The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Tuesday, for the first time, spoke publicly about his problems with the former governing council of the institution.
Mr Ogundipe’s remarks on Tuesday was his first public comment on the conflict between his administration and the institution’s former governing, which started about two years ago.
Mr Ogundipe, a professor of Botany and the university’s 12th vice-chancellor, spoke at the launch of a festschrift in his honour. The event was attended by prominent personalities and academicians including the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who wrote the foreword to the book; the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Suleiman Bogoro; the monarch of Sagamu, Ogun State, Babajide Ajayi, among many others.
Titled; “Oluwatoyin Temitayo Ogundipe at 60: Audacity of Resilience,” the book is a compilation of articles by various scholars and friends of Mr Ogundipe including the immediate past vice-chancellor of University of Ibadan, Idowu Olayinka; a former UNILAG acting vice-chancellor, Folasade Ogunsola; vice-chancellor of National University of Lesotho, Sola Fajana, among others.
Mr Ogundipe, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), said he received inspiration to remain calm and not ‘fight dirty’ during the crisis, from the biblical verse of Proverb 26:4-5.
Reading the verse, Mr Ogundipe quoted; “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. The self-confident fool thinks too highly of himself and his opinions, and he shares them freely.”
The vice-chancellor was reacting to the series of allegations of financial misappropriation and poor leadership skills levelled against him by the erstwhile governing council of the university, led by senior lawyer and businessman Wale Babalakin.
Mr Ogundipe said he had nursed a mission of sustaining the vision of the university’s forefathers by turning impact-driven research activities into the currency spent on the campus.
“But soon the crisis crawled in like a thief in the night. My character was assassinated and maligned. I wanted to fight as a human being but God held me back and told me the fight was for him. And he did fight it for me. He directed me to Proverb 26:4-5.”
He thanked the many scholars who he said honoured him with their intellectual gift, and hailed the university’s staff and students for standing by him throughout what he described as a “trouble moment.”
Between 2019 and 2020, the university was engulfed in a series of conflicts between the management led by Mr Ogundipe and the governing council led by Mr Babalakin.
The council accused Mr Ogundipe’s leadership of maladministration and misappropriation of funds, an allegation denied by the management.
The development led to the abrupt cancellation of the institution’s 51st convocation ceremonies and the eventual suspension of both Mr Ogundipe and Mr Babalakin by President Muhammadu Buhari through the education minister, Adamu Adamu.
The federal government then set up a panel to probe the crisis.
Mr Babalakin had earlier announced his resignation from the council, citing the membership of the visitation panel as a reason.
“The membership of the Visitation Panel is simply inappropriate in the circumstance. How can a committee of Vice-Chancellors determine the culpability or otherwise of the actions of a Pro-Chancellor and a Governing Council? On the face of it, it is simply wrong!,” Mr Babalakin said in a letter to the education minister.
The government has yet to formally release the report of the panel but only announced the reinstatement of Mr Ogundipe and the dissolution of the governing council.
A new governing council led by another alumnus of the university, Lanre Tejuoso, was appointed for the university, which has now held two convocation ceremonies in one year.
About the book launch
The public presentation of the book, which was reviewed by the managing director and editor-in-chief of The Guardian Newspapers, Martins Oloja, was chaired by a senior advocate of Nigeria and principal partner of Rotimi Jacobs and company, Rotimi Jacobs, with the book publicly presented by Remi Oseni, an engineer.
According to the reviewer, the core message in the book is also identified by the foreword writer and governor of Lagos, who he noted sees success as a product of many failed attempts.
“In the odyssey on the life and times of their hero, the foreword writer and a governor calls (Mr Ogundipe) a ‘progressive in the ivory tower’, there are so many leadership lessons and principles they would like readers to imbibe. One of the lessons is that success isn’t often guaranteed and so there are always several failed efforts behind every accomplishment. In fact, the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, says in the foreword that, ‘…that is the most important lesson from this book,” Mr Oloja said.
The reviewer, who described the book as a “mixed but balanced grill,” said it does not conceal the subject’s failings, even as a young boy.
Mr Oloja wrote; “You would read that he had his excesses. Even as an undergraduate student, he was nonchalant toward his studies, despite the ‘prophecy.’ Notwithstanding, you will see in this didactic story how it came to pass that Toyin attained professorship, the late Professor Frank Ugboajah, of the Department of Mass Communication once called ‘the world’s highest distinction.’”
The book is edited by the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of management services, Lucian Chukwu; director of the university’s African Cluster Centre, Muyiwa Falaiye; former head of the department of mass communication, Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, all professors, and another lecturer at the Botany department, Olabisi Onuminya.
But in his conclusion, the book reviewer said the readers’ appetite must have been whet by the title of the book, saying they would have anticipated to read about the much-publicised crisis in the book.
Mr Oloja concluded; “…There are so many modern lessons from the articles in honour of the Vice Chancellor. But the story of resilience that has been told, reconstructed and deconstructed in some titanic battles with authorities, internal and external, in the mainstream media, didn’t receive enough treatment in the compendium. Even those who paid tributes to the iconic scholar in the book didn’t give dark hints on what would have thrilled readers about the many probes he survived as part of lessons to be learnt in crisis management.
“Many contributors including Professors Chukwu and Ogwezzy-Ndisika only used innuendos on the crisis that hit the fan at the university. One of the crises led to even the suspension of the celebrant and cancellation of unarguably the most important ceremony in a university, a convocation. They didn’t reconstruct the story, which many newspapers including The Guardian commented on. I think the story should have been treated to contextualise the ‘audacity of resilience’ curiosities raised in the preface and acknowledgement of the book.”
He, therefore, suggested that the book remains a work in progress, saying it should be taken as the 60th birthday chronicle in honour of the VC but that it should be reviewed further to address the notorious crises that once engulfed the institution.
In his welcome remark, Mr Jacobs described Mr Ogundipe as a humble, disciplined and straightforward person, saying he found it hard to be found worthy of chairing the august event.
“But later I realised that apart from being my friend, we were born in the same year and we share the same traits,” he said.
Also speaking, Mr Tejuosho, the current head of the governing council, said working with Mr Ogundipe has been an excellent experience, describing him as a comrade.
He added that the honoree has demonstrated that his pillar is God, and “his audacity of resilience is an audacity of having faith in God.”
“The success of today cannot be without the audacity of the university’s management under Mr Ogundipe’s watch,” Mr Tejuoso added.
The Lagos governor, Mr Sanwo-Olu, who said Mr Ogundipe is his in-law, said the life of Ogundipe is a testament to the fact that “it is not how well you are born but how well you trained and retrained yourself ahead of the challenges of life.”
“Ogundipe has attracted more grants to this university than any other. He has used the audacity of resilience to accomplish what God has used him to achieve both in this university and outside. He is a big example of what success looks like and who the younger generation should aspire to be,” Mr Sanwo-Olu said.
The general overseer of RCCG and his counterpart at the Mountain of Fire and Ministry (MFM), Enoch Adeboye and Daniel Olukoya, were represented at the event, while the senior pastor of Trinity House Church, Ituah Ighodalo, witnessed the ceremony and gave the closing prayer.