After a year-long process that culminated in the dissolution of its governing council and two selection committees, a professor of Physiology, Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello, finally emerged the ninth vice-chancellor of Lagos State University penultimate week, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes
The race for the Office of LASU Vice Chancellor finally came to an end the penultimate week with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu appointing Prof. Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello. Sanwo-Olu, also the visitor of the 38-year institution, approved the appointment of Olatunji-Bello as the ninth VC of LASU based on the recommendation of the Sir David Sunmoni Governing Council.
Of the nine candidates that contested the race, only four were recommended as LASU vice-chancellor. Apart from Olatunji-Bello, the council recommended a professor at the Nambia University, Prof. Dideolu Awofoju; a former deputy vice-chancellor, LASU, Prof. Senapon Bakre and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Adeleke University, Prof. Ibikunle Tijani.
With Olatunji-Bello’s emergence, LASU, Nigeria’s best state university before it ran into crisis in 2020, can now return to the path of peace and progress after a crisis that marred the selection process of its ninth VC. The crisis erupted under the immediate past VC, Prof. Olarewaju Fagbohun (SAN), and the Chairman of its Governing Council, Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo.
At the tail end of Fagbohun’s administration, a Joint Council and Senate Selection Committee was constituted to steer the institution’s selection process of the ninth helmsman. But the first selection committee report stoked protest across all the strata of the university, especially among its academic and non-academic staff. As a result, both concerned stakeholders inundated the visitor of the university with diverse allegations bordering on comprise, manipulation, and imposition.
In a statement by its Secretary and Assistant Secretary, Dr. Tony Dansu and Dr. Adeolu Oyekan, LASU Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) alleged that the committee’s report was premeditated to favour Fagbohun’s anointed candidate. Besides, the process was riddled with irregularities, which violated the guidelines for the selection process published in select national dailies and the enabling law that established the university, said the union. On these grounds, the union requested the governor to save the university from plunging deeper into crisis.
After a thorough evaluation and investigation of all allegations, the visitor cancelled the first selection process mainly to avoid the crisis of confidence that might arise if the process eventually produced the ninth VC. He also directed the joint selection committee to initiate a fresh process that would last only for 45. Just a fortnight after the second process kicked off, crisis erupted again. This time, some academics under the aegis of Concerned Senior Academics of LASU petitioned the visitor of the university, pointing diverse infractions that the selection committee. In a two-page letter by Prof. Oladimeji Kolawole, Prof. Olalekan Jaiyeoba, and Prof. Adeleke Yusuff, the academics chronicled how Fagbohun and Ninalowo allegedly hijacked the second selection process.
They also explained how the second process was laced with compromise, errors and manipulation that would have grave effects on the institution if allowed. The senior academics concluded that the Council under Ninalowo could no longer coordinate the selection process fairly within the crucible of openness and transparency. They first explained how the council flouted a declaration of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) on the appointment of the VC. The declaration noted that no certificate “is at par with PhD.” By implication, they argued, recommending any candidate with a Postgraduate Medical Fellowship for the office of the VC is a violation of the declaration of the NUC since the fellowship is not equivalent to a PhD.
The senior academics also explained how Ninalowo resorted to victimising perceived critics among senior academics. They cited the case of Prof. A.O.K. Noah, who was dismissed at the governing council meeting on May 20, a day before the governing council under Ninalowo was dissolved. However, some council members resisted the resolution of the council and insisted on the reversal of Noah’s dismissal. They also accused Fagbohun and Ninalowo of financial recklessness, which plunged LASU into indebtedness to the tune of over ₦600 million. They equally frowned at Fagbohun’s decision to pay himself ₦29 million terminal benefits before he left office. This value did not include a sum of ₦28 million, which the institution owed Ikeja Electric. As a result, the institution could not pay full salaries for eight months in 2020.
With these allegations, Sanwo-Olu set a Special Visitation Panel led by a professor of International Relations and a former vice-chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Bamitale Omole. The panel submitted its report on May 10 with far-reaching recommendations, including the dissolution of the Ninalowo governing council, suspension of Lagos Registrar, and commencement of an entirely new selection process. Determined to end the standoff, Sanwo-Olu fully implemented the visitation panel’s report, starting with the constitution of a new governing council under the chairmanship of Sunmoni. Unlike its immediate predecessor, the new council discharged its mandate with little rancour. Eventually, the process culminated in the emergence of four candidates recommended to the visitor for the office of LASU VC.
From the list of four successful candidates submitted by the Sunmoni-led governing council, Sanwo-Olu picked Olatunji-Bello as the ninth VC of the university. Olatunji-Bello is a game-changer in the history of the university. First, she is the second female VC of the institution. Second, her appointment brought to the fore respect for affirmative action and gender inclusion, which further improved Sanwo-Olu’s public perception.
Now that a year-long standoff has finally ended, how does the new VC intend to place LASU on the map of the globe as a true citadel for the pursuit of the advancement of learning and academic excellence? What are her plans to improve the rating of LASU as one of Africa’s first-ten universities? How can she run the university seamlessly or without internal crises that ensue during the selection of a new VC?
Before her emergence, Olatunji-Bello contested the race on the strength of a six-point agenda, which indeed endeared her to the hearts of critical stakeholders. First, she promised to ensure that academic and professional programmes are and remain accredited by the relevant bodies. Also, she planned to make the university research, innovation, and development hub for Lagos State and national development. Olatunji-Bello equally envisions providing strategic infrastructure for the seamless performance of administrative and academic duties. Likewise, she pledged to improved internal revenue generation, which she argued, was key to achieving the financial sustenance of the university without losing focus on academic prowess.
Besides, Olatunji-Bello planned to promote the welfare of staff and students in the university, a thorny issue that has always been a subject of dispute between the unions and LASU’s management. Lastly, she promised to promote participation in sports and recreational activities, which have been at the hearts of all students for decades. Now that Olatunji-Bello has assumed office, the time has come to walk her talk. The time has come to set LASU on the path to academic excellence in line with the vision of its founding visitor and the state’s first civilian governor, late Alhaji Lateef Jakande. The time has also come for the new VC to begin aggressive implementation of her six strategic goals.
A review of her résumé shows that Olatunji-Bello, LASU’s first professor of Physiology, was tried and tested in different capacities. At the time of crisis between July 2010 and October 2011, for instance, she steered the university’s affairs in an acting capacity, midwifing a process that led to the emergence of Prof. John Obafunwa as the seventh VC and led the university out of a festering crisis that lasted months.
Olatunji-Bello, also twice served as the first female deputy vice-chancellor between 2008 and 2013, apart from being the first substantive head of the Department of Physiology, LASU College of Medicine, between October 2007 and December 2008. Just between her latest appointment, she was the LASU Directorate of Advancement (LASUDA) director established in 2016 to enhance the university’s self-sustenance and support its academic, research, and service goals. During her stint in the ivory tower, Olatunji-Bello has published 53 works to her credit. This figure does not include papers she presented at both local and international conferences. She also served the Physiological Society of Nigeria, International Union of Physiological Sciences and Association of African Physiological Societies in different capacities.
She is a member of the National Institute, a minister in the temple of God, and an ordained pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Currently, she is the area pastor in charge of the Testimony Chapel, under Lagos Province 1. Given this background, Olatunji-Bello is not just bringing her robust academic and administrative competence to steer LASU to the next level. She is also taking charge with her rich spiritual background, uncommon attributes needed to bring LASU from obscurity to the limelight at a time like this.