It takes a sense of honour to decide to leave a high public position simply because it is the honourable thing to do. Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) demonstrated a sense of principle and a sense of honour by resigning as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) following his objection to the operation of the seven-member special visitation panel set up by the Federal Government to review the actions of the governing council under him.
The governing council had announced the removal of the vice chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, “based on investigation of serious acts of wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office, ” and named Prof. Theophilus Omololu Soyombo as acting vice chancellor.
These actions were undone by the Federal Government in a statement on August 21 directing Babalakin and Ogundipe to “recuse themselves from official duties” pending the outcome of the panel’s probe.
The panel was to review the report of the council sub-committee on review of expenditure of the university since May 2017 and make appropriate recommendations after affording all those indicted an opportunity to defend themselves; examine the steps taken by the council leading to the removal of Ogundipe, and ascertain whether due process was followed as stipulated in the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2003, and the principle of fair hearing adhered to; and determine whether the process (if any) leading to the appointment of Soyombo was consistent with the provisions of the enabling Act.
Also, it was to make appropriate recommendations including sanctions for all those found culpable by the special visitation team on the allegations contained in the report as well as other subsequent actions arising therefrom; and make any other recommendations that will assist the government to take decisions that will ensure peaceful, stable and effective administration of the university.
He listed the major reasons for Ogundipe’s removal: Corruption and financial recklessness; Forgery; Complicity in the collapse of the university library and planned cover up; Deliberate policy of wrongfully concealing information; Depriving the Faculties in the university of funds; Concealing and distorting finances of the Internally Generating Units of the university; Undermining the academic process and seeking to appoint a professor by fiat; Siphoning of the university’s funds through dubious contract awards; Undermining the office of the Registrar; Failure to follow due process in organising the university’s convocation ceremony; and Sponsoring or acquiescing in the unconstitutional actions of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos chapter.
Apart from resigning as pro-chancellor of the university, a position he had occupied since May 2017, Babalakin also resigned as Chairman of the Federal Government Negotiation Team on the Agreement reached with university unions in 2009, a position he had occupied since January 2017.
Considering that his position as head of the negotiating team, which preceded his role as pro-chancellor, was not threatened, it is a reflection of his sense of honour that he chose to leave that position as well.
It is a testimony to his reputation for performance that he was considered suitable for these positions connected with the university system in Nigeria: Pro-Chancellor, University of Maiduguri (2009 – 2013); Chairman, Council of Pro-Chancellors of all Federal Universities (2009 – 2013); Chairman, Federal Government Implementation Team of the 2009 Agreement (2009 – 2013); Chairman, Federal Government Negotiation Team of the 2009 Agreement (from 2017); Pro-Chancellor, University of Lagos (from 2017).
Before the visitor’s intervention, and the investigation by the visitation panel, Babalakin had argued that, under the relevant Universities Act, the visitor had no role in the removal of vice chancellors, which he said was within the powers of the governing council.
Indeed, this is the crux of the matter. Ogundipe’s removal and Soyombo’s appointment, which the panel was set up to probe, “deal with the interpretation of the laws of the land,” Babalakin said in his resignation letter.
“The appropriate forum to determine the laws of the land is a court of law or a judicial tribunal. It cannot be determined by academics of a different discipline no matter how distinguished. These terms of reference are ultra-vires the visitation panel as constituted,” he added.
This means that the panel’s report concerning the removal and appointment should not be expected to provide an authoritative guide on the interpretation of the relevant Act because it cannot do so. It also means that there is a need for an authoritative interpretation.
Initially, Ogundipe had gone to court to challenge his removal by the governing council, but later withdrew the case. A judicial interpretation may well be necessary to clarify the relevant Act.
It is thought-provoking that there is a disagreement on the interpretation of the Act on which the governing council under Babalakin based its removal of Ogundipe. Since there is such a fundamental disagreement, it is not enough to leave the interpretation of the Act to the visitation panel as constituted. Babalakin’s resignation highlighted the need for judicial clarification.
The point is that if there is no clarity regarding the powers of the governing council, the kind of crisis that necessitated this special visitation panel at UNILAG could recur in other federal universities.
The authorities should give serious consideration to Babalakin’s argument for a judicial tribunal to authoritatively interpret the Act and clarify the powers of the governing council. It is noteworthy that the Chancellor of the university, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai Al Amin El-Kanemi, was quoted as saying in a letter addressed to the minister, that there were “too many vested interests in this matter, who are not approaching the issues objectively.”
Babalakin has chosen to “stand by principle” and “bow out in honour.” Should he have waited for President Buhari’s decision on the matter based on the visitation panel’s report?
From the time the panel was set up, he has consistently maintained that it could not determine the questions of law and interpretation central to the matter.
His resignation reflects his consistency, which should prompt a different approach to resolving the crisis.
Why Buhari can’t forgive Fani-Kayode, by Tunde Odesola
Opinion: Nigerian embassies of shame by Tunde Odesola (2)
(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, September 20, 2021)
With a tongue roughly twice the length of its body, and a brocade of dubious colours for skin, the chameleon is the ultimate invisible animal predator.
Without premonition, small creatures like worms and insects searching for daily bread disappear suddenly into the Bermuda Triangle in the belly of the dodgy chameleon via a sticky, snappy tongue.
Like worms and insects, in June 2021 alone, 1,032 Nigerians met sudden death in the hands of gunmen and kidnappers across the country, according to a fresh security report.
Approximately, the 1,032 casualty figure translates to 34.4 wasted lives per day, excluding deaths by sicknesses, auto accidents, extrajudicial killings, ritual killings, etc in a peaceful country in pieces.
Home or abroad, the fate of the average Nigerian is mournful.
Home-based Nigerians are plagued by physical and psychological deaths just like Nigerians abroad are not spared psychological torture and humiliation in Nigerian embassies.
The overwhelming corruption yet pervading most Nigerian embassies despite numberless media reports in the last six years attests to the failure of the retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari led-regime in curbing dishonest dealings that have cemented the green passport in the hall of infamy.
Lamenting the nasty treatment she went through in the hands of officials at the Nigeria High Commission in the UK, a registered nurse, Kemi Samuel, who has lived in England for over three decades, said she suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder whenever she visited the commission.
A registered nurse with more than 30 years under her belt, Samuel recalled that every Nigerian in England, notwithstanding their locations, was required to physically come to obtain visas, renew passports or get new ones.
Samuel explained that it was ridiculous that she renewed her 10-year British passport within two hours at Her Royal Majesty Passport Office, Globe House, London, while she laboured to renew her five-year Nigerian passport after visiting the high commission on seven different occasions.
She said, “If you want your British passport to be done as an emergency, you need to visit the passport office, but if you want to follow the normal process, it will arrive in your mail within four to five days.
“The reverse is the case in the Nigeria High Commission, where officials allow applicants to shunt the queue after bribing them. The officials were nasty to young and old, and they’ve no regard for children, women and the physically challenged. I was breastfeeding my baby and I had to leave my work each time I visited, meaning that I was losing money.
“In 1997, an immigration officer wanted to steal my passport at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. He hid my passport among the documents he was clutching and he said I didn’t give him my passport, and he was trying to walk away. I raised my voice and told him to bring out my passport from among the papers in his hands.
“In 2010 when I wanted to renew my passport, they said there were no booklets from Abuja, so I had to use my British passport.
“Between February and August of 2016, my daughter and I visited the high commission over 20 times to renew our passports! Nigerians came from other European countries to renew their passports, too.
“There was the pitiable case of a female Nigerian student who needed her passport to renew her studentship. She said that was the 11th time she had come to the commission.
“When we got to Nigeria, the carousel didn’t work as there was no light at the airport, prompting passengers to use the light of the phones. All that was strange to my daughter who suddenly felt pressed to use the toilet. She ran out of the toilet when she saw heaps of maggots.”
A Nigerian resident in Houston, Texas, who doesn’t want his name in print, lamented that he was asked to pay an unreceipted $20 as car park fee at the Nigerian embassy in Atlanta, Georgia.
The 50-year-old applicant, who is from southern Nigeria, said, “The embassy won’t process applications for more than one year, and after the expiration of one year, the applicant will be required to pay a fresh $195 as passport fee. Since it was the embassy that failed to produce passports as and when due, applicants should not be made to pay twice for passports.”
Nicknamed BB, the sad Nigerian also alleged that his online application was changed and ‘sold’ by embassy officials to another applicant who had bribed them.
“I picked up my American passport that can enable me to enter about 200 countries visa-free in my mailbox. I don’t know why my Nigerian passport, which nobody wants to see, is so problematic,” he said.
Complaining about the terrible treatment meted out to visa and passport applicants at the Nigeria High Commission in London, a Nigerian, Sunday John, said applicants were never given appointment when they apply online.
He said, “They won’t give you an appointment when you apply online because they make money by giving appointments to those who have bribed them.
“Passport fee is 75 pounds but they will charge you between 300 and 700 pounds through the backdoor. I refused to pay, and I’ve since not been able to take my wife and three children to see my mum in Nigeria.
“I wanted to open a business account but because I’m not British yet, my nationality was required. The non-issuance of a passport to me has put the business I’m planning to do on hold. I’ve vowed not to bribe them because if I do so, I’ll be encouraging corruption. Sadly, other African nationals in England get their passports in a matter of days.”
Sharing his ordeal, another Nigerian, Mr Frederick Oluwole, who has lived in New York for over 30 years, said passport production at the Nigerian embassy in Manhattan was delayed because of lack of ‘nylon’ covering for passport pages.
Oluwole said, “They took my unsigned money order from me. They didn’t allow me to write my name on it. What they would later do is to write their own name on it and collect the money on the order, and pocket it.
“They talk down on you as if they’re doing you a favour. An official had to fly to Nigeria to bring common ‘nylon’ which could have been sent through courier.”
It’s the same hopeless song in Ottawa where the Nigerian embassy in Canada is located.
Narrating his nightmare, a Nigerian, Valentine Abiodun, disclosed that calls to the embassy were never picked.
“When someone eventually picked my call after weeks of calling, I told him I had been calling the embassy repeatedly, the officer said he travelled. I was shocked, and I told him the embassy wasn’t a private business that should be held up by an official.
“I told him I had sent in my passport for renewal. He told me they’ve not received it. Because I was tracking the passport, I told him who received it at the embassy.
“Then, he said I should call back. When I called back, he said he had seen it, adding that he would stamp and send it to me through mail. I said he shouldn’t. By 2am that night, I got a car and travelled down to Ottawa, getting to the embassy in the morning to pick my passport.”
A young Nigerian living in Mississauga, Ontario, Emmanuel Ogunlade, said he just received his renewed passport, which he had been processing since January 2020, two weeks ago.
Ogunlade said, “It was a terrible experience. I travelled to the Nigerian embassy, Ottawa, a journey of 427km, thrice after uncountable calls that were not answered before my passport was renewed even as I paid $23 twice for prepaid envelopes. They sent an email saying that they’ve sent my passport to me, but it was false. They later admitted they’ve not sent it.”
An anonymous female resident of Dubai said Nigerians now go to Abu Dhabi from Dubai to obtain their passports because of the hardship encountered at the Nigerian embassy in Dubai.
Uhhmm, Nigeria, under Buhari, is rich in corruption, home and abroad.
Facebook: @tunde odesola
Opinion: Nigerian embassies of shame (1) by Tunde Odesola
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