UNILAG Impasse: Damning Charge of Impropriety Against Ogundipe

UNILAG Impasse: Damning Charge of Impropriety Against Ogundipe

…Subverted Due Process, Embarked on Expenditure Beyond His Spending Limit Both the Governing Council of the University of Lagos and one of its former members, Prof Boniface Oye Adeniran have levelled damning charges of impropriety and corruption against the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, arguing that the embattled UNILAG helmsman subverted laid down rules

…Subverted Due Process, Embarked on Expenditure Beyond His Spending Limit

Both the Governing Council of the University of Lagos and one of its former members, Prof Boniface Oye Adeniran have levelled damning charges of impropriety and corruption against the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, arguing that the embattled UNILAG helmsman subverted laid down rules and virtually reduced management of the 58 year old institution around his little finger.

Documents from the Governing Council, has revealed more details of alleged financial wrongdoings that led to last week’s removal of Prof. Ogundipe as VC. In a veiled response to the University Senate and the joint workers unions, who say Ogundipe’s removal was arbitrary, the council also insists that due process were followed in his removal.

The documents showed that the former vice chancellor had in response to the allegations, admitted that a firm of external auditors that looked into the books of the institution noted some cases of weakness in internal control but did not detect any fraud against him.

Why Ogundipe Was Sacked

Justifying why the vice chancellor was sacked, the council headed by Dr Wale Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the provisions of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act as amended in 2003 and 2012 were strictly followed.

It noted that a committee conducted an investigation into the allegations made against the vice chancellor and reported its findings to the council.

It quoted copiously from Sections 8 to 14 to support its position that due process was followed in the removal of Ogundipe.

For instance, while Section 8 of the Act states that “the vice chancellor may be removed from office by the Governing Council on grounds of gross misconduct or inability to discharge the functions of his office as a result of infirmity of the body or mind, at the initiative of the council, Senate or the congregation after due process,” Section 9 states that: “When the proposal for the removal of the vice chancellor is made, the council shall constitute a joint committee of council and Senate consisting of- (i) ‘three members of the council one of whom shall be the chairman of the committee,’ (ii) ‘two members of the Senate, provided that where the ground for removal is infirmity of the body or mind, the council shall seek appropriate medical opinion.”

It said Section 10 states that “the committee shall conduct investigation into the allegations made against the vice chancellor and shall report its findings to the council.”

According to Section 11, “the council may, where the allegations are proved, remove the vice chancellor or apply any other disciplinary action it may deem fit and notify the visitor accordingly provided that a vice chancellor who is removed shall have the right of appeal to the visitor.”

Alleged Financial Misconduct

Specifically on alleged financial misconduct, the documents stated: “Prof. Ogundipe had barely settled into office as Vice Chancellor when we began to notice a lack of transparency under his management both at the University’s Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GPC) and Council meetings.

“Prof. Ogundipe failed to share with Council and F&GPC management’s procurement and Tender Board activities. Ultimately things came to a head in 2018 when Council was forced to set up a Sub-Committee under one of its members, Dr. Saminu Dagari, an appointee of the Federal Government to review the University’s Expenditure.

“This Sub-Committee worked for a period of 6 (six) months. At the end of its investigation, the Committee made very serious findings that indicted Prof. Toyin Ogundipe and some of his management team. Amongst others, the Committee found as follows:

“a. Without Council approval and far in excess of his approval limits of N2 million, Prof. Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos paid out a total sum of N112,462,990.63 to renovate the official living quarters of three principal staff. Prof. Ogundipe approved the sum of N49,434,038.45 to renovate the Vice Chancellor’s lodge where he resided; the sum of N41,817,658.32 was paid out for renovation works of the Bursar’s official residence, while the sum of N16,123,509.00 was spent on renovating the official residence of the immediate past Registrar of the University. “Also, the sum of N3,733,494.85 was spent renovating the official residence of the Chancellor, while the sum of N1,354,290.00 was spent renovating the Pro Chancellor’s official residence.

“It bears repeating sir, that none of this spending was brought to the knowledge of, or approved by Council in accordance with due process, the University Act and extant guidelines on Financial Regulations.

