Three months after denouncing the leaked report of a visitation panel on the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as fake, the Federal Ministry of Education has failed to produce the ‘original report’.
A leaked report of the panel published by some newspapers in September showed that the vice-chancellor of the university, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, was indicted for corruption and mismanagement.
The report also indicated that the seven-member panel, led by a former Chief of Army Staff, Martin Luther Agwai, backed the actions taken against Mr Ogundipe in 2020 by the Wale Babalakin-led governing council of the institution.
The Agwai panel was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on March 29 this year to probe the affairs and management of the university especially given the crisis that rocked the university in early 2020.
The committee submitted its report to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, in June.
The report of the panel came about a year after another special presidential panel, led by a former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna, Tukur Sa’ad, investigated and submitted a report on the 2020 crisis at the university.
Real or forged?
Months after the Martin Luther Agwai panel submitted its report, some newspapers, in September this year, obtained a leaked copy of the document and published some of the findings and recommendations contained therein.
However, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, swiftly called a press conference to vehemently deny the authenticity of the leaked report.
He went ahead to accuse the media of forgery.
“And even from the content of what is being published in the media, which is 100 percent, not one page is identical, is a complete forgery. It has no bearing whatsoever with this report,” Mr Echono said at the press conference in Abuja.
“I am surprised that even the editors did not attempt to contact the chairman of the panel or the ministry to say we have this information, can you deny, accept or corroborate it? I would have sought approval to lay this report even before the public, before we even set up the White Paper committee so that Nigerians will see and avoid any allegations about the government modifying or changing the report.”
Also, the ministry, in a statement entitled, “Re-Presidential Visitation Indicts Unilag VC, Mgt,” signed by its Director of Information and Public Affairs, Ben Goong, described the claims in the leaked UNILAG report as “false, unfounded, and to say the least, mischievous, as they have no bearing with the report submitted by the panel.”
An FOI Request Ignored
Following Mr Echono’s claim and that by his ministry, PREMIUM TIMES on October 11 sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the ministry for a copy of the report with a view to verifying the education ministry’s allegation of forgery and providing clarity on the findings and recommendations of the visitation panel.
That was against the backdrop of the leaked report indicating the new panel also indicted Mr Ogundipe who has nevertheless continued to hold the position of vice-chancellor despite being accused of corruption.
The Freedom of Information Act stipulates that requests made under the Act should be responded to within seven days, except an extension is requested by the organisation from which the information is requested.
But the ministry of education neither responded to the request nor asked for an extension.
PREMIUM TIMES on November 9 sent a reminder to the ministry. But it did not respond to the reminder too, until November 18.
In a November 18 letter to PREMIUM TIMES, signed by its Assistant Director, Legal Services, Ozoemena Ikechi, the ministry said, “I am directed to inform you that your request to the ministry is being looked into and the ministry will communicate to your company in due course.”
This newspaper then sent a reporter to follow up for the ministry to give a specific date it intended to provide it a copy of the “original” report, as stated in the FoI request.
During one of her visits, the reporter met the permanent secretary, Mr Echono, on the matter but he directed her back to the official who wrote the letter.
However, when the reporter spoke to Mr Ikechi (who wrote the letter), he said he could not give an exact date when the report would be made available to PREMIUM TIMES.
The year 2021 is almost ending and this newspaper is yet to hear from the ministry on the matter. Mr Echono did not answer or return multiple calls made to him on Tuesday.
Leaked visitation panel report real – Committee Members
Despite claims by the Ministry of Education that the leaked UNILAG report is not genuine, two members of the visitation panel have confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the contents published by newspapers are entirely consistent with those of the report submitted by their panel to the federal government.
The sources, who declined to be named because they did not consider it appropriate to speak on the issue until the government publishes its White Paper on the report, said it was embarrassing that the government denied the authenticity of the leaked report.
Asked whether the government had indicated dissatisfaction with the findings and recommendations of the panel, the source said there had been no feedback to the members since the panel submitted its report.
One of the members said, “The reason I have not publicly commented on the claim by the permanent secretary of the ministry of education is because he is not the one who gave us the job. He is free to say whatever he wants. I have grown older and more mature and cannot engage a man like that on an assignment the president himself gave us. If the president says our report is fake, we know what to do.
“For now, we will not be drawn into the antics of people who have some interests to protect. We have done our job to the best of our ability and have submitted our report. We hope the government will find our report useful and issue a White Paper soon.”
There was prolonged confrontation between the management of UNILAG and the governing council of the university, which reached its peak in March 2020 when the university’s week-long 2020 Convocation was cancelled just before it started.
The governing council later set up a special panel in August 2020 to investigate allegations of corruption against the management of the university. After the panel indicted the management, the governing council announced the removal of Mr Ogundipe as vice-chancellor. Theophilus Soyombo was immediately named to take his place in acting capacity.
But Mr Ogundipe rejected his removal and was backed by the staff unions of the university who pointed out that only the visitor could remove a university vice-chancellor.
Mr Ogundipe was later reinstated as vice-chancellor by President Buhari after a special presidential panel led by Prof Sa’ad submitted its report. Mr Babalakin resigned in protest.
However, in November 2020, two months after the presidential visitation panel submitted its report, the chairman of the panel, Mr Sa’ad, faulted the government’s decision to reinstate the embattled vice-chancellor.
Mr Saad had condemned the report of the panel that he chaired, saying it was one-sided because the majority of the members were biased towards Mr Ogundipe. He said the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the committee were also skewed against the chairperson of the governing council, Mr Babalakin.
Expressing reservation about the decision to reinstate Mr Ogundipe, the panel’s chairperson, said “The recommendation that the VC should be reinstated was limited to the procedure of his termination. It did not mean he should be absolved of all wrong doing.”
He said the report of the panel was one-sided because majority of the members were biased towards Mr Ogundipe and the Terms of Reference (ToR) were also skewed against Mr Babalakin.
Mr Saad said although Mr Ogundipe, a professor, was wrongly removed as UNILAG vice-chancellor, the panel did not give him a clean bill of health as he was indicted for some wrongdoings, including contract splitting.
The panel chairman also said he reluctantly signed the report with the understanding that it would first go under the eyes of the chancellor of the university, the Shehu of Borno, before its submission to the federal government.
He said because of a number of anomalies in the administrative processes and sensitivity of the matter, “Final recommendation of the panel was that the matter should be referred back to the Chancellor, irrespective of what the panel recommended.”
Second Visitation panel indicts Ogundipe
Another visitation panel led by General Agwai, according to its leaked report, also indicted the Prof Ogundipe-led management of UNILAG of financial impropriety. The panel also supported the processes adopted by the Babalakin-led governing council in removing Mr Ogundipe from office in early 2020.
Those recommendations appeared to have faulted the actions taken by the government in reinstating Mr Ogundipe as vice chancellor and dissolving the Babalakin-led council which tried to hold Mr Ogundipe accountable and enthrone sanity in the university.
Insiders at the education ministry said some top officials of the agency who were protective of Mr Ogundipe were jolted by the report of the Agwai-led panel and had continued to work to undermine the document.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to correct some inaccuracies contained in the earlier version.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...