IN about all moral contexts, justice gets seen to be done only when an adjudicator is even-handed in the measures dealt to the contending parties. No matter the justification, it is bad optics when one of two contenders is prematurely reinforced while the other is shot down. But that seems what has played out in the leadership row at the University of Lagos (Unilag) between Vice-Chancellor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe and the now dissolved governing council under Dr. Wale Babalakin.
Following the crisis that rocked the university when the Babalakin-led council removed Ogundipe as vice-chancellor over allegations of financial misdeeds and other improprieties on August 12, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari, as Visitor, raised a special visitation panel on August 21 and directed both Babalakin and Ogundipe to step aside from their positions. That decision itself rankled Babalakin, who argued that there were indications of bias against him and the council he led, hence his decision to resign his chairmanship. The visitation panel has turned in its report to government, upon which government reinstated Ogundipe as vice-chancellor while the Babalakin-led governing council was dissolved, even though he earlier opted out.
In a statement announcing government’s decisions on the visitation panel’s report, the Federal Ministry of Education said President Buhari had overruled Ogundipe’s sack as vice-chancellor by the Babalakin council because it did not follow due process and Ogundipe was not given opportunity to defend himself against allegations levelled against him. But there’s a catch: it wasn’t that the visitation panel cleared Ogundipe and the university management he led of the charges; rather, it said all allegations thrown up before and after the panel was instituted should be referred to the regular visitation panel for thorough investigation and necessary recommendations. Nevertheless, the ministry in its statement ruled: “Mr. President, after careful review of the report, has approved all the recommendations of the panel. Accordingly, Professor Ogundipe is hereby reinstated as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. The Governing Council chaired by Dr. B. O. Babalakin, is hereby dissolved.”
Without condoning the apparent vindictiveness of the Babalakin council in trying to unseat Ogundipe without fair hearing, we think it is unduly hasty that he was restored as vice-chancellor before the allegations against him are exhaustively probed (and proven false) by the regular visitation panel, as the special visitation panel recommends. His restoration to vice-chancellorship is premature and contrary to due process because, in a way, it implies acquittal of the allegations, which seems not to be the case. We believe that someone should have been named to serve in acting capacity as vice-chancellor until Ogundipe is fully investigated and, hopefully, acquitted. Besides, there is something of moral disequilibrium in upholding one party to a dispute before investigation and vindication, whereas the other party (governing council) is dismantled over the same dispute.
This disequilibrium is made worse by reports that the chair of the special visitation panel later came up to distance himself from decisions reached by government over his panel’s recommendations. Tukur Saad, a professor of architecture at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in correspondences to Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, and education minister Adamu Adamu, said Ogundipe was not given a clean bill over the allegations against him but was rather only redressed over the manner of his removal by the Babalakin council. “As chairman, I didn’t want to sign the final report, but I felt that would be a slap on the face of government and would generate so much bad publicity, that I would rather sign on the understanding that the matter would be referred to the Shehu of Borno as the chancellor,” Saad wrote to Gambari.
It is condemnable that the panel chair abdicated responsibility by seeking to pass on the onus for reaching a verdict to the chancellor. But there is no mistaking that the matter isn’t yet concluded, and so optics signalling vindication wrong.