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Controversy over severance benefits of UNIBEN ex-VC

By Iyabo Lawal
17 February 2020   |   4:30 am
Amid penury and soul-wrenching struggle by Nigerian university students to contend with dilapidating learning infrastructures such as hostels on campus...

Prof. Osasere Orumwense

• Orumwense denies receiving letter from council
• NUC scribe wants uniformity in pay, allowances of VCs

Amid penury and soul-wrenching struggle by Nigerian university students to contend with dilapidating learning infrastructures such as hostels on campus, the governing council of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) has doled out a handsome but controversial severance package to an erstwhile vice-chancellor.

Founded and situated in the historic and iconic Benin City, UNIBEN is an enduring representation of knowledge and character. But a somewhat controversial parting gift to the institution’s ex-head honcho is raising a dust.

On Monday, May 13, 2019, an emergency meeting was held. The subject matter was a request by the immediate past vice-chancellor, Prof. Osasere Orumwense.

According to reliable sources, Orumwense had tabled what some have termed “indecent proposal” to the university’s governing council: a parting gift in the form of a severance package. It was first approved by the acting chairman on behalf of the council and eventually ratified by the council itself.

It is not difficult to imagine the scenario: There were no sombre looks. The atmosphere was convivial. There were pats on the back, firm handshakes and a non-acrimonious debate on whether Orumwense should be gifted a severance package. The council members after a hearty deliberation rose and said ‘aye!’

By December 9, that same year, a letter from the Office of the Registrar (REG/CCM/COM.12/Vol.10/720) was written and addressed to Prof. FFO Orumwense entitled, ‘Severance package for the immediate past vice-chancellor’.

The letter states, “Please, recall that at its emergency meeting held on Monday, May 13 2019, the council ratified your request on the above subject matter which was earlier approved by the Ag. chairman on behalf of the council:
“(1) Sabbatical as well as all accumulated leave arising from the period of five [5] years as the vice-chancellor, as will be worked out by the registrar; (2) Salary as a vice-chancellor to be made personal to you; (3) Provision of an official vehicle gratis and a Hilux van for security escort; (4) Severance gratuity at a payable rate of 300 per cent of annual basic salary; (5)Annual terminal basic salary; (6) Annual rent subsidy; (7) Annual entertainment allowance; (8) Annual salary of entitled domestic staff but not exceeding four [4] for officers on consolidated salaries occupying pensionable post which could be paid in cash; (9) Payment of electricity bills; (10) Payment of telephone bills; (11) to retain your security outfit after your exit; (12) to retain four [4] of your drivers; (13) to go for regular medical check-up after your exit and; (14) to leave with the furniture items in the vice-chancellor’s lodge. Congratulations.” The letter was signed by O. A. Oshodin, registrar and secretary to council.

His severance package no doubt has items that easily catch the eye. The letter suggests that the package was for the erstwhile UNIBEN vice-chancellor’s time in office and not as a lecturer in the institution.

Although the erstwhile vice-chancellor denied receiving any letter from the council concerning his severance package, he confirmed that his predecessors were beneficiaries of the largesse.

In a telephone interview, Prof. Orumsewe said he was yet to receive any telephone, electricity or medical bills from the institution.

“I am not the first VC that such has been approved for; I don’t have any domestic staff, nobody has paid my telephone, electricity or medical bills. The two drivers attached to me are still with me, my predecessors were also beneficiaries.”

However, calls to the institution’s registrar, Mrs Oshodin were not answered while a text message sent to her was also not responded to.

Not a few outside the institution’s governing council were gobsmacked when they learnt of the severance package offered Orumwense.

The Guardian made attempts to seek the opinion of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). But the ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi did not speak on the matter when he was contacted.

However, a former ASUU UNIBEN branch chairman, Prof Julius Iyasele condemned the council’s action . He said: “We have never known it to be like that, you can’t run a university like a political office. A VC earns between N1.4 and N1.8m, he was earning less than N500,000 a month before he became a vice-chancellor. How can the council approve such a severance package and entitlements? There is no way we can allow it to remain, it is repulsive, it is obscene and ASUU will contest it.”

Yet, the former VC’s supporters said he deserved it because he proved to be an erudite academic and a trusted administrator. Until his appointment as the vice-chancellor on December 1, 2014, he was a lecturer in the mechanical engineering department and was also the admission officer of UNIBEN in 2001. Later, he was appointed the rector of the Institute of Technology and Management (IMT), Usen, Edo State. He was also the dean, faculty of engineering.

