Whither FG’s white paper on UNILAG visitation panel?
Almost a year after it constituted special visitation panels, the Federal Ministry of Education in May received the reports of the panels established to examine the state of affairs at Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, about a year after the crisis of leadership that rocked the University of Lagos led to the constitution of the panels.
Receiving the report, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu assured members of the ‘2021 Presidential Visitation Panels to Federal Universities, Inter-University Centres, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education’ that efforts would be made to ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the reports to prevent a waste of time and resources.
Adamu also stated that the draft White Paper would be submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari whose prerogative it was to subsequently issue a Federal Government official White Paper after the report undergo the required internal processes.
Among the reports contained in the submission was that produced by the General Martin Luther Agwai (rtd)-led panel to the University of Lagos (UNILAG), which was submitted to the Ministry in June 2021.
The Agwai panel visited UNILAG on the heels of a crisis of leadership that rocked the institution following the decision of the Governing Council to suspend the Vice Chancellor based on its findings that the management of the Institution was riddled by financial shenanigans.
Although the crisis led to the dissolution of the Council, led by Dr. Wale Babalakin and the reinstatement of the previously suspended Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin. T. Ogundipe by the federal government, the Agwai panel endorsed the findings of the Council’s own committee that was set up to review expenditure of the University between May 2017 till 2019.
The committee, created by the Governing Council on September 5, 2018, was headed by a council member, Dr Saminu Dagari. It had as its members, Rev. Yomi M. Kasali (council member); Mr Oladejo Azeez (University Registrar); Mrs. Adepoju Adefope (deputy bursar); Mrs Adeoluwa Folami (Secretary) and Otunba Olutola Senbo (consultant). Its terms of reference were twofold: review the expenditure of the University of Lagos since May 2017 till date and; make recommendation to Council based on the findings of the sub-committee.
The committee held 14 meetings between October 2018 and February 2019, met with all key officials of the institution and reviewed all books relating to the finances. Its report, a copy of which was seen by The Guardian, revealed a shocking level of mismanagement of the resources of the university within the period under review and even before it.
Take contract payments for the provision of waste management and cleaning services for example. The committee’s report states that “payment were approved by the Vice Chancellor for a total amount of N57, 372, 050.44 for services without any evidence of approval by Tenders Board and F&GPC and without any valid contract…This is a manifest case of non-compliance with provisions of the University Financial Regulations which may lead to financial abuse.”
The same was the situation with contract payments for maintenance and janitorial services for students’ halls of residence. The committee noted in its report that the splitting of the payment into janitorial and maintenance ‘is a violation of Article 3 of the contract agreement.’
“The total expenditure incurred on Maintenance and Janitorial services for Students’ Halls of Residence in the University for the period 1st November to 31st October 2017 was N105, 927,528.18. The payments made were above the contract sum by N30, 727,528.18. There was no evidence of renewal of contracts for services rendered from 1st November 2017 to 30th April 2018.”
It also noted that ‘disbursements to the contractors were in excess of the contract value by N122, 516, 956.94.”
Contract Splitting And Fat Security Grants
The committee also discovered the practice of contract splitting in the purchase of vehicles in the 2017 financial year. Specifically, the report indicated that, “there was contract splitting amounting to N52, 080, 000.00 for the purchase of two Toyota Avensis, which was above the threshold limit of the Tenders Board. The expenditure ought to have been routed through the Finance and General Purpose Committee to the governing council.”
On the university’s expenditure on security, the report highlighted what the committee said was manifest evidence of budgetary overspending for 2017 by management, contrary to financial regulations. It noted that there was no contractual agreement supporting the engagement of two private security outfits (Shelter Guards and the Nigerian Legion) and called for the cessation of payment of monthly security grants to the Dean (Student Affairs Unit).
“The committee could not justify the monthly payment of an average sum of N2, 445,900.00 to the Dean, Student Affairs Unit, as a security grant. When asked why he was collecting the money, the Dean of Students Affairs explained, “they were part of the security operations to maintain peace on campus,” the report stated.
In its recommendation to the council, the committee stated that the regime of approval at the university was open to serious abuse. It states that, “there was consistent, brazen, manifest and gross mismanagement of the University finances by past and present management, which was characterised by contract awards without recourse to due process; payment without valid contracts and approvals, and contracts overpayments.
Others are: “Contract splitting by Vice Chancellors and university tenders board; over budgetary spending; frequent official travels and expenditure without due approval by the governing council.”
The committee, among other recommendations, urged the governing council to ‘take appropriate action on all cases of financial mismanagement uncovered.”
The report of the committee was indeed adopted by the General Agwai visitation panel, which also noted in its own report that the “Governing Council should be protected against any loophole in any Act that looks like undermining the supervisory role of the Governing Council.”
It states, inter alia, that, “the panel’s attention was drawn to Professor Ogundipe’s personally signed defense of the allegations against him in the Dr Dagari report. Prof Ogundipe’s defense was carefully studied. He did not deny any of these allegations and there appears to be no valid justification in law for all his defenses.”
The Agwai panel, significantly, also backed the decision of the Wale Babalakin-led Governing Council to suspend the university’s Vice Chancellor.
The federal government, in its decision to overturn the suspension, had stated that the Council “did not give the Vice Chancellor an opportunity to defend himself on the allegations upon which his removal was based.”
The FG also stated that, “the process adopted by the Council in the appointment of Professor Omololu Soyombo as Acting Vice Chancellor of the University was inconsistent with the provisions of the Law relating to the appointment of an Acting Vice Chancellor…”
The panel supported Dr Babalakin’s position that the removal of a Vice Chancellor for gross misconduct under the 2003 Act is solely a Council decision after Council has determined that the Vice Chancellor has committed an act of gross misconduct.
“Applying the well-established cannons of statutory interpretation, this panel finds Dr Babalakin’s argument very plausible,” the panel stated in its report. “To be very fair to the University management, the force of this argument is not lost on them. In their memorandum to the panel…management sought an amendment of the 2003 Act to avoid this interpretation.”
Repeated efforts to speak with Dr Babalakin on the matter were unsuccessful at press time.
Mr John Daramola of public accountability group, Open Budget, however, criticised the decision of the federal government to slow-walk the release of the government white paper on the UNILAG visitation panel.
“For a government that got into office on the back of a pledge to fight corruption, one is amazed that government has decided to keep the Agwai report to itself,” Daramola said. “In the spirit of openness and accountability, I call on government to publish the report and act on its recommendation. This is even more important as the nation is faced with months of inactivity in our tertiary institutions over issue bordering on inadequate funding. We deserve to know how university administrators spend the money they have and the UNILAG report is one way to know.”