A committee asked to probe allegations of financial misappropriations and contract fraud at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) indicted the embattled Vice-Chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, according to its report.
But Mr Ogundipe has continued to deny any wrongdoing, even after the Governing Council of the university controversially removed him on the basis of the committee’s report.
The Council, chaired by lawyer and businessman, Wale Babalakin, on Wednesday announced the “removal” of Mr Ogundipe for alleged misconduct.
The decision was taken at the Council’s emergency meeting in Abuja during which the probe report was considered, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Mr Ogundipe also rejected his removal, saying the council did not follow due process in its actions.
Apart from the indictments contained in the probe report, other allegations against the vice-chancellor include financial misconduct, forgery, information concealment, undermining of academic process and plot to appoint a professor by fiat, siphoning of UNILAG money through dubious contract awards, sponsoring or acquiescing unconstitutional actions of the UNILAG branch of ASUU, undermining of the office of registrar, involvement in the partial collapse of the university’s library building and masterminding of controversy leading to the cancellation of the university convocation ceremony.
“In the last three years, Council discovered that there was no financial accountability in the University,” Mr Babalakin said in a Council document seen by this newspaper. “The financial recklessness of the Management of the University is scandalous.”
He said after a series of attempts to rein in the management, the Governing Council decided to set up a committee to look into the finances of the University.
A report of the committee seen by PREMIUM TIMES alleged that the Vice-Chancellor, the bursar and the immediate-past registrar spent N49,434,038.46 (forty-nine million, four hundred and thirty-four thousand, three hundred Naira, forty-six Kobo), N41,817,658.32 (forty-one million, eight hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and fifty-eight Naira, thirty-two kobo) and N16,123,509.00 (sixteen million, one hundred and twenty three thousand, five hundred and nine Naira) respectively on renovating their houses.
“This was done without any approval,” the Council said. “It was not even mentioned to anybody in Council. It was unilaterally done by the Management. The Bursar’s house can be built from scratch today for the N41,817,658.32 allegedly spent on renovating the house.
In defending himself against this allegation, Prof Ogundipe said, “The renovation work includes both civil works and housing furniture. In accordance with the Memorandum of Appointment (MOA), outgoing VCs leave with their furniture. Consequently, the total furniture stated in the report should be broken down into renovations and purchase of furniture and equipment respectively. On assumption of office, after evaluation of the state of the property, the Works and Physical Planning Department identified certain deficiencies that needed attention. For example, leaking roof, old louvres (which gave an opportunity for rodents and snakes ingress).”
But the panel rejected this explanation by remarking that “allocations for the refurbishment of principal officers’ quarters in 2017 and 2018 were zero and N50,000,000 respectively. Yet, a total of N 112,462,990.63 was expended on the refurbishment of principal officers’ quarters in 2017. From which account was N62, 462,990.63 sourced to top up the amount expended?”
The committee also accused the vice-chancellor of engaging in a long list of expenditures without any sort of approval. It said for those that had approval, the university management exceeded its expenditure limit.
The Committee also found that the vice-chancellor paid the dean of student affairs N2.5million every month as security vote. “The Council is not aware that any other university in Nigeria perpetrates this sort of unacceptable behaviour,” the pro-chancellor said. “I do not believe that even Ministers of the Federation collect security votes.” But the vice-chancellor stoutly defended his action, saying, the funds were used in paying clandestine operatives who provide undercover security cover for the university. He said the expenditure was a long-standing arrangement in the institution.
The committee, however, insisted that “the long-standing policy of engaging security operatives without the knowledge of Council is a gross violation of Section 7(1) of the University of Lagos Act 1967, the Federal Government and University of Lagos Financial Regulations.”
Vice-Chancellor Ogundipe was also indicted over the payment of N117.9 million to two security companies without valid contracts.
According to the probe report, the N117.9 payments were in favour of Shelter Guards Limited and the Nigerian Legions, both entities alleged to have been engaged without valid contracts.
In his response to the panel, Mr Ogundipe said the hiring of the companies without contracts “is a convention instituted since 2004 during a period of several upheavals on campus which led to the breakdown of law and order, cultism was at its height, burglary and lots of insurgencies from neighbouring communities. The University was advised to engage different security outfits to augment the normal security unit in the University. These expenditures have been in existence since then.”
The panel countered his explanation, saying “Convention cannot override statutory regulations. Engagement of the security outfits was done in total violation of the Public Procurement Act of 2007 and the University of Lagos Financial Regulation of 2016.”
In other cases, four payments for waste management, janitorial service and facility maintenance were also said to have been paid without valid contracts and approval of the tenders board. The amounts involved in these cases were over N228 million.
