Nigerian university system has been indicted of massive corrupt practices by SERAP, a development that has continued to generate bad blood between two leading workers’ unions in the sector- ASUU and SSANU.
A new study conducted by a non-governmental organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has again identified massive corrupt practices across Nigerian universities, and especially the Federal Government owned institutions, where such sharp practices have become a major albatross.
This is as the leadership of the leading workers’ unions in the system have continued to trade blames, accusing each other of being accomplices in the identified mismanagement of resources, award of grades for bribes, backdoor employment offers and sex for grades traditions, among others.
The Federal Government, on its part, has also vowed to look critically through the report, understudy it and take appropriate positions as long as claims therein are verifiable.
On Thursday, last week, SERAP had gathered in Lagos stakeholders including human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN); Director of African Leadership Forum; Dr. Olumide Ajayi; member, National Executive Council of FIDA Nigeria, Ms Funmi Oluyede, Mr. Babatunde Ogala, Mrs. Jumoke Akiyode, and representatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), among others, where it presented a 58-page report, entitled: “Stealing the Future: How Federal Universities in Nigeria Have Been Stripped Apart by Corruption.”
An Associate Professor of Business Administration and Marketing, Faculty of Business Administration at the University of Lagos, Dr. Dixon-Ogbechi Nkemdinim, who presented the report, listed some of the corrupt practices identified through the study to include, but not limited to; unfair allocation of grades, contract inflation, truncation of staff’s salary on the pay roll, employment of unqualified staff, examination malpractices, sexual harassment, issuance of results for expelled students to graduate, and sales of university certificates to undeserving persons.
While reading the report of the research, which was carried out with the support of MacArthur Foundation., Nkemdinim explained that the research team administered questionnaire and conducted interviews at the main campuses and Colleges of Medicine of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
He noted that the report focuses mainly on federal universities even though there are three different categories of universities in Nigeria (federal, state and private) universities.
The don said: “The focus on federal universities is important because the Federal Government of Nigeria is the custodian of tertiary education at the national level and it directs and controls the affairs of the parastatals in charge of tertiary education system in the country to a very large extent.
“Although, the initial proposed sampling locations were Lagos (University of Lagos) and Abuja (University of Abuja), the University of Abuja could not be accessed because the institution was on vacation, hence, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was used as a feasible substitute.
“The judgmental sampling procedure was to select the relevant universities; simple random sampling procedure was used to select the relevant departments and units at the University of Lagos while the snowball sampling procedure was used to select the relevant departments and units at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Thereafter, the convenience sampling procedure was used to select the sample subjects from the two universities.”
According to Nkemdinim, impunity culture for corruption in the university system has negatively affected the governance of the institutions and the quality of higher education received by the students.
He added that the report also identified other cases of corruption such as bribery to get a position; NYSC mobilisation before graduation; facilitating fake transcripts; short-circuiting employment procedures; auctioning university assets without authorisation, admission irregularities and racketeering, result falsification, nepotism, sexual harassment; examination question leakages, abetting examination malpractices, and deliberate poor invigilation of examinations.
He said: “Most of the time lecturers missed classes, they never get punished, while getting a job in the universities is not the question of merit, but that of connections. Again, ghost workers syndrome is a problem in the universities.”
In his remarks, Falana accused the university workers’ unions of tolerating indiscipline and corrupt practices, saying the unions lack the moral rights to demand for more money when the ones made available to the institutions are not monitored by them to ensure their judicious use.
His words: “Based on the 1992 FG-ASUU Agreement, the Federal Government was compelled to enact the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) Act. The Act established TETFund as an intervention agency charged with the responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in the country. Pursuant to Section 1 of the Act, every company shall contribute education tax of two per cent of its annual profit to TETFund.
“In 2017, over N200 billion was disbursed by TETFund to the universities. Neither ASUU nor any of the staff unions monitored the disbursement of the funds. Also, how many companies are paying the two per cent of their 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. Three Vice Chancellors are currently standing trials for looting funds allocated for running the universities.”
“If TETFund can disburse N213 billion in one year, it is my view that if the education tax is well managed it will go a long way in addressing the crisis of underfunding of our tertiary institutions.”
Falana added: “Just recently, it was reported that the new management of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) paid N5 billion to the Treasury Single Account. The money was realised from the sales of admission forms to applicants seeking admission to the tertiary institutions in 2017. Meanwhile, university administrators have not accounted for the money realised from the sales of post-UTME registration forms.”
“Following the recent arraignment at the Federal High Court of one of the Vice-Chancellors for allegedly stealing the sum of N1.4 billion, the staff and students of his university invaded the court and practically forced the trial judge to vacate his order for the remand of the accused in prison custody. Before then, the same staff and students had demonstrated for days in the office of the EFCC in a bid to prevent the filing of charges against the indicted vice-chancellor. This is not surprising as they had never taken any position in the massive looting of the commonwealth by the members of the political class, who are aided by the government and financial institutions of western countries.”
Falana, however, advised ASUU, among other unions to ensure the monitoring of the management of public funds in the universities, the collection of the two per cent education tax by all registered companies in the country and the disbursement of fund to universities by TETFund.
Meanwhile, the University of Lagos, in its response, said most times, the allegations are not substantiated with evidenced-based facts, and that they are usually mere rumour.
In an interview with the Head of the university’s Public Relations unit, Mrs. Taiwo Oloyede, she wondered how individuals and organisations are usually too quick to raise allegations that are unfounded because they do not have the knowledge of the operations of the university system.
She added: “Maybe because of the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration and possibly due to the whistleblowing policy, everyone is quick to make allegations, which at the end of the day would be found to be unfounded. UNILAG is doing everything within its capacity to operate within the laws of the federation and ensure transparency, accountability and fairness in all its dealings.”
But, the leadership of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) has accused its academic body counterpart of shielding corruption on campuses, saying SERAP should have mentioned the unions that facilitated the prosecution of the three vice-chancellors mentioned in its report.
According to SSANU’s National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abdulsobur Abdulsalaam, the University Autonomy Act as it is currently administered does not allow checks and balances in the administration of universities.
He described the university registrars, who are usually regarded as the engine room of university administrations, as mere clerks, saying they can only be seen, but cannot be heard.
He noted: “ASUU is a major culprit in all the cases of corruption on university campuses. This is because ASUU is quick to defend its members, who are vice-chancellors, deans and heads of departments. Or who are the people who award marks for sex? Who are the HODs, deans and Governing Council members?
“Seventy per cent of the members of Governing Councils are ASUU members and they form the university Senate, the body which takes academic decisions. The Chairman of Governing Councils most often are figure heads because they took up the appointment simply to take care of their pockets. Very few of them know what their roles are.