The new acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Folashade Ogunsola, has her job cut out for her; and she seems ready for it. Well, we hope so anyway. As the first female to be appointed Vice-Chancellor, even in acting capacity, in the history of the 58-year-old institution, all eyes are on her. A former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and also Provost of the College of Medicine, of the university, there is no doubt that she has acquired all the skills and experience it takes to manage at the top – at least during normal times.
But these are not normal times. Not in the university. Not in the country. Not in the world. Events of the last few months (although many observers say the dispute between Pro-Chancellor Wale Babalakin and substantive Vice-Chancellor Toyin Ogundipe predates the botched March 2020 Convocation suspension when many of us became publicly aware of the frosty relationship between the two) have caused a lot of tension on campus and polarized the once bubbling ivory tower into different groups.
There were those who sided with the Pro-Chancellor while others were with the Vice-Chancellor. When the Governing Council appointed an acting Vice-Chancellor, it was also clear that another line was drawn, there as he also would have even in the one week he stuck in there, ‘acquired’ followers who would have pledged allegiance to him. The visitation panel appointed by the Visitor to probe the source of the crisis in the university has two weeks to do its work and report to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Visitor should not take too long to make his decision. Therefore, Professor Ogunsola should know she has a very short time to make an impact. If she does well, who knows! Under the current dispensation as acting Vice-Chancellor, she is there to bridge a gap. Even though she is acting, it is a new thing in Unilag for a female VC. Therefore, it is a first for the community. But she is not new to blazing the trail, having also been the first female Provost of the College of Medicine, in Idi-Araba.
She would do well to learn from the experience of several women who were Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian universities before her, including Grace Alele-Williams, the Mathematics professor who made history as the first Nigerian female Vice-Chancellor when she ran University of Benin from 1985 to 1991. The two women have a lot in common, haven both attended Queens College, Lagos and Prof Alele-Williams also taught in Unilag where she was appointed a professor of mathematics in 1976.
Professor Ogunsola should hit the ground running to mend fences, cultivate the co-operation of the Unilag Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, which is currently on strike with its national body, and the other unions like Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU and Senior Staff Association of Universities, SSANU. Luckily, ASUU seems to be in support of her appointment and she has proved before that she can be a go getter, and an achiever. ASUU Unilag Chapter described her election as acting Vice-Chancellor as a major step by the Federal Government to restore peace to the troubled institution. Outstanding issues like the suspended 2020 Convocation should be on her front burner, just as many of the private universities have done by going the virtual graduation route during this period in view of COVID-19.
Senate meetings can hopefully take place now to put things in place for the tertiary institution to run smoothly when government gives the go-ahead to reopen educational institutions. Acting VC or not, her performance in the next couple of weeks could serve to propel her to greater things. Reports from her election during the last Senate meeting show that she dusted her nearest rival for the position of acting VC by over 100 votes so she must have the academic community behind her. The Senate of the University had elected her last week from her position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Development Services as the institution’s acting Vice-Chancellor, as directed by the Visitor. Prof. Ogunsola is a professor of medical microbiology and the Governing Council of the University on Tuesday confirmed her appointment as the acting vice-chancellor of the institution.
While there are reports that a retired professor and former member of the Governing Council has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), accusing Professor Ogunsola and the substantive Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, of fraudulent practices, we do not expect that the acting VC would be distracted by any extraneous matters at this critical time. The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) has also criticised the way President Buhari appointed the visitation panel, saying that the membership of the seven-member visitation panel did not give hope for a fair judgement because the panel, whose members are mostly retired Vice-Chancellors, would likely tilt the scale of its recommendations to favour the suspended Vice-Chancellor. SSANU insists that: “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.” While calling for a fresh composition of the membership of the panel, SSANU suggested that retired registrars bursars be coopted, and that it should be chaired by a prominent Nigerian who is integrity personified. The Visitor did not seem to have reckoned with their grouse as the panel was inaugurated today in Abuja as planned by Education Minister Adamu Adamu. So, all systems go!
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.