The pro-chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Wale Babalakin, has revealed the reasons behind the crisis brewing at the university.
He opened up in a letter to the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement.
The letter was a response to an invitation by the committee following a petition it received alleging that Mr Babalakin violated the Public Procurement Act 2007 by desiring to chair the tenders board of the University.
The petition had alleged that the Mr Babalakin-led Governing Council’s investigation of past and current management and governing council of the University for alleged breaches, including the violation of the nation’s procurement act, was driven by the pro-chancellor’s desire to chair the university’s tenders board.
The council is involved in a running disagreement with the University management and the leadership of the university’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The crisis followed the council’s decision to probe the university’s finances, the collapse of an uncompleted library and other alleged improprieties of the university’s vice-chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, his predecessor and other top officials of the institution.
The university’s chapter of ASUU is also at loggerheads with the council following queries issued to some lecturers. Earlier this month, ASUU accused Mr Babalakin of being dictatorial.
Mr Babalakin, however, denied acting outside the mandate of the Governing Council. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the actions of the council were legal.
In his letter dated May 17, addressed to the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, Oluwole Oke, Mr Babalakin explained the reasons he would be unavailable for a meeting the committee had invited him and other members of the Governing Council to.
He also addressed the allegation that the council’s investigation of the past and current management of the university was for personal reasons “including his desire to chair the Tenders Board of the university”, which runs afoul of Section 22(2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Section 22(2) of the act stipulates that the National Council on Public Procurement shall approve the appointment of chairmen of Tenders Board in government organisations.
“Subject to the approval of the Council, the Bureau shall, from time to time, prescribe guidelines for the membership of the Tenders Board.”
In his letter to Mr Oke, the official explained that the allegations made against him were “very grave” and thus required a response since he would not be available to make contributions during the planned meeting.
Describing the allegation as “completely untrue and fabrication of lies” he said it should not have occurred in a university environment.
He explained why the university’s council decided to investigate the finances of the university.
“The Council found out that it was consistently being given inaccurate figures about finances of the university. It also found itself in a position where it could not state that the account and figures presented to Council were a fair representation of the accounts in the university,” Mr Babalakin wrote.
Mr Babalakin added that the council suspected that the university management was cutting corners with the manner it executed projects in the university.
“The Council also observed that projects in the University hardly ever comply with terms of the award. The projects are rarely completed on schedule. As of today, there are many projects in the University that have been ongoing for an unreasonable length of time.
“Recently the Library building under construction collapsed in the university which reflects very clearly the weakness in the procurement process and the supervisory capacity of the university. We were very lucky that no life was lost.”
He said the council, therefore, set up a committee to investigate the suspected sharp practices of the management.
He added that the council appointed Olutola Senbore, a former chairman of First City Monument Bank, to assist the committee with the investigation.
“The committee in its report amongst other things found out that the procurement process in the University of Lagos was weak and felt that the previous system of having the pro-chancellor chair the Tender Board Committee would ameliorate the situation. The committee felt that the University management had not done well in the exercise of its procurement responsibilities. It felt that the move would reduce the number of uncompleted projects in the University,” he wrote.
He explained that despite the committee’s recommendation, he declined to chair the Tenders Board.
“I stated clearly that I was not interested in chairing any tenders Board. That recommendation was thus rejected by the Council.”
Mr Babalakin then wondered why the writer of the petition was in such haste when the University Governing Council was yet to accept the report of the committee.
“Sir, as at the 9th of May 2019 when the notice of your committee was issued, the council had not accepted the report of the committee on this item, and so, no issue had arisen whatsoever. Consequently, there was nothing to petition about. Thus, the petition had no basis.
“Furthermore as at 16th of May 2019 when the hearing was billed to take place, the issue of the chairmanship of the Tender’s Board had been tabled and discarded. It was a dead issued,” he wrote.
He then suggested that the writer of the petition ”may be trying to stop the University Council from acting on the report of the committee.”
“Sir, I continue to wonder how any member of the University community could have written a petition like this that has no foundation. The writer of the petition must explain its motive because the petition was premature. Was it designed to blackmail the Council so that it will not discuss the reports of the committee of Council?” he asked.
Donations to University
Mr Babalakin further explained to the House of Representatives committee on Public Procurement that since he was appointed pro-chancellor of the university, ”he has not made any money from his position which begs the question why he would want to be made the chair of the university Tender’s Board.”
Mr Babalakin explained that he had donated over N46.1 million and $5,000.00 of his money to the university since he was appointed pro-chancellor of the university or in the six years that he had worked as pro-chancellor in other universities.
According to him, the donation included N12.5 million, to pay the fees of consultants who investigated the university books, N8 million to the Faculty of Law paid on a monthly instalment from January 2018, N6.4 million to the Department of Creative Arts paid on a monthly instalment of N400,000.00 from January 2015, and N5.1 million.
Other donations Mr Babalakin said he made to the university were N5 million to fund the 2019 pro-chancellors lecture, N5 million made towards the refurbishment of the Faculty of Law Auditorium, N3.1 million made in 2018 to outstanding graduates of the Faculty of Law during convocation, N.7 million to purchase equipment for the Faculty of Pharmacy, N2 million in favour of the Alumni Association, $5,000.00 to the Faculty of Environmental Sciences and N1.3 million as prizes for the 2019 outstanding graduate of the Faculty of Law.
“I have never collected one kobo from the University of Lagos. I have not collected any sitting allowance, council allowance, travel allowance or any allowance whatsoever from the University of Lagos since I became Pro-Chancellor.
“I do not even allow the University to provide me with any facility, including a vehicle for official use. I do not allow the university to pay for any services for me. When I host events at my lodge, I insist on providing the food and drinks consumed in the lodge.
“I have not expressed any interest in any contract or service in the University of Lagos. I will never express any financial interest in any organisation where I have offered my services as a charity. I am in UNILAG to offer my service free of charge.
“Is it reasonable that an individual who spent this amount of money over two years without requesting anything in return, will now seek to chair the tender’s board for personal gain?” he asked.
When reached for comments, Mr Oke told this newspaper investigation into the matter was ongoing.
“We are looking into the issue. We are looking at the submission of both the Pro-Chancellor and the university management. We will come to you at the end of the investigation,” he said.