INVESTIGATION: Former NUC boss, Okebukola, in age falsification scandal

Peter Okebukola, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian University Commission (NUC). [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]
Peter Okebukola, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian University Commission (NUC). [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]

When was Peter Okebukola, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian University Commission (NUC), born? Was it on February 17, 1949; February 17, 1948; or February 17, 1951?

The professor of science education at the Lagos State University (LASU) has used these birth dates interchangeably to manipulate the system several times during his career, PREMIUM TIMES has found.

Documents obtained by this newspaper show that Mr Okebukola has three different birth dates in the records of the university.

The date of birth submitted by Mr Okebukola when he was employed was February 17, 1949. But at different times in the course of his 35-year career at the university, he has also presented two other birth dates- February 17, 1948 and February 17, 1951.

Despite being aware of this discrepancy that ordinarily should have earned him immediate dismissal according to university rules, the institution condoned the professor and failed to apply its own rule.

But while it tolerated Mr Okebukola’s unscrupulous act, the school reprimanded other memberd of staff for a similar offence, the documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES revealed.

A 2008 condition of service of senior staff of the university classified the falsification of age as a “gross misconduct” and stipulated immediate termination of appointment of anyone found culpable.

The 2008 condition of service was later reviewed in 2017. The review classified falsification of certificates, age, state of origin and or other records, suppression of records and concealment of employment history as “serious acts of misconducts”. The sanction stipulated in this review for any employee caught in any of these acts was dismissal.

Multiple sources said Mr Okebukola, who should have retired in 2014 according to the original birth date he presented to the university when he was employed, has remained in service due to the complicity of the University’s vice chancellor, Olanrewaju Fagbohun, who used to be his protégé. Official documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES appear to support this claim.

Neither Mr Fagbogun nor Mr Okebukola responded to questions on the matter. The university said the school had taken a decision not to comment on the issue “this time around”.

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Above the Law

On October 2, 2014, a memo by a deputy registrar at the time, Olayinka Amuni (who is now the substantive registrar of the university), to the registrar of the university pointed out the inconsistencies in Mr Okebukola’s birth dates. Mr Amuni argued that based on the birth date presented to the university when he was employed in 1984 (that is February 17, 1949), Mr Okebukola was due for mandatory retirement on February 17, 2014, the day he turned 65.

“Professor P.A.O Okebukola was granted approval for three hundred and thirty-six (336) days deferred leave which should be utilised as terminal leave preparatory to final retirement from the service of the university,” he wrote in the letter with reference number LASU/ASE/REG/002.

Similarly, the University’s Academic Staff Establishment division flagged the discrepancies in Mr Okebukola’s birth dates after he applied for sabbatical leave in July 2014, and declined approval for the leave.

Perhaps, on the strength of the observation by the Academic Staff Establishment division, Mr Okebukola in a letter dated December 5, 2015 eventually notified the university that he was prepared to retire from the service of the university.

Not retiring again

But in a dramatic twist, Mr Okebukola on January 18, 2016 wrote a letter to the vice chancellor of the university withdrawing his notice of retirement.

“My letter of December 5, 2015, giving notice of retirement at the age of 65 on February 16, 2016, based on the old provision of the LASU Law refers,” he wrote.

“In view of the revision of the provision extending retirement age to 70, I wish to withdraw the notice,” he added.

Mr Fagbohun swiftly approved the withdrawal of Mr Okebukola’s notice of retirement. Also, almost immediately after the withdrawal notice was approved, the Fagbohun-led management also approved that Mr Okebukola should proceed on sabbatical from February 2016 to February 2017.

However, the problem with the letter withdrawing his resignation, however, was that it was written five months too early. Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, did not sign the amendment to the LASU law, which extended the retirement age from 65 to 70 until May 2016, though the law was made effective from January 4, 2016.

The vice chancellor’s approval of Mr Okebukola’s request to withdraw his notice of retirement was so out of tune with the university’s law that the Academic Staff Establishment division “exercised restraint in communicating [the] approval of the Vice Chancellor,” wrote Mr Aminu, in another letter dated February 9, 2016.

In the same letter, Mr Amuni described the approval of Mr Okebukola’s application to go on sabbatical leave and his continued stay at the university as “anomalies.”

Mr Amuni, who was in charge of Academic Staff Establishment division, argued in the letter addressed to the registrar at the time that the subsisting policy of the university under which the sabbatical leave was approved was that “an academic staff who is sixty-five (65) years old shall compulsorily retire on age grounds”.

He also pointed out a 2007 Lagos State law about the contributory pension of employees of the state government that stipulated that “the authentic age of an employee in the service shall be that submitted by him on taking up the appointment.”

“In view of the law enacted by the Lagos State House of Assembly establishing the contributory Pension Scheme for Employees in the Public Service of Lagos State and for connected purpose, Professor Okebukola ought to have retired statutorily by the 17th February, 2014 on the strength of the first date of birth he presented i.e 17th February, 1949,” he wrote.

“In the view of the above background information/irregularities observed, vis-a-vis the positions of regulations, the Registrar may wish to recommend to the Vice Chancellor that to redress the anomalies, Professor Okebukola’s sabbatical leave be terminated forthwith and; his letter seeking to withdraw his earlier retirement be discountenanced; and the recent date of birth presented – 17th February, 1951 be upheld for the purpose of his retirement age,” he wrote.

Hidden Personal File

But even before Mr Amuni’s letter indicting the vice chancellor and Mr Okebukola, the university’s Academic Staff Establishment division, upon receiving the former NUC’s boss’ notice of retirement, had wanted to take the “necessary statutory steps” but it could not proceed because surprisingly, Mr Fagbohun withheld the personal file of Mr Okebukola, which would have made such statutory process possible.

The vice chancellor retained the file in his office and refused to released it to the division, another letter written by Mr Amuni on January 6, 2016 to the registrar, noted.

A source within the university, who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised, told PREMIUM TIMES that it was an anomaly for Mr Okebukola’s personal file to be withheld by the university’s vice chancellor.

“[This] action was in complete violation of the university rules and regulations and for which there was no precedent,” our source said.

According to our source, rather than punish Mr Okebukola for perjuring about his age, Mr Fagbohun named him the first “Distinguished Professor” of LASU.

While the Lagos State University condoned Mr Okebukola, it sanctioned other staff caught in the same act.

In one case, the university governing council in August 2006, refused to renew the temporary appointment of an administrative officer in the bursary department over conflicting date of births.

A letter signed by the registrar at the time Akinrinmade. M.O read:

“The non-renewal of the temporary appointment was due to discrepancies observed in your date of birth and ordinary level result.”

When reached for comments, Mr Amuni referred this reporter to the vice chancellor. However, Mr Fagbohun did not respond to questions sent to his official email despite an automated response confirming that he questions were delivered to his inbox.

Similarly, Mr Okebukola ignored several calls and SMS sent to his known mobile number requesting for comment.

However, the university spokesperson, Ademola Adekoya, who originally did not respond to questions sent to him for comment, later told this reporter upon a follow-up call that the university management has decided not to comment on the issue.

“For now, wherever those questions are coming from, we are of the view that we should be quiet this time around. We don’t know where the questions are coming from. People don’t know the veracity of those…They are bringing up all kinds of trump-up allegations and all of that,” he said.

“If there are people who want to know they should actually get the facts right because most of the things there are not actually correct. We don’t want to respond to it, that is just it,” he said during a telephone interview.

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