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Ivory tower in the throes of corruption scandals

By Iyabo Lawal
18 May 2017   |   4:25 am
As a politician, former minister of works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, is no stranger to controversy. He was a prominent figure in the administration of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan.

Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta

Things are no longer at ease in the nation’s higher institutions of learning as corruption allegations mount and top management members of the country’s polytechnics and universities are fingered in financial impropriety and maladministration. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, writes on the issue.

I have decided to resign my appointment as pro-chancellor and chairman of council, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) with immediate effect. This is due to personal reasons.   

“I sincerely thank the Federal Government for giving me the opportunity to serve. Government should please accept the assurances of my best regards,” he had said in a sombre voice, in the fall of November 2016.

As a politician, former minister of works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, is no stranger to controversy. He was a prominent figure in the administration of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan.

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

Elsewhere in Ondo State, precisely, the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), the institution’s vice chancellor, Prof. Adebiyi Daramola – who is due for retirement this month – and bursar, Mr. Emmanuel Oresegun, were charged with allegation of corruption, fraud, and stealing of funds of the university totalling N156m.The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting the accused persons although they have all 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.“The ongoing trial of the VC, to those of us in the academics, is largely an embarrassment in the sense that we are fully aware of what led to the spurious allegations against the VC. Everything has been discussed at the university level and we are surprised that anyone could make those things as issues to have warranted inviting the EFCC for anything of such,” Akindele had said.

Just last week, the Federal Government, perhaps in a bid to ensure probity and transparency, 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 duo 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.

Earlier in March this year, 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 FUTA and FUNAAB vice chancellors.

In a petition addressed to the minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, CSNAC had pointed out 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.

“In view of the above, we are calling for the intervention of the federal ministry of education in order to avoid a total breakdown of law and order in FUTA and FUNAAB, and also to ensure that the provisions of the civil service rules and regulation on the handling of corruption issues/allegations by public officers and due process in respect of same is strictly adhered to.

“You will recollect the resignation of senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, former pro-chancellor of FUNAAB, in observance of the public service rule on this subject matter. We hereby demand for the ministry’s intervention at ensuring the immediate, urgent and indefinite suspension of the two embattled vice chancellors, pursuant to the requirements of extant laws regulating conducts of public officers,” the petition had said.

But FUNAAB and FUTA are not alone in corruption scandals rocking Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.In August last year, the University of Calabar (UNICAL) suspended its bursar, Peter Agi, because of alleged fraudulent acts, forgery and threat to life.

The investigation panel set up by the university to look into the allegation came up with a resolution that Agi 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 (CBN), 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 (NIC) 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 (OAU), Ile Ife where an incumbent vice chancellor, Anthony Elujoba and his predecessor, Bamitale Omole, have the unenviable task of convincing the EFCC that they have always been above board.

In February, Omole 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 university for upgrade of facilities.

ASUU had accused the management of the institution 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.This new wave of corruption in the nation’s ivory tower has raised questions about the status of our universities as being truly citadel of learning. Perhaps because of the huge funds available to university administrators, which are rarely subjected to public scrutiny, most academics abandoned their primary assignment of teaching to pursue political offices. Appointment into offices, ranging from the highest position of vice chancellor to deputy vice chancellors, deans of faculties and head of departments is highly politicised.

Besides, corruption is not only about the misuse of power or any position of authority by university personnel for personal gain but also centres on abuse of academic integrity, including compromised accreditation of programmes; examination malpractices; plagiarism; sale of handouts and often substandard texts authored by the lecturers; a compromised promotion system; and the sale of university certificates and diplomas.

In the last two decades, these malpractices have magnified in the universities, paralleling the decay in the larger society. Although a few cases of these malpractices are reported, many others go on unreported in various universities across the country. As a result, we have focused much less on corruption in the universities than on political corruption.

Because of these ills in our tertiary institutions, the quality of learning and teaching has reduced drastically putting a question mark on the credibility and competency of university teachers. A public analyst, Niyi Akinnaso in one of his write-ups wondered why and how our universities lose their role modelling function in society to the extent that university pro and vice chancellors are paraded in court like criminals.

He said, “The answer seems to lie in one word: corruption. Its persistence has been aided by poor quality control, including delayed audit (if any) of university finances. Besides, there seems to be no independent system in place for evaluating university management and governance quality or of protecting whistle-blowers, a role often performed by the unions.

“Unfortunately, the certificate craze in the country, which makes parents beg for favour for their children; the general belief in the country that access to public goods depends more on one’s network than on qualifications or merit; and the financial strain on the universities and their personnel, all provide an environment for corruption. Without a doubt, the erosion of values in the larger society and the political culture of corruption have crept into the universities. Yet, the universities have been left out of the ongoing fight against corruption.”

“The negative practices now going on in Nigerian universities have been rampant in Romania for quite some time. As a result, that country has been stagnating for years without skilled labour. This led the Romanian Academic Society, an education think tank, to form the Coalition for Clean Universities, drawing participants from university unions, students, journalists and other stakeholders. An evaluation team, consisting of both faculty and students, periodically performs a governance audit of public universities, basing its evaluation on four major criteria, namely, transparency and responsiveness; academic integrity; governance quality and financial management. Since the first evaluation in 2009, Romanian universities have improved significantly in the four categories assessed. It is high time a similar system of evaluation was developed in Nigeria.”

Apparently inundated with increased cases of financial rot in the country’s tertiary educational system, the federal government in December 2015 set up committees to investigate petitions against some administrators in our institutions.

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 address misappropriation of funds in the sector, , President Muhammadu Buhari, in February this year ordered the stoppage of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s (TETFund) 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.

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

The ongoing cleansing in the institutions is yet to produce its first victim but things are no longer at ease for those who may be involved in one corruption case or the other in the country’s higher institutions.