UNILAG crisis: SSANU writes Buhari to re-constitute visitation panel

August 24, 2020
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The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Visitor to the University of Lagos (UNILAG), to re-constitute the special visitation panel set up to investigate the crisis rocking the university.

In a letter written to the president, SSANU said it called for the review of the visitation panel to reflect neutrality, fairness and proper representation.

The union condemned the panel, insisting that the principle of natural justice was lost in the present composition of the visitation Panel.

In a letter dated August 24, 2020 and addressed to President Buhari, the union said: “While SSANU appreciates the prompt intervention of the Visitor in the ongoing crisis and the sincere efforts in nipping the crisis in the bud, the directives of the Visitor as contained in the Press Release have a further tendency to cause more crisis as issues bordering on due process and fair hearing have been trampled upon arising from the Visitor’s directives under reference.

“The crisis in the University of Lagos has the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as a major participant. Indeed, ASUU is the complainant in this matter.

“The composition of the Special Visitation Panel with a preponderance of Professors (ASUU members) is an indication that the decisions of the Panel would be tampered with by ASUU. The fact that they are former vice- chancellors also implies the tendency to protect one of their own – an embattled vice-chancellor.

“It is our informed observation therefore, that a fair and unbiased Panel, representative of all stakeholders in the University system should have included at least a retired Registrar, a retired Bursar, and a prominent individual with undoubted integrity, who should be a former Pro-Chancellor and not a Professor, as Chairman of the Panel. With the present composition and membership of the Panel, the Federal Government may have unwittingly handed over the Panel to ASUU to return victory to its member and condemn all others.

“SSANU therefore calls for a re-composition of the Panel to reflect neutrality, fairness and proper representation and not using ASUU to probe itself as the situation currently is. The principle of natural justice is lost in the present composition of the Visitation Panel and it is totally condemned by SSANU.”

On the directive recusing the Pro-Chancellor, Dr Babalakin from official duties, SSANU noted that President Buhari may have inadvertently fallen into the ASUU position of seeing Dr Babalakin as the problem of the University of Lagos.

The letter, signed by the Union President, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, said: “SSANU appreciates the intention of the Visitor by directing the recusal of the Pro- Chancellor and Professor Ogundipe from official duties during the period of the Visitation. It is assumed that the directive on recusal is to enforce peace in the University pending the outcome of the Visitation.

“SSANU however wishes to note that the Visitor may have inadvertently fallen into the ASUU position of seeing Dr Babalakin as the problem of the University of Lagos. To the best of our knowledge, the decision to remove Professor Ogundipe was a decision of Council and not Babalakin.

“It would have been fairer if the Visitor had directed the entire Council to recuse itself from official duties until the end of the Panel’s assignment than asking Babalakin alone to recuse himself.

“We wish to therefore observe that this directive personalizes the decisions of Council to Dr. Babalakin which in itself does not do justice to the issues on ground.”

The letter added: “SSANU while not unconcerned about the principles of natural justice i.e. fair hearing and due process in the removal of Professor Ogundipe as Vice- Chancellor of University of Lagos, is equally worried that the underlying allegations of fraud and corrupt practices seem to be lost due to technicalities.

“Government should be concerned that the major agitation of the loudest voices in the University system has always been that of poor funding of the University system. Ironically, those same voices use every tricks, threats and forceful actions to ensure that corrupt practices that fritter away the meagre resources allocated by Government are covered up, while perpetrators are allowed to escape.

“This is reflective in the actions of the ASUU Branch of University of Lagos, pre-emptively ensuring that the Governing Council of University of Lagos would not sit to take decision on the alleged infractions of Professor Ogundipe, by threatening the Pro-Chancellor not to step into the University of Lagos, and declaring him persona non grata.

“This violent trend is only a stock in trade of ASUU to cover up its own and has been witnessed in many universities where allegations of financial improprieties have been levelled against Vice-Chancellors. It would be recalled that the Autonomy Act was brought into being by acceding to the demands of ASUU.

“This Act has however caused ASUU to hijack Council with a majority of Council members being its members thereby rendering the Federal Government powerless in the running of the Universities. Only Universities with strong-willed Pro-Chancellors have a semblance of Councils. Others are at the whims and caprices of vice-chancellors once they have the support of ASUU.

“This is the reason for the loud complaints of ASUU where such strong-willed pro-chancellors exist. to allow the status-quo to remain would be sounding a death knell for the university system.”

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