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Cesspool of corruption at Nigerian universities

By Iyabo Lawal
12 April 2018   |   4:29 am
Justrecently, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre (HEDA) demanded the prosecution of the vice chancellor of the University of Uyo, Prof. Enefiok Essien, over alleged forgery and sexual assault.

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu

A recent report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has unearthed the rot in many of Nigeria’s higher institutions, highlighting an intricate collusion among staff, students and other stakeholders, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL

Justrecently, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre (HEDA) demanded the prosecution of the vice chancellor of the University of Uyo, Prof. Enefiok Essien, over alleged forgery and sexual assault.

The rights organisation’s agitation is a corroboration of the findings in the latest report of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). In the report titled, ‘Stealing the future: How federal universities in Nigeria have been stripped apart by corruption’, SERAP claimed that many allegations of corruption in federal universities – such as unfair allocation of grades; contract inflation; truncation of staff’s salary on the payroll; employment of unqualified staff; Senator Dino Melaye’s certificate scandal; examination malpractice; sexual harassment; and issuance of results for expelled student to graduate have not been thoroughly investigated.

SERAP noted that corruption and impunity in the university system have adversely affected the governance of federal universities and the quality of education received by students.

The report said, “There have been cases where staff used their official status to prevent the administration of justice in their units/departments; universities sometimes recruit mediocre or totally unsuitable candidates in preference to candidates of high merit. People with questionable degrees/qualifications paid bribes to get into the university system.”

In November 2016, a former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, was embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

With the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) hot on his heels, Ogunlewe had made a public statement thus: “I have decided to resign my appointment as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, with immediate effect. This is due to personal reasons. I sincerely thank the Federal Government for giving me the opportunity to serve.

The Federal Government should please accept the assurances of my best regards.”

He was appointed in February 2013 as the pro-chancellor of the university by Jonathan. But In less than three years, Ogunlewe was accused of being involved in an N800m financial scandal along with the institution’s vice chancellor, Prof. Olusola Oyewole and the Bursar of FUNAAB, Mr. Moses Ilesanmi – all facing 18-count charges bordering on conspiracy, stealing, obtaining money by false pretences and abuse of office.

SERAP case studies identified other cases of corruption in tertiary institutions to include “bribery to get a position; NYSC mobilisation before graduation; facilitating fake transcripts; short-circuiting employment procedures; auctioning university assets without authorisation; politicised disciplinary action; inflated contracts, admission irregularities and racketeering, result falsification; nepotism; sexual harassment; examination question leakages, abetting examination malpractices; and deliberate poor invigilation of examinations.”

The report added that there were several unresolved cases of diversion of university funds for personal use; embezzlement; mismanagement; unmerited allocation of hostel accommodation; discrimination in the allocation of staff quarters; certificate/transcript racketeering; improper use of university assets; inflation of cost of contracts; award of contracts to friends or relatives; and admission racketeering by non-staff.

Stakeholders in the education sector are delighted that the report has woken up the ICPC to beam its searchlight on the nation’s tertiary institutions.

Elsewhere in Ondo State, precisely, the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), the institution’s former vice chancellor, Prof. Adebiyi Daramola and bursar, Mr. Emmanuel Oresegun, were charged with allegation of corruption, fraud, and stealing of funds of the university totalling N156m. Already, the EFCC is prosecuting all the accused who though have denied the allegations levelled against them.

However, in the view of Chairman of the Committee of Deans of FUTA, Prof. Shadrack Akindele, the trial is an embarrassment.

Last year, the Federal Government, perhaps in a bid to ensure probity and transparency, had announced the suspension of Oyewole and Daramola.

A letter signed by the Acting Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Dr. Hussaini Adamu, noted that the two were suspended in connection with their ongoing lawsuits. They were instructed to hand over to the most senior deputy vice chancellors of their respective institutions.

In March 2017, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), a coalition of over 150 anti-corruption organisations, had urged the Ministry of Education to intervene in issues arising from the ongoing corruption trials of the embattled FUNAAB and FUTA vice chancellors.

In a petition addressed to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, CSNAC had warned that the continued involvement of the duo in the activities of their institutions might make a mockery of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s dedication to fight corruption.

