LASU: Arresting The Drift Towards Authoritarianism By Adewale Agbaje
The continued spate of degeneration in academic administration in the form of widespread infractions and impunities by management and governing councils in many universities across Nigeria is indeed disturbing and precarious for the country’s university system specifically, and societal progress in general. In many universities, the administrators (Vice Chancellors in particular) repeatedly ignore and violate statutory university laws and regulations in their day-to-day running of affairs. These include illegal appointments, unmerited promotions and punishment of academic and non-academic staff, as well as undeserved appointments of their cronies into administrative and other positions on the basis of favouritism and nepotism. They also mismanage university funds with reckless abandon and unrivalled rapacity. There are numerous unpleasant stories especially in state universities about the mismanagement of various funds, leaving one to wonder why the disbursing agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission have continued to look the other way if indeed there are no insider collusions as the public is made to believe.
Increasingly, university administrators are showing lower tolerance level for checks by labour unions, thereby curtailing the freedom needed to play their legitimate role as watchdogs and stakeholders for efficient administration, staff welfare, academic excellence, and community and national development. In fact, many of the VCs see the unions as distractions and undesirable elements that should be rendered comatose or decimated completely through various oppressive strategies such as unwarranted queries and dismissal of steadfast union leaders. This is even more so where efforts to compromise and co-opt the unions have failed. In some cases, some unions easily capitulate for pecuniary benefits or as part of fallouts of the politics of opportunities and cronyism.
In all these, many university governing councils are not exonerated but are in fact often complicit. Whereas the governing councils are statutory bodies appointed by the visitors i.e governors and the President to oversee effective and progressive administration of state and federal universities respectively, many operate as collaborators and willing tools for the self-centred, corrupt and oppressive policies of the Vice Chancellors.
At present, the Lagos State University, Ojo, presents a classic case of a university wholly permeated and bedevilled by abysmal maladministration, corruption, naked violation of university principles and rights of workers. Impunities, infractions and show of shame in LASU especially under Dr Olanrewaju Fagbohun’s administration are legion and threatening academic excellence, university culture, peace and progress. Recently, LASU’s ASUU Financial Secretary, Comrade Hamzat Edu, was queried for expressing his view about accusation against Dr Fagbogun of aiding former NUC Executive Secretary, Prof Peter Okebukola, conceal an age falsification case. Premium Times had alleged with details that the VC connived with the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Prof Adebayo Ninalowo, to make illegal withdrawals of over N600m from LASU Pension Funds ostensibly for NUC accreditation of courses but diverted N198m to purchase luxury cars for top university officials including Ninalowo. The defence of the university is that the state government did not release accreditation funds on time. It offered no explanation as to why the money was diverted to buy luxury cars.
What has followed are desperate measures to gag members of staff suspected to have leaked this infraction to the public through a new policy of oath of secrecy. The frenzy to create a culture of silence and fear in LASU has become so palpable that those who witness on a daily basis the ongoing illegalities are unable to expose them.
This effort by the administration of Dr Fagbohun and the immediate past council raises the question of why the university is desperately seeking to conceal information if indeed all is well with the university. An additional question is, did the Lagos State Government make a budget for LASU accreditation exercise in 2018? If it did, why did the Fagbohun administration and Ninalowo-led governing council illegally take LASU pension funds?
It must be emphatically stated that to take the hard-earned pension savings of toiling workers for any purpose including the purchase of exotic cars, especially by a supposed professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not only wicked, condemnable and illegal but an egregious moral sin. Sadder still is the fact that Prof Ninalowo presumably has his own pension savings secured in his place of employment but had no scruples in violating the financial rules of the university by granting executive approvals.
There is need to note that Dr Fagbohun’s vice chancellorship was bound to be problematic from inception having been conceived and delivered in circumstances that now appear to be illegitimate. It is this self-imposed legitimacy crisis that motivated his strategy of deploying his office to silence contrary views, particularly those concerning his qualification, conduct and integrity. This was exactly his response sometime in 2018 when LASU’s ASUU sent a petition requesting the governing council to investigate the illegal backdating of his unmerited promotion to full professor from May7, 2014, the real date of conferment, to October 1, 2008 unilaterally by the former registrar of the university, Mr Akinwunmi Lewis. The VC connived with the Ninalowo-led governing council to ensure that the matter was not investigated but instead the governing council backed the VC to query the secretary and assistant secretary, who signed the petition on behalf of the Union. The duo, alongside the treasurer, who had earlier written to the management over her delayed promotion, were recently summarily and unjustly dismissed after a laughable and predetermined trial over “illegal possession, retention and circulation of official documents”. This is a classic case of impunity with audacity.
In summary, it is certain that regardless of Dr Fagbohun’s crackdown on contrary views in a desperate bid to conceal the litany of infractions and impunities by the university administration under him, he will ultimately be brought to account sooner than later. However, it is essential for the visitor, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to act swiftly and effectively in order not to allow a misinterpretation by the public that he is complicit in the degeneration of LASU under the current VC and the legacies of the immediate past governing council.
Instituting a visitation panel in LASU as entrenched in the university laws is a good way to start addressing the situation. It is unfortunate that the past state administration failed to follow the law, which requires that there be a visitation once in at least five years. The last visitation to LASU was in 2009 under former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola.
Governor Sanwo-olu needs to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law by setting a visitation panel of eminent and knowledgeable persons to look into the affairs of the university. This should then be followed with the constitution of a credible governing council that is capable of calling an errant Vice Chancellor to order rather than conniving with it to cover up iniquities and cow dissenting voices.
Agbaje is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos.