- Photo L-R: Babalakin, Ogundipe *
The Presidential Visitation Panel to the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has said the Dr. Wale Babalakin led Governing Council complied with due process in the removal of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor .
The council removed Ogundipe in August 2020 but the furore this generated in some quarters led to a chain of reactions, including the setting up of a panel by government on the matter.
Government also asked both Babalakin and Ogundipe to recuse themselves from the offices they held. While Babalakin later resigned as Pro-Chancellor and chairman of council, government reinstated Ogundipe, saying his ouster did not follow due process.
The Presidential Visitation Panel which was set on 29th March, 2021 has however submitted its report with the verdict that the removal was in order.
The seven member panel with Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd.) as Chairman said “The removal and subsequent appointment of an Acting Vice-Chancellor for the University in 2020 falls within the period of review that this Panel is mandated to review. Consequently, it is relevant to consider whether the Babalakin led Governing Council acted in accordance with the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 2003 or not. “
It added that “In respect of the removal of the Vice-Chancellor, it was said that the Babalakin led Council “did not give the Vice-Chancellor an opportunity to defend himself on the allegations upon which his removal was based.” The statement did not reach any conclusion as to whether that Council breached the law in respect of the Vice-Chancellor’s removal.”
It disclosed that “Dr Babalakin appeared before this Panel and presented a Memorandum. His justification for his Council removing the Vice-Chancellor without the participation of two Senate members is that his Council complied with the law fully. He drew attention to Section 3(8) of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1993 as follows: “The Vice-Chancellor may be removed from office by the governing Council on grounds of gross misconduct or inability to discharge the functions of his office as a result of infirmity of body or mind, at the initiative of the Council, Senate or Congregation after due process”
The panel noted that “It is important to point out that the relevant and applicable Section 5(9) of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act, 2003 provides as follows: “When the proposal for the removal of the Vice-Chancellor is made, the Council shall constitute a joint committee of Council and Senate consisting of- (i) Three members of the Council one of whom shall be the Chairman of the committee, and (ii) Two members of the Senate, provided that where the ground for removal is infirmity of the body or mind, the Council shall seek appropriate medical opinion.” Section 5(10) provides that “The Committee shall conduct investigation into the allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor and shall report its findings to the Council” Section 5(11) states as follows “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 a Vice-Chancellor who is removed shall have a right of appeal to the Visitor.” Dr. Babalakin expressed the opinion that, compared to the 1993 Act where the language of the Act is intentionally different, i.e., “at the initiative of the Council, Senate or Congregation after due process” the removal of a Vice Chancellor for gross misconduct under the 2003 Act is solely a Council decision after Council has determined that the Vice-Chancellor has committed an act of gross misconduct.”
General Agwai and his colleagues said in their report that “ In respect of Section 5(10) of the 2003 Act that states “The Committee shall conduct investigation into the allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor and shall report its findings to the Council” Dr Babalakin noted that Council complied with this provision. According to him, the Vice-Chancellor received on the authority of the Council, a copy of Dagari’s report. The Vice-Chancellor defended himself orally and also in his letter dated 13th May 2019 which was made available to Council members. According to him, Section 5(9) of the 2003 Act provides that “the proposal for removal of the Vice-Chancellor is made, the Council shall constitute a joint committee of Council and Senate consisting of “Three members of the Council one of whom shall be the Chairman of the Committee, and Two members of the Senate, provided that where the ground for removal is infirmity of the body or mind, the Council shall seek appropriate medical opinion.”
They stressed that “Dr Babalakin’s argument is that compared to Section 3(b)(ii) of the 1993 Act regarding the interview panel for the office of Vice-Chancellor, Section 5(9) of the 2003 Act does not require Senate members who are not Council members. Section 3(b) (ii) of the 1993 Act expressly provides for “Two members of Senate who are not members of the Council.” Section 3(b) of that Act also provides for “Two members of the Council, not being members of the Senate.” According to this position, by simply stating “Two members of Senate” in Section 5(9) of the 2003 Act without the qualification of the restrictive language in Section 3(b)(ii) of the 1993 Act, the draftsmen of the 2003 have to be deemed not to require the Senate members on the Committee not to be Council members. 158 He explained that those that took the decision to remove the Vice-Chancellor on 12th August 2020 were no fewer than six members of the Senate in addition to six Council members which he argued was a joint committee of Council and Senate in compliance with the 2003 Act. “
The panel said that “Applying the well-established cannons of statutory interpretation, this Panel finds Dr Babalakin’s argument very plausible.”
It added that “To be very fair to the University Management, the force of this argument is not lost on them,” as they, in their Memorandum to the Panel, on page 29, third paragraph, sought an amendment of the 2003 Act of UNILAG on the aspect dealing with the removal of the Vice Chancellor.
Saying that it was able to confirm alleged instances of financial misdeed made aagainst UNILAG Management, the report said “There are cases where the principal officers exceed approval limits by approving related and similar expenses that ordinarily should be a single piece of procurement. This could be interpreted as splitting of contracts or services for it to be within the limit of an officer and avoid rules governing big tender, breach of the Procurement and Fiscal Responsibilities Acts.”
On an example of frivolous contracts, the panel said that in year 2016, the sum of ₦25,085,306 was paid to Nugabass Consultants Ltd as professional fees in respect of recovery of ₦447,000,000 from PENCOM out of the ₦3 Billion indebtedness of the FGN to the University and stressed that this is an avoidable cost as the University could have established a more cordial relationship with PENCOM and used it to recover the debts.
The panel said that from the Memoranda that it received and from presentations made, a number of people made strong allegations of gross misconduct against Professor Ogundipe personally and his management between 2017 and 2020.
“These are Dr Babalakin, immediate past Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council; Engineer Tunde Oloko, immediate past Acting Director of Works of the University; Professor Oye-Adeniran, retired Professor of Medicine University of Lagos and Council member from 2016 to 2019; Dr Saminu Dagari, former Council member, 2017 to 2020; Dr Bayo Adaralegbe, former Council member, 2017 to 2020, and Mr Rotimi Sodimu, former Registrar and current Council member. The Panel notes that each of these persons provided documents to substantiate their allegations,” the Visitation Panel report said.