In this exclusive report, Sunday Ehigiator highlights the lingering crisis between the Vice- Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo and the Chairman, Governing Council of the institution, Chief Lawson Omokhodion, which is capable of hampering the peace of the institution if Governor Godwin Obaseki remains silent over all allegations raised
As people of Edo State prepare to decide who will lead them for the next four years, there is a growing corruption concerns among the leadership of the state owned university, Ambrose Alli University (AAU), as the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Ignatius Onimawo and the Chairman, Governing Council, Chief Lawson Omokhodion are at loggerheads over allegations of corruption and flaunting of due process In a recent interview with THISDAY, the Vice-Chancellor accused Omokhodion of buying a supposed official car, Land-cruiser Prado, worth N61 million (inclusive of delivery cost) in his name, instead of that of the university, and compelled the school to pay for it, with an ultimatum, threat and corresponding notice from Governor Godwin Obaseki.
“We (the management and council of the school) paid a visit to the governor and during that visit, I informed the governor that the chairman of the council wants a car, and he said the university was in a position to buy a car for the governing council chairman, but in a joking manner.
“After that visit, the matter never came up again, until one day that the chairman of council reached me by text message, and later followed with an email that the governor had said we should buy him a car.
“On its own, there was no problem with it because the university can buy the governing council chairman a car if the money is available. But he gave a deadline that the car must be bought before June 30, 2019.
“He quoted the specifications, Land-cruiser Prado of certain year and other specifications, and said anything short of that, he will not take it. To us, that was strange because I have a Prado and the type of Prado that I have, as at the time we bought it, was about N33 million, and that was what we had in mind.
“But when we got the specifications and the three quotations he got from the car dealers, which he also sent to us, the prices ranged from N55 million to N63 million.
“He told us that the one that reached that particular specification was the one that was around N57 million.
“Since he had written that the governor said we should buy him a car, and he gave us a deadline, and even threatened that if by that June 30, the vehicle was not delivered to his house in Lagos, both me and the bursar would be queried, and we would hear from the governor. So if you are in my position, with that kind of threat, would you do otherwise?
“So I told bursar that we were in trouble, what should we do; we had to meet Fidelity Bank, we begged the bank to give us facility to get the car and repay in installments.
“So, when you talk about the normal due process, which I know, if a purchase is to be made, we can do selective tendering, whereby we call contractors who have delivered similar projects before, we give them the opportunity to bid, interact with them, before you would chose one and occupy that one to go ahead to deliver it.
“In this case, that did not happen. This was a direct directive all the way from the governor, and we cannot disobey the governor.
Onimawo added: “The chairman bought the Land-cruiser Prado himself, registered it in his name and sent a bill of N61 million to the school to pay. He bought the vehicle for N57 million, but other handling charges took the cost to N61 million.”
Reacting to the allegation, Omokhodion when contacted by THISDAY denied buying the vehicle or registering it in his name.
According to him, “the Governor of Edo State authorised for a car to be bought for me by the university. Quotations were obtained and the least price of N53.5 million was recommended.
“The university paid for the car by transferring the money to Inehmic Autos in VI Lagos. The documents are all in the name of the university. The governing council approved the purchase of the car.
“Everything was done according to due process. The university obtained a lease facility from the bank to finance the car purchase. The VC and bursar couldn’t make money on the purchase and so they are angry,” he said.
He also provided a picture of the vehicle registration details to this reporter.
The document showed that the vehicle, a Black Toyota Land Cruiser, was licensed under the ‘Lagos State Vehicle License’ as a ‘private car’ on July 3, 2020.
It was issued a ‘government plate number’ with the registration name, ‘The Pro-Chancellor’ and ‘Ambrose Alli University, PMB 14, Ekpoma Edo State’, as registered address.
The chairman further accused the vice-chancellor of several financial misconducts and breach of due process, and named the Bursar, Prof. Lawrence Esene as an accomplice.
In a petition document addressed to Governor Obaseki by a ‘coalition of members of concerned staff’ of the institution, titled ‘Call to Investigate the VC and His Two Personal Staff over Corrupt Practices at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma’, also made available to THISDAY by the council chairman, the vice-chancellor, his personal staff, Mr. Chris Omo-lribhogbe and Mr. Eugene Eraikhuemen were accused of corruption, money laundering and diversion of university resources for private use.
