Saturday, September 25, 2021 9:01 am
By Seyi Oludare
Observers keenly following developments surrounding investigations into allegations of financial recklessness and corruption against Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and his management at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) must be very shocked by what is clearly an attempt at a grand cover up, right from the beginning.
Last year, Dr Wale Babalakin led Governing Council claimed to have removed Professor Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor, based on allegations of financial reckless and corruption.
Professor Ogundipe has not been known or seen to have refuted these claims anywhere. Rather, his backers claim he was not given fair hearing by the Council before he was removed. In the circumstances, while it might be said to be fair for the Federal Ministry of Education to set up a Special Visitation Panel to investigate if the Babalakin Council gave Prof Ogundipe fair hearing, what really followed was evidently a massive cover up.
Government set up a committee of 5 people. Out of this number, 4 of them were Professors in Nigerian Universities. Out of the four Professors three of them had been former VCs in Nigerian Universities. Out of these three, one was current President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, a body that Professor Ogundipe was a member of, and that conferred a Fellowship on him.
In other words, government that was seeking to investigate due process was not even pretending to observe the first rule of natural justice. Even none lawyers are very familiar with the natural justice principle-you shall not be a judge in your own course. How was a committee made up of Professors and former VCs supposed to find fault against one of their own?
Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was the first to blow the whistle on this lopsided composition. In his letter of resignation as Pro-Chancellor, he complained that the composition of the committee was deliberately done to implicate him.
Sure enough, when the Special Visitation Panel’s Report came out, it was announced that the Panel found that Babalakin’s Council did not follow due process. On the question of allegation against Ogundipe, curiously, it was reported that the Panel was unable to determine this. This has to be placed in context: in respect of the investigation of whether Ogundipe was guilty as charged by the Council, purely a question of fact, the Panel was unable to determine this.
However, on whether Babalakin’s Council followed due process in removing Ogundipe, something that required an interpretation of laws, purely a question of law, this Panel that was made up of only one lawyer, was said to have adjudged the Babalakin Council not to have followed due process. Evidently, something had gone terribly wrong.
If we want to dismiss Babalakin’s complaint of bias as partisan, one cannot ignore the views expressed by the Chairman of that Panel, Professor Tukur Saad. Speaking on Arise TV on 19th September 2021, he stated that his Panel was illegal in its composition because of the presence of Professor Comfort Ekanem Braides, former VC of Cross Rivers State University who should not have been part of the Panel being the current President of the Nigerian Academy of Science.
Professor Tukur Sa’ad said more! Contrary to the announcement that the Panel could not determine allegations of guilt against Ogundipe, Prof Tukur Saad stated categorically that his Panel found that Ogundipe engaged in contract splitting, an offence under the Procurement Act, and hid N10billion away from his Council.
According to him, members of his Panel were determined to write a one sided report against Dr Babalakin.
But it is not only in respect of this deliberate lopsided composition of the Special Visitation Panel or the Panel’s determination to write a one sided report and indict Babalakin that manifests a grand cover up. It is also in how government acted on that report over Professor Tukur Saad’s complaints in letters to the Chief of Staff to the President and to the Minister of Education that were leaked in daily newspapers.
The Federal Ministry of Education reinstated Professor Ogundipe without clearing the clouds of massive corruption that were hanging over his head. This has to be placed in context.
The Babalakin led Council was federal government appointed Council. Dr Babalakin himself had previously been Pro Chancellor of University of Maiduguri, another Federal University and had done excellently well there as Pro-Chancellor, earning the award of best Pro-Chancellor of all Federal Universities.
His allegations could therefore not be trivialized or taken lightly. The Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education himself, Arc Sunny Ucheano had spoken in the media months before the crisis to the effect that there was massive corruption going on in Nigerian Federal Universities. So, Babalakin’s Council’s allegations were not coming out of nowhere.
On top of this, the Chairman of the Special Visitation Panel they set up, Professor Tukur Saad, had written letters both to the Minister of Education and Chief of Staff to the President detailing Ogundipe’s corruption. It is important to state that Professor Tukur Saad was not an ordinary member of the Special Visitation Panel. He was Chairman of that Panel and his views have to definitively matter. It was against this background that Ogundipe was reinstated.
