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University of Lagos: Smeared but not sinking

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UNILAG

I walked through the main gate of the University of Lagos into its expansive belly sometime in April 1982 and for those 37 plus years, I have remained glued to and consequently appreciative of its values, culture and norms with religious flavor.

In the almost four decades, I have taught Kings and Queens, Governors and Governed and have discharged my duties with the dexterity of an overzealous establishment officer. I have, in those long years seen the University as a second home and a place that has consumed the largest chunk of my productive years.

I have no iota of regrets because the relationship has been constructive and mutually beneficial to the extent that if I have the opportunity of an encore, I shall not hesitate to reinvent and rewrite the history with all its commas and full stops intact because the truth is that the University of Lagos is simply an institution that does not promote mediocrity and indolence.

In UNILAG, there is zero tolerance for impunity. It is in view of the aforementioned that the recent power struggle at the institution is creating room for concern.

What went wrong this time around? Your guess is as good as mine but what is incontestable is that there is power play, egocentricity and intense display of meanness and deft political maneuvering at the highest level of the beloved institution.

One couldn’t have imagined that the fifty seven year old university’s cherished name would be thrown into the murky waters of politics like a derelict babe of strife with little cognizance to its image, its brand and its future. The badge for this bunch of mistakes may be placed on the chest of the Governing Council for daring to tolerate and therefore get enmeshed in the skirmishes.

Like the struggle for the Royal stool in our traditional setting, the position of the Vice- Chancellor usually creates a thick divide in the University with the losers throwing magnanimity aboard while opting for skirmishes, bickering, hatred and intense show of naked disobedience to the authority of the person who is finally selected for the job. This movie like drama would last until the mid-term of the incumbent.

However, like the bull fight in a Roman amphitheater, the emperor watches the game from a comfortable cushion because if he dare descend to the main arena, he might be injured in the process. It is in this regard that a wise Governing Council must keep the politics at arms length and face its assignment in a linear form.

Otherwise, it will find itself playing the role of a pawn in the chessboard and soiling its garment in the long run. This, in my modest opinion is where the present Council of the University of Lagos has gaffed and hence one would advise its henchmen to tow the line of finesse in the similitude of Mr. Afe Babalola, Professor Jerry Gana and the late Dr Gamaliel Onasode who presided over the same council successfully.

The aforementioned, rumpus is more of a routine in all universities all over the world but the reason for the “ silent- shout” in most places is that the leadership is able to differentiate between facts and fictions. The Governing Council that loves itself with not dabble into the noisy terrain. The NUC and other agencies know better because if they have to pay attention to the “unnecessary storms” they may be preoccupied with that for twenty four hours of the day, thereby, ignoring their main assignments.

The profundity of the political intrigues within the system could be comprehended from the willingness of two people to spend a whooping sum of almost one million, six hundred thousand Naira on a newspaper advert, when indeed a letter to the authorities concerned should have sufficed. It should be noted that this amount of money could conveniently pay the salaries of at least three professors in a month. So, who is deceiving who?

The publications in the Guardian Newspaper of Wednesday June 26, 2019 titled “THE UNILAG CRISIS: SAVE UNILAG FROM SINKING” which claims to emanate from concerned stakeholders, in structure, content and substance speaks volumes of the affiliation of the authors. It may not be necessary to request for the identification of these “Stakeholders” because the mood in the University today is that hardly will you come across anyone in the University who is not sympathetic with the Management over the Council and also, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t believe that the procedures are being by passed by the Council. There are two key characteristics of the average UNILAG PERSON that I have known for the almost four decades that I have worked in that system and that is, whatever the situation the procedure must be respected.

The slogan “ if you are not sure, you must decide in favor of the student “is a clear example of how the system works in that university. Unilag has zero tolerance for impunity- no matter what. It is almost impossible to lead people by the nose at the University of Lagos.

What are the lessons to learn from all these? First, the Management and the Governing Council should sheath the swords and retreat from the battleship for the welfare of the system. The Management led by the Vice Chancellor should realize the enormity of its responsibilities and its attendant political consequences.

In this regard, I will borrow some words from the Yoruba lexicon “ Bi oriba ti to ni o se nfo olori “ literally meaning “ headache is usually commensurate with the size of the head”. The Vice Chancellor should remember that it is not every insinuation that requires response.

The Yoruba proverb says “Bi ikabaroejo, ikakoniyio da” literally meaning “allegations from the wicked need not be decided by a wicked judge”.

In a country where a return ticket ranges between seven hundred and fifty thousand and two million Naira depending on the class of the seat for those traveling to the United States of America and a manageable hotel accommodation costs between one hundred and fifty pounds and five hundred pounds in London, one wonders how long it takes to expend fifty seven million Naira on a dozen members of Management of a university.

Moreover, what period is covered by the amount spent? Is it a once and for all expenditure or money expended over a long period of time? How many officers spent fifty seven million? These are very simple arithmetic that poverty of the mind may not allow to see the light of the day. Are these trips for jamborees or strict official duties. Any member of the senate of the University of Lagos knows that some of these visits attracted huge fund to the university in millions of American Dollars and Euros as being reported from time to time at Senate meetings. Therefore, the Management of the university should only respond to those who are empowered to raise queries and ignore the rabble rousers.

The Council should dust the regulations governing its responsibilities to the University and cooperate with the Management and vice- versa for optimum results for the system. It is antithetical to the Public Service procedure for Junior Officers to form a panel to try their Superiors.

There are at least two Professors, apart from the political ones and those affiliated to the Management, in the Senate who would have Presided over such a panel. Why a Senior Lecturer who is also almost a neonate in Accounting Principles and Procedures? In that Council today is, if I am not going to be immodest, the most respected professor of Accounting in Nigeria today.

Why choose a Senior Lecturer in Pure Science over such an erudite professional? Why? No wonder the panel recommended that the Pro Chancellor should chair the Tenders Board contrary to the guiding rules? The Council seems to be preoccupied with creating crisis by its love for hear say and rumor mongering rather than policy formulation and oiling engines for driving the university to take its rightful place in Africa and the world. Two productive years of the university life have been wasted to this negativities. It is time to heal the wounds and this lies in the hands of the Pro Chancellor who should immediately without further delay close the leaking pipes and charge after the Council work without distractions.

Mistakes have been committed, errors made but there is need to heal all wounds. For the first time in my thirty seven years career as a Lecturer in the university, the Pro- Chancellor of UNILAG delivered its address during the Convocation Ceremony and returned to his seat without a standing ovation from members of the Senate on the same podium with him. This speaks volume about the situation.

The joy in all these is that the institution of the university of Lagos is too strong to sink because of issues of misunderstanding and lack of appreciation of office designations but enough of splashing the image in mud because of a storm in a teacup.

Ojikutu, wrote from Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.


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