UNILAG Leadership Tussle: Why eyes are on President Buhari for dispute-ending pronouncement

UNILAG Leadership Tussle: Why eyes are on President Buhari for  dispute-ending pronouncement

The ongoing power tussle within the four walls of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has left a controversial vacuum in the leadership of the Institution, while expectations of a declaration from a higher authority, most expectedly from President Muhammadu Buhari is awaited by stakeholders to address the existing impasse.

The fracas between the embattled Vice-Chancellor (VC), Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, of the Institution and the Chairman of the Institution's Governing Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin, (SAN) which led to the announcement of the ousting of the former by the Babalakin-led Council is a bone of contention that has left stakeholders looking unto a  Federal Government authority to make a dispute-ending pronouncement.

The development of last week has led to a situation of impasse where people have been left in the middle wall on who really is now the VC of the Institution, with the existence of two power blocs making claims on the Institution's seat of the VC.

The face-off between Ogundipe, the embattled VC of UNILAG, and his contender, Babalakin, the Chairman, Governing Council of the Institution, had assumed a showdown dimension last  Wednesday when the University's Governing Council announced the removal of the VC from office, following a meeting held in Abuja. 

It was gathered that out of the 12 members of the Council who were present at the meeting, seven voted for the ouster of Ogundipe from office; while four voted against the move, and one voted that he should be placed on suspension. 

In a statement signed by the Registrar/Secretary to the Council, Oladejo Azeez, the Council claimed that  Ogundipe was removed from office based on allegations of "wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office". 

The statement which was titled, 'Notice to the general public on the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos' read: ”The general public is hereby notified that at an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, 12th August 2020 and in accordance with the statutory powers vested in it by law, the Governing Council of the University of Lagos removed Professor Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, FAS, from office as the Vice-Chancellor of the university with immediate effect. 

"The decision was based on the Council’s investigations of serious acts of wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness, and abuse of office against Professor Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, FAS." 

The announcement however has since attracted stiff reactions across board, as the public, the contending parties, and observers who have picked interest in the issue are looking up to a pronouncement from the President Buhari-led Federal Government on the current impasse rocking the Institution's leadership.

Ogundipe the embattled VC, had in a swift reaction contained in a statement, described the ousting as "untrue and a figment of imagination."  

The reactional statement titled: "Re: Notice to the General Public on the Removal of the Vice-Chancellor, the University of Lagos by Oladejo Azeez, Esq," read: "The attention of the University of Lagos (Unilag) management has been drawn to the ‘Notice to the General Public on the Removal of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos’; dated August 12, 2020, and signed by Oladejo Azeez, Esq, Registrar and Secretary to Council, stating that the current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, FAS has been removed from office with immediate effect. 

"This is untrue and a figment of his imagination. Therefore, stakeholders of Unilag and the general public are advised to disregard this mischievous disinformation about the sitting Vice-Chancellor of Unilag, contained in that notice. Professor Ogundipe still remains Unilag’s Vice-Chancellor." 

On similar grounds, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNILAG chapter, by its Chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, had also swiftly berated the development, standing on the ground that the Council lacked the constitutional powers to oust the VC.

In further reactions, a representative of the Senate in the Governing Council, Professor Bola Oboh, in a statement to the University’s Senate, berated the development, stating that the Pro-Chancellor, Babalakin, has trampled upon the regulation of the University following the abrupt announcement of the removal ofOgundipe. 

In his reactional statement, the Professor who slammed the action of Babalakin for not giving the Ogundipe a fair hearing to defend himself before announcing his removal had said: “Dear Senate members, the University of Lagos regulation has been stepped on and ridiculed. Babawale Babalakin, the ProChancellor waited for the tenure of Prof. Chukwu and Prof Familoni to end, to call an Emergency Council meeting.

"Based on the Dagari report, without allowing the VC to defend himself, the ProChancellor called for a vote for the removal of the VC. I (Prof. Oboh), Prof. Odukoya, Prof. Leshi, and John Momoh voted against the removal of the VC. Six persons (excluding Babalakin) voted for. Babalakin then went ahead to announce the removal of the VC. 

"Dear Senate members, the procedure for removal of persons in the office is clear and this was pointed out to Babalakin several times but he turned deaf ears. He said he will announce the Ag. Vice-Chancellor at 5 pm. I have excused myself that I need to report to Senate members the shameful act currently ongoing. Please let us arise to fight this."

