How Buhari visitation panel inducts Unilag VC, vindicates Babalakin-led board
The visitation panel set up by President Muhammed Buhari to probe the affairs of University of Lagos (UNILAG) aftermath disagreement between the then Governing Council led by Wale Babalakin and the management of the school has indicted the Vice Chancellor, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, a Professor of wrong doing.
In the final report of the panel submitted on September 7, 2021, to the Federal Government, and published by THISDAY on Monday, the report also exonerated the Babalakin led governing council of violating any of the university’s rules in carrying out the suspension of the VC.
The report, which examined the affairs of the university and issues that led to the crisis and concluded that all the allegations made by the then Babalakin-led Governing Council against the VC, Ogundipe were discovered to be true and substantiated, contrary to the position held by the initial special panel set up by the ministry of Education when the VC was removed by the governing board.
The seven-member Presidential Visitation Panel was constituted on March 29, 2021 and asked to look into the affairs of the institution between 2016 and 2020, which coincidentally covers the period that Ogundipe was VC, before he was removed by the governing council over alleged financial malpractices.
However, few months after the removal of the VC by the Babalakin board, Buhari approved the report of a Special Panel to the university, which had then recommended, among other things, the reinstatement of Ogundipe and also dissolved the Governing Council headed by Babalakin, who had earlier resigned his chairmanship. Following the special panel’s report, Ogundipe was reinstated to his position, which he currently occupies.
But the visitation panel report which is yet to be released officially revealed that Ogundipe could not provide any defence for his actions. It alleged that the UNILAG VC was involved in splitting of contracts.
“The explanations given were mere justifications to the breached contract tender processes that resulted in contract splitting, not out of ignorance of the requirements of the rules and regulations that have been substantively enacted,” the panel report stated.
The report highlighted many contracts that were illegally awarded by the Ogundipe-led management. It alleged that in violation of the Procurement Act, the management of UNILAG under Ogundipe regularly diverted, by way of Virement, the sum of N1.8 billion from the university’s recurrent expenditure to fund award of contracts, which were clearly illegal.
“The university operates a structured budget processing system. The budget process seems complete except that a bulk allocation of funds was made to each department, and they are each at liberty to allocate amount available as they deem fit. This is totally inconsistent with the structured process and needs to be revisited.
“The format of the periodic budget performance report presented to the Governing Council has major deficiencies. It lacks the critical aspect of good management information, performance review criteria and presentation.
“There is no section for the statement of financial positions that could have disclosed the fixed asset and all financial assets and liabilities of the university.
“It is half-baked reporting template used over the years for the quarterly financial reporting, however, it might not have been intentionally generated with the view towards hiding useful financial information from the Governing Council and the management of the university.
“We also noticed some inconsistency between the figures of the approved budget and that of the budget performance report. It points to the fact that subordinates are not being supervised as required. With a staff strength of 120, such errors should not be continuous and mistakes are not expected from the Bursary Department.
“The budget performance reports concentrated on the monetary aspect of operations and also failed to determine the variance between the budget and the actual performance of each critical areas of the university, which include direct teaching, research and human resource development,” a portion of the 241-page report read.
According to the panel findings, even the monthly donation of N500,000 to the Law Faculty by Babalakin for the purchase of law reports was diverted by the university management or the Faculty of Law by paying the sum into an unofficial account. This enabled the indicted officers to spend the money in a manner not authorised by the donor, it stated.
The visitation panel came to the conclusion that the Bursary of the University was characterised by concealment, fraud, misappropriation, misrepresentation, and incompetence.
Furthermore, the report revealed that the management under Ogundipe concealed the accounts of the university for over three years from the Governing Council, which under Section 7 of the University of Lagos Act, was statutorily conferred with the power of superintendence of the accounts of the university.
It said it was the insistence of the Governing Council to know the accounts of the university that led to the commissioning of the Professor Omolehinwa Committee, which unraveled the true state of affairs of the university.
