Viewpoint: UNILAG and Anele’s jaundiced perspective – By MIKAIL MUMUNI

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Douglas Anele, a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Lagos (UNILAG)  in his Sunday Vanguard column –  Perspectives – of Sunday, May 23, 2020 devoted much of his energy to vilifying Dr. Wale Babalakin SAN, the former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the institution.

In his article titled – The University of Lagos is back, he indulged in the usual half-trusts and disinformation employed by some commentators on the causes of the frosty relationship between Dr. Babalakin and the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe which culminated into the setting up of a Visitation Panel by the Federal Government in August, 2020.

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Reading through the article, one was tempted not to dignify Anele with any reaction, as virtually all the issues he raised have been exhaustively addressed and are in public domain.

Adopting that attitude will however create a wrong impression in the mind of the reading public, many of who may have forgotten details of the events. The public may thus be misled to believe that Professor Anele’s ‘perspective’ under focus was correct, rather than being a jaundiced one.

Employing the doctrine “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it’ often attributed to the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, Anele in the said article repeated the disinformation that “Council at the instigation of Dr. Babalakin cancelled the convocation ceremonies slated for March 2020…”

Nothing could be further from the truth!

The professor of philosophy said he had spent the greater part of his productive adult years at the University of Lagos and most strangely added that “But like most members of the university community I really did not know in detail until recently the relevant laws that established the institution especially as they pertain to the relationship between the Management team led by the Vice Chancellor and the Governing Council chaired by the Pro-Chancellor.”

This might explain why he probably did not know that convocation ceremonies cannot be held by UNILAG management without the knowledge and approval of the Governing Council.

Objective minds will recall that a letter from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Sonny Echono through the National Universities Commission (NUC) directed the university to suspend the weeklong convocation.

The letter addressed to the executive secretary, NUC by Echono and titled, “Re: invitation to the 2019 convocation ceremony of the University of Lagos” read in part: “The attention of the honourable minister has been drawn to the attached copy of letter dated March 2, 2020 from the Pro-Chancellor to the effect that the 2019 convocation ceremonies were not approved by the governing council in line with the laws of the university.

“I am to, therefore request that you kindly advise the Vice Chancellor to suspend the convocation and ensure full compliance with due process.”

It is clear from the letter that the Pro-Chancellor simply lodged a complaint with the Minster of Education who then directed the suspension of the convocation ceremonies.

Anele may also wish to read an article by Niyi Akinnaso titled “Clarifications on the postponement of UNILAG Convocation” publish in the April 1, 2020 edition of The Nation newspapers.

According to Akinnaso, a retired Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, “It is now apparent from the timeline of events that, for a full week during advance preparations for the convocation, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Toyin Ogundipe, acted without recourse to Council or its Chairman, especially between February 24, 2020, when invitation letters were sent out, and March 2, 2020, when he responded in writing to the Chairman’s memo of February 28 in which the Chairman outlined his misgivings about the preparations for the convocation, particularly the lack of necessary information to Council about the recipients of honorary degrees, the convocation programme, and the invitation to participants, all of which were already public knowledge.

“It stands to reason that the Chairman should never have learned about this information from the pages of newspapers. It would appear that the VC sat on the Chairman’s memo over the weekend and only wrote a response on March 2, 2020, the same day he (VC) held a press conference announcing the convocation details to the world.

“On the same day, not having heard from the VC, the Council Chairman conveyed his misgivings to the Minister of Education, attaching his February 28th memo to the VC. Special meetings of Council followed on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of March, 2020, at which the NUC’s letter of postponement was discussed among other things. Not even a delegation of the University Senate could convince the Council to reverse the postponement as the Chairman insisted that he was not responsible for it in the first place.”

There are many other issues that professor Anele muddled up in his article which was full of emotions than facts.

It is however gratifying to note his comments on Dr. Babalakin’s insistence on due process and financial probity which was at the core of the disagreement between him and the Vice-Chancellor. According to him, “Surely, his allegations against the Vice-Chancellor and others may not be completely groundless.” One would have expected him, though, to draw the attention of his readers to the statement of the Visitation Panel Chairman that “On the issue of frivolous expenditure at the expense of the core mandate of the University, teaching and research, within the period in question (the) VC and his cronies undertook 75 external trips costing hundreds of millions of Naira, while the total annual DTLC of all the Departments of the University was just N35 million per annum.”

Anele’s major concern, as can be deduced in his article, was what he considered to be the style of the former Pro-Chancellor, not the weight of the proven allegations against the VC.  And he was quick to add that “Moreover, majority of Senate members including myself rallied around Prof. Ogundipe because he is a humble, compassionate, and hardworking administrator very committed to making the University of Lagos the citadel of first choice not just as a mere slogan but in reality as well.”

Anele also in his article celebrated the setting up of the Visitation Panel on UNILAG and the reinstatement of Ogundipe as VC by the Federal Government.

In all these, the professor of philosophy appeared not to have come across the widely published different correspondence of Professor Tukur Saad, Chairman of the panel, to the Chief of Staff to the president, Ibrahim Gambari, and the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, where he said among other things that “When you read the Report you will notice that it was very one-sided, so to speak, the option was for the Chairman to refuse to sign the report and that would have been a slap on the Government’s face. In any case, the issue is not that the report was false but it contained half-truth in order to protect one party and magnified the facts from the other party by pushing the blame to one side, omitting what could have balanced the report.”

Professor Saad also acknowledged that Professor Ogundipe and his management team engaged in contract splitting and concealment of University funds, almost amounting to N10 billion,  from the Governing Council.

It is not the intention of this write up to dwell on issues that are already settled in the public domain, more so as a new Governing Council is just rolling up its sleeves.

It is however necessary to remind Professor Anele and his likes that Dr. Babalakin had since September 15, 2020, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Education, resigned as Chairman of the UNILAG Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor.

While he was in office, he took no honorarium or sitting allowance, but he instead availed UNILAG, his alma matter, of financial grants from his personal resources.

This was not lost on the Visitation Panel Chairman, Professor Saad Tukur, who, in his October 7, 2020 letter to the Minister of Education clearly stated that Dr. Babalakin ran the affairs of UNILAG with utmost integrity, but regretted that the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of his panel were skewed against him.

According to the professor, “There are a number of memoranda sympathetic to the Chairman of Council for the good work he was doing and for his being above the board when it came to financial probity, but these did not show up in the report because it appears three of the ToRs were targeted at the Chairman in his role of removing a VC and appointing an Ag VC.”

Also in his letter to the Chief of Staff to the President, dated Tuesday, November 10, 2020, Professor Saad said, “As Chairman, I didn’t want to sign the final report but I felt that would be a slap on the face of the government and it would generate so much bad publicity in the public domain…” He said he signed based “ on the understanding that the matter would be referred to the Shehu of Borno as the Chancellor.”

He told Professor Gambari that as soon as the panel was inaugurated, he secured the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Education to bring in the Chancellor to mediate in the UNILAG crisis and that the “Final recommendation of the panel was that the matter should be referred back to the Chancellor, irrespective of what the panel recommended.” Professor Saad lamented that “As it stands now I feel I was made a fool of and stabbed on the back by people I trusted.”

He added that “Furthermore, it will be impossible for any Council to manage a university in this country if the recommendations of the panel are implemented in a Whitepaper” and complained that “A Whitepaper based on the report submitted by the panel and neglecting the final recommendation of referring will raise many questions.”

•          MIKAIL MUMUNI is Media Adviser to Dr. Wale Babalakin SAN.

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