Fast losing their time-honoured identity as citadels of learning, many of the country’s universities have found new uniqueness in corruption. One of such is the N480,000 monthly furniture allowance that vice-chancellors of some federal universities collect. The Executive-Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Abubakar Rasheed, who revealed this, recently, said it was indefensible. They fleece the finances of their institutions along with the bursars.
Besides, their salaries differ depending on the secret pact each VC entered into with the bursar. The NUC boss says this is anomalous, against the backdrop of the fact that the 40 federal universities are financially dependent on the Federal Government. How long these abuses have festered unnoticed and the VCs involved are not publicly known just yet. With the questionable allowance, a VC whose tenure is for five years would have pocketed N28.5million illegally by the time he had served it out.
Rasheed’s alarm is only but the tip of the iceberg. Three officials of a university, among them a VC, are being tried for an alleged N800 million fraud. Also, how a N3.5 billion intervention fund of another university was expended by its former head is a puzzle the EFCC is presently trying to solve.
Financial scandal is so widespread that the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities in March demanded government’s suspension of VCs facing prosecution, the same ordeal judges undergoing trial for alleged corruption were subjected to. Sagacity demands just that. In reducing Nigeria’s Ivory Tower to their material fiefdoms, some VCs recklessly embark on capital projects at inflated costs, thereby leaving the campuses as acres of abandoned projects.
This explains why many institutions lack basic facilities that ought to have been provided: libraries, laboratories, hostel accommodation and lecture halls are in the worst form of degradation. Electricity and water supply are most epileptic. This poverty of leadership has driven students to some fatal demonstrations.
A graphic picture of how university managers abuse funds is illustrated vividly by the Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Abdullahi Baffa, who recovered N74 billion from higher institutions in his fight against the abuse of disbursements of the past. According to Baffa, grants so far released were enough for institutions to set up world-class libraries. But no university did that. Lamentably, he said, “I have seen a request that was sent to the fund where a book that I know cost only N1,500 was said to have been procured at N150,000. This is how the institutions are squandering public funds.”
Amid this unrestrained malfeasance, many believe that funding alone cannot be the most critical challenge in running the universities, but the shortage of honest and transparent managers of resources, either at the level of VCs, chairmen of university councils or chancellors and pro-chancellors. To get out of this quagmire will require the government doing things differently as Peter Okebukola, a former boss of the NUC, advocated: “This means that we should not be parochial and nepotistic in appointing the managers or subjecting such appointments to the vagaries of politics and religious affiliation.” Unfortunately, such provincial and debilitating values decide who occupies these hallowed positions. Nigeria is worse for it.
Nigeria needs people of integrity and academic distinction to breathe new life into university education. That is the only way the country can join other nations in the knowledge production of the 21st century. A VC who is materialistic cannot be an agent of this mission. It is this calibre of misfits that oversee, and in fact, encourage the admission of students in excess of the carrying capacity of their institutions in order to make money for their pockets. And what the society gets from this is the production of utterly useless graduates.
However, the government is to blame for all this. We have to install an administrative governance structure that delivers – one that promotes transparency and accountability. Membership of university councils has for long largely been for political patronage: a refuge for failed politicians, contractors and traditional rulers who have no value to add to the system.
Conversely, the University of Lagos was better for it when Afe Babalola (SAN) served as the chairman of its Governing Council. The late Gamaliel Onosode was not a contractor as chairman of the University of Ibadan Governing Council. Instead, a foundation in his name and that of his wife recently donated N500 million to the Lagos Business School to promote research and scholarship.
That is the quality of men Nigeria needs for these leadership roles in our dying universities. So are the gone breed – the Kenneth Dikes, Ade Ajayis, Donald Ekongs and Hezekiah Oluwasanmis as VCs – who had reputations to protect; and, therefore, emblazoned excellence in their positions. The once vibrant Academic Staff Union of Universities should rediscover itself and be a voice in bringing errant VCs to account.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which has stepped into the matter, should compel them to disgorge any undue earning. The VCs, who emulate politicians in the looting binge that now characterises public service, should be disgraced out of office. That is one sure way of restoring sanity to the system.