The group called on the governor to investigate already investigated findings by the governing council and take necessary steps in other to block leakages of funds in the university and “correct past misdeeds by the Commissioner for Education, Mr. Jimoh Ijegbai, who was said to be on the VC’s payroll.
Among several other allegations listed in the petition, the group accused the VC of having “made the deans and heads of departments to pay monies into Omo-lribhogbe’s account during accreditation exercises in 2017 and 2018.
“The VC without recourse to the chairman of council or the Governor of Edo State or the Education Commissioner, authorized the disbursement of over N5 billion from TETFund and needs assessment programmes. The EXCO of ASUU in the university will confirm this to you.”
Reacting to the allegation of financial misconducts and allegations of making “heads of departments to pay monies into his personal staff’s account” as petitioned by some concerned staff and also operating a Treasury Single Account (TSA) introduced for the school by the council, Onimawo denied all.
According to him, “we have never operated a TSA before. What we met on ground was that every department, every faculty we collect their dues, we run their departments and faculty with their dues.
“We discovered that the process was not transparent. You cannot know how much of dues students are paying; faculties just run affairs without control or process of check and balance.
“So we brought the idea of budgetary control, not TSA. What we did was having central budgetary control. Every dean of faculty would come and defend the budget.
“For instance, English Department, the Dean of Faculty of Arts would come and defend it, the students in the department are maybe 300, each of them pay N1,000 as total charges which could include journals, dues, etc.
“For each department, we allow you to raise N1.5 million at inception. So what do you want to do with it is the next question. So they come to defend their budget by stating all they intend to do for the session, and maybe all they want to do could amount to N1 million. We then disburse them money according to their budget.
“This was not happening before, we started it. And things were moving very well, there was no issue. So when this chairman came, he said he wants TSA. That he wants all the money to come into a central account. That it was inappropriate to have plenty signatories.
“He complained about the dean and HoD being a signatory to the account, that it’s only the VC and the bursar that are recognised signatory to the school account, and that was how we started the TSA.
“We did not oppose it. And we said we have to put a system in place to ensure that there is no delay in disbursing the money.
“Because, if for instance we created a different account where all those monies were been paid into, and also be separated into faculties and departments.
“So if Dean of Faculty of Agric is hoping for money, we look at how much do we have in their account and if their request is above what they have, we advice them.
“Like what you have is just N200,000, you cannot be asking for N250,000. That created delay in both accreditation and disbursement of money. So several applications were written to reverse the system, that the system was full of delays, and council said no.
“And there was no time I opposed it. But surprisingly, recently, students who were at the receiving end were now complaining that, even though they have paid their dues and all that, because of the delays in the release of funds, they are now levied to pay extra money, like N500, N300, to be able to provide tools for their practicals.
“When we were using the former system, once they pay, the HOD would buy the reagents they need for practicals and give them. Now, since the money is not being released as it used to be, there is a problem that students are now charged twice.
“They have already paid their N1,000 due, now for every day of practicals, they will ask students to pay N200, N300 to buy things needed for practicals.
“So we met with council that they should review the TSA system. When deans wrote, it was turned down. Even the Faculty of Education wrote because of its teachers registration and teaching practice, they said they should allow them keep the old structure because when they come to do their inductions, that’s where they would handle the whole thing, they were turned down.
“Medical College also wrote, they were turned down. Me I don’t have problem with such things.
“When the Student Union now wrote and you know students with the way they do their things with the whole threats of unrest, in his wisdom, the chairman of council wrote to them, and said we have abolished the TSA, that we should go back to the other system, and the management should monitor it closely.
“So I don’t know how that now became a problem to the chairman. I supported him from the beginning up till the point he wrote to reverse it. That is the true situation.”
Responding to the allegation that he the council chairman always imposed specific person on him, to be posted to certain offices, the VC confirmed it.
According to him, “at the beginning of the chairman’s tenure, I think we disagreed on some issues and they led to the governor insisting that we have a three day retreat in Benin, where we brought a seasoned professor who has been a vice-chancellor before and a member of the governing council, so he can talk to us on the allocation of powers.
“After that retreat, it was reestablished that the council is a body that makes policies; the administrators implement those policies.
“But we found a situation where the chairman of council makes policies and wants to implement those policies.
