Crisis Rocks UNILAG As Council Sacks Vice-Chancellor

University of Lagos (UNILAG), a first generation citadel of learning in Nigeria, is enmeshed in a crisis of leadership between the Governing Council and the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe.

On Wednesday, the council announced the sack of the vice-chancellor and appointed a replacement but the incumbent repudiated the claim.

The council  had stated in a public notice that Ogundipe’s sack was based on its findings after investigating allegations of misconduct against him.

“The general public is hereby notified that at an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, August 12, and in accordance with the statutory powers vested in it by Law, the Governing Council at the University of Lagos removed Professor Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, from office as Vice-Chancellor of the University with immediate effect,” it stated.

The notice was signed by the University Registrar and Secretary of the council, Mr Oladejo Azeez.

“This decision was based on the Council’s investigation of serious acts of wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office against Professor Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe,” it explained and  announced the appointed Prof. Theophilus Soyombo as the acting Vice-Chancellor.

Soon after, Ogundipe released a statement urging the public to “disregard this mischievous disinformation”,describing it as a figment of the imagination of the university Pro-Chancellor, Dr Wale Babalakin.

“Professor Ogundipe still remains UNILAG’s Vice-Chancellor,” he said.

The announcements reveal that the long-standing estrangement between the university administration and the chairman of the council has finally reached a boiling point.

Babalakin  in a petition addressed to the Minister of Education, Mr Adamu Adamu, in February, accused the vice-chancellor of running a “one-man show” in preparation for the school’s convocation ceremonies. On the minister’s orders, the ceremonies were then suspended.

Offended by the turn of events, the university chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared Babalakin an “unwanted visitor” during one of its congresses in March.

In June, the governing council was forced to cancel a meeting it had scheduled to hold on campus as ASUU also decided to use the same venue for its general meeting. The council’s meeting was eventually relocated to the office of National Universities Commission in Abuja.

The local branch of ASUU insisted the council chairman’s status as a persona non grata could only be reversed by the congress  despite criticism from some top academics.

According to the University (Amendment) Acts, 2003, establishing the school, for the vice-chancellor to be removed, a joint committee of the council and University Senate would be constituted to consider the allegations and grounds for removal and report  to the council.

“The council may, where the allegations are proved, remove the vice-chancellor or apply any other disciplinary action it may deem fit and notify the visitor accordingly provided that a vice-chancellor who is removed shall have right of appeal to the visitor,” the Act further stipulates.

If the Office of Vice-Chancellor is vacant, the council is expected to appoint an acting VC on the recommendation of the Senate, who “shall not be in office for more than six months”.

ASUU, Senate members condemn council’s decision

The university chapter of  ASUU has described Ogundipe’s removal as unlawful and uncalled for. “Our union condemns in the strongest term the purported removal,” the chairman, Dr Dele Ashiru, said on Wednesday.

“It is the machination of the pro-chancellor to destabilise this university and our union has been on the forefront of the agitation against a reckless and lawless pro-chancellor. We reaffirm our confidence in the leadership of Professor Toyin Ogundipe as Vice-Chancellor of the university.”

Likewise, members of the university senate have not kept silent about the developments. They said the council failed to properly consider the allegations against the VC, failed to follow due process, and failed to allow votes cast to be independently verified. They called the sitting a “travesty of justice on the predetermined plan to ridicule and remove the VC by any means possible”.

Professors Olekumi Odukoya and Bola Oboh individually described Babalakin’s action as condemnable and urged others to challenge it.

“Dear Senate members, the University of Lagos regulation has been stepped on and ridiculed. Babawale Babalakin, the Pro-Chancellor, waited for the tenure of Prof. Chukwu and Prof. Familoni to end to call an emergency council meeting,” Oboh said in a statement.

He added, “Based on the Dagari report, without allowing the VC to defend himself, the Pro-Chancellor 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.

“The procedure for removal of persons in 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 p.m. I have excused myself that I need to report to Senate members the shameful act currently ongoing. Please let us arise to fight this.”

In a separate statement, Odukoya, who is also a Senate representative at the council, said the decision was “unacceptable” and the staff must rise in the management’s defence.

The Provost of College of Medicine, Prof Leshi, similarly expressed his dissatisfaction with the events leading up to to the VC’s removal. He said the council meeting was convened to deliberate on the school’s budget for 2020 but “the council chairman changed the order of the agenda by bringing up the report of a sub-committee headed by Dr Saminu Dagari on university expenditure since 2017”.

“This report had been earlier considered in March 2019 where allegations were made against the vice-chancellor and others. However, the response of the VC and others had not been considered by the council in plenary,” he noted.

He also confirmed that the VC and DVC Development Services, Prof. Ogunsola, were asked to leave without an opportunity to defend themselves against the allegation.

“The Pro-Chancellor then asked Dr Dagari to summarise his findings, which he did and despite that the procedural flaw in not asking another panel to look at the allegations and VC’s response, went ahead and called for a vote on the removal of the VC,” the provost said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said it had not been informed about the developments.

The Director of Press in the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong, said the minister had yet to be “briefed on the developments at the University of Lagos regarding the purported removal of the VC.

“While the ministry awaits for the proper briefing from the university authorities, it is important to reaffirm that council has the power to hire and fire, but that due process must be followed in doing so,” Goong stated.

Like other institutions across the country, the university is shut because of the coronavirus pandemic but students in the foundation programme are attending classes outside the campus, HumAngle learnt.

Before the closure of schools because of COVID-19, lecturers in the university joined others unders auspices of ASUU on a national strike over the payment of their salaries and other issues relating to the university system in Nigeria.

The national leadership of ASUU has been calling on the Federal Government to remove Babalakin as the leader of the government team on discussions for the revitalisation of the university system which has suffered disruptions over disagreements on the matter.

The union accuses the UNILAG pro-chancellor of frustrating efforts to resolve the issues because of his unilateral approach to issues.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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