On September 8, the management of the Lagos State University, LASU, announced the dismissal of 15 academics, two non-academic staff members and the demotion of two other lecturers for various acts of misconduct.
The university’s governing council stated that the decision to sack the lecturers was reached after the reports of two disciplinary committees indicted them of acts ranging from the solicitation of bribe from students, alteration of results, falsification of O’level certificates, and abandonment of duties.
The university’s council also ordered eight of the dismissed academics to refund about N54 million to the university within 30 days of their dismissal.
Among the sacked academics was the incumbent chairman of the university’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Isaac Oyewunmi. Mr. Oyewunmi, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education, was dismissed for allegedly demanding N50,000 from a student of Political Science Education on the university’s sandwich programme.
The university also dismissed Mr. Oyewunmi’s deputy in ASUU, Adebowale Adeyemi-Suenu, a senior lecturer and the then acting head of the Department of History and International Studies. Mr Adeyemi-Suenu was dismissed for allegedly altering the results of 12 students already advised to withdraw by the university’s Senate, the institution’s management stated. The university’s governing council also indicted him for awarding grade point 2.0 to two students in an examination they did not take.
Since the announcement was made, the ASUU chapter of the institution has been spoiling for a showdown with the university’s management. It claimed that its chairman and his deputy, especially, were dismissed on trump-up charges and their dismissal was part of a grand plan by the university to destabilise the union and break its opposition to alleged widespread impunity by the management.
“We would take legal steps. When I say legal steps I don’t mean going to court. There are rules in the varsity and we would explore that. The union has found the issues raised to be very contentious,” said Anthony Dansu, the secretary of the union.
“Our chairman remains our chairman while our vice chairman remains our vice chairman so we don’t have any issue regarding that. We held a congress today and all things are still normal,” he told PREMIUM TIMES after the union’s congress last week.
Already skirmishes between the ASUU officials and the institution’s management have erupted. On September 11, Mr. Oyewunmi, allegedly returned to the university to pick his personal belonging from the union’s secretariat. But he was trailed by armed university security officials who ordered him out of the university campus as he had been declared a persona non-grata. A shouting contest accompanied by some pushing and shoving ensued. Mr Oyewunmi was later led out of the campus by the security officials.
PLANTING THE SEED OF DISCORD
After speaking with several academic and non-academic sources as well as the university’s management, PREMIUM TIMES can reveal that the seed of discord that is now threatening to tear the university apart was planted during the administration of Abdulateef Hussein as vice chancellor. Mr. Hussein’s tenure was so crisis-ridden that in less than a year after he was re-appointed for a second term as vice chancellor, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed a vote of no confidence on him and advised the governor to sack him.
State lawmakers described his tenure as being characterised by falling academic standard, decaying infrastructure, poor management of human and material resources, administrative ineptitude, poor human relations and victimisation of academics leading to the resignation of several committed staff.
But the state governor at the time, Babatunde Fashola, thought otherwise and Mr. Hussein, stayed on. Things went south from there. Few months later, he was allegedly stoned by protesting students and subsequently chased out of university campus. Some aggrieved staff members then placed some fetish charms at the gate of his office as further deterrent to prevent him from returning to the institution. Mr. Hussein eventually resigned from the university in 2011.
Enter John Obafunwa, a professor of Forensic Pathology. His tenure was no different from that of his predecessor. It was marked by incessant clashes between contending factions and caucuses within the university. The former vice chancellor was accused of making illegal appointments and promotions. Professors and departments were pitched against one another. Academic activities were constantly disrupted by strikes and protests by dissatisfied university unions.
One of such alleged dubious promotions made by Mr. Obafunwa, was that of the university’s former director of External System, Olatunji Abanikannda. He was made a professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics by Mr. Obafunwa, but the university’s chapter of ASUU petitioned the governing council alleging that his appointment did not follow due process. A five-member panel which investigated the allegation sided with ASUU and Mr. Abanikannda was demoted from his professorial seat to a senior lecturer.
