In an interview with ARISE TV, Dr. Wale Babalakin, the Pro Chancellor of the University of Lagos, lambasted as being unfit to head a university in Nigeria, the embattled Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, recently removed by the university’s Governing Council. Babalakin also repeatedly accused of Ogundipe of financial recklessness and underhanded conduct. Bayo Akinloye presents the excerpts:
With the supposedly sacked embattled UNILAG VC, Prof. Oluwtoyin Ogundipe saying even if his purported sack was true the extant provisions of the law were not complied with by the council which you head. What’s your view?
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explain what happened. Most people who have made comments about the sacking of Prof. Ogundipe haven’t read the laws. And, some of them have read outdated laws. In your opening statement, you mentioned that you’d require the visitor through the senate to remove the vice chancellor. That was an old law. If you read the Universities Miscellaneous Act 2009, the visitor has no role in the removal of vice chancellors. It’s a decision of the council and if the vice chancellor believes that he hasn’t been removed properly, the appropriate thing to do is, as stated in the law, for him to write an appeal to the visitor.
The vice chancellor claiming that he hasn’t been sacked is illegal because he’s not in a position to say that. The vice chancellor holding rallies and making comments is wrong. It’s a failure of process. What the vice chancellor can do is to write a letter of appeal to the visitor and not to turn the university system into rabble-rousing.
I also got information recently that claimed that he’d briefed a lawyer to go to court. This means that, in addition to being removed, he has resigned because he can’t sit in the university, using its resources and now challenge his employer in the court. Once he does that, he has to step aside. So, apart from being removed by the university, he has also stepped aside.
What exactly did Prof. Ogundipe do wrong that warranted his removal?
I’m a lawyer. I’m not given to making loose statements. Whatever I say I must be able to back it up. Prof. Ogundipe was accused of financial recklessness and I can boldly say that you cannot find any action of Ogundipe that followed the proper process. Prof. Ogundipe spent N49 million renovating his residence which a former vice chancellor who had just left was in excellent shape without mentioning it to anybody. Without even mentioning it, not to talk of approval.
It was a committee of the university that discovered it. Prof. Ogundipe in a very complicit manner gave N41 million to the bursar to renovate his premises. The bursar’s house can be built from scratch with N41 million. We struggle to have Prof. Ogundipe’s management to give us a proper account. Every single account that has been submitted by Prof. Ogundipe is fraught with fundamental errors. All the accounts were cooked and not a fair representation of a fair presentation of the university books.
Prof. Ogundipe, I’m sure, is the only vice chancellor in Nigeria who allocates security votes. Every month he pays security votes to the dean of student affairs without an account. In a university, you’re paying money every month without an account of the money. There has never been an account of how that money was spent.
What will you say to the fact that the law, Section 17(1) rests the power to remove the vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, I know you said it’s not so, is vested on the President who’s the visitor, the council recommends to the President. Let me add that the amended act of 2003 required the council to set up a joint committee of itself and the senate before any recommendation even to the President was this done? If not, why?
There are two questions you’ve posed. The first one that you need to go to the visitor; that’s the old law. If you read the University Miscellaneous Provision Act 2009 which is the current law governing the removal of vice chancellors, it says in (Section) 3:8: ‘The vice chancellor may be removed from office by the governing council on grounds of gross misconduct or inability to discharge his functions of his office as a result of infirmity of the body or mind. At the initiative of council, senate or congregation, after the process.’ That’s the new law.
In Ogundipe’s case, was the principle of fair hearing followed as it seems he wasn’t given the opportunity to defend himself?
Again, that’s a false narrative. A full committee of council discovered that Ogundipe was conducting the affairs of the university in a reckless manner unbecoming of any public officer. The full committee of the council then mandated a sub-committee to look into it. The sub-committee came back with a plethora of wrongdoing by Ogundipe. This committee’s report was forwarded to Ogundipe for his comment. Ogundipe wrote his defence in writing and he sent it to the council.
He then stood up in council for one hour to defend himself. So, anybody saying he wasn’t given a fair hearing doesn’t even know the facts. I’m hoping that this will bring out a lot of facts so that Nigerians don’t react to issues when they’ve not read documents.
How was it that his alleged financial recklessness took a while to discover?
Ogundipe is a serial offender. So soon after the council was inaugurated, we were trying to elect a director of works. Ogundipe as chairman of the committee to appoint the director of works chaired the occasion. It’s a sub-committee of the council. He chaired the occasion. When the interview was concluded, all the parties collated their marks and some guy from Lagos State Polytechnic, came first in the interview when we wanted to appoint a director of works, he was the chairman of the subcommittee and after the interview process, some person from the Lagos State Polytechnic came first, Ogundipe now went to collate results. When he came back, the candidate that came second, because Ogundipe had altered the marks.
