The management crisis bedeviling the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, has been finally laid to rest, courtesy of the presidential order for reinstatement of the suspended Vice Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe.
His reinstatement followed the report of a Special Visitation Panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate sundry allegations of financial mismanagement leveled against him.
The controversy that precipitated the prolonged stalemate was the outcome of the committee set up by the ousted Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the university, Dr Wale Babalakin, to probe into the activities of the embattled VC.
Determined to get the deal done, Babalakin had roused the rabble, accusing Ogundipe of reckless spending. And so he speedily constituted a committee to probe into the financial record of the university.
Armed with the damning report, he got the Governing Council of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Abuja, to vote for Ogundipe’s removal and approved the appointment of Prof Soyombo as the acting vice chancellor. What’s more! Among other things, the report accused the vice chancellor, the bursar and the immediate past registrar of spending N49,434,038.46 , N41,817,658.32 , and N16,123,509.00 respectively on renovating their houses without the council’s approval, contract splitting for the purchase of two Toyota Avensis 2.0 for DVC (Management Services) and DVC (Development Services)—for N52 million instead of the N5O million approved— in 2018, giving approval for the payment of N117.9 million to two security companies—Shelter Guards Ltd and Nigerian Legions—without valid contracts and also spending N94million—instead of N85million budgeted—for the 2017 convocation.
All these, however, fell like a pack of cards before the superior investigative power of the Special Visitation Panel constituted by the president to look into the matters. While the ensuing confusion lasted, the president had waded in and ordered the two gladiators to step aside pending the outcome of the panel.
In the end, Ogundipe came out clean. According to a release signed by the Director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Education, Ben-Bem Goong, nothing indicting has been found against Ogundipe, as he has no skeleton in his cupboard. Giving its clean bill of health, the report reads in part: “The report approved by President Buhari states that the removal of Prof Ogundipe did not follow due process.
“The vice chancellor was not granted an opportunity to defend himself on the allegations upon which his removal was based. He should accordingly be re-instated.
“The process adopted by the Council in the appointment of Prof Omololu Soyombo as acting vice0 chancellor of the university was inconsistent with the provisions of the law relating to the appointment of an acting vice chancellor.
“The Governing Council should be dissolved.”
This brings to an end the tumultuous power struggle that almost thrown the university into turmoil. While the crisis lasted, the forces of change pledged their unalloyed loyalty and support for the acting VC, as those of the status quo maintained the argument that the decision did not follow the due process of the extant laws.
According to them, the extant laws state that one of the VC’s deputies should be appointed to act.
“UNILAG has three Deputy Vice Chancellors, none of them was appointed as the acting Vice Chancellor and somebody else entirely was appointed. This is going to pose another problem because the Senate will not allow such a person to chair their meeting because they don’t know him within the context of laws establishing universities,” Prof. Ochefu, an ardent supporter of Ogundipe, had argued. The rest is now history.
Though slow but steady, the wheel of justice has finally run its full circle. In his effort to get justice, Ogundipe had approached the Industrial Court to challenge his removal in circumstances deemed unfair by people within and outside the university, but had to withdraw the suit to allow the visitation panel to do its job.
His counsels, Messrs Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) filed the application for discountenance. The Notice of Discontinuance, filed pursuant to Order 61(1)(1) of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) 2017, said: “Take Notice that the claimant doth hereby wholly discontinue this suit against the 1st-6th defendants.” At last, justice prevailed.
Now is the time for restoration of peace and the spirit of oneness that exists within the university community. This is by no mean an easy task. But as the helmsman, the onus lies on the reinstated Vice Chancellor to carry on board all the relevant stakeholders to achieve the objectives of his administration. Having lost so much to the prolonged crisis, concerned observers say, time is really of essence.
Interestingly, Prof Ogundipe, who began his academic career at the University of Lagos as a lecturer, already knows the inner workings of the system. Born on May 31, 1960, he attended the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree, master’s degree as well as doctorate degree in Botany.
Thereafter, he obtained a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos and bagged a certificate of attendance from University of Reading in 1998. He rose to the rank of professor of Botany in 2002. He was Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies from August 2007 to July 2011 and Director, Academic Planning Unit April 2012 to April 2016. He was appointed as the vice chancellor of the University of Lagos in November 2017 having emerged highest in the interview conducted, beating Prof Olukayode Amund, and Prof Ayodeji Olukoju to the post. Until his appointment in November, he was the deputy vice chancellor of the University of Lagos.