UNILAG: Smeared But Not Sinking – Rejoinder Pandemonium In The Lagoon Light House: Unilag In Recent Times

The University of Lagos also known as the Lagoon Light House has been under intense scrutiny in recent times.

Universities are known to be centers for the dissemination of truth and the bastion of integrity. In the exchanges that have come out on the issues raised, it is evident that apart from the decadence being unearthed, truth and integrity that should be jealously guarded are made to suffer on the altar of sycophancy and the desire for ingratiation. Three main interventions in the social media have been made in response to the advertorial of 26th June, in the Guardian. These are by Dr. Laja Odukoya, Professor Ojikutu and Professor Okanlanwon in his Unilag History notes series. All of these have been demonstrably pro management and anti- Council.

 They all give the impression that while management had been right, Council had been either over bearing or meddlesome. This makes it inevitable to take a second look at the saga with a view to striking a balance. Before one goes into the details of this observation, it is useful to have a resume of the sequence of events to aid a better understanding of the issues and different positions of the commentators as well as the dramatis personaes involved in the discourse so far. 

   The Council under the leadership of Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) has had the duty of appointing the Vice Chancellor, the Bursar as well as the University Librarian. The council’s composition is stipulated by the University Act. The Act requires the Federal Government to nominate some members to represent special interest and that their nomination should as much as possible reflect the geopolitical zone of the Federation. The appointment of nominees and find out is purely at the discretion of Government and to the best of one’s knowledge, appointees do not apply for the job of council membership where they have to disclose their details as required in cases of application for jobs in the country. Also, on appointment, no member of the public or the University raised any objection about the suitability or otherwise of any of the external members of council. In any case, apart from the stipulation that the government should reflect the geopolitics of the country, no provision is made for objection to the composition of the Council. 

  On commencing its duties, the Council under Babalakin, who has had the benefit of experience as a Pro Chancellor in the University of Maiduguri where he recorded resounding successes that made members of the geopolitical zone to lament his redeployment made some worrisome discoveries and this led the council to institute a fact finding committee to investigate this discoveries further. This was the Dagari Committee. While this was going on, there was a force majeur. This was the partial collapse of the multi- storey University Library under construction. The Vice Chancellor thereafter constituted a committee to probe into the circumstances leading to the collapse albeit without consultation with Council. The Council also instituted a committee of its own headed by a Professor of Law, Professor P.K. Fogam. It was discovered that the head of the Vice Chancellor constituted committee Professor Duro Oni, had participated in the process for the award of the contract for the construction of the Library.

  These two committees made startling revelations. Arising from the revelations, Council decided to ask for explanations from management in exercising its statutory prerogatives. It is from this stage that hell appeared to have been let loose on the University. So bad was the situation that a group of concerned people took an advertorial in the Guardian of 26th June, to set the issues in a proper perspective. The perceived anomalies unearthed by the Council committees have been well laid out by the above stated advertorial not to require belaboring. It will therefore suffice to summarize them. The committees discovered that management had committed some managerial infractions. This included the Vice Chancellor approving expenditure above his statutory capacity, splitting contract and renovating the Vice Chancellor’s lodge with a whooping sum of forty nine million naira, authorizing payment for janitorial services running into hundreds of millions without a valid contract, incurring expenditure for which there is no budget or spending above what was budgeted. There was also the discovery that in awarding the contract for the partially collapsed University Library, the least qualified company (DUTUM Construction Company) without the requisite equipment, manpower and experience to execute a contract of that magnitude was chosen. The Library was approved to be ten floors but the number of floors were reduced to seven without recourse to the approving authority and variation in the price, the foundation approved for the building is pile but it was changed to cellular raft without authority and reduction in price, the amount paid so far is in excess of the work done. There is also no soil test for a building of the magnitude of the Library.

  Rather than responding to this directive for explanation, Council in general and the Pro- Chancellor officially and personally had been a subject of scatting criticisms and attack. It has been pointed out that the Pro-Chancellor had been tyrannical and dictatorial, lied about his state of origin and selected somebody from his chambers to be in Council.  

Dr. Laja Odukoya set the tone for the response against the advertorial in a release to the social media captioned failure of leadership under the watch of Bablakin. By so doing he personized the whole issue and threw courtesy, decorum and finesse to the winds to the embarrassment of both good home and institutional tutelage. Bablakin may be the Pro-Chancellor, the position of the Pro-Chancellor is an office that good home and proper institutional dressing should have taught him. His intervention belabored the issue of Bablakin claiming he is from Ekiti state and had appointed a member of his Chamber (Dr. Adaralegbe ) to Council to derive some advantage. 

