Tuesday, August 18, 2020 6:15 pm
Dr. Wale Babalakin, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, University of Lagos, had a chat with newsmen recently at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MM2), Lagos, where he spoke about the current crisis plaguing the University of Lagos. NEHRU ODEH was there.
Q: Recently, the University of Lagos chapter of ASUU declared you persona non grata. How do you react to that?
A: You know I’m a product of the law. And I only follow the law. I avoid rabble rousing. Under Nigerian laws nobody can prevent any other person from going to any place. It is guaranteed under the constitution. So you cannot say you have declared somebody persona non grata and he should not come to particular premises. So I never took it seriously. The second point is that it is clear under the labour laws of Nigeria that you cannot physically restrain anybody during a labour dispute. What you are allowed to do is to picket. And picketing means you are there, you are campaigning but you cannot physically restrain anybody. So all I would like to say is that ASUU should consult its legal advisers to see whether this is suitable.
Your Council made some appointments, but ASUU and the Senate of UNILAG rejected those appointments and also rejected the sack of the Vice-Chancellor. How do you react?
I preface this statement that I’m a product of law. The senate did not have a meeting because it could not have had one. The authority to call a senate meeting is the Vice-Chancellor. And at the time he purported to call the meeting he was no longer Vice-Chancellor. So, whatever statements were made are simply coming from a debating society, not the senate meeting.
You say you are a product of law. But the argument is that the law stipulated that before a Vice-Chancellor can be removed, the Council must appoint a sub-committee, especially when the removal had to do with allegations of infractions. Was a sub- committee appointed or put together before the purported removal of the Vice Chancellor? And if that is so, or not so, does the Council have the power to act on a sub-committee that has not submitted a report? Was there full compliance with the law?
Very intelligent question, but obviously you have a wrong narrative. Let me start. Whatever a sub-committee can do, the larger body can do it because the sub-committee is only an agent of the larger body. Let me give you an example. If you want to confirm an appointment in the Senate today, usually it goes to a committee of the Senate and then they bring it to the floor of the Senate. But the senate, as a whole, can decide to take the matter without even going through any sub-committee and it is valid in law. I think the confusion is that most of the people don’t know what the powers of the Council is viz-a-viz the removal of the Vice-Chancellor. I assure you that there was full compliance with the law in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor. And if you go and read that law very well, you will see how it can be done appropriately. And if after then you have questions, I will answer.
Both of you are alumni of UNILAG. This is the first time that any institution in Nigeria would have both the Pro-Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor being alumni of the institution. Was there any attempt to resolve the issue before it reached this crisis point?
The issues have been moving on for a long time. First, let me commend the members of the Council nominated by the federal government, the members of the Council nominated by a convocation, the members of the Council nominated by the congregation. I don’t think you will find a better selection of selfless and determined personalities who want the best for the university. Several attempts were made to reconcile. But the plain truth is that Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe has been looting the university, and looting it recklessly. That’s the plain truth. We shouldn’t hide in saying this. There is misappropriation; there is direct looting of the university. And all attempts were made to put an end to this. Are you aware that Professor Ogundipe was indicted for forging documents in the lifetime of this Council? Under the laws of the Council in the university, it is the Vice-Chancellor that chairs the committee for appointing certain cadre of personnel. So, there was interview for the position of Director of Works in the University. He chaired the committee. There were two external members, that is those from outside in the committee. Some person from Lagos State Polytechnic came first in the interview. He was then told to go and collate the interviews. He came and had changed the name to another person. Unknown to him, two of the members had photographed the raw results. And that was how we were able to rescue the situation and stopped the process and we brought a Director of Works though another process. The person nominated by Ogundipe had been indicted in two committee reports – one of which was Professor Fobam Report that says that this person should never occupy positions of authority. So he had consistently tried to bring very shady people into the university. And we have resisted. There is no crisis in UNILAG. What you have is a vocal minority benefiting extensively from the corruption in the university, which has become cultural and we are determined to stop it. And that is what this resistance is about. All the hype you see are just of the media. If you have a secret ballot in the University of Lagos today, you would discover that this management has been completely discredited.