Mr Ogundipe was also indicted for extra-budgetary expenditure regarding the 2017 UNILAG convocation ceremony. The original amount approved was N85 million but the VC was said to have spent N94 million.
However, in denying any wrongdoing, Mr Ogundipe, according to the report, said the movement of the ceremony to “the main Auditorium to give the ceremonies the grandeur befitting of the University” meant “more expenses on logistics which included providing free transport to ease movement from the gates to the venue.”
He also said the JAC strike of that year caused the university to change the date, thus having to reprint invitation cards and the brochures. He said the “ceremonies were also split into two sessions per day to enable all graduating students to shake the chancellor, pro-Chancellor and vice-chancellor, thus dignitaries were provided with meals twice a day as against the once a day.”
But the committee countered his defence. “There was no memo to F&GPC requesting for approval of the extra-budgetary spending. This violated the Public Procurement Act of 2007 and the University of Lagos Financial Regulation of 2016.,” the panel said.
Again in 2017, Mr Ogundipe was found to have spent N22.8 million without approvals to buy motor vehicles.
He was also indicted for allegedly indulging in “contract splitting for the purchase of two Toyota Avensis 2.0 for DVC (Management Services) and DVC (Development Services) in 2018.”
“A total of N 52,080,000 was spent on the purchase of the two vehicles for DVC (MS) & DVC (DS). This amount was above the Tenders Board approval limit of N 50,000,000. The approval for the purchase of the two vehicles was given at the meeting of the Tenders Board of 19th February, 2018,” the report said.
The report also said Mr Ogundipe spent beyond his approval limit on allowances for staff travelling overseas. Apart from exceeding his limit, he also approved funds for “local running” in addition to estacode, according to the report which said such approvals were outside the extant rules.
On this, Mr Ogundipe said: “The Federal Government Financial Regulation (Chapter 14) does not state that local running should not be paid where estacode has been paid,” adding that, “Travels by University personnel is not a contract, therefore the issue of approval limits does not arise.”
But the probe panel did not find that position tenable. The committee said, “Chapter 14 of the Federal Government Financial Regulation states that Duty Tour Allowances shall be paid to any officer on official tour within Nigeria. For local running, officers shall be entitled to 30 per cent of DTA in addition to airport and taxi fare at the prevailing rates.
“The National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission clarified that there are no added items like Local Running or Incidental Expense Allowances while abroad. All financial transactions in the University of Lagos (UNILAG) are guided by the provisions of the Federal Government Financial Regulations of 2009 and University of Lagos Financial Regulation of 2016.
“These documents do not categorically exempt approval limits on travel expenses. So, all travel expenses above N2.5million approved by the VC were clear violations of the above regulations.”
Apart from the indictments from the probe report, the Governing Council also accused Prof Ogundipe of other offences, according to documents sighted by PREMIUM TIMES.
In one case, the Council accused the vice-chancellor of forgery. It said Mr Ogundipe, as chairman of the committee in charge of appointing a director of works for UNILAG, altered the figures of the interview to favour a candidate known as Tunbosun Oloyede.
“This candidate had come second to a candidate from the Lagos State Polytechnic. The Vice-Chancellor was caught red-handed with this alteration marks visible on the collated results. One nominee of the Senate who participated in the selection process confessed to this action claiming that he thought he (the vice-chancellor) was acting in the best interest of the University. Interestingly, the candidate in question had been found wanting by two Council Committees including the Fogam Report which was initiated by the present Council.”
In another case, the council accused the vice-chancellor of undermining academic process by seeking to appoint a professor by fiat. It said Mr Ogundipe wrote to the pro-chancellor requesting approval for the appointment of Dr Olukemi Fadehan as a Professor of Library Studies.
“I was taken aback by this suggestion,” Mr Babalakin said. “The matter had not been approved by the Appointments and Promotion Board. Furthermore, the University does not have a Department of Library Studies. How can we appoint a Professor to a department that had not been created? This is sheer recklessness in the University System.”
The Governing Council also alleged that the vice-chancellor had been siphoning UNILAG money through dubious contract awards.
“The University of Lagos has a Press,” Mr Babalakin said. “The press is capable of printing almost everything the University requires. In the last two years, the Vice-Chancellor has consistently awarded the contract to the University press and mandated the press to pay the contract sum to another entity. He has been using the press to siphon money out of the system. He will then pay 5% of the contract sum to the Press. This year, a disagreement occurred between the Management and the General Manager of the Press.
“General Manager complained to the Management and stated that he was no longer willing to make the University Press available to siphoning money to a certain Ms Abudu This further confirms the findings of the Professor Omolehinwa’s report mentioned earlier.”