In March 2015, Orumwense promised to pay workers’ salaries on the 19th of each month as part of his five-year strategic plan for the university at the school’s strategic plan forum, which coincided with his first 100 days in office.

How much power and discretion does the institution’s governing council have to ratify the severance package? What moral conviction does Orumwense have to demand such a severance package? Is this sort of package obtainable in other Nigerian universities?

Former Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof Peter Okebukola, in his comments, said, “Before former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration elevated the in-office entitlements in 2007, a vice-chancellor was earning just about 20 per cent more than the full professor in his/her university. An official car with a backup, a car to support domestic activities, two security guards, a steward, a token (about fifty thousand naira a month for entertainment) and a furnished official residence were largely all there was to it.

“If the vice-chancellor does not want to stay in the official quarters, council makes some provisions in lieu. In 2001 when I assumed office as Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), all these entitlements for me and each VC totalled not more than N500,000 a month.

“By 2006 October after I left office, although part of the ‘struggle’ to get us clustered among the so-called ‘political office’ holders, the package did a triple jump for all VCs, and chief executive officers of federal ministries, departments and agencies. We missed the boat of the largesse, but that is the way life goes. When the new ‘political office-holder package’ went into full swing, backdated to October 2006, all beneficiaries had juicy arrears. We are happy this is so since the Nigerian university system, producing high-level human resources for the executive, judicial and legislative arms of government with their fat salaries should not be left out of a regime of remuneration for political office holders.”

Prof Okebukola added: “An important development in the current remuneration of VCs is the consolidation of salaries and allowances. As a VC, your salary is consolidated with your allowances. For VCs in public universities, this total ranges between N1.2 and N1.4 million a month. By the guidelines on consolidation, you do not get anything separate for medical, drivers, security guards, stewards and other domestic staff. If you are in official quarters, the university may pick up your electricity bill if council, which is empowered to specify the conditions of engagement of the VC, is magnanimous to expand the spectrum of entitlements.”

He continued: “The VC is entitled to an official car and a backup and expected to pay the driver. Most private universities pay their VCs a shade less in terms of consolidated salaries. The typical range is N700, 000 to N1.2 million. These figures for public and private universities need to be seen in comparison with what the full professor earns by way of consolidated salary. This ranges between N450, 000 and N500, 000 a month.”

On the benefits of a retiring vice-chancellor, the former NUC boss stated: “On leaving office, a vice-chancellor goes through two phases in terms of entitlements. The first phase is the year immediately following exit from office. This is known as the sabbatical year. Council of the university approves the sabbatical entitlements in the case of public universities and the board of trustees in the case of private universities.

“These entitlements for public universities include business class ticket for spouse and children below 18 years to an overseas institution for the sabbatical engagement, estacode allowance for period ranging between one and three months, salary for the 12-month sabbatical year (some university councils approve salary of the full professor rather than the consolidated salary the VC was earning for five years, so that you do not pay two people the consolidated salary of a VC during the same year).   The VC who completes his/her term is also entitled to go with his official car and may purchase the backup car at book value. The second phase, which begins from after the sabbatical year, is total reversal to the normal entitlements of a full professor. It is still a consolidated salary so no special allowance for driver, security personal and other domestic staff. The private university system largely operates a lower regime of entitlements.”

Prof. A. A. Rasheed

On whether they are entitled to electricity, telephone and medical bills after leaving office, the former vice-chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU) said: “It is a myth and wrong public perception that our VCs get their electricity, telephone and medical bills paid after leaving office. Our VCs serving and retired are among the poorest paid in Africa and the rest of the world. As I stated earlier, after leaving office, no VC gets his/her electricity, telephone and medical bills paid. This is against the letter and spirit of the guidelines of consolidation of salaries and allowances.”

On the furniture in the VC’s lodge, Prof Okebukola said: “The council of the university decides on what happens to the furniture at the close of tenure of the VC. Usually, the furniture is worn, and it makes intuitive sense for the council to board the furniture and give the retiring VC the right of first purchase. This happens in a number of instances so the university can furnish the VC’s lodge for the new occupant.”

On his part, former vice-chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof Adebayo Adeyemi said the vice-chancellor at the successful completion of his tenure is entitled to go with his car and probably the furniture in the VC’s lodge.

“Another entitlement is to go on sabbatical for one year, which is optional anyway. At the end of the sabbatical, the former vice-chancellor can go back as a professor in the department and reverts to a professorial salary.

