Thursday, September 16, 2021 12:26 am
Dr. Wale Babalakin appeared on The Morning Show of Arise TV on Wednesday, 15 September. Babalakin was a former Chairman of the governing council, university of Lagos; the Pro-chancellor University of Maiduguri from 2009 to 2013 and in the same period, served as the Chairman Council of Pro-chancellors. He spoke on the crisis at the University of Lagos and problems plaguing tertiary education in Nigeria and the graduates they produce.
According to Babalakin: “First, you have to change the mindset that the university is another civil service job. You have to change that mindset. And it’s going to require a serious team of people who are convinced.
“Secondly, you have to take the universities out of full control of the ministry. Today at the end of the day, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education has enormous powers in the universities. All the things that happen in UNILAG from the beginning to the end, to even the new appointments were all wrong in law, they cannot survive any legal tests. And the permanent secretary presided over it. What is the business of the permanent secretary with the universities?
“The first time I wanted to probe Ogundipe, I got a letter from the Permanent Secretary’s office that ‘don’t touch these two items.’ I was shocked. I called his bluff. I was going to go ahead. The member representing the Ministry of Education told me that the Permanent Secretary said I shouldn’t talk about it. I said what do you mean? I’ve been Pro-Chancellor before. I know the rights of a Pro-Chancellor. I said, give it to me in writing. She brought it to me the next day that – don’t look at the collapse of the building and don’t look at the accounts of the university. Sonny Ucheonu signed a letter to that effect.
“Why should he have such authority? And based on what? Furthermore, when you free these universities, they will now become their own people. We can run them like a factory. Every university should have its own identity. I stumbled on a report prepared by UNILAG on its actual valuation about four years ago, N58 billion; for inflation hundred billion naira. So the value of the University of Lagos is $200 million. What impact can such a poverty-stricken institution make on education? What impact?
Babalakin also spoke about the presidential visitation panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the removal of Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe as the vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos by the governing council of the institution in August 2020. Last week, it submitted its reports to the federal ministry of education.
The 241- page report reaffirmed the decision of the governing council led by Dr. Wale Babalakin SAN to remove the VC and held that it followed the laid down procedures in his removal.
The visitation panel went on to indict Ogundipe, stating that under him, the management of the university concealed the accounts and other critical information for three years from the governing council of the university.
Kindly give us insight into the just submitted report and tell us why the Nigerian university system is in dire need of reforms
I will only discuss them incidentally. I’m here because of the collapse of the education system in Nigeria, which bothers me a great deal. The events of the University of Lagos are simply a manifestation of a decay that has gone on for so long. Before coming here, I stumbled on a statement made by Professor Okebukola, who is a former executive secretary of NUC, who is currently Pro-Chancellor of Nigeria Open Universities.
In the said report, he says, despite milestones, a dark cloud hangs over education in Nigeria. Professor Okebukola, says, no serious-minded employer will touch Nigerian graduates with a 10-meter pole. Now, this is where we found ourselves. Why have we found ourselves in this place? We found ourselves in this place largely because either deliberately or due to inadvertence, the university system has completely collapsed.
All the issues of the University of Lagos stemmed from only one issue that I refused to be one of the boys. That is all. I became Pro-Chancellor. These are the first minutes of the first meeting we had and with your permission, I will read from it.
“The Chairman again, welcome members to the first meeting of the newly constituted council and informed them of the vision for the new council of the University of Lagos. He also stated that the meeting will be a short one.
The chairman noted the debt of funding for universities, the limited fund for research and the need to create more sources apart from those for tertiary education. He informed the meeting that he looked forward to fresh initiatives in council because if there are no new ideas, the university will soon be described as a secondary teaching institution.
At the national level, we said there must be a need to establish a more robust source of funding for universities. And our request for an increase in salary will correspond with an increase in productivity. The chairman informed the members that under his chairmanship, council meetings will keep to the scheduled time. He also declared to the meeting that he had no personal or financial interest in the university and that throughout his tenure as pro-chancellor and chairman of the council, he will not collect any remuneration or fees from the university
He also stated that he will pay for a staff salary and other expenses in court in the pro-chancellor’s lodge.
I think it’s exactly one year ago, September 15th, 2020, when you submitted your letter of resignation. And then one of the paragraphs in your letter of resignation, you at least act, you know, the busiest for your resignation. You reached your shoes one day by the composition of the visitation panel to you, raised issues about financial, malpractices within the university system, financial, malpractices promoted by management, you questioned the position taken by the Federal Government, in terms of asking you to step down.
Asking the Vice-Chancellor to come back and you reacted to issues about the composition because the visitation panel by the federal government comprised mainly of former vice-chancellors, some of them from state universities. One year later we had this report that has vindicated you. There were two panels, it was a special panel first, which was on the side of management. And then this latest visitation, which is on your side, makes you feel vindicated.
