By Yunus Abdulsalam
The University of Lagos saga began with the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe on Tuesday, the 12th of August. There was uproar in various sections of the community that due process was not followed in the removal of the said Vice-Chancellor. The allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor were so grave and totally unbecoming of the head of any institution in Nigeria, not to talk of the Vice-Chancellor of a University that is responsible for moulding the character of students in the University. Of very great importance is that the Vice- Chancellor has not made any issue of the allegations by the Governing Council namely:
(a) he allegedly withdrew N112million to renovate his house and those of his accomplices,
(b) that he allegedly forged documents in the process of appointing the Vice-Chancellor,
(c) That he collected security votes in the University of Lagos, or
(d)That he sought to appoint a Professor of Library Studies in the University by fiat without going to through the process in a university that does not have a department of Library Studies.
Within one week of the removal of the Vice-Chancellor and the appointment of Professor Omololu Soyombo, the University had calmed down completely. The largest union in the university, the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) had endorsed Soyombo. The Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (SSANU) University of Lagos branch which had condemned the removal of Ogundipe had been queried by the parent body. The university community had accepted the status quo apart from a few members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that had violently made the university ungovernable to prevent the Governing Council from unravelling the alleged fraud against Ogundipe. To achieve this, ASUU barred the Chairman of the council, Dr. Wale Babalakin from coming to the campus and fixed rallies for the same venue and time of council meetings. ASUU forgot that these actions violated its own constitution which provides for the freedom of movement of all citizens in Nigeria. More importantly, it violated the Constitution of Nigeria which guarantees the freedom of movement in Nigeria. What a shameless move by presumed academics. Prof. Ogundipe as Chief Security Officer acquiesced without any justification than self-preservation.
On Friday, the 21st of August 2020, the Ministry of Education intervened by setting up a visitation panel to do the following:
“To review the report of the council sub-committee on the expenditure of the University of Lagos May 2017 and make recommendations after affording all those indicted the opportunity to be heard.
“To examine the steps taken by the council leading to the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe on whether or not due process was followed as stipulated in the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment Act) 2003 and the principle of fair hearing adhered to.
“To determine whether the process (if any) leading to the appointment of the Ag. Vice Chancellor for the university was consistent with the provisions of the enabling Act.
“To make appropriate recommendations, including sanctions for all those found culpable by the special visitation team on the allegations contained in the report as well as other subsequent actions arising therefrom and to make any other recommendations that will assist the government to take decisions that will ensure peaceful, stable and effective administration of the university.
These terms of reference must be very strange to anybody who is familiar with the University of Lagos issue. In removing the Vice- Chancellor, the Governing Council referred to many other issues which are not captured in these narrow terms of reference of the Visitation panel. The issue of forgery which is far more offensive to the laws of the nation and other issues raised above are ignored by these terms of reference. A visitation is expected to investigate issues thoroughly and the terms of reference should not be couched in a manner that will not bring out the essence of the exercise. These terms of reference cannot achieve this purpose.
Prof. Ogundipe and associates have not made issue of the allegations by the Governing Council. A panel is now being set up to find out the facts, which have not been made an issue by Prof. Ogundipe and his associates.
The second term of reference cannot be determined by a visitation panel. The Chairman of the Governing Council, Dr. Wale Babalakin on television had asserted that he followed due process in the Council’s removal of Prof. Ogundipe. His explanation revolves around statutory interpretation. It is an issue of law that cannot be determined outside a court of law or a judicial tribunal. The presence of one Professor of law in the Visitation panel does not make it a body that can take a decision on a matter that involves interpretation of statutes. No lawyer will advise his client to submit to the jurisdiction of the visitation panel.
The last term of reference is also very ridiculous. By instructing the Senate of the University to nominate an acting Vice-Chancellor for the approval of Council, the Ministry has already come to the conclusion that Soyombo was wrongly appointed and had removed him. How can you then set up a visitation panel to decide a matter the Ministry has already concluded upon?
Furthermore, under the laws and standing rules of the University of Lagos, it is the Vice-Chancellor that can summon a Senate meeting. There is no Vice-Chancellor because he had been removed and there is no acting Vice-Chancellor because he has been impliedly removed and as a man of honour he has also resigned on 22nd August 2020.
In seeking to intervene in the University of Lagos saga, the Ministry of Education has compounded the issues in the University. It has sought to redress an alleged breach of due process by a terrible lack of due process.
When Prof Ogundipe was removed, he issued a letter stating that he had not been removed and he was still the Vice-Chancellor of the university. A removed Vice-Chancellor then instructed the Deputy Registrar, Office of the Director of Academic Affairs, Mrs. Makinde to summon a Senate meeting. Based on the laws of the university, this was an invalid meeting. The invalidity of the meeting is further compounded by the fact that the Registrar of the university, who is the Secretary of the Senate was not even informed about the meeting not to talk of his being able to provide the authentic minutes of the said meeting. Any reference to the Senate meeting held on the instructions of Prof. Ogundipe cannot be referring to a Senate meeting of the University of Lagos.
It should also be noted that Prof. Ogundipe had filed an action in the Industrial Court through his lawyer. Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) seeking an interim order ex parte (that means without hearing the other side) to restrain the Council from removing him as Vice-Chancellor. The court rightly did not grant the application and instructed Ogundipe’s lawyers to notify the Council and other parties to the suit.
Having taken these positions, Ogundipe had violated due process himself. The law is clear on this point. S 3(11) of the University Miscellaneous Act 2003 as amended provides that “the council may, where the allegations are proved, remove the Vice-Chancellor or apply any other disciplinary action it may deem fit and notify the Visitor accordingly provided that a Vice-chancellor who is removed shall have a right of appeal to the visitor.”
This provision of the law does not allow for self-help as Prof. Ogundipe has done by (a) contradicting his Council in writing (b) summoning an illegal Senate meeting and challenging his removal in court. With these steps, he has fundamentally violated due process himself. For this reason, there is no legal basis for the visitation panel.
I call on the Ministry of Education to cancel this ill-advised visitation panel, which itself manifestly violates due process that the Ministry claims it is seeking to address. From all indications, if there is any further disruption in the University of Lagos, it would have been caused by the inappropriate intervention of the Ministry of Education.
*Abdulsalam is an Abuja-based legal practitioner