“I understand that in time past in the federal university system, the ex-VC would earn the salary of a vice-chancellor till retirement but the current practice is a professorial salary.

“As to telephone and medical bills after the completion of the term being paid from the coffers of the university, I’m not aware of that, as these are not included in mine. Suffice to say that there is no standard operation on this matter across Nigerian universities. A lot depends on the solvency of the institution and on what each university council approves.”

According to a former vice-chancellor, UNIBEN, Prof. Emmanuel Nwanze, as CEOs, they are entitled first of all to the general pension conditions. He says every council sets conditions for outgoing CEOs, to know what each university allows the VCs to go with.

“I know that ex-vice chancellors are allowed to keep the official car they used last. When I was leaving as VC in 2009, I kept my official car, a Toyota Camry then. This is the usual practice for any establishment. They also go with the furniture they had.

“In my own case, the furniture in the VC’s lodge would have been meaningless to me because I did not have a private home to contain them. It was best they monetised it. It has not been consistent from one vice-chancellor to another. I left with just my official car; my driver was recalled into the university one year after.”

Another official of the university who pleaded anonymity said: “To the best of my knowledge, they go with the car they have, they may even buy the retiring vice- chancellor a new car, allowances as well as security personnel to guide him. Salaries as vice-chancellor until he retires, one official car and the university will pay for the driver, security detail, one official generator and furniture.”

For former vice-chancellor, Prof. Tolu Ibidapo-Obe, once one retires as a vice-chancellor, one is out of the service but in recent times, “when you retire you still go back to work in the university until the full retirement age.”

Ibidapo-Obe, a former vice-chancellor at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) said the benefits include a house on campus, a driver and car.

“There are no benefits really, as a VC, you have a special salary but when you retire, you just go back to the salary of a regular professor. You revert totally to what operates as a regular professor.

“When you retire as a vice-chancellor, they allow you to take the car; you are entitled to furniture if you so desire. In those days, it was a full retirement; some vice-chancellors have opted to do that because they retire from the system. These days, you finish your tenure and go back to being a regular professor, which should be improved upon. People should be encouraged to come back,” Ibudapi-Obe added.

On his part, former vice chancellor, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Prof Danjuma Abubakar MaiWada said what is left for vice-chancellors after five years are one official vehicle and a four-room apartment accommodation on campus and at best sabbatical leave.

MaiWada who was the pioneer vice-chancellor of Katsina State University, said: “VCs earn between N1m and N1.5m. If you multiply this by five years, that should be around N60 million at the end of their tenure. Again, the VC returns to class as a full-time professor with salary and pension. All these monies are enough to continue with life. Dolling out additional monies for electricity, water and other expenses is a waste of resources.”

It appears the governing council holds all the aces.

For starters, the council has powers to do anything, which, in its opinion, is calculated to facilitate the development of the university, including the regulation of the constitution and conduct of the university. The council is responsible for approving the financial guidelines of the universities; determining the terms and conditions of appointment of the vice-chancellors and principal officers of the universities as well as annually reviewing the universities’ budget to monitor their performance and assess the overall impact of their implementation, among other responsibilities.

The governing council has the custody, control, and disposition of all property and finances of the university. Other functions include participating in the making, amendment or revocation of statutes; governing, managing and regulating the finances, accounts, investments, property, business, etc., of the university and for that purpose appoints bankers, solicitors to audit the accounts of the university.

It is also responsible for borrowing money on behalf of the university and to invest any money belonging to the university; to sell, buy, exchange, lease or accept lease or dispose of real or personal property on behalf of the university; to determine in consultation with the senate all university fees; to establish after considering the recommendations of senate, faculties, institutes, departments and prescribe their organisations, constitution, and functions.

Besides, the council also regulates the salaries and determines the conditions of service of staff; exercises powers of removal from office and other disciplinary control on staff; institutes in consultation with the senate, fellowship, scholarship, prizes, and other endowments.

The universities (miscellaneous provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003, otherwise called the Universities Autonomy Act, is considered an interesting piece of legislation.    It was enacted by the National Assembly and signed into law on July 10, 2003, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and it on January 12, 2007 became Act No. 1 of 2007.

The governing council of a federal university consists of the pro-chancellor; vice-chancellor; the deputy vice-chancellors; an official from the minister of education; four persons representing a variety of interests and broadly representative of Nigeria to be appointed by the national council of ministers; four persons appointed by the Senate from among its members;  two persons appointed by the congregation from among its members; and one person appointed by convocation from among its members.

