For more than one week, the sudden sack of the Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, has been on the front burner of public discourse. It will be for even more weeks and months ahead. The governing Council of the university, headed by the Pro-chancellor, Dr Wale Babalakin, a lawyer and businessman had announced the sack and replacement of Ogundipe, after the Council met in Abuja.
Controversy and condemnation have trailed the action of the council. Although a vote was said to have been taken at the council meeting wherein six members voted for the removal of the VC and four voted against, the crux of the condemnation of the act is that it has completely violated the provisions of the Act on how to remove a Vice Chancellor. Babalakin has thus been in the eye of the storm as he is being accused of being dictatorial and seeking to run the University like his law firm: unilaterally.
Many had argued that Ogundipe was not given fair hearing. They point out that the said Abuja meeting was tagged an emergency meeting which was supposed to be discussing the budget of the university. But that Babalakin suddenly introduced the subject of the sack of the Vice Chancellor and demanded that Prof Ogundipe left the meeting so his fate could be decided.
Babalakin has however argued that a committee which was constituted by Council to look into the allegations of gross misconduct and financial recklessness against Ogundipe had submitted a report to Council, which in turn forwarded same to Ogundipe for a response. Babalakin pointed out that Ogundipe, last May, not only wrote to defend himself against the allegations, he stood for an hour to verbally argue his case at the full meeting of the council. Therefore the demand of fair hearing has been fulfilled.
The pro-Chancellor who described Ogundipe as a “serial offender” claimed that universities are now being run by a revised law and not the provisions of the 2003 Act. He said there is a new law: Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 2009 which precludes the consent of the Visitor (Mr President) to the university in the sacking of a Vice Chancellor. Quoting section 3 (8) of the said Act, Babalakin said the Vice Chancellor may be removed on the initiative of the Governing Council, senate or the congregation, “after due process”.
But thus far, it appears only Babalakin and his split Council is the initiator, sponsor and executor of the removal of Ogundipe. Neither the senate of the University nor the Congregation has agreed with Babalakin on the removal of the VC. He cannot thus act unilaterally. He cannot be the accuser, the judge and even the jury in his own case. It is not for nothing that the Act prescribes Due Process. It cannot be breached without attendant consequences.
Some have thus described him as the Pharoah of the University of Lagos, behaving like a fierce village headmaster.
Indeed, every other body of association in the University including the local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Committee of Vice Chancellors, UNILAG Alumni Association etc, have all risen to condemn the action of the Babalakin-led council. But he remains adamant.
It is unlikely that they are all wrong and only Babalakin is right.
He claims that Ogundipe as an employee of the Council has no right to take the university to court over his sack. Really? It is ironic that this verbiage is coming from one described as a learned citizen, a supposedly revered fellow in the temple of justice. Is the court no longer the final arbiter in disputes? No doubt, the Pro-Chancellor sees the University of Lagos as an extension of his private home. But even there, his house boy has some rights which he can demand if it is infringed upon. How can you beat a child and forbid him from crying?
Babalakin argues that if a Vice Chancellor is sacked, all he can do is to “write to council to appeal the decision of the sack”. He cleverly dodges the more crucial question of how a vice chancellor is sacked.
Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria should know better: that the ‘howness’ of the sack is more important than ‘whyness’ or aftermath for/of the act.
Even from his own narrative, the provisions of the Act on how to sack a VC and appoint a new one have not been followed.
Why is Babalakin in such an ungodly haste to see Ogundipe out?
Yes, if the many allegations of financial recklessness, forgery, concealment of information etc., against the VC are proven, then Prof Ogundipe does not deserve to remain in office. But, in law it is trite to say he who alleges, proves. Has Babalakin and his Council proven the allegations against Ogundipe? Until that is done, Babalakin should calm down and let due process take its full and slalom course, if nothing else, for the sake of the students and the ethos of order and propriety.