Moments after the controversial removal of Mr Ogundipe, the Council announced the appointment of Theophilus Soyombo, a professor of social sciences, as interim vice-chancellor.
However, notwithstanding the allegations, the vice-chancellor has denied any wrongdoing, saying his removal was illegal.
“I honestly believe that this action was carried out without due process and contrary to the university’s Act and other extant laws governing discipline, suspension and removal of the vice-chancellor of the university,” Mr Ogundipe wrote in a letter to Mike Ozekhome, a senior advocate of Nigeria, who he requested to sue the governing council, the pro-chancellor, and other officials who he said committed illegal and unconstitutional acts to purportedly remove him from office.
The Senate of the University of Lagos, the UNILAG branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and other groups have condemned the removal of the Mr Ogundipe saying the law governing the removal of vice-chancellors and appointment of acting vice-chancellors was violated.
On the removal of vice-chancellors and appointments of acting vice-chancellors, the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act says as follows:
(8) 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”.
(9) 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, a
(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.
(10) The Committee shall conduct investigation into the allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor and shall report its findings to the Council.
(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 right of appeal to the Visitor.
(12) There shall be no sole administration in any Nigerian University.
(13) In any case of a vacancy in the office of the Vice-Chancellor, the Council shall appoint an acting Vice-Chancellor on recommendation of the Senate.
(14) An acting Vice-Chancellor in all circumstances shall not be in office for more than 6 months”.
Many people believe the Governing Council did not comply with the above provisions in the removal of Professor Ogundipe and the appointment of Professor Soyombo as acting vice-chancellor. The Senate of UNILAG did not recommend his appointment as demanded by law.
However, the Governing Council has stuck to its guns, saying it complied with due process in the actions it took.
“It is trite law that whatever a sub-committee of the Council can do, the full Council has the powers to exercise these powers,” Mr Babalakin said. “For example, the Council can decide to consider a contract award without reference to its Finance and General Purposes Committee that is a Sub-committee of the Council.
“In this case, the Council sat as a full Council and delegated its investigative power to a Sub-committee of Council. The only issue that has to be cleared or verified is whether the composition of the full Council satisfied the intention of the legislature which is that the Council Committee must have at least three members of Council and two members of Senate.
“The Council sitting as a whole has fifteen Council members and four members of the Senate. This means that Council sitting as a whole fulfils the conditions that there should be three Council members and two members of the Senate in the Committee.”
The pro-chancellor also said Mr Ogundipe was granted a fair hearing before he was removed.
“… after the allegation was made against the Vice-Chancellor, a copy of the Dagari’s report was sent to him on the authority of the Council by the Pro-Chancellor. He defended himself in a letter dated 13th May 2019 which was made available to Council members. He also orally addressed these allegations at a Council meeting held on Thursday, 13th May 2019. This definitely constitutes fair hearing under the law.
“Contrary to the assertion made in certain circles that the issue of disciplining the Vice-Chancellor was not in the Agenda of the meeting, the Notice of Emergency Council Meeting at which the Vice-Chancellor was removed stated categorically that the report that led to his removal was going to be discussed at the Council meeting.”
However, a number of people and organisations appear unimpressed by these explanations and similar ones.
The UNILAG Alumni Association, led by John Momoh (a member of the Governing Council), insists the processes adopted in removing Prof Ogundipe and appointing Prof Soyombo as acting vice-chancellor are faulty.
“Without prejudice to the general powers of the University Governing Council to appoint and remove a Vice-Chancellor under the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 (No. 1 2007), and without apportioning any blame to either the Governing Council or the Vice-Chancellor, the University of Lagos Alumni is of the view that before the Council can exercise such powers, It must follow due process, particularly as mandatorily provided under section 3(8), (9) and (10) of the Act in the removal of the Vice-Chancellor and Section 3(13) in the appointment of an acting Vice-Chancellor
“Therefore, the Alumni counsels the Governing Council that the status quo ante the Council meeting of Wednesday, 12th August 2020, be restored while the Alumni continues with its efforts at ensuring that lasting peace and harmony reign on the Campus as between the Council and the University Management in particular, and all sections of the University community in general, including the Senate, students, staff, all Associations, particularly ASUU, NASU, SSANU, NAAT, etc,” the UNILAG Alumni Association said in a statement on Saturday morning.
Mr Momoh, the chairman of Channels Television, attended the August 12 Governing Council meeting and is said to have voted for the removal of the vice-chancellor.
Mr Momoh could not be reached for comments Saturday afternoon. He did not answer or return calls and is yet to respond to a text message sent to him.
Credit: Premium Times