Joint contentions against VC's ousting  

In a reactionary movement that further trailed the development, the Joint Staff Union (JSU), made up of the academic and non-academic staff of the University, had on Thursday kicked against the ousting of Ogundipe as VC, by the Governing Council, while calling on President Buhari to dissolve the Babalakin-led Governing Council.  

The development trailed the move by the embattled VC to challenge his removal by the Governing Council in Court.

The JSU which alleged that Babalakin is using the Council to fight needless battles, made this open at a Congress held recently to state their position on the ousting announcement by the Babalakin-led Governing Council.

The Unions consist of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, (SSANU); the National Association of Academic Technologists, (NAAT), and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU).

The signatories are the Chairman ASUU, Dr. Dele Ashiru; Chairman SSANU, Comrade Olusola Sowunmi; Chairman, NASU, Comrade Ajibade Kehinde; Chairman, NAAT, Comrade Sulyman Lawal; Chairman, NASU, College of Medicine, Idi Araba, Comrade Tunde Aderibigbe; and Secretary, SSANU, CMUL, Idi Araba, Comrade Ayo Alli.

Registering their displeasure, the Union warned that Ogundipe’s removal could set a bad precedence in the University's system while accusing Babalakin of violating the laws of the Institution by its Wednesday ouster announcement.

Members of the Union who declared their resolve to turn the Senate Building to their resumption point until the matter is settled had also raised alarm, frowning at the move to appoint an Acting Vice-Chancellor in place of Ogundipe.

The Babalakin-led Council, had early Thursday, appointed Prof. Theophilus Soyombo, a Professor of Sociology and a member of the University's Senate  as the Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, while issues over his assumption of office have remained in contention.

During the JSU Congress, Dr. Ashiru who spoke on behalf of ASUU, UNILAG chapter, as the Chairman, was quoted: “The University of Lagos is the first university in Nigeria to be set up through an Act of Parliament and that is why we have the University of Lagos Act 1962. The Act stipulates how the university is to be run. It spells out how to discipline any errant officer. In this case, all the procedures listed for disciplining officers were not followed.

“This is not a banana republic and even a junior clerk in the university should not be treated that way. We are not in the Oshodi market where somebody can turn himself into an idol to be worshipped. 

"When Dr. Wale Babalakin was appointed the Chairman of the Governing Council, being an alumnus of the school, we hoped that he would use his good offices to make the institution better, but the reverse is the case.”

Speaking for SSANU, NASU and NAAT, Sowunmi, Kehinde and Lawal,  similarly had noted that they were not in support of any party, but that they stand by the necessity of allowing the legal provisions of the Institution to have its course.

In a communique on the resolution reached the congress, the Joint Unions had said: “Against the foregoing background, the staff unions of the University of Lagos, hereby condemn in its totality the purported removal of our Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and described it as illegal, vexatious, unjust, vindictive and tantamount to jungle justice. 

"We, therefore, affirm our absolute confidence in the leadership of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. Therefore, the position of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos is not vacant." 

It was however disclosed that the University's Senate had in a sitting on Thursday, resolved to reject the removal of Ogundipe from office, while their resolution has been forwarded to the appropriate authorities. 

Embattled Ogundipe, fighting back

It was gathered that Ogundipe who returned to UNILAG on Thursday from the Council's meeting on Wednesday had gone on a solidarity walk from the venue where the Congress meeting was held to the main gate of the University alongside workers of the University who he appreciated for their support.

Ogundipe was quoted: “I have put in 30 years of meritorious service to the University of Lagos and whether as a junior or senior lecturer, Head of Department, Dean of a Faculty, Dean of Post Graduate School, Deputy Vice-Chancellor or as the Vice-Chancellor, I have never been found wanting.

"I see myself and all of you my comrades as builders in this university. We are building on the solid foundation laid by the founders and we must and will continue to build. I am peace-loving and want all of us to be so too. Also, we should not allow anybody or group to truncate the peace existing here on campus.

“I am a Comrade and a loyal member of our union and I will remain loyal to my fellow comrades. I am really overwhelmed by the show of support and solidarity by you all.”

Meanwhile, the embattled VC on his resolve to challenge his ousting in Court has briefed Chief Mike Ozekhome, (SAN) in a letter dated August 12.

According to the letter, Ogundipe mentioned that the action against him by the Council was “carried out without due process and contrary to the University Act and other extant laws governing discipline, suspension and removal of the Vice-Chancellor of the university."

