President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday accused the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, of being complicit in corruption in the tertiary education sector in the country.
This came on a day Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said President Buhari has accepted the report on the engagement of members of the House with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on how to resolve the ongoing strike by the union.
This is even as the Federal Government approved the registration of two rival groups to ASUU, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA, in what appears an attempt to break the ranks of striking ASUU
But ASUU in a prompt response said President Buhari’s allegations are unfounded, and noted that the registration of two new trade unions by the government for academic staff in the university system is inconsequential and poses no threat to its existence.
On corruption in the universities, President Buhari made the accusation in his address at the fourth National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector, jointly organized by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB, held at the Banquet hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The President also accused lecturers of deploying disguised terminologies to perpetuate corruption in the ivory towers, a development he said, impinges on the fight against the menace in the education sector.
He equally accused management of tertiary institutions of not being transparent in the expenditure of Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, asking stakeholders and the media to beam their searchlights on it.
‘Corruption undermining education
He said: “Incessant strikes, especially by unions in the tertiary education, often imply that government is grossly under-funding education, but I must say that corruption in the education system from basic level to the tertiary level has been undermining our investment in the sector and those who go on prolonged strikes on flimsy reasons are no less complicit.
“Government and stakeholders in the educational sector are concerned about the manifestation of various forms of corruption in the education sector. I am aware that students in our universities, for example, use different terminologies to describe different forms of corruption they experience on our campuses.
“There is sorting or cash for marks/grades, sex for marks, sex for grade alterations, examination malpractice, and so on.
“Sexual harassment has assumed an alarming proportion. Other forms of corruption include payroll padding or ghost workers, lecturers taking up full-time appointments in more than one academic institution, including private institutions, lecturers writing seminar papers, projects, and dissertations for students for a fee, and admission racketeering, to mention only the most glaring corrupt practices.”
The President, however, commended the ICPC for its due diligence in investigating and prosecuting sexual harassment as an abuse of power in the country’s educational institutions.
“Government will continue to fund education within realistically available revenue while urging stakeholders, including the media to equally advocate transparency in the amount generated as internally generated revenue by educational institutions and how such funds are expended.
“Corruption in the expenditure of internally generated revenue of tertiary institutions is a matter that has strangely not received the attention of stakeholders in tertiary education, including unions,’’ Buhari noted.
He called on stakeholders to demand accountability in the administration of academic institutions and for unions to interrogate the bloated personnel and recurrent expenditure of their institutions. He also implored the unions to work with the government to put faces and identities to names on the payroll.
In his keynote address, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, regretted that Nigeria is perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
He said the effects of corruption on the education sector undermined national capacity to develop requisite national social capital for socio-economic development, adding that no nation developed without adequate and appropriate investment in education.
Jega lamented that the Nigerian education sector has suffered neglect, is chronically underfunded and is engulfed in crisis, compounded by the impact of corruption, both from within the education sector itself and from the wider public sector.
According to him, there is increasing evidence of how corrupt practices rooted in the wider public sector effect and compel corrupt practices in the tertiary education sector, especially universities, which he said statutorily enjoy some relative autonomy.
He said: “There are examples of how reform policies, formulated with good intentions, are often circumscribed by endemic corruption in the public sector, and in their application in the education sector, create their own dynamics of corrupt practices.
“This can be illustrated with examples of how three reform policies by the Federal Government compel many vice-chancellors of federal universities to become somewhat ‘compulsorily’, even if in some cases, reluctantly involved in or with endemic corrupt practices in the wider public sector.
“The first reform policy of measure is the Procurement Act 2007, which requires that contracts of certain threshold should seek approval either at the Ministerial Tenders Board, MTB, or at the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP.
“The second is the requirement by members of the National Assembly that every vice-chancellor must appear before them to defend their budgetary proposals before funds would be appropriated to their universities.
“The third, which is relatively more recent, is the requirement by the Federal Government that no university should recruit any staff, even to fill existing vacancies, without at least three layers of approvals by the federal bureaucracy, at the NUC, at the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, and at the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.”
Jega noted that all these three policies, in spite of the good intentions, which might have underlined them, not only undermined the relative autonomy of the universities but also introduced extraneous relations and influences ladened with corrupt practices.
Buhari has accepted Reps report on ASUU strike —Gbaja
In a similar development yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the President has accepted the report of their engagement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on how to resolve the ongoing industrial action embarked upon by the union.
The speaker disclosed this when he led a delegation of principal officers of the House to the Presidential Villa immediately after yesterday’s plenary.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, the speaker highlighted the reason for their visit.
He said: “After a series of engagements with ASUU and with people on the executive side, we’ve been able to come to some kind of decisions and recommendations to be made to Mr. President for his approval.
“As you know, what is on the front burner today, even beyond the politics, is that our universities, our lecturers, and our children are out of school.