“And this is where we have our disagreements. It’s not a personal matter. I have nothing personal against him. So the question on him telling me to remove somebody and replace with somebody, is true.
“Sometimes some candidates wouldn’t be functioning properly in some areas and I’ll replace them, he would say return the person and I’ll obey because if I don’t obey, it would seems as if I’m looking for a fight.
“But in few cases I’ll say no and tell him ‘I know this person more than you, this person can do this job’, he would say no. That occasion of roles is a problem.”
Also speaking on the major reasons for the animosity since he became VC, despite being close to the climax of his tenure, Onimawo said: “It’s a long story. In an apartment, we have different camps. We have a lot of candidates when I was about becoming the VC, we were about nine candidates, but I think I can identify about four different camps.
“One camp that was in support of Prof. Alamiere to become the VC, another camp favours Prof. Akwele, one camp in my favour to be the VC, and the other camp, though not very loud, was in support of Badaki. These were the four main camps, and there was also a fifth camp.
“All these things happened and when three of us emerged first, second and third and the governor was to pick one, all the camps became three camps now. So all the camps were saying, let’s lobby to get our man in there.
“When all these were happening, the remaining two camps, were not too happy about it. The Badaki’s camp was linked to some leadership in the house, and that was what started the issues.
“That this one is not our candidate. They would be fighting and all those kind of thing.
“But the whole thing didn’t mean anything to me because for me, I am a Christian, if God says you are there, no matter their plans or what man says, it’s what God says that matters and I stand by God’s words.
“And since then that I became VC nothing happened. One year, two years and I’ll be fifth year by this year. So, that was the origin of the whole thing.
“You know in situations like this, you have conflict of interest. You have failed expectations. And some people cannot take defeat as an outcome. They want to fight tooth and nails, and I don’t know what they intend to achieve by doing this.
“Another thing that has made the fight to linger is perhaps my style of leadership. In the past, we had history of examination malpractice, nobody bothers about it.
“Words like sorting, blocking and all that, I’m sure they originated from here before they went to other universities.
“When I came, I said to myself that there must be ways of fighting this. And I decided to focus on all those 100 and 200 level students who I believe have not known their left from right.
“I introduced Computer Based Exam (CBE), whereby, as soon as you finish, you submit and you see your results immediately.
“So that solved a lot of these malpractices, but didn’t go well with a lot of people who were merchandising exams. So you can see that my battle is on different fronts now.
“So some people in the system, after the exams they would buy a new car, some would build a new home after exams.
“Ekpoma motors, I don’t know if the company is still there now, once exams are coming, it would bring a lot of cars to their warehouse, before you know it, they are cleared. Who are buying the cars.
“So I’m sure the company is also not happy with me because it’s like I have spoilt its business.
“Lecturers themselves who were beneficiaries would not like me. I have been fighting different types of battles but these are some of the issues that generated them.
“Because when they went to the senate to argue about the exam system, that the results were not authentic, senate disregarded them and approved the results. So that is another area of conflict.
“Then in various areas of the university, we have strongholds. They call them untouchables. Admission office, people have been there for 20 years nobody can transfer them.
“Different units of the university have human strongholds. They are no go areas. The person could even be a clerk or liaison officer, but that person is a stronghold, a no go area. You can’t transfer that person.
“I now looked at myself and said ‘what will you forfeit; your being bound to that office’. I transferred them.
“In this office, there was a man here, he has served five or six vice-chancellors. When I came, I allowed him to stay for some months, and transfered him. That is the battle my staff are fighting me till today.
“They want to destroy that because I transferred these people. Hell was let loose. They are like ‘how dare you remove our strongholds’.
“You can see that both teaching and non-teaching, I have offended so many people. So when they are fighting, I know why. And all the allegations that I embezzled money and all that they are making is not the real fight. The true fight is these things I have said.
“But none of them can come out and say ‘this is the true reason we are fighting you’.
“So when I came in, they were giving me ultimatum. They first gave me six months, they later changed it to one year, later they said after the second year they would remove me, second year passed, thank God I was still here, then they said third year, it also passed, then they said forth year, buy now I’m on the fifth, they will continue to wait till I finish my tenure.
“So you can see from the onset, the tussle for leadership of the school, and some of the policies I initiated are what generated the conflicts,” the VC said.