EXCLUSIVE: UNILAG Crisis: Governing Council rejects directive of education minister

University of Lagos (UNILAG). [Photo credit: Students Nigeria]
University of Lagos (UNILAG). [Photo credit: Students Nigeria]

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, and the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Wale Babalakin, are set on a collision course over the crisis in the institution.

This follows the rejection by the university’s Governing Council of a directive by the minister for it to pause the ongoing probe of the university’s management.

The Babalakin-led governing council has been on a warpath with UNILAG’s management over its decision to probe the university’s finances, probe the collapse of an uncompleted library, and investigate other alleged improprieties of the university’s vice-chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and other top officials of the institution.

A probe panel set up by the council reportedly indicted Mr Ogundipe, two of his three deputies – Folashade Ogunsola and Oluwole Familoni – and some principal members of the university’s management.

The council is also at loggerheads with the university’s union of academic staff over queries issued to seven lecturers.

In May, the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of the university in a statement accused Mr Babalakin of being dictatorial and acting without the consent of the council.

Mr Babalakin, however, denied acting outside the mandate of the governing council. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the action of the council was backed by law.

“It is important that ASUU backs up its allegation by referring to (a) specific law that has been violated. Please refer to Section 7 of the University Act, which defines the power of (the) Council. The registrar and secretary to (the) council is in the best position to advise on the procedure of Council. Thank you,” he said in a text message.

It was based on the ongoing dispute that the education minister intervened.

The Intervention

On May 13, Mr Adamu, through a letter addressed to Mr Babalakin, titled: “Re: Correspondence from the Vice Chancellor and ASUU Chapter, University of Lagos,” signed by a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, stated that it has received “series of correspondence from the UNILAG’s vice chancellor and “other stakeholders bordering on departure from process in conduct of the affairs of the Governing Council of the University of Lagos (copies attached). We are also aware an Emergency Meeting of the Council has been convened from 13th-14thMay, 2019.”

Mr Echono stated that he has been directed to invite the chairman of the council to a meeting with the management of the ministry “to obtain first-hand information” about the activities of the council and the specific issues under reference.

The letter also requested that Mr Babalakin should “stay action and avoid any escalation pending this consultative meeting which is without prejudice to the merit or otherwise of the contemplated action.”

However, in his response dated May 17, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Babalakin frowned at the manner the minister’s directive was originally communicated.

“As a prelude to this letter, at the commencement of the Special Meeting on 13thMay 2019, the representative of the Ministry of Education – Ms Ann Haruna -informed Council that she had just received a call from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education – Arc. S.T Echono, fnia who has directed that our Council should not discuss the Report that examined the expenditure of the University and the Report that examined the collapse of the library building in the University.

“Members of the Council were taken aback by: (a) this mode of communication with Council, i.e the verbal nature of the communication, and (b) the propriety of the message.”

He explained that in the six years he has been pro-chancellor of the university, “the directive from the ministry was the first time its representative would give an instruction to the Council of the University about the issues to be discussed in a Council meeting.”

Mr Babalakin then explained that due to the inappropriateness of the minister’s directive, the council resolved “that the message could not have come from the office of the Permanent Secretary acting under the instruction of the Honourable Minister.” The council, then, proceeded with its meeting.

The pro-chancellor said that after the letter from the ministry was “discussed extensively” by the council, it concluded that “the letter was incomplete as there were no attachments delivered, along with the letter which were purportedly attached to the said letter.”

He explained that though the aim of the letter was to inform the council of a potential breach of procedure, the letter itself was inconsistent with laid down procedure.

“The Vice-Chancellor wrote about the Council to the Ministry of Education without informing the Council or copying the Council with the letter,” Mr Babalakin wrote.

He said the education ministry did not raise or identify any issues in the letter it sent to the council. Mr Babalakin explained that the council was ‘confused’ by the ministry’s request for it to stay action on the on-going probe to avoid escalating the crisis.

“There was no escalation of anything on campus and the campus was calm save for the protest of certain members of the university, who received memos requesting their comments on certain issues in line with the mandate of the council. This mandate and position was confirmed by the council meeting on 14th May 2019. Council is therefore at a loss about the issues referred to by this letter.

“It is council’s position that the only event that could lead to escalation of issues in the University of Lagos is the failure to communicate facts to the University community. No escalation could occur if Council’s position is properly communicated to the community,” he wrote.

It is not yet clear what the minister’s next line of action will be. On Tuesday, Mr Adamugave a valedictory speech where he indicated he may not return as education minister.

President Muhammadu Buhari is set to be sworn in for a second term in office on May 29. The president is expected to reshuffle his cabinet then.

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