By Rotimi Fasan
IN the March 20 and 27, 2013 editions of this column entitled “The ICPC/NUC report and sexual harassment in Nigerian universities”, I questioned the validity of the claim attributed to the ICPC chair, Ekpo Nta, based on a pilot study conducted by the anti-graft body and the NUC, that corruption ranked very high among corrupt practices in our universities.
This comment by Mr. Nta formed the fulcrum of an editorial by The Punch which felt saddened by the degenerate state of our universities. The editorial and the comment that triggered it painted a lurid picture of our universities. While my own comment did not deny the existence of corrupt practices, including sexual harassment in our universities, it questioned the premise on which that conclusion was reached even while it recognised sexual misconduct as a societal, even human, problem that is not exclusive to Nigerian universities.
Specifically, my comments called into question the ICPC’s understanding of its brief in regard to the problems facing universities in Nigeria. The media advisers of the ICPC took their time to digest the two-part submission before responding on March 27 with the full report from the pilot study which was later followed by a phone call from the ICPC’s media consultant.
There was no rebuttal from the ICPC- far from that, the report and the phone call were rather to correct the misleading picture of the entire pilot study and its findings created by the comment attributed to the ICPC chair and The Punch editorial.
There was and still is no need for much discussion after going through the report for it indeed speaks for itself. From where then came the words attributed to Mr. Nta? What prompted The Punch headline or the words attributed to the ICPC boss? Could this be a case of incompetent reportage or did Mr. Nta get himself snared by responding to the preconceived questions of a lazy reporter- questions which feed into popular narratives of student-lecturer relationship but which did not emanate from the study conducted by the body he leads?
It may interest the reader to know that this report, a 25-page executive summary of a pilot study conducted at three university sites does not contain a single word on sexual harassment or any direct reference to it.
In conducting the University System Study and Review, USSR, ICPC-speak for this kind of pilot study into conditions that aide corrupt practices in Nigerian universities and how they can be curbed/eliminated, the body invokes its statutory mandate “derived from Section 6 (b-d) of its enabling law to undertake a comprehensive Systems Study and Review of Nigerian Universities”.
Very much unlike the cure-after-death strategy favoured by similar bodies, the USSR approach is preventive and proactive rather than a sloppy reactive strategy.
Accordingly: “It is a fact-finding and problem-solving strategy, which involves the examination of the current policies, practices, procedures, behaviours and systems of public bodies, determine if they aid corruption and to what extent they are prone to do so.
Thereafter, a review of same is designed, conducted and shared with the management of the reviewed institution/agency for implementation”. The ICPC is by this “empowered to direct and supervise the implementation of such recommendations with intention to rectify corruption prone areas, bring about reduced incidences of corruption and facilitate better service delivery”. So much for sexual harassment.
For this pilot study the staff, students as well as members of the immediate communities of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye and Salem University, Lokoja, each of which was randomly selected from a total number of 124 universities across the country on the basis of their ownership- federal, state and private- the research population was drawn from members of these communities aside staff and students of the selected institutions.
For data collection, questionnaires and memoranda were distributed and analysed aside interviews. Public hearings were also held to validate data collected by interviews and questionnaires. Of course in invoking its mandate to conduct this pilot study, the ICPC was prompted by intelligence-based reports, complaints, petitions and comments made by members of the Nigerian public, including students among other ‘stakeholders’- or so the report says.
The report traces developments in the Nigerian educational system, from schools through the universities and various government policies that were formulated to address these developments. It is a comprehensive report that seeks to locate the contexts in which corruption manifests and operates in the Nigerian system.
The societal problem that corruption constitutes is highlighted and nowhere is the issue of corruption viewed as an exclusive university experience nor as a fundamentally sexual issue. If anything, corruption is viewed as a national problem that informed the establishment of bodies such as the ICPC. Which is to say that this report provides the historical context from within which the ICPC emerged as an anti-corruption agency. The reason behind the establishment of the NUC from a humble beginning in 1962 as an advisory body in the Cabinet Office before its metamorphosis into a statutory body in 1974 was provided. The custodian and watchdog role of the NUC as the supervisory agency with overall mandate over academic programmes and granting approval for the establishment of universities, among other oversight functions, did not go unremarked in the USSR.
It would be naive to imagine that writers of this report are unaware of sexual malfeasance in Nigerian universities. Matters of such gravity must have come up somehow in their interactions with stakeholders in the university system in the course of their study. But such matters must, for them, represent one face of corruption in a university system that is bedevilled by more fundamental issues of infrastructural and manpower decay, a point lent credence by the Nigerian Tribune editorial of April 2, 2013. The urgent tone of this editorial attests to the critical state of decay in our universities, far from any alarmist proclamation of Nigerian universities as the haven of sex perverts.