Why do you think that we have this contradiction to different panels looking at the same set of facts and allegations?
Okay. It’s just a matter of process. The first panel that was set up was inappropriate, clearly inappropriate because what happened was the technocrats in the Ministry of Education without hearing the sides, without knowing what happened, came to the conclusion that there was no fair hearing for the vice-chancellor.
That is not a conclusion that the permanent secretary who is not very skilled in legal issues can make. I can read the minister because at this stage, the minister was receiving medical treatment abroad. So I don’t think he was part of it. Then he went ahead and said he had set up a panel. Now the Panel met and came to the conclusion that there were some infractions, nobody has seen that panel report.
The first report was faulty. It wasn’t faulted by me, it was faulted by the Chairman of the panel. When he heard that they were going to write a white paper on it, he issued the most damning statement that I have ever read on any recommendation.
I commend This Day for digging out this report. I stumbled on information now that the chairman of the panel actually wrote to the ministry holding that panel, this is a letter written by on October 7th, 2020, the chairman of that panel.
He said, when you read the report, you will notice that it was very one-sided, so to speak. The option was for the chairman to refuse to sign the report. And that will have been a slap on the government. The majority of the team members were concerned. They would like to save the VC who was presented as a victim. He then catalogued in all these reports that every allegation that we made happened, you have a copy of the letter.
He said that there was contract splitting. On the issue of frivolous spending of the core money of the University, teaching and research within the period under question, VC and his cronies undertook 75 external trips, costing hundreds of millions of naira while the total annual Direct Teaching and Learning of the Department (DTLC)…
The VC went to court to challenge his removal.
I’ve mentioned that I believe in the report that VC was recommended to be reprimanded, even though he had withdrawn the case. There are a number of memoranda sympathetic to the chairman of the council for the good work he was doing and for being above board when it came to financial matters, but this did not show up in the report. Now, what assumption I’m making is that the first report was faulty and it wasn’t faulted by me.
It was faulted by the chairman of the panel when he then wrote that they were going to write a white paper on it. He issued the most damaging statement I’ve ever heard in any recommendation. I didn’t intend to sign the final important, but furthermore, I obliged.
It will be a slap on the face of government and it will be, it will generate so much bad publicity in the public domain that I would rather sign. The understanding and matter will be referred to the Shehu of Borno, the Chancellor, irrespective of what the panel recommended. Now, I feel I was made a fool of and stabbed in the back by people I trusted for that moment. Furthermore, It would be impossible for any council to manage a university in this country if recommendations of the panel are implemented in the white paper, and these were the recommendations that were implemented in the white paper that led to the dissolution of the council.
It had been totally discredited by the chairman himself, but the technocrats in the ministry, determined on an agenda went forward.
You mentioned the members of the panel. I appeared before the panel, very reluctantly, frankly, only out of respect for the minister.
These are the members of the panel, – all working in the academic sphere. You now brought them to probe a Pro-Chancellor, who has been standing up for the truth. As Professor Boniface Oye-Adeniran said yesterday, they were only protecting their community as reflected by the chairman of the panel, they had one agenda – indict Babalakin and save the Vice-Chancellor.
My concern is that whatever you’ve read in ThisDay about the vice-chancellor, is an understatement.
I hope one of the panel members will put the whole report up there for the Nigerians to see. It is cruel to have such a system. I fought it from the beginning. We are here for these students. I was a student of this university, I know how exceptional it was. The first day after becoming the Pro-Chancellor, I was told to visit all the faculties. I went to the law faculty and I asked for the law reports, no current law reports.
I was so moved. I said, okay, this is N500, 000 per month, use it to procure them for the benefit of the students. And I assumed the law reports were being bought until a professor came to me 20 months down the line. He said we’re not feeding the books. I said it’s not possible.
All the money I paid for books was diverted into a non-university account. They named it staff welfare account or something like that, instead of going to the university’s TSA account. That was not the only donation. I went to Creative Arts where they made a presentation that will make even Steve Rhodes envious. And I said, what is your challenge here? No money. So I said, okay, every month I’ll give you N400, 000 for the minor things you can require.
I gave them the money, that didn’t feature in the report. I hope that was paid into a proper account. In the law faculty, we found students hanging on windows to listen to lectures. The University I attended had a full air-conditioned environment. I just couldn’t believe it. I, one of the professors called me and a few others. We gave them money and we repaired the auditorium. Now imagine the alarm. When we started looking at the accounts and we discovered that the university has simply misled us. The university wasn’t short of funds. It was simply being diverted.
My word for the university is that corruption did not start under Prof. Ogundipe. It is actually endemic and it cannot be unveiled by any visitation panel, no matter how strong.