Granted that the Panel found that Babalakin’s Council did not follow due process (a finding that cannot hold up to legal scrutiny considering that the panel was not a judicial body, let alone made up of lawyers), what ANY rational person would be expected to do would be to tread cautiously and first ensure that Ogundipe was given a clean bill of health before returning him to a place where more damage could be done.
Once Ogundipe was out of office for good or bad reason, the prudent thing to do was to ensure that his return was absolutely justified. The heavens would not have fallen if he stayed suspended, remained VC, while his salary continued while investigation into allegations made against him were accelerated. But what did government do? Ogundipe was returned to his position before investigation was concluded. By this, Ogundipe was allowed to be in a position where he could destroy evidence or cover up, intimidate and silence witnesses.
It is actually worse than that. If these allegations were true, it means Government returned Ogundipe to a position where the stealing of public funds simply continued. No rationale person responds to situations like this, this away. We all run homes. It is unlikely that anybody will allow a domestic servant to continue to have access to where he keeps his treasure once a red flag is raised without being fairly certain that that red flag was a ruse.
That is exactly what the Federal Ministry of Education did. Once again, it is not in the lopsided composition of the Panel, its one sided report or even the manner in which the Federal Ministry of Education acted on the report that is very curious. It is what followed.
Based on the inconclusiveness surrounding the allegation of corruption against Ogundipe, the Federal Ministry of Education set up a Presidential Visitation Panel in March 2021. This time, the Panel appeared to be balanced as it did not have an academic. The Panel was headed by General Martin Lurther Agwai.
On 13th September 2021 it was widely reported in the Nigerian media that the Presidential Visitation Panel found Ogundipe culpable of the allegations leveled against him by Babalakin’s Council. It was also reported that the Panel found Babalakin’s Council free from any blame in how it removed Ogundipe.
It is important to state that the media, especially Thisday Newspaper did not just report these findings, they quoted extensively from the Presidential Panel Report and provided pages where these quotes came from. Instructively, the Presidential Visitation Panel touched on at least three aspects that not even the Babalakin led Council had previously highlighted. Dr Babalakin’s personal donation of N500,000.000 to the Faculty of Law and how these donations were not paid into the official account by the Faculty.
This was coming out for the very first time; tax fraud of N3billion by the University management under Professor Ogundipe; and the University Bursar’s gross professional incompetence. In all its allegations of corruption in the University of Lagos, the Babalakin Council trained its sight on the VC and his management and did not get into collateral areas or persons. In that sense, the Presidential Visitation Pane was revealing for the very first time, additional information.
If anyone was still in doubt that a grand cover up was afoot by the Federal Ministry of Education, its reaction to the media report erased this. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Arc Sunny Ucheano in a most unprecedented way was on television to explain that the media reports were false.
It is unprecedented for a Permanent Secretary to enter the fray the way the Permanent Secretary did, more so on an area that was within the purview of the National Universities Commission. By law, the NUC is the Regulator of Nigerian Universities and it is the NUC that in fact set up these Presidential Visitation Panels.
Did Mr Sunny Ucheano have an interest in the whole matter and was he on television to protect his interest? This question is not idle considering that the fact that it is this very same Sunny Ucheano who by his letter to Babalakin’s Council requested that investigations into the VC’s affairs should be put on hold.
Mr Ucheano has said that the media report is false. While former US President Donald Trump has made popular the idea of fake news, surely, the Permanent Secretary cannot casually claim fakenes, in respect of media news that quote from a report that include the total pages of the report and the specific pages being quoted from.
It has to take the imagination of a fiction Hollywood Screen writer to document allegations, witnesses, facts and findings that do not exist the way it was reported in the media. This Permanent Secretary is thoroughly discredited in this matter.
Apart from explaining that the media report is false without providing any shred of evidence by way of presenting the so called authentic report, he offered two separate explanations, each one contradictory. First, he explained that the Presidential Visitation Panel could not have investigated allegations against Ogundipe because the earlier Special Visitation Panel had concluded work on this. This is false. As pointed out above, the press release of his own Ministry in November 2020 was to the effect that the Special Visitation Panel was unable to determine if Ogundipe stole money or not. He claimed too that the General Agwai Panel did not have the mandate to investigate allegations against Ogundipe. That is also not true. Once again, the press release of November 2020 claimed that a regular Visitation Panel would be set up to investigate these allegations. This is truly one of the most remarkable attempts at a grand cover up in Nigeria and surely the last has not been heard on it.
Seyi Oludare wrote from Lagos.