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More Heads To Roll In UNILAG •Babalakin, Ogundipe Trade Words, Resumption In Jeopardy

Posted 8/15/2020

MORE top officials of the embattled University of Lagos (UNILAG) are to be axed for alleged financial recklessness and mismanagement which consumed the institution’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe on Wednesday, the Governing Council, disclosed on Friday.

The Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council, Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN, made this known at a press briefing in Lagos while defending the legitimacy and legality of the processes that led to the sacking of the embattled academic. Though he kept the names of the other indicted persons under wraps, he assured they would be served the comeuppance of their actions.

The Council on Thursday named Professor Theophilus Soyombo as the acting Vice-Chancellor of the institution while workers and unions of the varsity conducted a solidarity rally alongside Ogundipe on the campus, with the axed leader, claiming to still be in charge. By Friday, the institution was almost “headless” as both Ogundipe and Soyombo were absent, making it difficult to determine who is exactly running the prestigious institution as of press time.

Soyombo, a professor of Sociology, however, told Saturday Tribune in an exclusive interview that he had since resumed office, since his acting appointment was of immediate effect. The Faculty of Social Sciences’ don also promised he would be speaking later on the developments that led to his acting appointment.

A tough time, however, appears to be ahead of Mr Soyombo as the University senate of which he was a prominent member before his controversial appointment, on Friday, also raised a three-man panel, all professors and dispatched it  to Abuja, with a letter on the position of the Senate on the crisis rocking the institution.

Three copies of the letter, with a mandate to be personally delivered, were also dispatched with the panel, one for  President Muhammadu Buhari, Visitor to the university, one for the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and the third,  for the Executive Secretary of the National University Commission (NUC), on whose premises the ‘coup’ against  Ogundipe was hatched and effected.

The content of the letter, Saturday Tribune learnt, was the position of the senate which has consistently been sympathetic towards Ogundipe, is reportedly seeking a reversal to the status quo, before the Abuja meeting. Gone for good?

If Babalakin’s words at Friday’s press conference would carry all the weight of his position as the Pro-Chancellor of the institution, Ogundipe is possibly a toast. Speaking with the media at his MMA2 office, the senior lawyer, insisted that the termination of the appointment of Ogundipe as the vice-chancellor of the university followed due process.

He also said the embattled academic was served all the allegations levelled against his person and given enough time to defend himself and that he did. The Silk described self as a product of law, who would not do anything unlawful,  adding that he was taken aback that Prof Ogundipe was pretending as if he was not allowed to defend himself.

He further disclosed that it was not even only Ogundipe that was found culpable of wrongdoing, especially as regards what he called ‘financial recklessness’ by an investigation panel. According to him, there were others in and now out of the university system, that was also indicted.

Though he didn’t mention any of them, he said those involved would still be served the consequences of their actions. He said there was gross misappropriation as well as direct looting of the university money and that there were attempts to plead for cover up but the truth must be told.

According to him, it was only after the council set up a committee headed by Dr. Saminu Dagari that the illegal expenses were discovered. “They were never brought to the attention of either the Finance and General Purposes Committee or  the Council or even the Pro-Chancellor, let alone approved.

He said, “These are simply criminal offences. Even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with his enormous executive powers would not unilaterally and arbitrarily spend public money without the approval of the National  assembly.”

Ogundipe was also accused of making a deputy vice-chancellor who had been involved in the award of the contract for  the construction of the library, chairman of the committee also investigated the collapse of the building. He also accused him of authoring documents within the life time of the current council in order to appoint his own candidate into certain cadres of personnel in the university, making reference to the appointment of director of works for which Ogundipe chaired the committee saddled with the selection.

He said an external candidate ought to have been given the job based on his performance at the interview but that Prof Ogundipe as chairman of the selection committee favoured a candidate and that the school had to cancel the process and adopt another.

“The vice-chancellor’s action was untenable and totally disgraceful. Obviously, there was a plan to conceal the facts and protect the persons involved,” he said. He however, said the investigative team discovered that the whole process was done in flagrant disregard of the council and the Federal Ministry of Education.

He said that he was declared a personal non-grata by the staff unions of the university. He said all he was doing in his capacity was to ensure that transparency and accountability were restored to UNILAG so as to be able to perform its tripartite mandates of learning, research and community services.

He said only a few sections of the university who were benefitting from the system were the ones fighting against the decision of the governing council. He said he was very sure that the various sections in the university would praise the governing council when they got to know the true position about Prof Ogundipe.

On why none of the two deputy vice-chancellors, who were part of the council, was given the position of acting vice-chancellor by the council, he said it was simply because both of them were yet to be confirmed legally to the offices they presently occupy.

He said the sacking and all issues surrounding it were not personal but a way to make UNILAG a better brand globally. He added that it was discovered that the problem of UNILAG is no the paucity of funds but that of misappropriation and financial recklessness on the part of the management.

“And that is why I stopped giving the university my money as I used to do since I became the chairman of the governing council. “I don’t collect a dime nor a sitting allowance from the university as I see my appointment as a  contribution to the development of the university, which is my alma mater.”