The council’s membership can be viewed in two ways: ex-officio members (vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellors and one person from the ministry of education. These are all members of the council by virtue of their offices) and non-ex-officio members (all other members); and external members (pro-chancellor, representative of ministry of education and the four other members representing a variety of interests appointed by the national council of ministers) and internal members (vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors, are normally referred to as internal members of the governing council. These are members and representatives of the university community in council).

The governing council is the highest authority of the university and has full responsibility and control for the custody and disposition of all finances and property of the university. The chairman of the council is the pro-chancellor. The pro-chancellor is more directly involved with the operations of the institution than either the visitor or the chancellor. The pro-chancellor and the council that he leads play a critical role in the affairs of a university.

In Nigeria, a vice-chancellor is regarded as the chief executive of a university. Yet, he cannot act independently in the selection, employment, evaluation, or discipline of university officers and students.

Appointments into the governing councils of Nigeria’s universities are often characterized by high-level politicking with merit and integrity often the sacrificial lamb.

According to the Nigerian salary survey (as of January 2018), the approximate earnings of a Nigerian professor is between N4,508,349 and N6,020,163 per annum. A reader’s salary in Nigeria starts at N3,091,221 per annum. In some universities, it can be N4,455,506 per annum. A senior lecturer’s salary ranges from N3,091,505 to N4,455,506 per year. A lecturer I can earn as much as N2,079,996 a year.    A lecturer II can earn up to N1,979,640 per annum.

It is said that the average monthly salary earned by a vice-chancellor in Nigeria is ₦922,810.23 per month excluding allowances. It is also claimed that Nigerian vice-chancellors are entitled to duty tour allowance, furniture allowance among other allowances.

In Australia, the figures appear staggering in comparison to what Nigerian vice-chancellors earn.
Australia’s 38 public university vice-chancellors were paid an average of $700,000 in 2016, and 12 earned more than $787,000. As of 2018/2019, the best-paid vice chancellor was Sydney University’s Prof. Michael Spence, who received AU$1.4 million, after a 56 per cent increase over five years.

Prof. Greg Craven at the Australian Catholic University was second-highest paid vice-chancellor, earning AU$1.25 million and followed by Prof. Ian Jacobs at UNSW, who earns AU$1.22 million. The least paid vice-chancellors were at Southern Cross (AU$500,000) and Murdoch universities (AU$585,000).

As of February 2019, England’s Office for Students (OfS) stated that the average basic salary for a university vice-chancellor rose ahead of inflation, from £245,000 a year to £253,000 a year, with five heads earning more than £500,000 with benefits and severance payments included.

This generated a lot of opprobrium in the country, leading three top-paying universities to cut vice-chancellor salaries.

According to a report, three of the 10 universities that paid their heads the highest salaries in England are now cutting pay, in a sign that controversy over remuneration is prompting a rethink as 124 of the 133 universities across England paid their vice-chancellors more than the £150,000 the prime minister earns.

The University of Bath and the Open University, which featured prominently on an Office for Students’ list of the highest basic salaries for university leaders in 2017-18, had announced their new vice-chancellors will receive lower amounts than their predecessors.

The University of Southampton, which also featured on the list, said it was “likely” its next vice-chancellor would be paid a lower salary than the incumbent. The moves suggest some universities are responding to the public outcry over their leaders’ pay that started in 2017.

UNIBEN main gate

The Office for Students, the government’s higher education watchdog for England, confirmed in a study that Dame Glynis Breakwell received the highest basic salary of all university head honchos in the country in 2017-18 (the University of Bath’s Breakwell’s basic salary was £470,000 and when other benefits were factored in the figure rose to £492,000.)

The document also revealed that five higher education institutions each paid out more than £500,000 in total remuneration to their vice-chancellors in 2017-18, although the highest amounts involved cases where vice-chancellors had left with severance packages.

Stephen Toope, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, was paid a basic salary of £431,000 in 2017-18, ranking him the second-highest on the Office for Students’ list. The university said the job was one of the most important in any university ecosystem and involved overseeing an institution with an annual income of more than £2 billion.

University College London defended how Michael Arthur, its provost, was paid a basic salary of £368,000 in 2017-18, ranking him seventh-highest on the Office for Students’ list.

Besides getting a big paycheck, 42 institutions in England gave out bonus payments to their vice-chancellors, receiving about £200,000 compensation for loss of office.

“At a time when students have to take out stonking loans, it seems incredible that vice chancellors’ pay is so excessive, said Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee.

