UNILAG, Federal Ministry of Education and the great cover-up | The Guardian Nigeria News
Observers who are closely following the developments surrounding the investigation into the allegations of financial recklessness and corruption against Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and his management at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) must be very shocked from the start by the apparent attempt at a major cover-up.
Last year, Dr. Wale Babalakin, who chaired the Governing Council, for deposed Professor Ogundipe as Vice Chancellor on allegations of financial ruthlessness and corruption.
Professor Ogundipe is nowhere known or seen to refute these claims. Rather, his supporters claim that he was not given a fair hearing by the council before he was dismissed. Under these circumstances, it may be fair that the Federal Ministry of Education should set up a special visiting committee to investigate whether the Babalakin Council Prof.
The government set up a committee of 5 people. 4 of them were professors at Nigerian universities. Of the four professors, three were former VCs at Nigerian universities. Of the three, one was the current president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, a body that included Professor Ogundipe and which awarded him a scholarship.
In other words, the government, seeking due process, did not even pretend to obey the first rule of natural justice. Even no lawyer is very familiar with the principle of natural justice – you are not supposed to be a judge in your own course. How should a body of professors and former VCs criticize its own?
Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was the first to whistle for this crooked composition. In his letter of resignation as Pro-Chancellor, he complained that the composition of the committee deliberately aimed to include him.
Indeed, when the report of the Special Visiting Panel came out, it became known that the panel had discovered that the Babalakin Council was not following due process. Regarding the question of the allegation against Ogundipe, it was oddly reported that the panel was unable to determine this. This needs to be put in context: in relation to the investigation into whether Ogundipe was guilty within the meaning of the Council, a mere factual issue, the panel was unable to determine this.
However, whether the Babalakin Council followed due process in dismissing Ogundipe, which required an interpretation of the law, a purely legal issue, this body, which consisted only of a lawyer, is said to have ruled that Babalakin’s advice was not followed due process. Apparently something had gone terribly wrong.
If we are to dismiss Babalakin’s allegations of bias as partisan, one cannot ignore the views of the chairman of this panel, Professor Tukur Saad. In a speech on Arise TV on September 19, 2021, he stated that his board was illegal in its composition because Professor Comfort Ekanem Braides, former VC of Cross Rivers State University, who as the current president of the board should not have been part of the board of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences.
Professor Tukur Sa’ad said more! Contrary to the announcement that the panel could find no allegations of guilt against Ogundipe, Prof. Tukur Saad stated categorically that his panel found that Ogundipe was involved in the contract splitting, a Procurement Act criminal offense, and was hiding N10billion from his council.
According to him, the members of his panel were determined to launch a unilateral report against Dr. To write Babalakin. But it is not just in relation to this deliberately one-sided composition of the Special Visiting Panel or the panel’s determination to write a unilateral report and indict Babalakin that a great cover-up is manifesting. It is also because of how the government responded to this report on Professor Tukur Saad’s complaints in letters to the Chief of Staff to the President and to the Minister of Education leaked in daily newspapers.
The Federal Ministry of Education reinstated Professor Ogundipe without clearing the clouds of massive corruption that hung over his head. This needs to be put in context.
The council led by Babalakin was appointed to the council by the federal government. Dr. Babalakin himself was previously Pro-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, another federal university, and had excelled there as a Pro-Chancellor and received the award as the best Pro-Chancellor of all federal universities.
His allegations could therefore not be trivialized or taken lightly. The State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education himself, Arc Sunny Ucheano, had pointed out in the media months before the crisis that there was massive corruption at the Nigerian federal universities. So the Babalakin Council’s allegations did not come out of nowhere.
In addition, the chairman of the Special Visiting Panel they set up, Professor Tukur Saad, had written letters to both the Minister of Education and the President’s Chief of Staff detailing Ogundipe’s corruption. It is important to note that Professor Tukur Saad was not a full member of the Special Visitation Panel. He chaired that body, and his views must definitely matter. Against this background, Ogundipe was reinstated.
Granted, the panel found that the Babalakin Council was not following due process (a finding that cannot stand legal scrutiny considering the panel was not a judicial authority, let alone lawyers), which was made by ANY sane person would be expected to proceed cautiously and first ensure that Ogundipe received a clean health certificate before being returned to a place where more harm could be done.
