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CAMPUS LIFE: ABC of the crisis at UNILAG

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All is not well with the University of Lagos (UNILAG). Associate Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF digs into what ails the 57-year-old institution.

There is disquiet at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). Unless there is a sudden change of events, the UNILAG Governing Council (GC) reconvenes today in an emergency meeting to discuss critical matters that fuelled the crisis rocking the 57-year-old institution. The meeting began yesterday.

Among other things, the GC, under the chairmanship of Pro-chancellor Dr. Bolarinwa Olawale Babalakin (SAN), will continue its deliberation on the reports of two committees it set up to probe some activities in the university. Last year, following a complaint by the Pro-chancellor during a GC meeting in September, a committee was constituted to probe the institution’s finances from May 2017 till September 2018 – a period of 16 months. Dr. Saminu Dagari, a GC member and Chemistry lecturer from the Federal University in Gashua, chaired the probe committee. Other members are Yomi Kasali, Oladejo Azeez (Registrar), Dora Osoata, Adepeju Adefowope, Adebayo Olaleye, Adeoluwa Folami, Daniel Asigwuike, and Gbenga Adefarakan.

The committee submitted its report after sitting for seven months, but its findings seem to have planted the kernel of discord that has now pitted the management against the GC. Another committee was put in place to dig into the circumstances that led to the collapse of the formwork of a TEFUND-funded library in the institution. There is apprehension within the university campus that the outcome of the meeting may affect some principal officers of the university, including some senior academics who are not part of the management.

The crux of the matter

It has been widely speculated that the crisis brewing in UNILAG is as a result of the fight against corruption and financial recklessness allegedly committed by some officials of the institution. However, there is more to the crisis than meets the eye. Based on the report of the committee that probed the university’s finances, queries were given to some high ranking officials of the university, including former principal officers.

Those queried for alleged financial impropriety included the Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe; two deputy VCs, Folasade Ogunsola and Oluwole Familoni; a former VC, Rahamon Bello; the school former registrar, Taiwo Ipaye. Also queried were the Dean of Students’ Affairs (DSA), Ademola Adeleke; a former deputy VC, Duro Oni; Head of Procurement Unit, James Akanmu; Director of Academic Planning, L.O. Chukwu; former bursar, Lateef Odekunle; current bursar, Lekan Lawal; former Directors of Works, Niyi Ayeye and Adelere Adeniran; and the director of the foundation programme, Timothy Nubi. The queries were signed by the registrar who doubles as secretary to the GC.

An obviously embarrassed VC had fired back, issuing a query to Azeez for acting without being authorised by his office to do so. The deluge of queries has set the stage for more controversies in the university as accusations and counter-accusations swirl in the air. Efforts by The Nation to speak with the VC and other top members of management were rebuffed last week. The crisis is already being resolved by the appropriate quarters, the aides enthused last Friday.

The Nation tried unsuccessfully to get Dr. Babalakin’s reactions. Calls to his mobile lines were neither answered nor returned, while messages were not replied.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU), UNILAG chapter, has not allowed matters to lie low. The union, which accused the GC chairman of highhandedness, is particularly irked that a procedural error has been committed by the GC by acting on a report that is yet to be deliberated on by GC members. Among other things, ASUU is alleging that the GC chairman unilaterally queried the university’s principal officers and some ASUU members based on the report of the fact-finding committee, when the same report is yet to be officially deliberated and acted upon by other GC members.

While reiterating that UNILAG and its ASUU are not opposed to probes of any type, Dr. Dele Ashiru, ASUU chairman, said due process had not been followed in the crisis that has led to a harvest of queries. Anyone who comes into equity must come with clean hands, Dr. Ashiru insisted while admitting that the GC has the right to discipline any erring worker in the university. “The position of ASUU is that while the council can take disciplinary measures against any member of the university community who runs foul of the law, Dr. Wale Babalakin is not the council. He is just the chairman of the governing council and he cannot be running the council like his private firm. He cannot be the accuser, the investigator and the judge at the same time,” Ashiru said.

The registrar, however, rose in stout defence of the GC, saying ASUU’s position was borne out of ignorance. In a statement, though the registrar tacitly acknowledged that the controversial report was yet to be tabled before GC members, he defended Dr. Babalakin, saying the legal luminary has not breached any regulation and that the Pro-chancellor has a right to act for the GC. He went ahead to chronicle several instances in the past where he claimed ASUU had acted out of ignorance. “The office of the registrar will be glad to receive the specific law or rule of the university that was breached to enable us to pass it to (the) council. It is noteworthy that on previous occasions within the tenure of this council, ASUU had issued notices criticising the council for taking certain steps, and in all these occasions, ASUU was not right.

“For example, when ASUU issued a statement that the meeting between the Council and the Senate was unprecedented in the history of our university, it turned out to be wrong because previous councils under Chief Afe Babalola and Deacon Gamaliel Onosode had also had similar meetings with the Senate. We urge ASUU to remember that the University of Lagos is a centre of learning where the pursuit of knowledge is very paramount. There is nothing worse than the tyranny of ignorance,” the registrar said.

According to university records, the last time the GC met was from 13-15 of March 2019. Yet, the report of the committee probing UNILAG’s finances was not ready until last month. In fact, in the notice of GC emergency meeting, which was issued on May 9 and signed by the registrar, three issues were listed on items for the agenda for today’s and tomorrow’s meetings scheduled to hold in the institution’s council chamber by 10 a.m. “The meeting is to receive and discuss the following reports: (1) (a) Council sub-committee on the review of the expenditure of the University of Lagos since May 2017; (b) Council panel set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the library building under construction; (2) to receive and discuss the Pro-chancellors actions taken on the reports; (3) to consider the recommendations in the two reports,” the registrar and secretary to the GC wrote in the notice of meeting.