“The decision arose from the findings of the Chairman of Council that the budget estimates submitted to the National Assembly and the one presented to the Finance and General-Purpose Committee was at variance and irreconcilable,” it stated.
The report also revealed that there were 29 income-generating units in the university, but for several years only 10 of these companies were reported in the books of UNILAG. The others were concealed and whatever these companies generated were not accounted for.
The panel also found that the books of the university were so poorly prepared and full of non-disclosures that it did not represent the true state of affairs of the university.
The panel report revealed that the bursar was not able to produce the ledger of the university for the entire duration of the panel sitting, even though they had requested same from the bursar at several times.
Similarly, the bursar was not even able to produce an approved budget for 2020, implying that all the expenditure made for the said 2020 were extra-budgetary payments.
In addition, the visitation panel said, “The Bursar was found to be very incompetent and did not demonstrate any capacity to handle the portfolio. The Vice Chancellor and the Bursar regularly diverted money of the university as shown in the consistent diversion of about N1.8 billion from recurrent expenditure to capital expenditure without approval.
“Virements of a total sum of N1, 858,458,137 were consistently made from recurrent votes to finance capital projects during the period under review. This is a major breach in budgetary control and has been consistent year to year.
“The practice is totally out of place in the budgetary system of financing operations, it results in killing activities that could have qualitative benefits in favour of capital projects that were not initially budgeted and consequently culminating in the sinking of scarce resources over a long period of time with low financial returns.”
The visitation panel in their findings noted that management did not play its conventional role of scrutinising the operation of the accounts of the university, alleging that the internal audit only functioned at the will of Ogundipe.
It said, “The internal audit section exists in the University of Lagos but does not seem to be functionally effective. There are summary reports on findings of the Internal Audit Department for the years 2016 to 2020 addressed to the Vice-Chancellor. The reports covered almost every section of the university.
“Based on our review of the External Auditors’ Management reports and our direct interactions with the Head of the Internal Audit: the internal audit does not cover final accounts; implementation of the internal audit recommendations is at the discretion of the Vice Chancellor; purview is limited to post transaction audit work on procurement, payment and payroll.
“Corrections are unilaterally done by internal audit without reverting to the originating unit; internal audit report to the Provost of the College of Medicine and Vice-Chancellor; there is no proof that the Audit Department has access to accounting software; and no evidence of existence of audit plan for year 2016.”
The visitation panel also found the internal auditors of the company incompetent.
The Babalakin-led council had appointed a seasoned accountant, Olutola Senbore and Co., to examine the books of the university. The Governing Council adopted the Senbore report but the university’s management refrained from utilising the report.
In this regard, the visitation panel advised that an international accounting firm should be appointed to straighten-out the books of the university.
The panel exonerated the Babalakin-led Governing Council of wrong doing in the removal of Ogundipe, and stated that the Council of the University properly indicted the VC and the principles of fair hearing were adhered to during his indictment.
The visitation panel also found that the removal of Ogundipe by the then council was consistent with the University Act, stating that the interpretation placed on the statutes by Babalakin is plausible. Even the management led by Ogundpe was aware that the interpretation was convincing and sought an amendment of the law, the panel noted.
It added, “The current wording of S3(8) seems to suggest that it is Council that determines or could determine the identity of the two senate members of the Joint Committee of Council and Senate. There is arguably an imprecision of language which does not augur well for good governance.”
The visitation panel further stated that it did not know the rationale for the conclusion of the Federal Ministry of Education that the appointment of an acting Vice Chancellor by the Babalakin-led Council was wrong.
The panel said it was at a loss as to how anyone could have come to the conclusion that Ogundipe was not given fair hearing or that the Babalakin-led Council breached any provisions of the law.
In the words of the panel, “This panel has not seen the report of the previous panel and, therefore, does not know the basis for the conclusion that ‘the process adopted by the Council in the appointment of Professor Omololu Soyombo as Acting Vice Chancellor of the university was inconsistent with the provisions of law relating to the appointment of the Acting Vice- Chancellor.”