LASU VC Crisis: Fresh Controversy As New Governing Council Begins Selection Process

The inconsistency on the part of the newly constituted seven-man joint senate and governing council selection committee for the 9th substantive vice-chancellor of the Lagos State University(LASU), Ojo, has opened fresh controversy in the unending crisis that has, for many months, continued to trail the process.

Many, who may have thought the appointment of a new governing council chairman, David Sunmoni, would address the controversies surrounding the selection process, may well be having a rethink.

This is because some of the accusations against the dissolved Adebayo Ninalowo-led council have also resurfaced against the new committee.

Mr Sunmoni, a retired auditor-general in the state, is now being accused of “working to a predetermined answer.”

The new accusers are prominent lecturers on the campus and some professional colleagues of one of the popular candidates in the contest, Olumuyiwa Odusanya, a professor of public health.

The new development is not unconnected to the first set of criteria earlier set by the new selection committee which had nullified holders of medical fellowship degrees from taking part in the new process.

The dichotomy between the medical fellowship and PhD degrees, among other reasons, had led to the cancellation of the first two selection processes. It also informed Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s decision to reconstitute the university’s governing council based on the recommendations of a visitation panel.

The panel had also recommended the suspension of the institution’s substantive registrar, Olayinka Amuni, for allegedly misleading the governing council in the selection process.

Mr Amuni’s offence, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was his failure to insist that the governing council should have elected and not selected its representatives on the selection committee.

However, the new selection committee, which declared a new process open with the advertorial placed in some Nigerian dailies on July 30, barred holders of medical fellowships from taking part in the process.

The committee under the leadership of Mr Sunmoni has three other members of the governing council as members. They are Hakeem Adetugbobo, Moronke Williams and Oluwakemi Kalesanwo.

The university’s senate had earlier elected Fidelis Njokanma, Adenike Boye and Joseph Olagunju, all professors.

Among other requirements such as 10-year-post-professorship qualification and 15-year-teaching experience, the advertorial also expressly prescribed a PhD degree, and for clinical lecturers, a newly introduced Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.

Following the committee’s refusal to buy his arguments on the need to include the medical fellowship as a valid requirement for clinical lecturers vying for the position, a former acting vice-chancellor and professor of medicine, Fidelis Njokanma, resigned his membership of the committee.

Mr Njokanma, a holder of medical fellowship, in his resignation letter cited “personal reasons,” for his action.

But his close associates told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Njokanma said his real reason was that “he could not be part of a process that would subject the university to public embarrassment.”

He has since been replaced by Rafiu Okuneye, a professor of physical and health education, who was elected by the Senate on August 10.

But PREMIUM TIMES learnt that all holders of medical fellowships who are members of the university’s Senate refused to participate in the election that produced Mr Okuneye. They accused the governing council of bias against their colleague.

Further findings have revealed that the development has further polarised the university along two lines of PhD holders and holders of medical fellowships.

Following the publication of what they described as the obnoxious criteria, the medical practitioners under the umbrella of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Medical Guild, and the university’s teaching hospital’s (LASUTH) chapter of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), publicly sought the intervention of the governor.

They also called on the wife of the governor, Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, a medical doctor, to save the profession from what they termed calculated attack.

In a paid advertorial published in a Nigerian daily, the groups jointly wrote that; “The LASU VC advert states that candidates “MUST” possess a PhD, the crafters of that criterion know that Professors being digital lecturers do not need to have the PhD and that the Clinical Fellowship is the highest academic and professional qualifications attainable in the clinical medicine in Nigeria.

“In addition, Professors of clinical medicine do not train PhD students, they do not supervise PhD but they train and supervise Clinical Fellowship candidates, through the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, as established by law (and her global equivalent around the world) as is the age-long tradition in clinical medicine. Therefore, the criteria that they MUST possess PhD or MUST have supervised PhD students is a deliberate attempt to unjustly disqualify ALL Professors of clinical medicine from seeking the office of the Vice-Chancellor of LASU.”

They also condemned the addition of “Doctor of Medicine (M.D) in lieu” to the requirements, describing it as laughable.

“This programme was only conceptualised recently and has not even gained wide acceptance. The M.D degree is supposedly designed to be a pre-Fellowship qualification and candidates of the M.D programme are to be supervised by Professors who MUST have had the Clinical Fellowship.

“In the light of the foregoing, it is clear that it is pure mischief to require a Professor to have a lesser qualification they have to be eligible to apply for the position of the VC. It is also preposterous to require a Professor of Medicine to have held an M.D degree for 10 years when we all know that the M.D programme only commenced a few months ago in institutions that chose to run them. This further confirms our position that the criteria were carefully written with the intent to exclude clinical lecturers,” the statement added.

As if that was not enough, the NMA President, Innocent Ujah, in his welcome remark at the 2nd Summit of Medical Elders Forum (MEF) in Abuja, recently, described the situation in LASU as worrisome.

Mr Ujah also raised concerns over the release of certain circulars by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), and the National Universities Commission (NUC), saying they were contradictory and form part of the reasons behind the disharmony in the nation’s health sector.

He said, “A circular from the Salaries and Wages Commission is coming out saying that there is no more CONMESS for doctors who are lecturers. Why is the doctor singled out?

“At the Lagos State University, a doctor with fellowship cannot contest vice-chancellorship. But he can be a professor. So, they are saying a professor can’t be a vice-chancellor. What kind of contradiction is that?”

Shortly after the publication of the medical doctors’ open letter to the governor, and Mr Njokanma’s resignation, the university’s governing council made a volte-face and published an addendum to the earlier criteria released for the vice-chancellorship position.

The addendum reads in part: “Possession of a Post Graduate Medical Fellowship is an acceptable qualification for candidates wishing to apply for the vacant position of Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University.

“For candidates in the Medical and Dental professions, supervision of PhD as earlier advertised is also not mandatory.”

Following the governing council’s turnabout, concerned individuals and groups have raised questions on what formed the new arguments that swayed the members to rethink.

One of those, who does not want to be quoted for fear of sanction, said; “Every well-meaning and right-thinking adult must now ask what exactly is happening in LASU? What is the real reason for the expensive cancellation of the two former processes for selecting a vice-chancellor? Why was the career of a young and active registrar suddenly put on hold, and conceivably in jeopardy?

“If it is true that the university’s substantive registrar was truly removed because he did not guide the first two processes aright, what is the acting registrar still doing in that position after causing the university to make an embarrassing ’roundabout’ and turn its face like a dog going back to its vomit?”

The source also asked the members of the selection committee ” to cover their faces in shame if they could not resign from their positions for causing the institution a public insult”.

“What new and brilliant argument suddenly convinced the committee to recognise the medical fellowship? Did the fellowship suddenly acquire a new status? Or were those who spoke of tele-guidance right all along? Now that we have come full circle to accepting the fellowship, does that not automatically validate the first selection process? These are serious questions begging seriously for answers,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the special adviser to Mr Sanwo-Olu on education, Tokunbo Wahab, whose office oversees the higher education sector, has said he would not comment on the matter until the whole process is completed.

He said the LASU governing council like the governing boards of all other tertiary institutions in the state has the prerogative to appoint the institution’s head without being teleguided.

“So I wouldn’t say more than that,” he said in a terse response to our reporter.

Since the exit of LASU’s 8th substantive vice-chancellor, Olanrewaju Fagbohun, the process of selecting his successor has been marred by controversies leading to the dissolution and reconstitution of the university’s governing council.

A deputy vice-chancellor, Oyedamola Oke, has also been elected by the university’s senate as acting vice-chancellor.

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