The crisis rocking the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, over the abrupt postponement of its 51st convocation ceremony may not be over yet, as lecturers have declared the institution’s pro-chancellor, Wale Babalakin, a persona non grata anywhere near the campus.
Rising from its meeting Wednesday, the lecturers, under the umbrella of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), filed out in their hundreds to stage a peaceful protest to the council chamber and around the campus.
Led by the union’s chairman, Dele Ashiru, the lecturers, who were armed with leaves and placards, said they had passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Babalakin.
Some of the lecturers who spoke during the protest, accused the council chairman of being selfish in his dealings, saying he travelled to the UK for a birthday ceremony, at a time the university was meant to hold its convocation ceremony.
ASUU said it would not allow the pro-chancellor to treat the university “as an extension of his law firm.”
But Mr Babalakin has denied that he travelled to UK for any ceremony. He said he is currently on medical trip to Germany.
Earlier, the National Universities’ Commission (NUC), which regulates Nigerian universities, wrote to the university management to stop the convocation ceremony which was billed to hold between March 9 and 13.
NUC’s order, which was contained in a memo addressed to the university’s vice-chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, and signed on behalf of the executive secretary, AbdulRasheed Abubakar, by the director in his office, Chris Maiyaki, was a response to a directive from the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu.
The minister, who was reportedly away to Germany on medical vacation at the time, had acted on a copy of the letter addressed to the vice-chancellor by Mr Babalakin, querying the management’s ‘audacity’ to approve the activities lined up to mark the ceremony without his Council’s stamp of authority.
Mr Babalakin in his series of letters to the university management, said the council only approved the budget of N70 million presented for the ceremony but that the list of the three beneficiaries of honourary awards and the series of programmes lined up for the ceremony were not approved by the council.
In its first reaction to the development, ASUU condemned the postponement, describing it as “unfair, insensitive and overbearing.”
A statement issued by the union on Friday and signed by its chairman, Dele Ashiru, noted that the union viewed the development as “wicked, inhuman, egoistic, retrogressive, unconscionable and satanic.”
He said: “These latest antics of the pro-chancellor have further confirmed our age-long fears about the destructive machinations of the pro-chancellor in the University of Lagos, in particular, and the entire Nigerian university system in general.
“Otherwise, how else can one explain the role of the pro-chancellor in the calamitous postponement of a convocation ceremony without any consideration for the psychological trauma this may cause the graduands, their parents, relatives, the image and reputation of the university? This is apart from the huge human, material and financial resources that have been committed to planning the ceremony.”
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Mr Ashiru also condemned the action of the education minister and the NUC, saying apart from lacking the power to take action, “failure to conduct proper investigation on the matter is an indictment on the Minister.”
Reacting to the development, Mr Babalakin said it is not within the power of the lecturers to declare him persona non grata. He said he was not appointed by the union and cannot be removed by the union.
The pro-chancellor, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on the phone, said he was not in Nigeria but in Germany for a medical check-up.
He said he did not book his trip until it was clear that the convocation has been postponed.
He said; “These people get a lot of things wrong. Why are they directing their protest at me? I did not postpone the convocation. The NUC did.
“And you said they claimed I travelled to the UK for a birthday? This is ridiculous. I’m in Germany for medical reason and I did not book the trip until the NUC ordered the suspension.”
The council chairman said he had not done anything outside the laws governing the university, and that whoever wants to pass comment on the matter should first go through the law establishing the institution and the roles of the governing council.