He also averred that Bablakin’s action is the result of his failure to get his preferred candidate appointed as the Vice Chancellor or to get the Vice Chancellor to accept this candidate as his deputy. He also pointed out that the allegations of financial irregularities are trumped up charges that had not been considered by Council and that the regulatory bodies (Ministry of Education, the NUC and of late the House of Representatives} have given the Vice Chancellor a clean bill of health in the matter. He lamented the Pro-Chancellor’s appointment as unfortunate and that his performance at the University of Maiduguri as not edifying enough to merit his appointment to the University of Lagos. He finally advised the Pro-Chancellor to go and establish his own University where he can be a Zar. Interestingly, even though the authors of the advertorial clearly indicated their identities, Dr. Odukoya holds Dr. Babalakin accountable for its publication. Dr. Odukoya’s representation is an essay in vituperations devoid of finesse and decorum as will be pointed out later.

In the intervention by Professor Ojikutu referred to above, he did say that the University has zero tolerance for impunity and then proceeded to trace the genesis of the current crisis to council’s involvement in the politics of post -Vice Chancellor’s appointment where the losers have not reconciled themselves to their loss. He then proceeded to justify the Vice Chancellor’s action of approving more than his statutory power for overseas trip for himself and others This is that everybody knows that return air tickets on foreign trips run into millions. Even though he did not anchor his argument well, he is implying that the Vice Chancellor is justified in taken more than he is statutorily entitled to and approving same for other functionaries of the University as has been identified by the Dagari committee report. A discerning reader will not fail to know that both Dr. Laja’s and Professor Ojikutu’s interventions are projections of two fingers from the same hand. They started from different premises but have ended with the same conclusion of exonerating a management from an overbearing and meddlesome Council. What is also interesting is that they chose the same proverb in Yoruba and Igbo to drive home their points. They also chose the same subterfuge of confusion (Complications arising from post Vice Chancellor’s appointment)

The latest in the series of intervention is the representation of Professor Yomi Okanlawon in his University of Lagos historical note series. This was posted on 4th July. In it he also towed the line of the earlier two contributors by identifying Council as the trouble maker in the ongoing situation in the University and called on Council to borrow a leave from a publication by Professor Okebukola about how to run a successful council. It is obvious that Professor Okanlawon being a serial loser in electoral competitions in the University is desperate to get a patronage of the authorities for offices he cannot get through elections.

Where or what is the true position in all of this?

This then raises the question is the management right while council is wrong? To be able to answer this question an assessment of the different interventions in the light of the statutory functions of the two echelons of authority is necessary. 

The University of Lagos Act from which both council and management derive their authorities has indicated the functions of both. Section 7 (1) of the University of Lagos Act provides that Council shall be the governing body of the University and shall be charged with the general control and superintendence of the policy finances and property of the University including its public relations. In the light of this provision, can Council then be said to be acting ultra vires or beyond its legal authority in asking for explanation about how the finances of the University for which it has responsibility of control? This is particularly so when other legal provisions also indicate the limit of the powers of the management. In approving expenditures, the Vice Chancellor is limited to a maximum of two and a half million naira. As a result of the constraint on how much he has the power to authorize, Council is simply asking for an explanation of how a whooping sum of forty nine million could be disbursed for the renovation of the VC’s quarters and forty one million for the Bursar’s without its knowledge. The interventions so far pro management as they have been, have not been able to say that Council has no legal authority to ask this question. Put differently, the interventions have not been able to say that the Vice Chancellor has acted within his statutory competence. All that have been said is that Council should emulate its predecessors (except Are Afe Babalola who carried out a similar crusade) that did not see any of the said violations. It remains to be properly established whether this type of managerial oversight or errors occurred in the tenure of previous Councils. Ojikutu asked the Council to take a clue from the tenures of Chief Afe Babalola and Professor Jerry Gana. Reasonable as this piece of advice may appear to him, he seems to have forgotten that these are different individuals with different managerial styles and approaches. Also, one important difference between the current Pro-Chancellor and the other two eminent gentlemen is that while the other two were first time Pro-Chancellors when they were appointed in the University of Lagos, the current Pro-Chancellor has had the benefit of experience as a former Pro-Chancellor in the University of Maiduguri where his record of performance continues to inspire nostalgia. 