Just like his predecessor, Mr. Obafunwa was chased out of the university and eventually served out his tenure from outside the university.
A LULL IN HOSTILITY
After the incumbent vice chancellor, Olarenwaju Fagbohun, a professor of Environmental Law, assumed office, there was a period of respite. It seemed that the troubled university was ready to put its cantankerous past behind it. The new vice chancellor held meetings with all aggrieved groups, unions and factions within the university and it was agreed that a new course should be chatted by everyone.
The institution’s chapter of ASUU, however, made a list of demands which included the reversal of some of the decisions and appointments made by Mr. Obafunwa. Mr. Fagbohun reportedly agreed to revert to administering the university through the committee system, an internationally recognised system of university management. Faculties were to nominate lecturers who would then be approved by the vice chancellor.
Meanwhile, the university’s ASUU had suspended and blacklisted some lecturers whom they accused of working with Mr. Obafunwa, among them was Mr. Abanikannda. These blacklisted lecturers were reportedly barred from being nominated by their faculties into the committees.
CRISIS YET AGAIN
But trouble started when the list of members of committees were published and the names of some of the suspended members, who the union described as “the troublers of LASU” and “bad boys”, such as Mr. Abanikannda; Kabiru Akinyemi, a professor; Akinpelu Denloye; Bola Oyefolu; and Anjorin Aderibigbe, were appointed into committees.
The university’s chapter of ASUU also frowned at Mr. Fagbohun’s retention of Rasak Olowu and Abayomi Jimoh as the acting director of Pre-Degree Studies (PDS) and acting director of LASU External Studies (Internal). Messrs. Olowu and Jimoh were said to be loyalists of Mr. Obafunwa.
Mr. Fagbohun was further accused of appointing Olawale Saka, a Lecturer I, as the Director of Entrepreneurship Centre at a time when he was a Ph.D student at his faculty. Officials of the union said it took a lot of pressure from them and several administrative mishaps before he was replaced.
The union also accused the vice chancellor of paying the full salary of the former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Peter Okebukola, for at least two months after he retired from the university.
“The sacking was an attempt to break ASUU,” Mr. Dansu later told PREMIUM TIMES during an exclusive interview.
“Their primary targets were the chairman and his deputy. At least 10 lecturers on that list are no longer staff of the university. They had left the university and are working elsewhere. The management only added their names to the list a failed attempt at hiding fact that it was mainly targeted at ASUU leadership which has consistently demanded for things to be done correctly,” he added.
Mr. Dansu said the charges against the chairman and his deputy were akin to calling a dog a bad name to hang it. He said the university’s investigation was a sham.
“I can tell you there was no case against the chairman. In fact if there was no mischief, the case should have died ab initio,” he said.
“This was a case of 2012. Someone alleged that he was attempting to demand N50,000 from him through another student, to produce a result. He wrote a letter to the vice chancellor in 2016 to probe an issue of 2012. He claimed that his name was Jolaosho Alabi, a 2003 student of the Sandwich programme of the university. He said that the VC should save him that he is yet to graduate. When we got to the panel, the name changed from Jolaosho Alabi to Alabi Davies; and then they asked him at the panel if he was still a student of the university, he said he had graduated since 2013. His name was in the 18th convocation brochure. So what is the grouse? But the university went ahead to pursue the allegation, as if they were actually the one who asked the guy to write that petition in the first instance so that they can use it against him.
“They asked him if he gave money to anyone, he said he did not. You have graduated in 2013 so what are your grouse in 2016/17?
“The chairman and the vice Chairman were dragged to face different panels for different allegations within one week. This also point out the fact that there’s ulterior motive; it wasn’t about cleaning the system. It is to hit the union and keep it silent,” he added.
Another lecturer, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised by the union to speak on the matter, said the feedback he got of what happened at the hearings of the university’s panel which investigated the allegation showed that the entire proceeding was a sham.