The senate is alleging that due process was not followed in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor. And now there is a new acting VC that has been brought in. Was due process followed in removing Professor Ogundipe?
First of all, due process was followed. But there was no senate. That meeting was not that of senate. It was just a meeting of some professors. Because under the law only a Vice-Chancellor, who is in office, or somebody duly authorized can call a senate meeting. It is not a meeting you call at your discretion. It is not a meeting you call without following the law. So there was no senate meeting. I would not answer any questions from that senate meeting. Because then I will be confirming or supporting maladministration.
There is a sitting DVC. One expects that the DVC will be considered the acting Vice Chancellor.
I’m happy about these very intelligent questions. There is no sitting DVC. Professor Folasade Ogunsola and Professor Ben Oghojafor have not been confirmed as DVC by the Council. So in law they are not DVCs.
While all this is ongoing, at what point are you interfacing with the Ministry of Education such that you are on the same page on the reform the Council is carrying out, because it does appear as the Ministry of Education and the Governing Council of UNILAG are not are not on the same page ?
Well, I don’t agree with you. I have not heard anything from the Ministry of Education that is different from what we are doing. The only comment I heard from the Ministry of Education is that whoever has the right to hire has the right to fire, but they should follow due process. That’s all. The ministry has not made any statement that is contradictory.
Still on the ministry, have you duly briefed the ministry?
I can assure that I have done the appropriate thing.
Was there any instance that Professor Ogundipe was invited to defend or clear himself of all the allegations leveled against him?
There was even more than that. After the committee of Council investigated the finances of Council, it sent the report to all those affected. Professor Ogundipe wrote in defence to the allegations. I think it was submitted on May 13 or March 13 ( I would supply it to you later. I’m not sure of the date. I hate being inaccurate). Then he spoke for one hour in his defence. He had all opportunities of fair hearing under the law. So I’m surprised at the propaganda that is in the media.
You said due process was followed. And the unions say due process was not followed, that it is a joint committee of senate and Council that determines the removal. Can you please tell us what due process was followed so that we confirm it with what the unions are saying? Secondly members of senate that are represented in Council say that there were discrepancies in the voting process, that it was secret ballot and that what they voted was not what came out. So could you please give your own side of what transpired during the vote?
You have asked many questions. The first is that there was due process. And what I would advise you to do is to go and read the law. And when you read it I would be available for questions. Because without reading the law, you may not be able to follow the train of thought. But due process was followed and it was done in accordance with the law of UNILAG. Under the guidelines of University of Lagos, voting is either in secret or in the open. We agreed to have a secret ballot as we have always had when there are contentious issues. The votes were counted, and they were not just votes. Everybody wrote their own comment. They didn’t only vote, they wrote their comment. And I read out all the comments to everybody and nobody said there that his own comment has not been read. So, this allegation is an afterthought by people who are not given to telling the truth.
But the Senate is saying you didn’t follow the law.
I have told you repeatedly that I followed the law. Go and read the law. What the law says is that when a Vice Chancellor is removed, and he wants to complain he will write an appeal to the visitor. He cannot on his own declare that he has not been removed, as Ogundipe has tried to do. He cannot on his own decide to confront his employer. He cannot while still in office institute an action against his employer. In law, apart from being removed, he has impliedly resigned. Because if you challenged your employer and you are still in employment, you have actually left. So I think the weakness of Ogundipe is that his legal advisers have not done a very thorough job. He needs to go and read the law properly. Everything he has done post removal is a fraud and against the law.
Apparently, there seems to be a stalemate …
There is no stalemate.
What about the agreements and disagreements. The Vice-Chancellor is saying he has not been removed. Don’t you think there is chaos in the university?
There is no chaos. The law will take its course. I have just told you that it is not in the place of a removed VC to say he has not been removed. He cannot be a judge in his own court.
