By Bennett Oghifo in Lagos and Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
The federal government yesterday directed the Pro-Chancellor/Chairman of Council, University of Lagos, Dr. Wale Babalakin and the sacked Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe to step aside from their official duties pending the outcome of a Special Visitation Panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to resolve the crisis rocking the institution.
The President, as visitor to the University also removed Prof.
Theophilus Soyombo, the Acting Vice Chancellor appointed by Babalakin and tasked the panel to come up with workable solutions and peaceful resolutions.
The spokesman of the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, who made this known in a press statement, said the President also directed that the panel set up yesterday submits its findings and reports within two weeks.
The UNILAG Special Visitation Panel has Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, as Chairman; and the members are Victor Onuoha; Prof. Ikenna Oyindo; Prof. Ekanem Braide; Prof. Adamu K. Usman; Chief Jimoh Bankole; and Grace Ekanem, who is the Secretary.
The President also directed that the Senate of the University should meet immediately to appoint an Acting Vice Chancellor.
The establishment of the Visitation Panel was announced on the day the embattled Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ogundipe withdrew from the National Industrial Court where he had gone to challenge his controversial removal by the Governing Council of the university.
The University of Lagos has been embroiled in crisis, following disagreement between the Chairman of the Governing Council/Pro-Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor, on the administration of the institution, which led to the purported removal of the Vice Chancellor last week.
Obviously determined to resolve the issues, the President, as visitor to the University of Lagos, constituted the Special Visitation Panel to look into the crisis and come up with workable solution and peaceful resolution.
Other decisions taken by the President are that: “The Pro-Chancellor, Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, have been suspended from office as they are both to recuse themselves from performing their functions in office during the period of the visitation.
“The Senate is to convene urgently and appoint an Acting Vice-Chancellor for the university.”
Prof. Ogundipe was removed last week at a meeting of the Governing Council at the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Abuja, chaired by Babalakin, and attended by 12 council members, the VC included, majority of whom voted for Ogundipe’s removal. The Council appointed Prof. Theophilus Soyombo, as acting Vice Chancellor.
The Committee of Vice Chancellors of Universities in Nigeria (CVCUN) condemned the removal of Ogundipe, “because it was done without due process”, but Babalakin refuted this, saying due process was followed.
The Committee, which said Prof. Ogundipe should have been given an opportunity to defend himself, added 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 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, saying “It is a funny situation.”
However, in withdrawing his suit yesterday, Ogundipe’s lawyers, Messrs Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) approached the court with an application to discontinue the case. 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.”
Ogundipe had gone to the Industrial Court after his removal in circumstances deemed unfair by people within and outside the university, because they claimed he was denied fair hearing by the Governing Council, particularly its Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Babalakin (SAN).
The embattled Vice Chancellor’s suit NICN/LA/278/2020, had as defendants: UNILAG; the Governing Council; its Senate; Pro-Chancellor, Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN); Registrar, Oladejo Azeez; and the acting Vice Chancellor, Prof. Theophilus Soyombo.