It’s all a charade- Ogundipe Meanwhile, in a document sighted by Saturday Tribune, Prof Ogundipe described the allegations against him as a charade. He said arbitrary and unilateral actions of the Pro-Chancellor had made the  University of Lagos a laughing stock in the public domain.

He said the number of academic staff who were issued frivolous queries by the Registrar on Babalakin’s instructions generated undue tension on campus. “In the short period of two years, he played divisive politics and attempted to turn the unions against the management as well as against each other.

“Staff who had erred and been properly sanctioned by the university, have found solace in the Pro-Chancellor’s  Chambers and indiscipline and insubordination have been encouraged. “The Pro-Chancellor’s actions are clearly capable of bringing the reputation and achievements of this great institution into disrepute. It is the responsibility of  this council that this does not happen. The Pro-Chancellor cannot be allowed to bring down the house over which he superintends. The University of Lagos brand is the responsibility of us all.”

According to him, the Pro-Chancellor issued various memoranda which developed into outright queries to the principal officers of the university especially the Vice-Chancellor and the Bursar and these were reported in the media undermining the office of the Vice-Chancellor who is the Chief Executive Officer of the university.

Ogundipe lamented the fact that despite the presence of expert budget and accounting professionals on the Council, the Pro-Chancellor decided to appoint a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry with no accounting background or experience,  Dr Saminu Dagari, to head the committee that probed the finances of the institution.

He equally faulted the appointment of the registrar, Mr Azeez Oladejo and former Deputy Bursar (Budget &  Expenditure control), Mrs Adepeju Adefope as members of the committee, the two of which he said were technically deficient even as their offices were also being investigated.

“A cursory look at the report, the Registrar and Revd Yomi Kasali signed the report even though they attended 3 and 2 out of over 40 meetings held by the Committee respectively. “I have it on good authority (from the text message sent by the Registrar), that Dr Bayo Adaralegbe, a member of Council and a staff of Babalakin & Co. Chambers brought the report from the Chambers to the university campus for members’ signature. One then wonders why a non-member of the committee would be responsible for taking the report round for signature.

“It is expedient to point out that the original version of the report which was produced by the secretary was duly signed  by only those who participated in the deliberations of the panel.” The former VC also accused the pro-chancellor of financial recklessness by allowing the committee to sit indefinitely for over 40 times and in the process incurring a bill of over N7 million by way of sitting allowance, hotel expenditure as well as feeding at meetings out of which only Dagari was responsible for over 80 per cent of the expenses “It is also important to point out here that the External Audit Firms appointed by Council for the regular one- year audit of the University’s finances costs the university N5.2 million only.

“It is also instructive to note that simultaneously within this period, the Pro-Chancellor had authorised an External  Audit firm of his choosing to look into the books of the university for which he paid from his account. The report of his External Auditors was essentially the standard kind of audit report showing some weaknesses in some of the internal control but did not detect fraud. They also made their recommendations as appropriate in a report. “It would appear that the whole idea of setting up the committee was a charade,” he said.

Committee of VCs kick. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Universities (CVC) also condemned the removal of  Ogundipe, allegedly without due process. The committee also condemned the appointment of an acting vice chancellor for the university outside the university’s three Deputy Vice-Chancellors. Yakubu Ochefu, Secretary-General, CVC,  expressed the view of the committee while fielding questions from journalists on Friday in Abuja.

According to him,“The chairman of the council knows that the tenure of two members of the council has expired, so he waited for the members not to be in council to get the majority vote. “It is like a hatchet job, we don’t want it to appear like that because of the integrity of (the) the University of Lagos.

“The integrity is very high and we don’t want council members to degenerate to that situation. “As it is now, we have a  stalemate and it is looking more in favour of the university senate than the council.” “Unilag has three deputies, none of them was appointed as acting vice-chancellor but somebody else entirely.

“This is going to pose another problem, senate members will not allow such a person to chair their meeting because they don’t know him within the context of laws establishing universities. “The challenge we have with this particular ction is that the university community says the council did not follow due process; indeed, the communication from the embattled the vice-chancellor is clear and it is to that effect.

“In the procedure for removing a vice-chancellor, you have to set up a joint council/senate committee. “The vice-chancellor will be given the opportunity to defend himself; from there, a submission will be made to the council which will make a decision,” Ochefu said. “As CVC, we advise the council to take a step back and allow the process of removing a  vice-chancellor, as established by the law, to take its course. “It is a simple process. If it finds the man guilty, the council can remove him, but it should go through the normal process,” he said.

He noted that fair hearing remained a fundamental human right. Ogundipe’s removal illegal, won’t stand —Varsity senate, staff unions On the matter, all the major stakeholders in the university community have reacted and still eating, including the senate, which is the highest decision-making organ as regards academics matters in the university.

The Vice-Chancellor and his three deputies, as well as all the lecturers in the professorial cadre, are members. Others are all the four staff unions in both the main campus of the university and at the institution’s college of medicine, Idi-Araba.  They are the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).

Though cracks are beginning to emerge amongst the unions, the popular opinion is still in favour of Ogundipe. They said because they are in-house, they know better about the rules and procedures guiding the university system, including appointment and removal of the chief executive officer of the university if the need arises and therefore received the news of the termination of Ogundipe’s appointment as a rude shock.

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