“b. Prof. Toyin Ogundipe’s management spent a total sum of N57,272,050.44 on waste management and janitorial services in breach of procurement laws and practices. These payments were not evidenced by any contract and did not receive Council approval at all.

“c. Prof. Toyin Ogundipe’s management spent the sum of N52,080,000.00 on the purchase of two vehicles well above the University Tender Board’s threshold limit. This was achieved by a contract splitting device that is very illegal.

“d. Prof. Toyin Ogundipe’s management spent a total sum of N57,921,581.00 on the foreign trips of himself and some of his management team. The Dagari committee found that the Vice Chancellor was able to approve these payments based on an illegal contract splitting device. The committee also found that local allowances were paid for these foreign trips in breach of the Financial Regulations of 1999.

“e. Between May 2017 and September 2018, Prof. Toyin Ogundipe’s management paid out a total sum of N41,580,300.00 to the Dean of Student Affairs through a monthly payment of N2,445,900.00. Even though Prof. Ogundipe justified this payment as a security grant, this was never to the University Council’s knowledge or approval and the Dean received these monies at a time when students were not on campus or when lecturers were on strike. Furthermore, the former Dean of Students Affairs who served in this position before Prof. Ogundipe became Vice Chancellor has denied that this is conventional practice.

“f. Council approved a budget in the sum of N85,000,000.00 for the University’s 2018 convocation ceremonies based on management’s budget, proposed by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Toyin Ogundipe. Dr Dagari’s committee found out that Prof. Ogundipe’s management significantly exceeded this approved budget by the sum of N9,739,977.89. In other words, without any Council approval or knowledge, Prof. Ogundipe spent the sum of N94,739,977.89 on the 2018 convocation as against the sum of N85,000,0000.00 that Council approved.

“Prof. Toyin Ogundipe was given an opportunity to address these allegations. He has not denied any of these payments or spendings. Rather, he has sought to justify them on the basis that he was in a position to approve these payments.”

The documents also showed that the former vice chancellor admitted that a firm of external auditors that looked into the books of the institution did not detect any fraud.

He stated this in his written defence at a special meeting of the council, which considered the report of a committee that found him guilty of many financial infractions and other wrongdoings.

Ogundipe’s Response

In a six-page response titled: “That University of Lagos May Know Peace: Submission of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, to the Governing Council at its special meeting on May 13, 2019, he said: “The pro-chancellor had authorised an external audit firm of his choosing to look into the books of the university for which he paid from his personal account. The report of his external auditors had noted there were some weaknesses in some internal control but did not detect fraud. They also made their recommendations as appropriate in a report.”

Ogundipe said among others that the composition of the sub-committee on finance was defective ab initio.

“Despite the strong reservation of some members of the council, because the council is blessed with the presence of an award-winning Professor of Public Sector Accounting and Budgeting in the person of Prof. Eddy Omolehinwa, pro-chancellor decided to appoint a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry with no accounting background or experience, Dr. Saminu Dagara,” he said, adding:

“Sub-committees by convention are usually given a time frame within which to report on their findings; none was given this committee. It is, therefore, no wonder that the committee spent over six months on the assignment, sat for over 40 times and in the process incurred a bill of over seven million naira by way of sitting allowance, hotel expenditure as well as feeding at meetings, 80 per cent of which went to Dr. Saminu Dagari. It is also important to point out here that the external audit firms appointed by the council for the regular one-year audit of the university’s finances only cost N5.2 million only.”

Citadel of Impunity

Also a former member of the UNILAG Governing Council, Professor Boniface Oye-Adeniran has said the university was a citadel of impunity and corruption under Professor Ogundipe as VC..

Oye-Adeniran served on the Council between 2017 and 2019. He was also a member of UNILAG Appointments and Promotions Board from 2014 to 2019 and national president, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) between 1993 and 1997 stated this in a press statement.

Oye-Adeniran, who retired as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, College of Medicine, UNILAG, said Professor Ogundipe allocated “with impunity, the official quarters of the director of Works to the immediate past registrar. The council reversed this when it was brought to its attention by a member. The quarters was allegedly renovated with 27 million naira.

He added that “The favoured lecturers were regularly accommodated on the instruction of the immediate past vice chancellor while professors waited on the queue for allocation.”

