The University of Lagos (UNILAG) has been in an avoidable crisis for some time now. The problem took a new dimension with the recent reported removal of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and the appointment of an acting VC, Professor Omololu Soyombo, by the governing council of the institution. Both Ogundipe and Soyombo now lay claim to the vice chancellorship position of the university. This does not augur well for the administration of this citadel of learning.
The university’s governing council, at a meeting in Abuja, had accused Ogundipe of financial malfeasance in the management of the school. The Pro-Chancellor, Dr Wale Babalakin, accused the UNILAG helmsman of spending N49 million to renovate his house without approval as well as giving the Bursar N41 million to also renovate his official residence. Babalakin further justified the action of the council, saying they followed the due process of the law.
On his part, Ogundipe faulted his removal and argued that due process was not followed. He also denied any wrongdoing. The university senate, the alumni association and almost all the staff unions of the institution also condemned the governing council’s action. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) said it received the news of the reported removal of Ogundipe with absolute shock and total disappointment.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors of Universities also condemned his removal. The body faulted the appointment of Soyombo as the acting Vice Chancellor outside the three Deputy Vice Chancellors of the institution.
In a statement, the Committee of Vice Chancellors added that the appointment would pose another problem because “senate members will not allow such a person to chair their meeting because they don’t know him within the context of laws establishing universities.” It equated Ogundipe’s removal to a hatchet job, saying the procedure for removing a vice chancellor required setting up a joint council/senate committee. It noted that this was not done and that the VC was not given an opportunity to defend himself.
Babalakin has been having a running battle with the academic staff of the institution. Recently, they declared him a persona non grata in the school and warned him never to dare enter the premises of the institution. The power tussle in the university came to a head when the convocation ceremony scheduled to hold in March was abruptly cancelled. Babalakin had accused the Vice Chancellor of not sharing important details about the convocation with the governing council.
As one of the pioneer universities in the country, UNILAG should set good examples. But what is happening there currently is most unfortunate. Already, the university system in the country has gone through much stress in the past few months. Even before the lockdown occasioned by the dreaded coronavirus pandemic started across the nation, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had locked down the universities. The union went on strike earlier in the year to press home some demands from the Federal Government. The latest crisis in UNILAG amounts to overkill.
It is imperative to note that the Ministry of Education has not taken any decisive action on this matter. In a statement by the director of press, Ben Goong, the ministry said it was yet to be briefed on the removal of the vice chancellor. Considering that the university is owned by the Federal Government and that it has the final say on this matter, it must quickly intervene to resolve this crisis before it degenerates. All the allegations by the different parties to this crisis must be thoroughly investigated. It is dangerous to allow the problems to fester.
All over the world, universities are supposed to be citadels of nobility, learning and research. That is why they are sometimes referred to as ivory towers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Oxford showed a good example of what a university should be. It developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is undergoing trial currently.
Despite some handicaps, some Nigerian universities are also trying. A recent report quoted the National Universities Commission (NUC) as stating that 32 Nigerian universities were at different stages of research to develop COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
This is the type of news Nigerians wish to hear about our higher institutions. The perennial crisis between the governing council and management of UNILAG negates this positive mindset. It sets bad example for students who they are supposed to graduate in both character and learning. The earlier the Federal Government puts a stop to these needless crises, the better for all the stakeholders.