In dwelling on the matter at hand, let me borrow the eternal coinage of the late Ibadan born first Republic politician and stormy petrel; Busari Adegoke Adelabu – ‘Peculiar mess’ bastardised and changed to ‘Penkele mesi’ in Ibadan dialect, which later became the sobriquet of the late politician.
My appeal unequivocally is that the University of Lagos must be spared of the ongoing peculiar mess, infact all our ivory towers must be spared of such going forward.
In the quest to rid the University of Lagos of perceived financial recklessness or malfeasance, the governing council must be challenged to ensure that the reputation of the University is protected and the institution speared the peculiar mess playing out at the moment.
It is sad to see that the daily drama that happens in our political space is been extended to the University of Lagos.
Our ivory towers must be spared because whatever remains of our educational system must not be subjected to any ridicule.
The educational system presently has a lot of challenges and it will be devastating if contentions such as the one playing out between the visitor and Pro Chancellor; Dr Wale Babalakin, the governing council on one part and the Vice Chancellor; Prof. Toyin Ogundipe on the other is added to the list of problems in the sector. This is because in Nigeria, once an occurrence is recorded, it doesn’t take long before it becomes widespread.
The trouble started when the Vice Chancellor of Unilag was removed by the governing council of the institution with the Pro Chancellor justifying the decision with the law establishing universities which gives the council the power to hire and fire a vice chancellor, a position affirmed by the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Universities in Nigeria (CVC) but admonished that it should not have been done in an arbitrary manner. It was also gathered that in reaching the decision, twelve members of the council were present at the meeting and seven voted for Ogundipe’s removal, four voted against it and one voted that he be placed on suspension.
The council through the Pro Chancellor also claimed that the decision to sack the institution’s vice chancellor was reached because the VC has looted the university recklessly citing among his offences the allocation of 49 million naira to renovate his official quarters, 41 million naira to also renovate the official quarters of the bursar and allocation of security vote to the Dean of student affairs without approval from anyone as the spendings have gone beyond his approval threshold.
The embattled Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ogundipe is however saying the purported removal is an illegality and cannot stand as it is in clear violation of the University of Lagos Act as amended by the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2003.
On Thursday the 13th of August, he made a triumphant entry into the campus in a carnival like procession with members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities SSANU, the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, though the acting Secretary of SSANU has distanced the union from the charade stating that the whole misunderstanding is politically induced and that they will like to stay away from it.
It is not common sight to see staff unions in Nigerian institutions having a good relationship with the Vice Chancellors of the tertiary institutions, this case is a first, a rarity and a paradox.
Nonetheless, the Thursday jamboree also suggests that some people within the University community see the council’s decision as a travesty of justice hence the solidarity with the embattled VC and it also puts the governing council in an awkward situation because according to Lord Alfred Denning; “Justice must be rooted in confidence. Confidence is destroyed when right minded people go away thinking-the judge was biased”. The governing council will have to try as much as it can to convince the university community, alumni and keen watches on the priopriety of the decision taken.
This situation only reminds us of the scenarios that constantly plays out in the polity especially between ministers and heads of corporations on the spending thresholds of the heads of corporations which are often clearly stated in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) but continues to be a grey area in practise. It was a scenario which played out between the then minister of state for petroleum and late Maikanti Baru, former head of NNPC. We saw same trend in the crisis between Godswill Akpabio, the minister for Niger Delta and the management of NDDC.
I think is time the government comes out to clearly spell out these thresholds and make it abundantly clear. These occurrences are grave and endangering productivity as well as blurring the lines of authority and responsibilities of public officers.
The warring factions on their own must be prevailed upon to sheathe their swords and let the law and due process take control.
The governing council must do what is right, think of the consequences and far reaching implications.
The VC also must submit himself for scrutiny, allow the law to take its cause and if not satisfied, can always use the instrumentality of the law to seek redress.
The several unions as well such as ASUU must not join in stoking the embers of conflict in the institution as the union has declared Dr. Babalakin as an unwanted visitor on the campus following the petition he wrote to the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu by Pro Chancellor who ordered the National Universities Commission, NUC, to stop the congress of the Joint Staff Union, JSU which held on the 13th of August, 2020.
The Federal government needs to wade in which ever it can to restore normalcy to the campus by using late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa’s triology and concept of dispensing justice which advocates that justice is not a one way traffic, not even a two way traffic but a three way traffic. Justice must be for the accused, accuser and the society. In this case – Prof Toyin Ogundipe (accused), Unilag governing council (accuser) and the Unilag community and interested parties (society).