“The House of Representatives decided to step in at that point four weeks ago and we’ve had a series of meetings that lasted hours and we’ve been able to get both sides to shift grounds to an extent and what we came to discuss with Mr President is about those recommendations.
“Mr President, as usual, had a very good listening ear, he took the report of the House, accepted it. We discussed at length, the details of the report and he wanted to go through them himself. We have another meeting on Thursday (tomorrow) between our good selves and Mr President for his final decision. We had a good engagement, with a very positive response.
“He asked us a couple of questions on some grey areas which we clarified, and he accepted the report and he wanted a couple of days to go through it.
“We are working and we are hopeful that this (strike) will soon be a thing of the past. I know once this is agreed upon, the strike will be called off.’’
FG breaks ASUU’s ranks, registers CONUA, NAMDA
Similarly, in what appears an attempt to break the ranks of ASUU, the Federal Government yesterday approved the registration of two rival groups to ASUU, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA.
The new university-based academic unions were presented certificates of registration at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who announced this in his office in Abuja, said the two unions would operate along with ASUU.
Reacting to the development, the National Coordinator of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, described the registration of the body as historic.
Sunmonu in a statement said: “The registration of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, as a trade union in the Nigerian university system is monumentally historic.
“The hurdles we have faced to get here, since 2018 when we submitted our application for registration, have been seemingly insurmountable. The registration is, therefore, the validation of the power of the human will. It asserts the value of courage, initiative, focus, tenacity, patience, forbearance and persistent positive thinking.
“We are immensely grateful to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, and his team of diligent staff for insisting on merit, due process and thoroughness all through the processing of our application for the registration of CONUA. “The very strict and dispassionate review of our application brought out the best in the membership of the union.
“We regard the registration of CONUA as a sacred trust and pledge to reciprocate by devoting ourselves unceasingly to the advancement of university education in this country. We will make the details of our programs available to the public in due course.
“For now, we are giving the assurance that we will work to ensure that the nation is not traumatized again by academic unions’ dislocations in the country’s public universities.
“We are also deeply grateful to the numerous personalities and well-wishers whose good counsel and concrete actions have facilitated the success we have witnessed today. We believe in the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. We will, therefore, constantly strive to make them all proud of CONUA.
“We appreciate the entire membership of the union for believing in the righteousness of the CONUA cause and for believing in the leadership of the union, and thereby remaining salutarily steadfast, even when disconcerting and demoralizing situations arose.
“In this journey, the invaluable role of the media cannot be discounted. We are truly grateful to the media and look forward to furthering mutually beneficial interactions as we strive for the development of this nation. Above all, we are absolutely grateful to Almighty God for granting us this grace.”
It will be recalled that public universities in the country have been shut down since February,14, as ASUU proceeded on a one-month warning strike, which later snowballed into an indefinite strike.
How CONUA started
In 2016, the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife chapter of ASUU was enmeshed in a crisis and as usual, leaders and members of the union took the matter to the national leadership for resolution.
However, instead of the crisis being resolved, some of the members felt the national leadership took sides with the leaders of the local chapter that they had grouse with.
The issues dragged till 2018 and when the aggrieved members waited endlessly for a solution that did not come, they formed CONUA.
Since it was formed, it struggled to get registered until that was done yesterday.
The body now has members in 12 universities across the country including OAU, Federal University, Lokoja, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Federal University, and Oye-Ekiti in Ekiti State, among others.
The incessant face-off between ASUU and the government no doubt hastened the registration of CONUA.
Registration of new unions inconsequential —ASUU
In its reaction yesterday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, said the registration of two new trade unions by the government for academic staff in the university system is inconsequential and poses no threat to its existence.
The National President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, who stated this in a chat with Vanguard, said: “That does not in any way affect us. We are a disciplined and focused union and we know what we are doing and what we are after. Let them register as many unions as they like. That is inconsequential as far as we are concerned. We are not also in any way threatened. The sky is big enough for birds to fly.
“We know our members, we know our strength and we also know what our vision and mission are. Our members are not saboteurs or bootlickers. Our struggle is for a better educational system in the country.
“If the system is good, all of us will benefit and it is not only ASUU members’ children and wards that are going to benefit from improved funding and the provision of better facilities in our institutions.’’
On the allegation of complicity in corruption
Osodeke, who also reacted to the allegation by the President that ASUU members were complicit in corrupt practices in the university system, described the such allegation as unfounded.
“As a union, we have been championing transparency and accountability in the university system. That is why we are calling for the adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, as the payment platform in the university system. Those indicted for misappropriating over N100 billion through IPPIS, are they our members?
“Moreover, one of our demands is that visitation panels be set up to probe the activities and the finances of universities in the country. If we don’t want corruption stamped out, we would not be asking for that, “ he explained.