Aside from the allegations of looting, can you give us any specifics on that? And then what happens next?
One of the things that was signed in the committee report is that without mentioning to anybody, without any approval, Toyin Ogundipe spent N49 million renovating his official residence. Under due process, this has to be done by approval from the Council. He sought no approval. Now to cover up, he also gave the bursar N41 million to renovate his own house. The official residence of the bursar today can be built for N41 million from scratch. He exceeded his authority recklessly in financial management. Let me tell you something. You will not believe it. Ogundipe was paying security vote in UNILAG. He was paying security vote to the Dean of Students Affairs without anybody authorizing it. Is he a governor? Where did he get security votes from? They will you that the Pro-Chancellor has not passed the budget. The budget of the University of Lagos is not a true and fair account of the expenses of the university. It’s been a battle. Till now the budget of the university is not a fair reflection of the account of the university. Let me shock you more. When we got there we discovered that the account of the university was in tatters and could not be put together by the university. A member of Council paid money to bring a consultant to look into the accounts and make them presentable. What he reported was disturbing: that the account of the university really doesn’t exist. And there was a report on the internally generated revenue of the university. I read the full report. At a stage I thought my head was going to burst because everything that was in that report was that the IGR was badly managed. So, gentlemen, the resistance that you are seeing is that a group of people have decided to do right. In all the allegations they have made against me, have they told you that I have collected a kobo? Because when I got there I told them that I wasn’t here to collect any money. I don’t collect sitting allowance. I don’t collect travel allowance. I don’t collect any money from the university. And I was giving a lot of money to the university. Until I discovered that the problem of the university was not money but mismanagement. I gave N500, 000 to my faculty every month. I stopped in the 27th month, when I discovered that the problem of the university was not money, but gross mismanagement.
All the unions in the university have declared their support or Professor Ogundipe. How do you intend to work with the union so that they don’t make your Council ungovernable?
Who told you they have declared their support? Because a few people signed a document? Who told you? Even the senate meeting they called, how many people attended?
They said they formed a quorum.
Well, I would not argue with that because I don’t know what their quorum is. I don’t have their figures. But I was informed that the meeting was not attended. But why should I even talk about the meeting? There was no meeting? There was nobody who could have called the meeting.
Let’s not deny the fact that this crisis is getting worse. Where is the interest of the students that are being embarrassed by this development?
That’s what we are fighting for. It’s the interest of the students we are fighting for. When the management submitted budget to me, the amount of money allocated for direct teaching and facilities was about one quarter of the amount of money allocated for a cleaning contract. The university spends more on cleaning than on direct teaching. I screamed when I saw it. Then I said how can you allocate such meager figure for supporting students and you are allocating massive figure for expenditure that are not related to scholarship. I don’t subscribe to the fact that the unions are with the Academic Staff Union of the University. I don’t subscribe to it. I know that we are the silent majority. Once these things are sorted out, the university will move forward. I want to repeat my compliments for the Council members appointed by the federal government. You can’t get a better set of people. I remember the mandate we gave the Council committee was when we became members of Council. So they would look at it. I think we were members of Council for about six months before he came in. So, they would look at the six months before and they would look at the subsequent one. And he wasn’t the only one indicted. The report is less than six per cent of Toyin Ogundipe’s atrocities.
How many people were indicted?
I won’t know it off hand. And as a lawyer I must always be accurate.
What’s the Vice-Chancellor’s approval limit?
The Vice Chancellor by convention for certain things cannot exceed 2.5 million. But for certain other things, if he obtained prior approval, he can spend the money.
Is there no other way this can be resolved?
The man that has taken us to court? He sued us. I believe that the authorities should investigate him.
Are you taking this case to the anti-corruption agency?
I won’t say how far I’m going to go because it is not my decision. But my personal decision is that he should be investigated. But I have to carry the Council along to come up with a conclusion. I think he should be investigated so that we can start rebuilding the university system.