By Douglas Anele
Once upon a time two lecturers of the upwardly mobile University of Lagos were captured in footages containing inappropriate sexual dalliance which went viral in both traditional and new social media.
The video clips were the outcome of a sting operation by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) ostensibly to expose lecturers engaged in sexual harassment across tertiary institutions in West Africa.
As if that unfortunate incident was not embarrassing enough, the lingering face-off between the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Temitayo Ogundipe, and Dr. Wale Babalakin, erstwhile Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, worsened considerably. Consequently, the convocation ceremonies slated for March 9 to 12, 2020 was cancelled, which led to avoidable waste of both human and scarce material resources that the university, potential graduands, their relatives and friends had invested in the preparations.
The university almost descended into the dark abyss of chaos and uncertainty when the Vice-Chancellor was unceremoniously removed from office by the Council in a manner that contravened existing regulations. But the proactive Senate of the university saved the situation by swiftly resisting the move because,inter alia,the office of Vice-Chancellor is so critical for the smooth functioning of a university such that whoever occupies it is the ambassador-in-chief, brand carrier and face of that institution.
Therefore the Vice-Chancellor, as a Professor and Chief Executive Officer of any university, should not be removed from office anyhow without strictly following due process. Besides, he or she deserves respect especially from Chairman of the Governing Council even if the latter has good intention for improving the system.
While the problem lasted, the university’s enviable reputation which Prof. Ogundipe and his team had been working really hard to improve took a serious hit. Most people do not know that the university lost several research grants and other financial benefits worth hundreds of millions of naira due to damages the brand suffered because of all the negative news about the institution.
Fortunately, the federal government intervened and restored Prof. Ogundipe to his rightful position. On April 19, 2021, the Governing Council was reconstituted. From all indications, the new Chairman and Pro-Chancellor, Dr.Olarenwaju Tejuoso, is determined to chart a different course from his confrontational predecessor by working as a partner-in-progress with the Vice Chancellor and his team.
His transformational agenda code-named 1C in 3C is intended to explore innovative approaches in the governance mechanism of our university so that excellence can be achieved across board.
It is gratifying to note that with the new Council the university is overcoming challenges by movingin the right direction. For instance, aside from Council clearing the backlog of pending important issues, the convocation ceremonies cancelled earlier have been rescheduled to hold from Monday, July 5 to Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Some of the highlights for the event include: the Convocation Lecture by Mr. Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; award of post-humus Emeritus Professorship to a former Vice-Chancellor of the university, late Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe; post-humus doctorate award to late Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh of First Consultant Hospital, Lagos (who played a leading role in, and eventually died from, fighting the Ebola epidemic during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan); celebration of the overall best graduating students in the Humanities and Sciences, as well as those with the best PhD. Theses in the two broad academic sub-divisions mentioned above.
Of particular interest is the award of doctorate degree to seventy-one year old Felicia Onyemachi Ifeyinwa Marinze, the oldest person to receive such an honour from the university, an achievement which proves that age cannot stop a determined student from achieving his or her academic goals.
The university Management responded reasonably well to the re-opening of schools in January this year by putting in place measures that made safe resumption possible. Covid-19 protocols were introduced and universalised throughout the two campuses at Akoka and Idi-Araba.
Also Management implemented Senate’s unprecedented approval for all academic activities to be conducted online. Thus although at the beginning there were teething problems with the virtual teaching and learning experiment, gradually the situation improved. Lectures, continuous assessment tests and assignments were conducted online; 100 and 200 level students wrote their examinations for the first semester virtually whereas students in 300 to 500 levels did theirs in the normal physical mode.
Some departments with expertise in the management and control of infectious diseases were mobilised to assist the university cope with the Covid-19 situation. Examples include the department of home economics which made face masks; chemistry department in collaboration with faculty of pharmacy produced hand sanitizers; while a team from engineering faculty led by Dr. Hakeem Amuda conceptualised and manufactured a cost-effective ventilator that can be easily deployed for Covid-19 patients that need the machine to survive.
In terms of research, the university under the focused leadership of Prof. Ogundipe has achieved a lot despite the perennial problems of poor funding by the federal government, bureaucratic bottlenecks and inadequate research facilities.Given his persistent emphasis on quality research, our university is ranked number one in Nigeria and twelfth in Africa. Moreover as at January this year, the university has moved up four places to number eight in the continent.
Encouraging research and partnerships with reputable institutions both in Nigeria and beyond is one of the cardinal objectives the Vice-Chancellor laid out in his six-point agenda. Now, listing seriatim all the individual research grants, partnerships and robust collaborations that have come to fruition since Prof. Ogundipe became Vice-Chancellor will considerably enlarge our analysis beyond necessity.
Nonetheless as the Vice-Chancellor himself stated, academics from the university “have attracted over N18 billion in research grants both locally and internationally.”That impressive record conclusively points to the recrudescence of research culture at the University of Lagos. Moreover researchers from the university got 6 patents in 2019 and 5 last year, out of which 2 prototypes for each year have been produced.
Equally encouraging and heart-warming is that about two weeks ago the university went beyond the Autonov 1 vehicle fabricated by the mechanical engineering genius, Prof. Ayodele Awojobi, by test-running its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) the production of which was initiated by the Ogundipe administration in 2018 as part of the institution’s effort to mitigate environmental pollution especially at a time when the negative repercussions of dramatic, largely manmade, climate change have become an existential threat to human survival.
In this connection, the university is evolving steadily into the undisputed leader in relevant cutting-edge research amongst tertiary institutions in Nigeria, with the intention of bridging the gap between theoretical research and its practical application by end-users in the manufacturing and industrial sector.
The backbone of any sustainable achievement pertaining to teaching, learning, and research is availability of relevant infrastructure. In that regard Prof. Ogundipe and his team have been making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, given that the federal government is not serious about funding education appropriately for national development and self-reliance.
That notwithstanding, tremendous goodwill enjoyed by Management has encouraged the university’s alumni and friends to invest in infrastructure upgrade across the institution. Worthy of mention in this regard are the Chairman of Platform Capital, Dr. Akintoye Akindele, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, Sir Olu Okeowo, Dr. Bolaji Ogundare, and the alumni set of 1997 and 1998 from the College of Medicine.
The University of Lagos Business School (ULBS) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) IT hub are fully operational, thereby helping to consolidate the university’s status as the primus inter pares in harnessing the synergy between “town and gown.”
In other aspectsof community service such as provision of portable water and reliable electricity, security and environmental sanitation, there is noticeable improvement since this year despite severe financial constraints. But more still needs to be done particularly in the maintenance of facilities, enhanced welfare package for staff, and employment of sound academics to reduce excessive workload on lecturers.
All said and done, the sun is shining very bright again at my beloved alma mater under the diligent compassionate leadership of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and his management team. So, for our great university, it is”forward ever, backwards never.” Happy convocation ceremonies to everyone.