The disbursement of security vote of 2.4million naira monthly to the Dean of students Affairs for example, is known to have been going on before the current Council. Council is saying that there is no budgetary provision for this. The anti -Council and pro management interventions have not been able to show that there had been such a provision and Council is crying wolf where there is none. The University has lost close to two hundred and fifty million naira through this extra budgetary dispensation.

As an academic, the accusation of impersonation against the Pro-Chancellor ridicules the intellect of the accusers. This is because to be able to make this accusation with a modicum of credibility, they, the accusers, would have had to show that the Pro-Chancellor in applying for the job of Pro-Chancellor made this claim in the Curriculum vitae that he submitted. It is a fundamental principle of Law that he who alleges must prove. To the best of one’s knowledge, people do not apply for appointment to the council to government. The appointment is made by government strictly on its own discretion. Only internally elected members have the opportunity to campaign to their colleagues for election. Even at that, they do not supply any cv to make any claim.

Secondly, to what end will Babalakin make a false claim about his state of origin? There is nothing to indicate that his not coming from Ekiti state would have been a disadvantage in his consideration for appointment as the Pro-Chancellor. He therefore has no advantage to gain by claiming Ekiti state as his state of origin and no disadvantage to suffer by retaining Osun state as his state of origin. It is also claimed that Dr. Adaralegbe is a partner in the Chambers of Bablakin and so his appointment would give the Pro-Chancellor an undue advantage in Council’s affairs. Again this reasoning violates logic as it has not been able to show that Adaralegbe’s partnership with the Pro-Chancellor disqualifies him from appointment as a council member. It has also not shown that the Pro-Chancellor has the power to either recommend or appoint members of the Governing Council.  

The accuser owes it a duty to point out if there is any statue that states that two partners in the same business cannot be appointed to Council. The accusation also has to show that the Pro-Chancellor exercised undue influence in the appointment of Adaralegbe himself a bonafide Nigerian with all the standings that the appointing authority in its judgement deem him qualified.It should be noted that with the statutory provision for five (5) external members, there is no how the Federal Government can ensure the reflection of all the geopolitical zones in the appointment of external members of Council in Federal Varsities.

The authors have accused the Pro-Chancellor of sponsoring the publication in the Guardian of 26th June by concerned stakeholders who are more than competent to intervene on their own without being goarded to do so. However, in their post, those who made this postulations have not left even anybody with kindergarten pupil brain in doubt that they are errand boys of the management. The case of Professor Ojikutu needs no effort no establish. As the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Distance Learning Institute of the University, he is a direct appointee of the Vice Chancellor. It is clearly, therefore, the case of the Yoruba proverb of “enu ti o ban je dodo kii le so ododo” The mouth eating dodo( a delicacy prepared from ripe plantain), finds it difficult to tell the truth against his/her benefactor. For instance, he claims that in the University there is a zero tolerance for impunity but the proceeded to give an apologia for the impunity of the Vice Chancellor. 

He said everybody is aware that air fares between Nigeria and overseas countries run into millions. He therefore by implication does not see anything wrong with the Vice Chancellor going beyond his legal limit of approval to give travel grants with local running cost for overseas trips against extant rules. For somebody who knows the University has no tolerance for impunity to still be blaming Council for doing its job defies explanation. Impunity by explanation is exemption from the consequences of wrong doing. It is therefore either that Professor Ojikutu for all his learning to still be defending The Vice Chancellor and blaming Council does not know the meaning of impunity or the dodo in his mouth from DLI is preventing him from telling the truth.

The critical issue at stake is for the apologists of the Vice. Chancellor to show that Council is wrong in the allegations for which his explanation has been sought .The situation in the University is one in which falsehood had been institutionalized for long making truth to appear a rebellion. The choice before management is not propaganda and falsehood by hirelings. While there are instances of rancor after the appointment of Vice Chancellor in most Universities in Nigeria, the University of Lagos had been exceptionally lucky to have escaped this malaise. The closest to this was during the transition from the tenure of the first Vice Chancellor to his successor. The issue at stake then was whether or not the first Vice Chancellor should end his tenure or have a successor. Thereafter, all transitions have been without rancor or acrimony. The last exercise was not an exception to this rule. Hence truth no matter how obstructed always prevails at the end. The Vice Chancellor and his management team owe the system a duty of clearing the air and allowing the system to run smoothly for the cherished progress of the University. The issue at stake is the confirmation or refutation of the whooping public funds alleged to have been spent without legal authority. A million propaganda will not solve the problem.

By a Professor at the University of Lagos.

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