Over a year after conflicts between the governing council and the management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, almost tore the 59-year-old ivory tower apart, University of Lagos (UNILAG), on Thursday broke his silence.
Mr Buhari, who is the Visitor to the university, spoke on the prolonged crisis during the institution’s 51st convocation ceremonies and award of honorary degrees to prominent Nigerians.
The President was represented at the event by the executive secretary of the national universities commission (NUC), Abubakar Rasheed.
Since 2017 when Oluwatoyin Ogundipe assumed office as the university’s 12th substantive vice-chancellor, the relationship between his management and the governing council led by Mr Wale Babalakin, an alumnus and a lawyer, had been frosty.
The crisis peaked in 2020 when Mr Babalakin called for the cancellation of the university’s 51st convocation ceremonies, which had already kicked off.
Many graduands, parents and well-wishers who had arrived in Lagos from far distances including overseas ahead of the ceremonies, were disappointed by the last-minute action, and heaped the blame on the chairman of the council.
The crisis eventually consumed the council as President Muhammadu Buhari, in November 2020, announced its dissolution and reinstated the then suspended vice-chancellor.
Mr Buhari, who described the crisis as avoidable, commended the senate of the university for what he described as its “maturity and decision to send a delegation to me on the matter.”
He said the university’s senate’s intervention informed the decision to set up a visitation panel and the accompanying restoration processes.
He said; “Part of this restoration process necessitated the appointment of a new governing council for the university under the chairmanship of distinguished Senator Prince Tejuosu. I, therefore, urge all stakeholders within and outside the university to do everything, within the law, to ensure that peace reigns on this campus at all times so that the noble task of nation-building and problem-solving, may continue unabated.”
Essence of universities
The President, who lamented the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy, however, described the situation as a launching pad for more innovations by scholars across the world.
He said the situation cannot be different in Nigeria, urging the nation’s universities to live up to their expectations.
“Let me say, here, that the government will continue to ensure that our universities are genuine places of scholarship and innovation rather than theatres of avoidable conflicts. This is why I recently approved visitation panels to all federal universities and inter-university centres to assess the performance of these Institutions and what they require to confront current challenges,” the President said.
He promised to implement the recommendations of the panels, adding that universities are held in respect and that their managers must treat them as such.
He said; “We hold our universities in high esteem, and we believe that a healthy university system will translate to a healthy society and positive national development. We recognise the place of our intellectuals to undertake cutting-edge research that will address our existential realities and contribute to making life better for all.
“We acknowledge that our progress, as a nation, will be driven by a well-educated human resource base. That is why we shall continue to take necessary steps to ensure that our universities are crisis-free and provided with adequate resources.
“We shall continue to interface with all stakeholders to ensure that we have a stable, higher education system that is not only well-funded but also contributes to the nation’s global competitiveness.”
Meanwhile, the vice-chancellor, while acknowledging the prompt intervention of the president, apologised to the graduands, parents, guardians and well-wishers, for the inconveniences caused by the sudden postponement.
He said; “In the last two days, I have apologised to the undergraduate and masters students for the cancellation of the university convocation ceremonies scheduled to hold from 9th – 12th March 2020.
“Let me also extend the apology to our Ph.D students and honourees for the unfortunate event of last year. I know you all had prepared and committed time, energy and financial resources into preparing for the event, only to learn of its cancellation in the media, a few days to the ceremonies. But we are all glad today that God’s appointed time has come.”
Mr Ogundipe also thanked the President for the appointment of new governing council members led by a former senator and an alumnus of the university, Lanre Tejuoso. He said the new council has set in motion machinery to strengthen the institution and build the capacity of its members of staff.
Listing the achievements of his administration, the vice-chancellor said despite the biting consequences of the pandemic and the conflict, quality research did not stop on the campus.
He said; “In line with one of my 6-point agenda for the university, which is “uncompromising academic standards and excellent research output,” the university has leveraged the excellence of all the great staff of the university by encouraging and assisting them to pay more attention to research and innovation. This has resulted in quite a large number of members of staff having attracted more than N14b in research grants since 2018. There were 6 patents in 2019 and 5 in 2020 of which 2 in each year have been prototyped.”
Indimi, Adadevor, Kensington honoured
Meanwhile, the highpoint of the event was the conferment of honorary doctorate degrees to five prominent Nigerians. They are the oil mogul and chairman of oriental energy resources limited, Mohammadu Indimi; chairman of Premier lotto limited, Adebutu Kessington, and chairman of troyka holdings limited, Biodun Shobanjo.
The duo of the university’s former vice-chancellor, who recently died of coronavirus complications, Oye Ibidapo-Obe, and the former lead consultant physician and endocrinologist, first consultant hospital, late Amaeyo-Stella- Adedevoh, received posthumous honour.
As part of their contributions towards teaching and learning on the campus, both Mr Kessington and the chairman of Zenith Bank PLC, Jim Ovia, declared support for the institution.
While Mr Kessignton pledged N200 million for internet infrastructure on the campus, Mr Ovia promised to provide 3,500 tablets for indigent students.
On his part, the governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, a professor, said 200 indigenes of his state would be sponsored for postgraduate studies in the university.
In attendance at the event were dignitaries including the business magnate, Aliko Dangote; former governor of Borno State and now a senator, Kashim Shetima; the university’s chancellor and Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Garba, among others.
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