This was an issue that was debated in the council and was reflected in the minutes of the council. We had to cancel the whole process. Ogundipe altered the marks to favour a member of staff who had been indicted twice for fraud and total incompetence. It’s in Ogundipe’s interest to surround himself with people who cannot stand up for the truth. Ogundipe would have been removed then because forgery in a university is totally unacceptable.
But the alumni and all the bodies in the university appealed for Ogundipe and I told them that where’s I’m coming from there’s zero tolerance for this. You can’t do this but the elders also came and I told them that we were drawing a fundamental line: we’d not tolerate this kind of attitude anymore. From then until he was removed, there was nothing Ogundipe did properly.
The university’s alumni were reported to have demanded that the council revert to status quo, arguing that the voting process was flawed. What’s your reaction to that?
The alumni association didn’t talk to us after our decision. The alumni association didn’t seek to know the fact of the case. I’m a member of the alumni. I’m a phone-call away from the alumni. The alumni sat down, without being briefed by a major participant and took a decision. That itself is the ultimate breach of fair hearing.
The same alumni that are complaining about due process have just committed a fundamental breach of due process against the pro chancellor and his team. If they had sought our interpretation of the reasons why we did this, they’d have known that the statement is inaccurate.
On the issue of the voting process, under the standing rules of the university, voting can either be done openly or by a secret ballot. There were 12 council members in attendance. When it was time to vote, I said to them so that anybody is intimidated, it was going to be secret balloting. And in all the decisions I remember, in the council when we come to vote, even the appointment of Ogundipe was done secretly.
So, to have permanent records, I decided that comments and votes should be sent to my WhatsApp. We came out and I read the comments and the votes to all the council members. Not one person mentioned that his comments and votes were not read out by the pro chancellor. I still have the comments and votes on my phone. Seven people voted for Ogundipe to be relieved of his appointment. I used the word carefully, ‘to be relieved of his appointment’ because I think that should be mentioned carefully.
Four people said ‘no.’ All the four people that said ‘no’ are the members of management. They’re the people who are involved with Ogundipe. In law, they’re called participle criminals. They’re people who are jointly indicted for the failure of Ogundipe’s management. All the five representatives of the government voted for Ogundipe’s removal. There was no dissent. The only people who voted for Ogundipe to stay are people in his management. So, the process was fair. What you have is propaganda.
I’m going to write a formal letter to the alumni that ‘you can’t even do what you’re doing without saying, ‘Pro chancellor, you’re an alumnus of this university. What’s the process that led to this removal?’ And I’d have briefed them. But you sit down without talking to the parties and take a decision. What the alumni have done is comparable to a judge being aware of a dispute, then calls friends of the court saying, ‘There’s a dispute between Wale Babalakin and Nduka Obaigbena. But you friends of the court tell me what you think,’ without calling Nduka Obaigbena or Wale Babalakin to state their case. This is the greatest breach of fair hearing.
But the UNILAG Senate didn’t seem to agree with you that Ogundipe was given a fair hearing. What do you have to say about that?
What we’re trying to bring to UNILAG is due process; following the law. There was no senate meeting. Under the standing rules, it’s the vice chancellor that can summon a Senate meeting. At the time the vice chancellor purported to summon a meeting he was no longer the vice chancellor. His actions were illegal. So, there was no senate meeting. What you had was like there was a debating society that came up with some resolutions; but not the senate of the university.
The Senate of the university has not met for the last four months; not even for their statutory meeting which they usually hold once a month. Then, you wake up because one of you was removed; the person who had been removed called a senate meeting, and you said this is the resolution of the senate. This is abysmally poor. Even the registrar, who is the secretary of the senate, wasn’t there. I think we shouldn’t allow rabble-rousing to replace law and due process.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors has condemned the sacking of Prof. Ogundipe and the appointment of Soyombo as the acting Vice Chancellor, saying he’s outside the university’s three deputy vice chancellors, also arguing that due process wasn’t followed. What’s your take?
The Committee of Vice Chancellors could easily have placed a call to the pro chancellor to say that ‘We’ve had about this what’s your own side of the story.’ Like the alumni, what they’ve just done is sit in judgment over issues they don’t have the facts. Interestingly, I used to chair, Committee of Pro Chancellors. So, I know the relationship between the two committees. We’re a phone-call away from each other. So, I’ll want to discount what the vice chancellors’ committee had said because what they had said was not based on empirical fact.
The second thing is that they thought we could have appointed one of the deputy vice chancellors. At the time this decision took place, there was no deputy vice chancellor. One’s term had expired and the senate had not re-elected him to come to the council. Two remaining had not been confirmed. Council’s position was that they were part of this management that engaged in financial recklessness, gross misconduct and the council had not confirmed them.