The retired don said UNILAG Appointments Board was nicknamed “Appointments and Promotions of Friends Board” because of the “ unfair practices of the immediate past vice chancellor who largely favoured his friends and punished his ‘enenies’ “

He further said that Professor Ogundipe “opposed the application of an associate professor from the Department of Paediatrics, CMUL, for study leave with pay for a fully paid PhD programme at the United States of America (USA). His reason was that only lecturers below the level of senior lecturer could apply for study leave with pay. This is despite the fact that the immediate past vice chancellor went on study leave with pay to Central Michigan University in 2001 for six months as associate professor for the Faculty of Science.”

Professor Oye-Adeniran added that Professor Ogundipe “blocked the release of the letter of appointment of a graduate assistant who was duely processed through his Departments Appointment and Promotion Board and finally approved by the Governing Council.”

He also listed various allegations of corruption against Professor Ogundipe.

“I believe in the Anti-Corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari. I congratulate the President, the Ministry of Education and the NUC for their support for the Anti-Corruption crusade of the UNILAG Governing Council”, he added.

Senate Seeks President’s Intervention

Some representatives of the Senate of the University of Lagos on Friday visited the President to seek his intervention in what they described as the illegal removal of Ogundipe.

The UNILAG Senate members, who were led by their chairman, Prof Chioma Agomo, also visited the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, but were reported to have met the Minister of State for Education.

Agomo, while briefing the press after the meeting, said though they did not meet the President, they dropped a letter of the resolution of the Senate.

She said Ogundipe’s ouster as VC without due process was a dangerous precedent for the university system in Nigeria.

She said, “We are here on behalf of the Senate of the University of Lagos. We came to the Villa because the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a visitor to the university, so we thought we should pay a courtesy call to the Villa because we had gone to the appropriate authorities to give them the resolution of the Senate concerning the event that is unfolding on the university.

“On August 13, we had an emergency meeting, attended by 91 professors. What was the issue? We want to make it known that the purported removal of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos did not follow due process. Therefore, it is illegal and cannot stand. We are not saying that the council has no right to remove the vice-chancellor.

“There is a laid-down procedure in the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The law provides the procedure for the removal of the vice-chancellor that there should be a joint committee of the Senate and the Governing Council. This has not been followed. The rule of law has been trampled on the ground. We are talking about the life and soul of the rule of law, of fairness and justice, not just for the University of Lagos, but for the entire university system and indeed the entire nation.

“We are not saying our vice-chancellor has or has not committed any offence. Binding allegations here and there is begging the issue. The issue is, if you say he has done something wrong, follow due process. And if he is found guilty, so be it.”

Agomo added that the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of UNILAG, Dr Wale Babalakin, had lost the confidence of the Senate and that the council should be dissolved.

Unions Rally Behind Ogundipe

All staff unions in the University of Lagos on Thursday expressed their displeasure with the removal of Ogundipe, by the Governing Council of the school. The workers, under the aegis of the Joint Staff Union, JSU, made this known at a Congress held to state their position on the announcement by the Council, led by Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN, that Ogundipe ceased to be the VC of the school as from Wednesday, August 12, 2020.

The staff unions are the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, and the Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU. The workers, through their leaders, also endorsed a statement, condemning the removal of Ogundipe by the Council.

The signatories were: Chairman, ASUU, Dr Dele Ashiru, Chairman, SSANU, Mr Olusola Sowunmi, Chairman, NASU, Mr Ajibade Kehinde, Chairman, NAAT, Mr Sulyman Lawal, Chairman, NASU, College of Medicine, Idi Araba, Mr Tunde Aderibigbe and Secretary, SSANU, CMUL, Idi Araba, Mr Ayo Alli.

While all the union leaders addressed the Congress, they voiced their opposition to the development, saying it could set a bad precedence in the university system.

“The University of Lagos is the first university in Nigeria to be set up through an Act of Parliament and that is why we have the University of Lagos Act 1962. The Act stipulates how the university is to be run. It spells out how to discipline any errant officer. In this case, all the procedures listed for disciplining officers were not followed.

“This is not a Banana Republic and even a junior clerk in the university should not be treated that way. We are not in Oshodi Market where somebody can turn himself into an idol to be worshipped. When Dr Wale Babalakin was appointed the Chairman of the Governing Council, being an alumnus of the school, our hopes were that he would use his good offices to make the institution better, but the reverse is the case,” Ashiru stated.