“Two of their witnesses testified against them. You accused the vice chairman of alteration of about 200 results. At the end of the day they got to the panel and they found out that it was about four results. And the department defended those results with departmental minutes that they were the ones that gave the mandate to the HOD that anyone that has about one or two papers pending they should upgrade their grades to 45 so they can score 2.0 (this is the minimum pass mark) and this is exactly what he did.
“The department came to defend him at the panels. The panels vindicated him. They cleared him of alteration of results but they said they found him guilty of dereliction of duty. They said he gave his responsibility to another staff to handle that he should have uploaded those results himself. He met that tradition on ground and it is done everywhere in the campus. HODs give permission to examination officers to upload results. They accused him of alteration of results, they didn’t find him guilty but found him guilty of an offence he wasn’t accused of,” he said.
Further commenting on the case of John Adeogun, an associate professor at the department of Human Kinetic, Sports and Health, who was demoted for alleged dishonesty, the lecturer alleged that the university main witness, a security guard, even indicted the vice chancellor during the trial.
“They accused him of about four different misconducts; the major one being surrogacy that he using some individuals that were not staff of the university to do his duty for him. He faces about three panels. They also accused him of bribery. In fact, the allegation of bribery is very funny and will eventually set this university on fire,” the lecturer said.
“They cleared him on the other charges. When they couldn’t indict him on anything they demoted him on perceived dishonesty. They couldn’t key the dishonesty to any specific issue.
“They claimed he bribed a security man with N25,000 on the day that the issue came up. When they got to the panel, the university sent down the person to testify against him. Fortunately for him, it was during the last Ramadan and the security official is a Muslim. He told the panel that as a Muslim, it was very difficult to lie. He told the panel that he had never meet this person (Mr Adeogun) before and that he did not bribe him and that it was the vice chancellor himself that called him and was accusing him in the presence of another security officer that he collected bribe. He said he didn’t understand the case in the first instance and denied collecting bribe.
“His colleague then called him and told him that if he doesn’t want to lose his job (he was not a full staff) he should just accept that he collected bribe, so that the VC will allow him keep your job. He agreed reluctantly, the VC then told him to write down his confessional statement and sign against it. He then told the VC that he is a poor security official and does not have N25,000 to tender as evidence. The VC removed N25,000 from his desk drawer, put it in an envelop and gave it to him to take to the panel.
“But the guy went to the panel and told them the truth. They said maybe he has a mental problem, he has gone to different panels and has been consistent in his testimony. Yet they demoted him (Mr Adeogun).
“They didn’t try the case of the allegation against the VC. They didn’t mention it. In fact, the security official is now being facing a disciplinary committee for allegedly lying against the VC. You can see the level of injustice at the university,” the source said.
THE UNIVERSITY RESPONDS
When reached for comment, LASU’s management denied that the leadership of the university’s ASUU has been singled out for punishment or are being persecuted. The university’s spokesperson, Ademola Adekoya, told PREMIUM TIMES it just happened that top members of the union have cases of misconduct against them.
“These people have skeletons in their cupboard. The university did not initiate anything against them. The issue of Oyewunmi and Suenu, who are the chairman and vice chairman of ASUU did not emanate with the present management. The VC did not bring out any issue against them. It was an allegation brought by some people. The allegation was sent straight to the governor and the commissioner for justice. The government sent these allegations to the VC and asked the university to investigate. The VC has to follow the due procedure,” he said.
He said the affected academics were given the opportunity to defend themselves at different levels of investigation handled by panels headed by respected academics who themselves are members of ASUU.
“One of the procedures was that a committee must be set up, which was chaired by a member of ASUU. A professor, Mike Ikhariale happens to be the chairman of the disciplinary panel. People were invited to testify. They brought evidences. The committee sent its report to the (university) senate. A committee of the senate also look at the issues and made recommendations to the governing council. The university governing council looked at it and confirmed the report.
