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UNILAG And Federal Ministry of Education, Hidden Politics

Since the attempted removal of Professor Toyin Ogundipe in 2020, University of Lagos sadly appears no longer to be the “pride of the nation.” The Babalakin-led Council documented allegations of financial recklessness against the VC and his management. On Monday 13th September 2021 Nigerians woke to media coverage of General Martin Luther Agwai’s Presidential Visitation Panel’s findings on the university. National Daily Newspapers – THISDAY, Punch, Vanguard, Guardian and Daily Trust reported that the Presidential Visitation Panel found Professor Ogundipe guilty of impropriety and more. The media reported that that panel concluded that Professor Ogundipe’s removal by Babalakin’s Council followed due process. However, on Sunday 19th September 2021, a strange press release purportedly issued by one Ben. Ben Goong, Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, began to make the rounds to the effect that the “syndicated” media report of 13th September 2021 was false. That press release stated that nowhere was Dr Babalakin’s Council was absolved of any wrongdoing nor was Professor Ogundipe indicted in General Agwai’s (rtd) Presidential Visitation Panel Report that was submitted to government. Several salient questions naturally arise from this.

Why did it take the Federal Ministry of Education an entire seven days to respond to the purported falsehood in the media in what evidently was breaking news around the country? Is the Ministry of Education trying to tell Nigerians that someone or a group of people were able to hoodwink, not one, but an entire class of frontline Nigerian media to publish false information that borders on national security? What does one make of those media reports that quoted directly from the reports and provided the exact pagination? Is it not strange that the Federal Ministry of Education is not interested in investigating this obvious breach? Government has not declared that the Department of State Services is investigating this purported falsehood.

These questions are very pertinent. THISDAY on 20th September 2021 has joined issues with the press release and suggests a cover up is cooking. Quoting liberally from the report, complete with pages, the newspaper insists it has seen the report and stands by its story. That is not all. The findings of the Special Visitation Panel set up by government to investigate the removal of the VC were very controversial. The Chairman of that Panel, Professor Tukur Saad, a former VC and Professor of Architecture wrote two separate letters, one to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu, Adamu, and the other to the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, expressing regret that he signed the report. He claimed in those letters that despite his Panel’s finding that Professor Ogundipe was guilty of contract splitting (an offence under the Procurement Act) his colleagues on the panel (mostly Professors like Professor Ogundipe and former VCs) preferred to write a one sided report where they absolved Professor Ogundipe and implicated Babalakin who he claimed was actually beyond reproach. Professor Tukur Saad appeared on Arise Television on Sunday 19th 2021 where he provided details of what transpired on his panel.

He told Nigerians that his panel was fundamentally conflicted. According to him, a member of his panel who was former VC of Cross River State University was also President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (Prof Comfort Ekanem Braide) that conferred a Fellowship on Professor Ogundipe. On account of this alone, he said she ought to have recused herself from the Panel. Professor Tukur Saad then dropped a bomb shell on national television-that there was nothing reported about General Agwai’s Presidential Panel’s findings of financial recklessness against Professor Ogundipe that his own Special Visitation Panel did not uncover.

Yet, it was based on this Special Panel’s Report that Professor Ogundipe was reinstated as VC of Unilag. Unfortunately, the Federal Ministry of Education did not publish that report. Still, its press release of November 2020 is very instructive: It claimed that the Special Visitation Panel was unable to determine the guilt or otherwise of Prof Ogundipe regarding Babalakni’s Council’s allegations. The Panel however found that Babalakin’s council did not follow due process and for that reason reinstated Prof Ogundipe pending when a Presidential Visitation Panel would be set up to determine whether Professor Ogundipe was guilty.

It is this same government that is now claiming that it did not mandate General Agwai’s Presidential Panel to investigate the allegations against Ogundipe. The Ministry spokesperson was on Channels Television on 20th September 2021 where he said that singing yet a new song: that the Special Visitation Panel completed work on the allegations and there could not have been a need for the General Agwai Panel to look into it again. But this is a patent lie. Government’s official press release of 2020 November claimed that investigation into Ogundipe’s allegation was inconclusive.

The question that has to be asked is who is shielding Professor Ogundipe and his management and why? Three separate government bodies have found him guilty of financial recklessness and corruption. Dr Babalakin’s Council was set up by the federal government, not the Unilag Alumni. Prof Tukur Saad was appointed chairman of the Special Visitation Panel by government, not ASUU. And at a time when the public was breathing a sigh of relief that we are finally approaching closure on this matter, government decides to be play dark silly games, claiming that the Presidential Visitation Panel Report that was submitted to it is different from what was reported.

Considering the damning revelations of Prof Tukur Saad in his letters and Arise TV interview, if government wants the public to believe it, it will have to publish the Report it has. The Presidential Panel members are still alive to verify their own findings. Anything short of this will not be acceptable to the public. Regrettably, it is not even Babalakin or Ogundipe that is poorer from all of this. It is the innocent students of this university. For now, the Society for Justice will remain ever so vigilant until justice is not only done, but seen to be done.

Oyetade wrote from Lagos

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