Inside Stuff with Martins Oloja
I would like all of us who are stakeholders to manage our emotions and expectations well at this time. I would also want us to pray that the God of all grace would not allow our expectations on the current crisis at the University of Lagos be cut off. It is not a time to trade blame. It is not another time to pontificate again on the rule of law. The law hardly rules here. Man rules most of the time. One of the main characters in this drama, Wale Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) holds a doctorate degree in law from Cambridge University, U.K. What is more remarkable, his father was a Justice of the Supreme Court when there was a country.
It is not a time to line up behind anyone. It is not a time to talk about the place of the University of Lagos that produced Uncle Wale himself to practise law. I mean it is not a time to allege that the University’s Governing Council meeting of August 12 at the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Abuja is illegal. We are at this moment in a country where the law can neither rule nor protect anyone.
Even the courts of law are divided against themselves. Last week, another Court of Appeal ruled that INEC was wrong in deregistering some non-performing political parties. There had been an earlier ruling by a Court of Appeal that INEC was in order. Where does INEC go from here? What of the other ministers in the Temple of Justice, the members of the Bar? Their once influential professional body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is at this moment a house of commotion. Their recent presidential election result has put another pin on their balloon. The house too is divided against itself.
The NBA was in disarray in April 2019 when the law could not protect even the Chief Justice of Nigeria then, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen. His adversaries and the state told the nation that the Chief Justice was not being tried as a judicial officer. They said he was being tried as a public servant and so an Administrative Tribunal in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) could remove him. The NBA, the Body of Benchers, the body of SANs, the National Judicial Council, (NJC), even the Supreme Court could not save him. They all stayed aloof. He was removed after a senior editor wrote a damaging, fake story that Justice Onnoghen had $3 million dollars in his foreign (not domiciliary) account and 55 houses.
Till the present, no regulator fined any newspaper for the fake story and no one rebuked the EFCC for initiating the fake evidence against Nigeria’s CJN in a Code of Conduct Tribunal. And the CJN was removed. He is still living in bondage. He was prevented from travelling to even Ghana the other day. I mean here that if the law could not save Justice Onnoghen, I wonder how it would save the embattled Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. It is just a time to be a peacemaker in the interest of the University of Lagos’ brand equity.
I repeat, the current crisis is not about evidence of the rule of law. Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo is a Professor of law of evidence. He and Professor Itse Sagay, a former Dean of the Law at the University of Benin, an adviser to the president on how the law can be used to fight rampaging corruption in the country are in the presidency that has kept the Acting Chairman of the EFCC for five years without the Senate confirmation. I am incompetent to talk to these great powers about the rule of law Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, ASUU, the UNILAG Senate and others are relying on.
I insist Abuja is strong but unreliable when it comes to how the law rules. They themselves know how to rule without the law. They can wake up tomorrow and install the new Acting Vice Chancellor. They know the heaven will not fall. They will explain to the nation that the Visitor to the University, has said the Governing Council can hire and fire. They will ask just one question: where were the ASUU and the Senate of some federal universities when the President on February 12, 2016 arbitrarily removed 13 Vice Chancellors and replaced them without recourse to their Governing Councils? They will further ask why the ASUU didn’t insist that the president should reinstate the sacked VCs in 2016 according to the 2003 universities law that governs all the federal universities?
The University of Lagos has a good brand reputation. I commented on this here on March 24, 2019 when I reflected on how the ASUU members and old students of the University rejected the strange name change to Moshood Abiola University (MAU) by the Jonathan administration in 2012. The same university should have had its 2019 convocation on March 12, this year. But the event, which had actually begun with preliminaries was scuttled by the same operators of the system on March 6, 2020 when the Federal Government acting on the advice of the same Chairman of the Governing Council, Babalakin, postponed the ceremony. The consequences of the painful postponement were still there till last week when Mr. Chairman struck again.
The Pro-Chancellor said at the weekend, “the Council followed due process in the removal of the university’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe. He stated that under the laws of the university, voting on contentious issues was either done in secret or in the open.
Before this justification by the Pro Chancellor, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Universities in Nigeria (CVCUN) had condemned the removal of Ogundipe, saying it was done without due process and that he was not given fair hearing. Also, after an emergency meeting during the week, the University’s Senate, rejected the Vice-Chancellor’s removal, saying in its resolution that, “due process was not followed,” and passed vote-of-no confidence on the Governing Council.
However, on the process leading up to the VC’s removal, Babalakin, who said the VC was removed because he allegedly misappropriated the university’s funds, added, “We agreed to have a secret ballot that we have always had when there are contentious issues. The votes were counted, they were not just votes, everybody wrote their own comments and I read it out to everybody…”
On the resolution of the institution’s Senate, Babalaki said, “The Senate did not have a meeting, because it could not have had one. The authority to call a meeting rests with the Vice-Chancellor and, as at the time he called the meeting, he was no longer Vice-Chancellor. “Most people don’t know what the powers of the Council are vis-à-vis the removal of the Vice-Chancellor. I assure you that there was full compliance with the law in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor…”
But the Committee of Vice Chancellors said Prof. Ogundipe should have been given an opportunity to defend himself, adding that the appointment of an acting Vice Chancellor outside the three deputy Vice Chancellors of the institution, goes against the laws establishing Nigerian universities. The Secretary-General of CVCUN, Prof. Yakubu Aboki Ochefu, told journalists at the weekend too that UNILAG has three Deputy Vice Chancellors and that the appointment of an acting Vice Chancellor, outside the three deputies was another problem for the university. “The council has gone ahead to announce a new (acting) Vice Chancellor; the extant laws state that one of his 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,” said Prof. Ochefu.
He said the ugly situation in UNILAG would not augur well for the administration of Nigerian universities, saying the issues presently favoured the institution’s Senate which is demanding that due process be followed in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor. “It is a funny situation,” added Ochefu.
We all can see now that the current crisis at the University of Lagos, which has caused anxiety and sorrow since March this year, has already turned to fear, which Alan Paton in his classic, ‘Cry, the beloved country’,says is a long, terrible journey. This is a threat to the brand. How will the Acting Vice Chancellor assume duty when the Senate has rejected him? Will Dr. Babalakin who has already been declared a persona, non grata by ASUU members in the institution continue to run the Council from Abuja? If the Governing Council Chairman continues to maintain his hard-line position, how will academic activities resume in the university? Why is conflict resolution a difficult subject everywhere we go in Nigeria? I believe the Visitor to the University should step in quickly and ask the ‘warriors’ to swallow their ego, pride and vanity and come to terms with the reality of saving the image of the university.
In the same vein, John Momoh and all the influential members of the UNILAG Alumni Association and other stakeholders, ASUU, Senate members should wade in and talk to the big men including Uncle Wale, also an alumnus, to ‘calm down’ and consider the consequences of their fight. We will all be losers. As a product of this great university, I would like to read that these big men are fighting over the urgency of investing robustly in digital technologies that will enable the University (of Lagos) to migrate to an e-learning platform, the current challenge of public universities in Nigeria. If the University of Lagos Council members and the administration have to look up to Abuja to resolve its crisis amid a heated debate about the debilitating effect of a unitary system of government that has crippled even university autonomy, then the road to federalism in this place is indeed still rocky.
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