“Some members of ASUU were also members of council and at the point where the final decision was being taken, they were there. If they have seen anything wrong they would have said so. The chairman governing council is also a credible person, Professor Ninolowo from UNILAG. He would not be lured into doing something against the will of those people. He is a staunch member of ASUU.
“There are people who are sympathetic to the course of ASUU but they know that this case has taken the right course, if not LASU would have been boiling by now. But the university is peaceful,” he said.
On the case of Mr. Oyewunmi, he said the university has an audio recording where he confessed to the allegation. He added that other senior academics, Janmiu Oluwatoki, Mr Jimoh and Mubashiru Mohammed (popularly known as MOB Mohammed) testified against him.
But when he was asked to play the tape to this reporter, he declined saying he did not have the permission of the university vice chancellor to share the evidence with the media.
He said the investigation into the misconduct was actually initiated by the immediate past chairman of university’s ASUU, Adekunle Idris.
“It was Dr Idris who sent a text to the VC that some HODs were altering marks for students in their departments that he should investigate it. He sent the matriculation numbers and names of two students that the VC should investigate them. When the VC investigated it the name of Udegbe (Scholastica Udegbe, who was also dismissed). The VC then ordered a random check on all HODs to verify. That was how the names of Dr Suenu and Bola Ademeso came up,” he said.
A CIRCLE OF VENDETTA
The crisis in the institution is an endless circle of tit for tat, a non-academic staff told PREMIUM TIMES. He explained that “what we are experiencing is counter attack by loyalists of Mr. Obafunwa, who felt they were dealt a bad hand after their principal was forced out of the university.”
“The academic community in run like a secret cult. They have dirts on each other but won’t use them or talk about until there is a disagreement. Those working with the former VC like Abanikannda, who was demoted from a professor to a senior lecturer after the VC was removed, are now retrieving their pound of flesh from ASUU members, who moved against them.
“Abanikanda has the secret of some of the top guys in ASUU. In fact, I hear he has audio recording implicating the ASUU chairman. So what you are seeing now is him hitting back at those he thinks were responsible for his downfall. So this is purely a revenge mission.
“So the university set up committees to investigate them and they were found wanting. Even they acknowledge that these things happened but they cannot come out to say so publicly. He acknowledged that he wanted to collect the N50,000 from the student and they have him on record saying so.
“Some of those sacked absconded from duty after the university sent them abroad for further studies. So I don’t think this is a case of victimisation. This is their past catching up with them. And this committees were not just made up of people from LASU, some members were from outside the university,” he said.
Mr .Abanikannda, however, told PREMIUM TIMES, he has nothing to do with the dismissal of the ASUU chairman and his deputy. He said he merely testified at the panel because he was called on by the university authority to do so and that was why his involvement ended.
“It is the decision of the governing council, which is the high decision-making body of the university. As for those who are making reference to me, I am neither a member of the governing council nor the university senate. So I don’t really know what role they expect me to play,” he said during a telephone chat.
“It is not a vendetta, I do not have any role to play in it. If I had held back and did nothing at the peak of the crisis, why do I want to get back at them.”
Mr. Abanikannda, who also revealed that he was challenging his demotion in court, said the university’s ASUU leadership ganged up against him and the immediate past vice chancellor because they were scared they were going to be called upon to answer for their offences.
“Were you told that their plot against me was because of my knowledge of all these. They insisted on not wanting Professor Obafunwa because they know that Obafunwa knows the truth and they know he will get at them one by one. They all conspired against Professor Obafunwa thinking that with Obafunwa out of the way the thing wouldn’t come. For three years after the crime was committed, Obafunwa did not even take any drastic action against them. So it was their own action that prompted people to start asking why this aggression against this man,” he said
“This is a new man and he has barely stayed six months and they listed 72 offences against him, that comes to an average of 12 offences per month. Even if he was appointed as the chief offender of the university could he have done that,” he said of the allegations of the union against the incumbent vice-chancellor.