President Muhammadu Buhari, on Saturday January 21, 2017 at the sixth convocation of the National Open University (NOUN) in Abuja, threatened to deal with any university management involved in unethical practices. He unequivocally declared that any university governing council or management found wanting in relation to financial mismanagement or gross moral and ethical violations would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
This threat out of the blues made one to wonder what had agitated the president and awakened him to the reality of corruption in Nigerian universities. Painfully speaking, the media space has been awash with repeated calls and appeals to the Federal Government in recent times to intervene in the cases of federal universities currently engulfed in serious crisis arising from staff union protests against alleged monumental fraud and corrupt practices by Vice Chancellors. The silence and inaction of the government in these universities has completely eroded the confidence of the whistle-blowing staff unions in the anti-corruption battle of the president.
The first case concerns the Federal University of Technology, Akure where a periodic check of the university account by the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation revealed alleged misappropriation of several millions of naira. This prompted the staff unions in the university to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The second case concerns the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. After investigations by the EFCC, the university council chairman, a former Minister of works, the Vice Chancellor and the bursar were arraigned in court on November 25, 2016 on 18 counts of financial misapplication. The allegations included payment of spurious allowances, reckless spending of university money on personal friends of the Vice Chancellor, drawing of housing allowance while residing in palatial university lodge, putting of university’s fund in a fixed deposit account, among others.
The staff unions in the universities are staging protests against the continued stay in office by the Vice chancellors with calls on the governing council to apply the public service rules and extant rules of the universities which mandate any public officer under investigation to proceed on suspension to give room for unfettered investigation.
The questions are: Why is the Federal Government quiet and not taking action against the Vice Chancellors? What makes them untouchable? Why can’t the government compel the VC’s to step down like the judges? How can university staff in FUTA be in a four-month anti corruption protest and the Federal Government remained unruffled?
These are questions on the lips of many Nigerians familiar with the situation of things in these universities. The president will need to convince the Nigerian university community about the sincerity of his anti-corruption war by urgently looking into the cases of FUTA and FUNAAB and other universities in similar situations.