Sowunmi, Kehinde and Lawal who spoke for SSANU, NASU and NAAT, also noted that they were not in support of any person, but that they were supporting the system. They added that the matter could centre on Ogundipe today, but that it could be anybody tomorrow. They expressed their displeasure with any show of impunity on the part of anybody, but that due process must be followed.

The unions called on President Buhari, the Visitor to the University, to dissolve the Governing Council and hinged their call on the claim that Babalakin was using it to fight needless battles and drawing back the school.

The four unions, while addressing a press conference after the Congress, accused Babalakin of violating the laws of the university by the action taken on Wednesday. “Against the foregoing background, the staff unions of the University of Lagos, hereby condemn in its totality the purported removal of our Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and describe it as illegal, vexatious, unjust, vindictive and tantamount to jungle justice. We therefore affirm our absolute confidence in the leadership of Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos. Therefore, the position of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos is not vacant,” the statement read.

Ogundipe, who breezed in when members of the Joint Staff Union, JSU, of the institution were holding a special Congress, told the workers that he had always discharged his duties to the best of his ability in whatever capacities he had worked.

“I have put in 30 years of meritorious service to the University of Lagos and whether as a junior or senior lecturer, Head of Department, Dean of a Faculty, Dean of Post Graduate School, Deputy Vice Chancellor or as the Vice Chancellor, I have never been found wanting.

‘I see myself and all of you my comrades as builders in this university. We are building on the solid foundation laid by the founders and we must and will continue to build. I am peace loving and want all of us to be so too. Also, we should not allow anybody or group truncate the peace existing here on campus.

“I am a Comrade and a loyal member of our union and I will remain loyal to my fellow comrades. I am really overwhelmed by the show of support and solidarity by you all,” he said.

He later went on a solidarity walk from the venue to the main gate of the school where he also thanked the workers for their support and promised not to disappoint them. He walked back to the Senate Building, where his office his, to allow the workers continue their Congress.

House of Representatives Clean Bill

The House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, which investigated corruption allegation against past and present principal officers of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka had absolved Ogundipe and his predecessor, Prof Rahamon Bello of any financial impropriety.

The 16-member committee, chaired by Hon Oluwole Oke, representing Obokun/Oriade federal constituency in Osun State said contrary to the report of violations of extant laws and corruption allegations levelled against the university management, it found the institution’s financial records clean.

The report also said there is no evidence to support the allegation that the Governing Council Chairman, Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) planned to take over the headship of the institution’s tenders’ board. The committee, however, recommended a review of the composition of the university’s governing council, saying its current membership violates the federal character principle as there are no representatives from the south east, south south and north central.

On the collapsed seven-floor library under construction, the committee said the seven major stakeholders, including Babalakin, Ogundipe, representatives of Dutum Company Limited, Landmark Integrated Technologies Limited, CPMS Limited, Tubee Consult and Interactive Engineering Consult Limited made written submissions and gave relevant documents in the course of its assignment.

Worried by the development, the House of Representatives had mandated the procurement committee to wade in. The committee, which met with relevant stakeholders and visited the institution for on-the-spot assessment of the situation, blamed the crisis on communication gap between the university management and the governing council.

The report read in part: “The Committee found no infractions and breach of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007 in the award of contracts particularly the university new library project awarded to Messrs Dutum construction limited.

“The vice chancellor is the chief accounting officer of the university which is in line with section 20 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and should continue to discharge this responsibility as expected by law, while the governing council should stick to its supervisory role of policy formulation and fund generation for the university. The council should not meddle in the internal management of the university.

“The committee found no evidence that the pro-chancellor and chairman of council intend or assumed the position of the chairman, tenders board. Such an action would have contravened the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007.

“The committee found that the pro-chancellor has consistently made donations to the university and it is a notable and commendable feat. All donations from the pro-chancellor should be acknowledged and receipted by the university.

“Both the council and university management are hereby advised to cooperate and work together for the progress of the institution.

“Although the committee could not establish any evidence of malfeasance or financial misappropriation by the management, the university should take proactive steps to improve its internal control mechanism and systems,” the report concluded.

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