By Chijioke Uwasomba, Ph.D
The times are confoundingly worrisome with benumbing events of rapidity taking the centre stage in our country indeed! In a neo-colonial hell-hole as ours, everything and anything is possible. Those who should be in jail houses for the good of the society strut around and sit in judgment over their moral and intellectual superiors. These degenerate lot with easy access to power and filthy lucre at all levers of political and economic ascendancy treat the institutions of the state and the people with levity. There is no let or hindrance to their capacity to inflict monumental injuries on the society.
Left to these categories of people, society must run on their own terms no matter how convoluted and toxic their ideas are. Since they have used their class, ethnic, religious and other forms of affiliations to get to the top, all rules of engagement must be twisted to satisfy their swollen egos to the disadvantage of the entire society.
On the 12th of August, 2020, the air waves were abuzz with the alleged removal of the Vice-Chancellor of University of Lagos, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe. Vice-chancellors are appointed and removed by their various Councils who are their employers. But in doing this, there are stringent processes that must be followed to the latter. The university system is a self-governing and democratic environment. Its procedures and processes take into consideration its objects, rituals, rules, laws, values and the nature and character of knowledge production which in itself is a combustible affair admitting of disagreements, debates and polemics. It is not a grave yard for money-makers and changers with absolute airs and authoritarian hang-overs. Even as the employer of all staff including the Vice-Chancellor, a University Council cannot take far-reaching decisions within the system without collaborating with the other arms of the university. This is because Council itself is made up of the following: Four representatives elected by the University Senate; two representatives of Congregation, the Vice-Chancellor and his/her two Deputy Vice-chancellors and the president of the Alumni Association. On the government side of the Council are the Chairman and five others who represent various interests. The Registrar is as usual by law the Secretary to the Council.
It is to be noted that apart from the Vice-Chancellor, the other internal members of Council including the representative of the Alumni Association are all elected representatives. This is in tandem with the democratic sensibilities of the university system. All the representatives of government of a University Council are all appointees of the Federal Government and from what we have seen so far, the Chairman of any University Council is a product of political patronage. It is therefore, not surprising that most Chairmen of University Governing Councils push their self-entitlement mentality to a ridiculous level.
The 2003 Universities Miscellaneous Act (herein after referred to as the University Autonomy Act) came into existence as a result of the struggles of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) of the old who with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) insisted on a lot of reforms in the educational sector in general and the University system in particular. In 2001, during the public hearings of the proposed bill for University Autonomy, Senates of many Federal Universities elected and sent their members to articulate their positions on the expected outcome of the bill. The Obasanjo government did all it could to kill the bill by even going further to write another one and appointed a Professor of Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to see to it that its own version of the bill with its demerits had its way but this did not come to pass.
This is to show that the government itself did not want the Autonomy Act for the Universities in the first place. Little wonder that successive governments have either dubiously misinterpreted the law or shown scant attention to its provisions. This is one of the issues for which the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is challenging in its on-going industrial action.
Watching Babalakin on Morning Show, a Prime Time Programme of Arise News Television on Saturday, August 15, 2020, it was clear that he obviously does not know how the university system operates. The university system as earlier hinted operates on the principle of the committee system. There is no exercise that takes place in the system without the involvement of committees, even with minor matters relating to the appointment of a messenger. His responses to the questions by the anchor persons gave him off as not only a dictator but also as one who claims to know it all and will not be circumscribed or prevented from the rule of law to pursue his fancies.
He is on the war path with the University of Lagos Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); he is at loggerheads with the national body of ASUU; he dismissed a duly conveyed meeting of the University of Lagos Senate as a debating society and is even disagreeing with the Alumni Association that he ought to be a member of.
More worrisome was his consistent attack on the Vice-Chancellor with denigrating, epithets, describing him as a “looter”, “a reckless” manager who is “not fit and proper” to be a Vice-Chancellor. In all his vituperations, he never accorded Oluwatoyin Ogundipe with the latter’s honorific as a Professor of Botany as he kept on with bile shouting his name. It is obvious that beyond the alleged mismanagement of funds by the Vice-Chancellor, something else must have gone wrong between the Pro-Chancellor and the Vice-chancellor.
It is in places like Nigeria that a Pro-chancellor because of his access to governmental forces, would assemble his own team in the composition of a University Governing Council as can be seen in the instant case with somebody working in Wale Babalakin’s Chambers as a member of the Council of the University of Lagos. The University of Lagos could not hold its earlier advertised convocation last year because the Chairman of its Council, using his links with the Minister of Education stopped the Convocation from holding thereby causing psychological and financial problems for parents and graduands and creating big image crisis to the university.
In his gung-ho filibustering exercises, Dr. Babalakin has not allowed for a conclusion of the renegotiation of the ASUU/FGN Agreement which was due for renegotiation since 2012. All efforts by the union to get the renegotiation on track have not been successful because of the unilateral antics of Dr. Babalakin who is the representative of the government team and Chairman of the renegotiation. The renegotiation in question began since March 2017, and the inability to conclude it has its bitter consequences on Nigeria’s university system which has witnessed avoidable punctuations over the years on account of government’s irresponsibility and lack of respect to dully signed agreements.
It is meet to advise and insist that in the composition of the Governing Councils of the Universities, government should seek out Nigerians who are public-minded with the requisite understanding of the operations of the university system in line with the Acts establishing them. People with big egos and self-entitlements do not have a place in the management and running of the public university system. Apart from being the employers of staff, Governing Councils of Universities articulate and provide the framework for the organization of the system alongside broader issues that determine the direction and other processes direly needed for enhanced functioning. The patronage culture is alien to the university system and has become part of the problems facing the system.
In the instant matter of the removal of the Vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, the Pro-chancellor appears to be the only wise fellow, dismissing other views that insist on procedure, democratic ethos, reasoned and due processes. The continued stay of the current Pro-Chancellor of the university will aggravate the crisis of the university with debilitating consequences for the university. The entire Nigerian university deserves men and women of character to uplift it to a world class standard enjoying competitive edge within the comity of world class universities.
Uwasomba teaches in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria