The appointment of Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello as the ninth substantive vice-chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU) has been a long and intriguing issue, which marked the climax of a 10-month journey that included the cancellation of two exercises.
On January 11, 2021, the tenure of the former VC, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, elapsed. The professor of Environmental Law and ex-Director of Research, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of Lagos (UNILAG), was appointed by former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu cancelled the process to select his replacement and ordered that a fresh start.
The directive of the visitor to the university followed stakeholders’ engagement, petitions and investigation of irregularities. The governor then asked Fagbohun to convene an emergency senate meeting to select the deputy vice-chancellor, who is not a candidate in the cancelled process, as acting vice-chancellor.
The senate was also asked to choose, among its members, a pro tem chairman to preside over the acting VC selection. However, in May, Sanwo-Olu, on the special visitation panel’s advice, fired the governing council and the Pro-Chancellor/Council Chairman, Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo citing flagrant violations of extant laws, breach of due process, and disregard for criteria guiding the nomination exercise. A new council was reconstituted. Given the task of interviewing a new VC. Members of the sacked council and the senate committee who participated in the two failed exercises were exempted. Similarly, the registrar and council secretary were directed to proceed on leave until the end of the appointment process.
The names of Prof. Olatunji-Bello and other candidates, Prof. Omotayo Awofolu and Prof. Senapon Bakare, were submitted for the position in order of ranking, respectively. Upon completing an interview process, Prof. Ibiyemi Bello emerged first based on merit, followed by Prof. Omotayo Awofolu, Prof. Senapon Bakare and Prof Tijani in that order.
Olatunji-Bello’s appointment followed her recommendations by the Joint Committee of Council and Senate of the institution per LASU law, cap 169 vol 7, laws of Lagos state. However, her appointment didn’t come without some resistance from groups that described it as a gross marginalisation of Lagosians and has pushed natives into sheer servitude, while others said she was appointed based on her husband’s influence on the governor, especially in connection with his second term bid.
Omo Eko Pataki, a pressure group, in a statement signed by its Trustee, Maj-Gen Tajudeen Olarenwaju (retd.), that the Lagos government of one size fits all policy of marginalisation of indigenes is pushing the natives further into an enclave of sheer servitude, adding that the unwholesome decision of the government, will not stop them from speaking out.
“Omo Eko Pataki will never be blackmailed or threatened into silence. We will continue to defend and protect the collective heritage and the dignity of our people against the ravages of the scourge of aliens,” he stated.
He said Sanwo-Olu’ administration is indifferent and contemptuous of the popular feelings of the indigenous community, adding that with the skewed decision to appoint Olatunji-Bello, a native of Ondo, as the VC of LASU, Lagosians were inflicted with an unpopular candidate far above well-qualified natives.
The Special Assistant to the Governor on Education, Tokunboh Wahab, told THISDAY that being tagged as “the commissioner’s wife” belittles her merit as a person.
“If we want LASU to be globally competitive, we need to put it on a global pedestal without sentiments. To attract the best, we must open your arms to the best,” said the governor’s aide.
“This project started last year, and the first process was cancelled by the visitor because the enabling law of LASU gave him the power to do it and what happened then was that there were applicants, and you set the benchmark,” Wahab further explained. “LASU is a creation of the law. The selection committee itself is a creation of the law, and that law says that the committee must be elected from the senate and external members of the council.”
He also mentioned that the committee had set a benchmark of 10 years for a professor, adding that one of the applicants with eight years interviewed and shortlisted was recommended to the visitor as one of those to be picked as VC.
“That deviates the whole process to start with. As if that was not enough. Then we had a deluge of petitions.
They gave us facts and details. As the visitor, the law also allows you to step in at that point. We looked at the mistakes. The petitions that came in. We asked the former pro-chancellor to go and do it properly,” he stated. “But he went back and convoked a meeting of the selection committee and did not rectify that from the first one, namely electing those three members from the other side to join those elected from the senate without getting the approval of the visitor against their own statutes.”
At that point, he revealed that the visitor said things were getting out of hand and had to invoke his power under the enabling laws of LASU.
“We set up a special visitation panel on the deadlock on the vice chancellorship. After about eight weeks, the panel led by Prof. Bamitale Omole came back with a far-reaching report that we should dissolve the council. So we dissolved the council. We also did our findings and realised that all the members of the council were at fault,” he added. “The arrowhead of that council was the pro-chancellor who didn’t stick to the laws. He was removed, and we gave them a new chairman, and we swore them in to start a new council. We also had the registrar, Olayinka Amuni to excuse himself until we complete this process.”
Wahab said those who applied for the VC seat were given a level playing field, irrespective of their creed or gender, adding that with the criteria set up was in line with the NUC requirements, even those with medical fellowships were allowed to apply if they met the required benchmark.
“For instance, the VC of OAU, Prof. Ogunbodede, is what NUC will cite as a standard example. He was a DVC in OAU, a fellowship holder. While he was a DVC, he applied for the VCship with a fellowship. He had to go to South Africa to do a PhD, came back to Ife, and today he is a VC,” said Wahab. “But for LASU, we can’t say we want to use the same yardstick holistically. According to the governing council recommendations, it is a five-year window even to get positions done properly. So let us allow our colleagues that are fellowship holders to apply. So they extended the window for about two weeks to accommodate everybody.”
Asked how the institution intends to address the issue of PhD and medical fellowship dichotomy, Wahab disclosed that the governor would, in the next six weeks, set up a full visitation panel for LASU, noting that the last one was set up 12 years ago.
“By LASU statutes, it should be every five years. So they are due for a full visitation panel, not just because the special panel set up on the issue of VC recommended it, but because of the division that we have also seen in the course of superintending over LASU in the last two years. Part of the reason why the visitor cancelled the first and second report was basically as a result of an allegation of bias and favouritism,” Wahab further stated. “The solution is for us to wait for that full panel to be set up. I believe that will be within the next six weeks. We want the new VC to settle in. Then the panel will come in and see how we can get the report.”
On the controversy surrounding what state the new VC is from, he said, “We are centre of excellence. Is she a Lagosian or not? Her mother is a Lagosian, and she is married to a Lagosian. On what basis should we close our doors to her after all the service she has rendered to the institution? We can’t get the best if we go on this trajectory. Our duty now is to put her on her toes to give the best.”
Bello has since assumed duty on September 20. She sought the support of both staff and students while promising a conducive learning environment, better welfare package, infrastructure, and revamping university scholars awards for them.
“I promised that your welfare will be paramount to me, and you will get whatever is due to you. Your welfare is important to me. We will ensure that the learning environment is conducive and competitive, and we will provide the infrastructure for you,” Bello stated. “We will also ensure the university scholars award is revamped. All university scholars will get a 50 per cent refund of their school fees yearly. We will also provide studentship employment opportunities.