So, there was no standing deputy vice chancellor that could have been appointed. This could easily have been clarified to the committee of the vice chancellors but they didn’t ask.
How has UNILAG been affected by this situation of its Vice Chancellor being accused of financial recklessness?
You see, I wear two caps. I’m the lead negotiator for the Federal Government with the unions on how to improve the university. And the unions are clamouring for more money, that education is under-funded. And I’m listening to this.
Then, I’m pro chancellor as such, I’m saying that funding is a challenge but the little funds that are brought to the university are mismanaged. If the University of Lagos is well-managed, it could be a university comparable to any university in Africa within a couple of years.
It has the resources but it must be managed properly. As pro chancellor, I do not collect any allowance from the university. I do not cost the university any penny. I’ve never asked the university for anything; not even a ticket. Even when I cater in my residence, I bring my caterer from outside because we’ve come to serve, to change things. We’ve not come to do things as usual.
So, the resistance you’re seeing is because we’ve come to change things fundamentally from a cultural decadence that has been in existence for over 15 years.
The Ministry of Education said the council had yet to brief the ministry on the so-called removal of Ogundipe. Is this true?
No. It was true when the statement was issued. But it’s no longer true because the council had written to the ministry to brief the ministry. But it was true when the statement was made. Remember, he was removed on Wednesday and then we had to put our papers together to brief the ministry and we’ve since done that.
With the 2009 provisions of the UNILAG Act, are you saying the president is no longer the visitor of the University of Lagos?
The President is the visitor of the University of Lagos. But he has no role in the removal of principal officers including the vice chancellor. The role he has is after the removal if you have a complaint, then, you’ll forward the complaint to the visitor through the minister of education.
Do you anticipate a mediation on this crisis? Is there a possibility of Prof. Ogundipe reclaiming his office as vice chancellor?
It’s my duty to do my own side of the work. I can’t exceed my mandate. But I must commend the ministry for the calibre of people it appointed to the council as the Federal Government’s nominees. They’re the most selfless people I’ve worked with for a long time. Secondly, there’s no crisis in UNILAG. What you have is there’s a vocal minority with resources distorting the atmosphere and creating an impression of crisis.
If you have a secret ballot (voting) at the University of Lagos today, Ogundipe will not win 15 percent of the votes. But he can hype the media. He can run around. Just imagine a vice chancellor spearheading a rally with ASUU.
Why’s it so difficult for ASUU, the management of the university and the governing council to harmonise their positions instead of being at loggerheads for the benefit of the university?
I won’t comment on ASUU. The problem with ASUU, the Lagos branch is that I’m not sure there’s anybody who guides them about the constitution. Someday, ASUU declared that I was persona non grata and I should never enter the campus. Read the constitution, everybody has freedom of movement. So, that action was illegal and if the system was very active, somebody there should have been questioned by the authorities.
Secondly, ASUU didn’t even abide by the Trade Union Act which says that you cannot physically restrain anybody during a trade dispute. What you can do is picket. I have a constitution of ASUU: one of the things ASUU promotes is freedom of expression and freedom of movement. So, ASUU is again violating its own constitution. I shouldn’t say anything about ASUU other than to say that they should seek legal advice.
Still, we ask: why is it so difficult for the institution’s management and the council to resolve differences amicably instead of being at loggerheads?
Describing it as loggerheads is unfair. What you have is that you have a council with the majority of its members saying let’s follow due process. Let’s do things according to law; let’s spend the university’s money judiciously; let’s improve this university. Then, you have a culture represented by Ogundipe: let us fritter away the money; let us mismanage this place; let us create a charade and that’s where we are.
Let me shock you: a budget that was presented to me as pro chancellor of the university, the amount of internally-generated revenue and the amount of recurrent expenditure were equal. So, every money that was generated was spent without improving the university. How do you reconcile these kinds of people? The alumni spoke to me on a few occasions. What are you telling me? I should compromise forgery? I should compromise stealing? I should camouflage breach of the process? What if there’s a visitation tomorrow?
And they say, ‘Pro chancellor, all this happened under you. What did you do? I’d say, ‘Alumni spoke to me and I compromised’? That’d be bad for me. Let me give you another one: I’m a lawyer and I can be sued for libel. I challenge Ogundipe to sue me that I’ve libelled him; that I said that he’s financially reckless; he does not appreciate process and that he’s not fit and proper to be a vice chancellor of a university. Let him challenge me.
Do you think with Ogundipe’s removal, the culture of reckless spending and disregard for due process are over? Or, do you think there’s more to be done to clean the system?
Nigeria has a serious followership culture. If the leadership is doing things right, most of the followers will follow. If the leadership is doing something wrong, most of the followers will follow. Ogundipe has been removed, I believe that this will send a message to the university system in Nigeria that you don’t sit down and run the university to the detriment of the people.