“There should be fairness both to the student and the taxpayer. Student loans should be funding good quality tuition and employment outcomes, not the lavish lifestyles of vice-chancellors.”

The new head of the London School of Economics, Dame Minouche Shafik has a basic salary 22 per cent higher than her predecessor, the new Cambridge vice chancellor Prof. Toope earns 25 per cent more than the outgoing Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz and at the University of the Creative Arts, Prof. Bashir Makhoul took home 40.9 percent more than Simon Ofield-Kerr, a Financial Times report said.

“We understand that running a university is a significant and complex task, and it is right that those who excel in their roles should be well rewarded.

“Despite this, where pay is out of kilter, or salary increases at the top outstrip pay awards to other staff, vice-chancellors should be prepared to answer tough questions from their staff, student bodies, and the public. Universities – and individual vice-chancellors need to be confident that they can justify the pay that they receive,” Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said.

The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, also weighed in on the issue, saying: “While universities are autonomous institutions, around 45 per cent of English institutions’ income in 2016/17 came through upfront public funding, so they are rightly subject to public scrutiny.

“Of course salaries need to be competitive, but high pay must be justified by high performance on objectives such as widening participation for disadvantaged groups, low dropout rates, growing export earnings, and pioneering innovative research.”

Back to Nigeria, against the backdrop of arbitrary remuneration and compensation, the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 2017 called for uniform and specified salaries for vice-chancellors.

The Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, had said: “What salaries do bursars pay their vice-chancellors? This is the foundation of every problem. If every vice-chancellor receives one type of salary, the problem will be resolved.”

He explained further, “The government can certainly not pay a vice-chancellor N5.7 million annually as allowances. But you see bursars giving out as much as N480,000 monthly to them under the name of furniture allowance.”

Nigerian universities haemorrhage in the stranglehold of their paymasters. It has been an age-long problem. At one time the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government had made a deal to overhaul the university system after a two-month-long strike that shut down the entire university system in 2011, jolting the government to action. Yet, things are still falling apart. Part of the problem boils down to the NUC.

The reorganisation of the NUC beginning with Decree 1 of 1974 altered the original intentions for establishing the commission as an advisory body on matters that could prompt the development of the university system to that of a regulatory body. The decree was further amended as decree No 49 of 1988 aimed at the expansion of the membership of the NUC board – bringing politics and nepotism instead of autonomy.

The implementation of decree one resulted in a complete centralization of university coordination, funding, and control. The implication of this was that the sanctity of the autonomy of the universities was compromised because, beginning with the decree, universities have to work under the strict supervision of the NUC.

Stakeholders noted that by this development also, the government moved power away from the universities towards itself because, in the functions of the NUC, it is observed that universities lost their financial autonomy to the commission as it has the powers to receive grants from the Federal Government and allocate such to universities according to a certain formula often subjected to politics and interests that have no direct benefit to the actual financial needs of the universities.

Thus, the formula for financial allocation and grants accruable to each university is largely beyond the control of the universities. The obvious implication of this is that since universities don’t determine the funds to be available for them, meaningful academic planning becomes difficult.

Furthermore, the Decree 16 of 1985 and Decree 49 of 1988, which initiated the powers for NUC to close down academic programmes and to establish minimum academic standards for all universities as well as carry out accreditation of their degrees and academic awards, had sweeping effects on the universities.

“By implication, these laws did not only subtly empower the NUC to usurp the functions of the senate, council, faculty boards of universities and professional accreditation bodies, they implicitly also ensured a covert control of the universities by the Nigerian state,” university teachers Benjamin Nyewusira and Chituru Nyewusira explained.

They further noted that for autonomy to be fully practised there should be no dictation from outside the universities as to what their standards should be. The system must have the freedom to run its own affairs without external interference; it must have the right to organise its internal affairs, to make decisions and to establish its own academic programmes.

Autonomy must imply the protection of the Nigerian university system from any form or shape of control from the government and its agencies.

In 2016, the issue of autonomy in the universities, featured at a conference organised by stakeholders in Abuja with experts holding the view that granting autonomy to universities and providing effective administration by key stakeholders are a sine qua non for education development in the country.

The government’s involvement increased with controls over the constitution and membership of governing councils, direct control over the appointment of the key administrative personnel of universities; and financial controls.

While the severance package of erstwhile UNIBEN vice-chancellor Orumwense may appear amoral, it is yet to be seen if it will generate any public uproar or attract the attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).