The establishment of a special Visitation Panel at Nigeria’s University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the election by the university senate of an acting vice-chancellor have seen some semblance of normalcy return to the first generation public university.
The crisis that consumed the university this month centred around two prominent personalities: Dr Wale Babalakin, pro-chancellor and chairman of the council of the university; and Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, the vice-chancellor and chairman of the senate. Both were able to mobilise their constituencies to line up behind their ideas about how the university should be governed and administered. In a battle of wits, each of the ‘gladiators’ defended their respective positions through relevant sections of the universities’ laws.
The council and the senate, the university’s two most powerful organs, were at times in open confrontation, with attendant consequences for the university. Other groupings, including the trade unions and the proscribed but active leadership of the student union and the alumni association, joined the fray with their own perceptions of the battle between the two parties.
Dismissal of vice-chancellor
Tensions started to mount after the vice-chancellor was dismissed by the council at an emergency meeting of the council on 12 August. The meeting was relocated, allegedly for the safety of council members, to the National Universities Commission in Abuja, the country’s capital.
Relying on a report of the external auditor, Babalakin accused the vice-chancellor of financial recklessness at that meeting, claiming that as chairman of the Finance and General Purpose Committee, he had authorised repeated illegal disbursements of funds without the approval of the governing council in session. The council then appointed Professor Omololu Soyombo as acting vice-chancellor to replace Babalakin.
The suspension of the vice-chancellor was rejected by the university senate on procedural grounds in a subsequent emergency meeting held two days later and presided over by Professor Chioma Agomo, the former dean of the faculty of law. At this meeting, the senate resolved to recognise Ogundipe as de jure vice-chancellor of the university.
Explaining the senate’s opposition to the events, Dr Eromosele Pius based in the faculty of law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, told University World News there were “laid down rules” and procedures with regard to the dismissal of vice-chancellors and appointments of acting vice-chancellors.
“This is the joint responsibility of the governing council and the university senate. Both organs must put in place a joint committee to permit the vice-chancellor to defend himself of all the charges levelled against him. The report of this joint committee is submitted to the governing council in session. If the vice-chancellor is found guilty, the final decision of the council is sent to the Visitor [president of the country] for ratification. And an acting vice-chancellor is appointed pending the appointment of a joint committee of both senate and council.
“This laid down procedure was not followed by Dr Wale Babalakin who is both an alumnus of the university and a respected lawyer of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This decision of the governing council would certainly be rejected in a court of justice,” he said.
The alumni association of the university also called for due process in a press release. The association appealed to all parties to sheathe their swords and allow concerned citizens to find amicable solution to this thorny issue.
The Coalition of University of Lagos Student Unionists (COULSU) appealed to its members not to side with either of the warring factions. However, it called on the university authorities to reinstate the University of Lagos Students’ Union (ULSU) and the Student Legislative Council (SLC), which were suspended indefinitely in 2016.
Intervening in the matter on 21 August, University Visitor, Nigerian President General Muhammadu Buhari ordered that Babalakin and Ogundipe step aside and the university senate appoint an acting vice-chancellor. The senate subsequently met and elected Folasade Ogunsola, a professor of medical microbiology, to the acting position. This marks the first time a woman has been appointed to the post since the creation of the university in 1962.
A Visitation Panel headed by Professor Tukur Sa’ad, former vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, has been established.
It is required to review the report of the council’s subcommittee on review of expenditure of the University of Lagos since May 2017 and make appropriate recommendations after affording those indicted an opportunity to defend themselves; examine the steps taken by the council leading to the removal of Ogundipe and ascertaining whether due process was followed; and determine whether the process (if any) leading to the appointment of the acting vice-chancellor for the university was consistent with the provisions of the enabling Act.
The panel is also required to make recommendations including sanctions to all those found culpable by the special visitation team on the allegations contained in the report and subsequent actions arising therefrom and to make any recommendations that will help government to make decisions that will ensure peaceful, stable and efficient administration of the university.
In an interview with University World News, Director of Information in the Federal Ministry of Education Ben Goong said the Visitor was required to intervene in the crisis because neither the council nor the senate was capable of resolving the issues.
“In order to prevent a dangerous drift to anarchy and chaos, the Visitor decided to intervene and bring sanity to the university. Senate was mandated by the Visitor to elect an acting vice-chancellor. The Visitation Panel has been put in place to find solution to the root of the current crisis. All stakeholders and aggrieved parties should come to the panel to propose solutions to the crisis bedeviling the university,” he said.
Support for intervention
UNILAG political science academic and chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos branch, Dr Dele Ashiru, commended the actions of the Visitor.
“It is praiseworthy that the Visitor allowed due process by respecting the role of the senate – a role that the suspended governing council chairman, Dr Wale Babalakin, failed to recognise. The Visitor should also be commended for asking senate to reconvene with a view to selecting an acting vice-chancellor in compliance with the law. The Visitation Panel would provide a platform to all parties involved to defend their actions. We hope that the white paper emanating from the Visitation Panel reports would heal the festering wounds of the university,” Ashiru said.
Following Buhari’s intervention, the senate of UNILAG indicated it had withdrawn an industrial court application to challenge the dismissal of Ogundipe, according to local media reports.
In addition, the ASUU and the Non-Academic Staff Union, both of UNILAG, Akoka branch, have indicated they will support Ogunsola in her role as acting vice-chancellor.