Committee’s findings and recommendations

While efforts to get a copy of the report on the collapse of the library building were unsuccessful, The Nation got the findings of the controversial committee that probed the finances of the university after the report was circulated to the GC members last Friday. The report, which was tabled before the GC yesterday, indicted senior officials.

However, two principal officers escaped the dangling axe of the committee. One of them is the registrar, Azeez. He doubles as GC secretary and served on the committee that probed the university’s finances. The report also thoroughly indicted the university management of financial recklessness. While records showed that the trips embarked upon by all the affected officials and amount accrued to them were duly approved by the appropriate organs of the university, the committee frowned at the amount due to each official and condemned the approval process and internal control issues in the institution.

“The lapses which manifested in the selected expenditure reviewed by the committee revealed a dismal failure of the expenditure control and internal audit units to effectively implement the internal control mechanism as provided in the university financial regulation,” the report alleged.

“The current regime of approval is open to serious abuses” as there was “consistent, brazen, manifest and gross mismanagement of the university finances by current and past management,” the report said. The alleged financial infractions, the report claimed, were characterised by “(1) contract awards without recourse to due process; (2) payments without valid contracts and approvals; (3) contract overpayments; (4) contract splitting by Vice Chancellors and university tenders board; (5) Over budgetary spending; (6) frequent official travels; (7) expenditures without due approvals by the Governing Council.”

It recommended that “payment of local running allowances for foreign trips should be stopped forthwith” and that “due process should be followed in duty tour transactions by the appropriate authority.” On what it termed as executive lapses, the committee concluded that “the immediate past and present bursars had failed in their responsibilities to effectively control and coordinate activities in the bursary department and to properly advise the Vice Chancellors in the management of university resources. By extension, the immediate past and present Vice-Chancellors had failed as chief accounting officers of the university.”

The committee also went ahead to recommend the following: “(1) (i) a monthly or quarterly approval limit should be fixed for all approving authorities; (ii) the expenditure control and internal audit units should be re-organised to face the challenges of managing the university resources; (iii) process of revenue and expenditure should be automated for transparency; (2) contractors engaged in janitorial and maintenance services should be paid all their outstanding monies and subsequently disengaged.

“This is because they are beneficiaries of management wanton and consistent abuse and violation of financial regulations such as the absence of tenders board/governing council approval, absence of renewal of the valid contract, manifest overpayment and contract splitting.” Finally, the committee reported that “the University of Lagos Act (1962 as amended) supersedes the Public Procurement Act (2007)” and recommended that (i) “council should take total control of the university finances; (ii) the Pro-chancellor and chairman of council should chair the university tenders board as it was done during the immediate past council.”

Questions begging for answers       

Senior UNILAG academics queried the recommendation that asked the “Pro-chancellor and chairman of council to chair the university’s tenders’ board. Some professors who spoke with The Nation listed three reasons that fuelled their suspicion. One, they pointed to the fact that one of the first actions of the GC after it was inaugurated in 2017 was to inquire about who between the Pro-chancellor and the VC should chair the tenders’ board.  That was in June 2017. Not satisfied with the arrangement that puts the VC as head of the university’s tenders’ board, the GC set up a sub-committee in July 2017 to seek clarification on the right official to chair the tenders’ board. Perhaps to be doubly sure, the sub-committee sought clarifications from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) through a letter dated June 29, 2017.

And on July 11, 2017, the BPP resolved the lingering controversy, saying the VC is the appropriate authority to chair the tenders’ board. The BPP anchored its position on “the provision of section 22(2) of the Public Procurement Act of 2007.” Besides affirming the VC as the chairman, the BPP also listed the following university officers as members of the tenders’ board: DVCs (administration and academics), bursar, registrar, Librarian, Director of Physical Planning and/or Director of Works; while the Director/Head of Procurement is confirmed as the tenders’ board secretary. “The Bureau hopes that with this, the University of Lagos will be well guided,” the BPP replied the sub-committee in a letter dated July 11, 2017.

According to some senior academics who are well versed in UNILAG affairs, the recommendation by Dagari committee that asked the Pro-chancellor to assume the chairmanship of the university tenders’ board is the “equivalent of taking over the board through the back door.”

They alleged that there is a ‘sinister agenda’ to suspend the incumbent VC by all means possible and make DVC Ben Oghojarfor, who was the chairman of the sub-committee that tried to review the composition of the university tenders’ board in 2017, acting VC. While Ogundipe and two deputy VCs incurred the wrath of the investigative committee mainly because of frequent travels and allowances received, The Nation can authoritatively report that Oghojarfor also travelled to Houston in Texas, United States, for alumni reception, which lasted from August 9-17 in 2018. Some months later, he was also in China for the Confucius Institute conference, lasting from November 29 to December 6 in 2018.

Stakeholders in UNILAG also faulted the investigative committee, saying how can a committee that indicted top university officials for drawing estacodes and local running allowances spend more than N7 million for auditing the institution’s finances. Documents showed that Dagari, who chaired the investigative committee, spent N3,811,481 on accommodation and feeding during the course of the committee’s work. He also got about N1.24 million as sitting allowance. Other members of the committee equally became richer by a total of N2,790,000. Besides sitting allowance, another member of the committee, Kasali, got additional N40,000 as transportation allowance, while N600,000 was also paid to the committee members. When asked to clarify some issues in the controversial report, Dr. Dagari bluntly refused. “I cannot speak to you now. I have been barred from speaking to the press,” Dr. Dagari said.

The end has certainly not been heard of this matter.


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