But FUNAAB and FUTA are not alone in corruption scandals rocking Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

In August 2016, the University of Calabar suspended its bursar, Peter Agi, because of alleged fraudulent acts, forgery and threat to life. Following a panel of inquiry set up by the institution, it was decided that the bursar should stay away from the institution for a while.  In a letter of suspension signed by the Registrar, Moses Abang, the management of the institution said the bursar was guilty of impersonating UNICAL’s vice chancellor on an e-payment platform of the Central Bank of Nigeria, among other issues.

But the beleaguered bursar would not take that verdict lying down.
He had appealed his suspension – which he lost – at the National Industrial Court in Calabar, Cross River State. Not one to easily give up on a fight, Agi filed another application against his suspension at the Industrial Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police has begun investigating allegations of financial frauds against Agi.

Similar story is being heard at the Obafemi Awolowo University where a former vice chancellor of the university, Anthony Elujoba and his predecessor, Bamitale Omole, had the unenviable task of convincing the EFCC that they have always been above board.

Omole had received an unsettling invitation from the anti-corruption agency over allegations of fraud levelled against him by academic staff of the university. In 2016, a budget monitoring committee of the local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had accused the management of OAU under Omole of mismanaging N3.5bn intervention fund released to the institution for upgrade of facilities.

ASUU had accused the management of the university then of spending the said sum on hostel renovation and construction of new lecture theatres without observing due process and transparency.

The funds were part of the N100bn released by the Federal Government in 2013 to universities in response to agitations by ASUU for upgrade of facilities at federal tertiary institutions in the country.

But prior to the former vice chancellor’s invitation, Elujoba, and the university’s bursar, Aderonke Akeredolu, had been invited for questioning by the EFCC for allegedly diverting N1.4bn.
Perhaps aware of the financial rot in the country’s tertiary educational system, the Federal Government in December 2015 set up committees to investigate petitions against alleged corruption in some universities and polytechnics.

The investigations, the education minister said, was to “get to the root of the matter and ensure that justice is done”, and that it is seen to be done.

“The ministry decided to set up these 10 ad hoc fact-finding committees in response to petitions received from different stakeholders, within and outside the institutions, with variety of allegations bordering on irregularities, abuse of due process, mismanagement, immorality, fraud and corruption among others.

“I am sure you are all, no doubt, aware that some of the allegations and counter-claims made against the governing councils and managements of some of our institutions have created mistrust and hostility and hindered the smooth conduct of academic activities to the detriment of students,” Adamu had said.

In further show of intent to deal with misapplication of funds in the education sector, in February last year, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the stoppage of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s special intervention money given to the institutions across the country due to past abuses.

The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Abdullahi Baffa, said abuses of the funds had become rampant.

“In 2015, over N200bn was recklessly disbursed as special interventions to some few beneficiary institutions, while N50bn was shared among all institutions as normal interventions,” Baffa told journalists.

He added, “The funds were recklessly abused and begging to be saved because the priorities were inverted – it was turned upside down. We can’t afford to allow those who are entrusted with the business of keeping the funds to be the ones abusing the funds mercilessly.

“It’s not going to be buried under the carpet. We are going to ensure that this recklessness is investigated and that any wrongdoing and any misapplication be dealt with accordingly.”

So far, the Federal Government has been able to recover N74bn from the N200bn disbursed as special intervention fund and that investigation into the disbursement would soon commence. The special intervention funds were excluded in the 2017 intervention budget.

Weighing in on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, said, “In 2017, over N200bn was disbursed by TETFund to our universities. Neither ASUU nor any of the campus unions monitored the disbursement of the funds. Also, how many companies are paying two per cent of its annual profit to support our university system? The bulk of the funds meant to improve the universities end up in the pocket of the contractors.”

As a way of tackling the insidious rash of corruption in the ivory tower, SERAP made this recommendation: “The authorities should also publish blacklists (i.e., lists showing individuals guilty of corrupt practices) by the university administration; including provisions designed to ensure the proper conservation and use of resources entrusted to staff in the performance of their jobs in the university’s condition of service; and involve the unions and other stakeholders in deciding how funds are to be used for projects in the university and developing sanctions for staff that do not report corrupt practices.”