Briefing Ozekhome "to institute legal action against the Council and Pro-Chancellor and others of the University of Lagos, Akoka in Lagos", he wrote: “I, hereby, formally brief you to institute legal proceedings against the Council, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos and others based on their illegal and unconstitutional act of purportedly removing me from office as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.

“I honestly believe that this action was carried out without due process and contrary to the University Act and other extant laws governing discipline, suspension, and removal of the Vice-Chancellor of the University. I humbly urge you to use your legal experience to redress this grave injustice meted out to me." 

Meanwhile, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) on Friday dissociated itself from the JSU solidarity protest attended by its acting Chairman, UNILAG chapter, Comrade Olusola Sowunmi, on the ousting of  Ogundipe by the University’s Council.

The SSANU Executive, UNILAG chapter had in a statement on Friday, signed by its acting Secretary, Comrade Feyisetan Olaoluwa, condemning its acting Chairman for participating in the protest had said: “The Executive of Unilag Senior Staff Association of Nigeria wishes to inform our democratic, well informed and honest union members of the University of Lagos that the action of the Acting Chairman yesterday in the rally of Academic Staff union on the removal of the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Toyin Ogundipe was a unilateral decision of his person and none of the Executive members were briefed.

“It should be made public that after he had made his blunders as usual it was also clear that our National body has called him to stay clear of the crisis he ignored all cautions. He is a dictator and self-centered.

“The letter of invitation for the Congress of ASUU was not extended to our union; therefore, it is unthinkable and lawless for a signature to be appended on our behalf in absentia. He is carelessly and recklessly ambitious to the extent that he appended his signature as Chairman when he was indeed in Acting Capacity.

“His inordinate ambition is terribly dangerous for the representation of our noble Union. We are not in support of his one-man shows.

“In this regard, we humbly tender our apology to our members for this one-man show ignominy. We have been managing his reckless piloting of the union affairs till this very hour but on this autocratic development, we are saying publicly that we are not involved.

“We are neutral on this issue. We pray for the amicable resolution of the crisis on the soil of the University of Lagos. Your votes brought us to power and we must respect your mandate. Once again it was a one-man show, not SSANU Unilag Branch Executives. Thank you all.”

Background of tussle 

The drama staging Ogundipe the embattled VC,  and Babalakin, the Chairman of the Council and Pro-Chancellor of UNILAG,  blew open last February when the later petitioned the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, accusing the VC of running a 'one-man-show' in the preparations for the convocation ceremonies of the Institution. 

The Minister had subsequently in response, ordered the National Universities Commission (NUC) to direct the VC to suspend the graduation ceremony. The ASUU chapter of the Institution, during one of the Congress it held, condemned Babalakin’s action and declared him an unwanted visitor on campus. 

Recall that in June, the Council attempted to hold a meeting on campus, but had to cancel it due to a congress fixed by ASUU for the same venue. The Council's inability to hold its meetings within the confines of the Institution can be pointed to as what prompted the Council to relocate to Abuja for its meetings.

Testing VC's removal before instituted UNILAG legal provisions

However, going by legal frameworks contained in the University's statutory provisions, the University of Lagos Act 1962 states how the Vice-Chancellor and other principal officers of the Institution can be appointed or removed from office.

The University of Lagos Act 1962, stipulates a 14-member Governing Council comprising the Pro-Chancellor, Chancellor, the VC, the two Deputy Vice-Chancellors, a representative of the Ministry of Education, one person representing a variety of interests. Others include four persons appointed by the Senate of the University; two persons appointed by the Congregation and one person appointed by Convocation.

Article 17 under the Constitution and functions of the University and its constituents bodies, listed how the Pro-Chancellor and certain members of the Council can be removed from office; which states that  “If it appears to the Council that a member of the Council (other than an ex-officio member) should be removed from office on the grounds of misconduct or inability to perform the functions of his office, the Council shall make a recommendation to that effect through the Chancellor to the Visitor and if the Visitor, after making such enquires (if any) as he considers appropriate, approves the recommendation, he may, by any instrument on writing signed by him, remove the person in question from office.” 

In addition, the First Schedule 4 (8) of the Act states, ”The Vice-Chancellor may be removed from office by the Visitor after due consultation with the Council and the Senate acting through the Minister of Education.” The 'Visitor' to the University as provided here, is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The provision, therefore, constitutes the reason why stakeholders and observers have their eyes on President Buhari, to declare his position as the 'Visitor'  to the Institution on the matter, according to the provisions of the University's institutional framework.

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