I’m happy that the visitation panel recommended that an international accounting firm should come and look at the affairs of the university.
I will not talk about that. I will say a judicial panel with a Judge knowledgeable in finance should look at all universities, especially the University of Lagos and it will be discovered that the federal government is just pumping money into these universities without getting a commensurate return.
Why am I so, um, personate about these issues? I wore two caps. I was the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos and also the chief negotiator with ASUU. ASUU came to us and says, we want more money, more money or more money. Universities are underfunded. And I know that the university I’m in charge of, the money is not being well-spent. And I said to myself, this must be total confusion.
Looking at the letter Professor Saad wrote to the Minister of Education that you just read from talking about how the DT LLC of all the departments of the university was just N35 million per annum. Whereas the reports in Thisday talks about over N40 million have been spent renovating homes. Those are newspaper reports a couple of days ago, how Nigeria is spending N55 billion as a country, a year to get foreign professional services.
From the look of things, no serious-minded employer would touch university graduates with a 10-meter pole. Can you put all of this in context for us?
Okay. Very good question. I chaired the ASUU negotiation committee. I don’t know what happened after I left, but my position was, one, the government will not sign any document it cannot comply with. Agreements reached must be honoured. So I took that position. Secondly, I said, a good education is compulsory if the government is able to fund it.
So be it, if not, but money’s not able to fund it. The students must not be deprived. We must find other sources of funding apart from the federal government. The ASUU position is that government must take care of everything. And I said, what if the government cannot afford it? I said, well, that’s the government’s business.
Thirdly, I insisted that you must have Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to know whether these lecturers are actually delivering but I was told Babalakin is a new capitalist, he is bringing World Bank policy. Hey, we got to measure what you’re doing. Do you say we shouldn’t measure you? How? And you want the government to continue to give you a lot of money. These are the fundamentals. I don’t know what was finally agreed with them, but I know that if the government continues to pump money into these universities without seriously assessing how these monies are spent, then we are in deep trouble.
Ogundipe is just a symptom. When I got into council the first time I looked around, wow, everybody in the management had the second class lower in their first degree, I said, how, when did this become a standard? When I was in the university of Lagos, if you didn’t make your second class upper, you couldn’t even come closer trying to be a graduate assistant.
I was going to qualify it. If you came up with a 2.2 then you must have shown subsequent distinction. Maybe you did a Masters and did exceptionally well. Or you did something that shows that, oh, there was an error, in your earlier degree.
But let me tell you the message where you look round the hall and everybody came out to the second class lower. It tells you the level of people applying to universities. Why is it like that? It’s like that because today universities have simply become another federal government parastatal where so many things just happened there.
It’s not the university you know. The position of vice-chancellor has now become a coveted position because what he does it confers a lot of advantages on you. The professors are earning about N450, 000, but if you’re a friend of the vice-chancellor, you can be appointed as a director. So you get a car, you can travel regularly. You can get allowances. So it’s in everybody’s interest in the university to talk to the vice-chancellor, okay.
What I’m concerned about is the grass that is suffering, the scholars, the students. How can we build a university student, a system that makes a Nigeria student very employable ….You went to Cambridge, you paid your fees at Cambridge. How can we make UNILAG work?
First, you have to change the mindset of, like, it’s just another civil service job. You have to change that mindset. And it’s going to require a serious team of people who are convinced. Secondly, you have to take the universities out of full control of the ministry. Today at the end of the day, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education has enormous powers in the universities. All the things that happen in UNILAG from the beginning to the end, to even the new appointments were all wrong in law, they cannot survive any legal tests. And the permanent secretary presided over it. What is the business of the permanent secretary with the universities?
The first time I wanted to probe Ogundipe, I got a letter from the Permanent Secretary’s office that don’t touch these two items. I was in disbelief. I called his bluff. I was going to go ahead. The member representing the Ministry of Education told me that the Permanent Secretary said I shouldn’t talk about it. I said what do you mean? I’ve been Pro-Chancellor before. I know the rights of a Pro-Chancellor. I said, give it to me in writing. She brought it to me the next day that – don’t look at the collapse of the building and don’t look at the accounts of the university. Sonny Ucheonu signed a letter to that effect.
Why should he have such authority? And based on what? Furthermore, when you free these universities, they will now become their own people. We can run them like a factory. Every university should have its own identity. I stumbled on a report prepared by UNILAG on its actual valuation about four years ago, N58 billion; for inflation of hundred billion naira. So the value of the university of Lagos is $200 million. What impact can such a poverty-stricken institution make on education? What impact? I attended the convocation of Harvard university two years ago, the guests because it was Bloomberg. The son of the minor ones, Bloomberg his father wasn’t Harvard.