Once Ogundipe was out of office for good or bad reasons, it was wise to make sure that his return was perfectly justified. Heaven would not have fallen if he had stayed suspended, VC stayed while his salary continued while the investigation into the allegations against him accelerated. But what did the government do? Ogundipe was returned to his position before the investigation was completed. This enabled Ogundipe to destroy evidence or to cover up, intimidate and silence witnesses.
It’s actually worse. If these allegations are true, it means that the government has returned Ogundipe to a position where the theft of public funds has simply continued. No sane person reacts to situations like this, this one away. We all run homes. It is unlikely anyone would allow a domestic worker to continue having access to their treasure if a red flag is hoisted without being fairly certain that that red flag was a ruse.
That is exactly what the Federal Ministry of Education did. Here, too, it is not the one-sided composition of the committee, its one-sided report or even the way in which the Federal Ministry of Education dealt with the report that is very curious. It followed.
Due to the indecision of the corruption allegation against Ogundipe, the Federal Ministry of Education set up a presidential visit panel in March 2021.
This time the panel seemed balanced as it did not have an academic.
The body was chaired by General Martin Lurther Agwai. On September 13, 2021, the Nigerian media reported extensively that the President’s Visitation Panel held Ogundipe responsible for the allegations made against him by the Babalakin Council. It was also reported that the panel found Babalakin’s council free of any guilt for the removal of Ogundipe.
It is important to note that the media, especially the Thisday Newspaper, not only reported on these findings, but quoted extensively from the panel president’s report and provided pages from which these quotations were taken. Instructively, the President’s Visitation Panel touched on at least three aspects that not even the council led by Babalakin had previously highlighted. Dr. Babalakin’s personal donation of N500,000,000 to the Law Faculty and how those donations were not transferred to the official account by the Faculty.
This came out for the first time; Tax fraud of N3 billion by the university administration under Professor Ogundipe; and the gross professional incompetence of the university secretariat. In all of its corruption allegations at the University of Lagos, the Babalakin Council has kept the VC and its management in view and has not stepped into secondary areas or people. With that in mind, the President’s Visitation Pane revealed additional information for the first time.
If anyone else doubted that the Federal Ministry of Education was having a major cover-up going on, it was erased by their response to the media report. The Ministry’s Secretary of State, Arc Sunny Ucheano, has been on television in an unprecedented manner to explain that the media reports are false.
It is unprecedented for a Permanent Secretary to get into as much of a turmoil as the Permanent Secretary, even more so in an area that was within the purview of the National University Commission. According to the law, the NUC is the regulator of Nigerian universities and it is the NUC that set up these Presidential Visitation Panels.
Did Mr. Sunny Ucheano have an interest in the whole matter and was he on TV to protect his interests? This question is not in vain when you consider that it is precisely this Sunny Ucheano who, in his letter to the Babalakin Council, requested that the investigation into the affairs of the VC be terminated.
Mr Ucheano said the media report was wrong. While former US President Donald Trump popularized the idea of fake news, the secretary of state certainly cannot casually claim falsifications regarding media news citing from a report that includes the full pages of the report and the specific pages that are cited from will .
It takes the imagination of a fictional Hollywood screenwriter to document allegations, witnesses, facts, and discoveries that don’t exist as the media reported. This Permanent Secretary has been thoroughly discredited on this matter.
Aside from declaring that the media report was false without providing any evidence by presenting the so-called authentic report, he offered two separate declarations, each of which is contradicting itself. First, he stated that the President’s Visitation Panel could not have investigated the allegations against Ogundipe because the previous Special Visitation Panel had completed its work. This is wrong. As noted above, his own ministry’s November 2020 press release stated that the special visits panel was unable to determine whether or not Ogundipe stole money. He also alleged that the General Agwai Panel did not have a mandate to investigate allegations against Ogundipe. That’s not true either. The November 2020 press release reiterated that a regular visiting panel would be set up to investigate these allegations. This is truly one of the most notable attempts at a major cover-up in Nigeria, and the last one has certainly not been heard.
– Seyi Oludare wrote from Lagos.