By Rotimi Fasan
IN its holistic appraisal of corruption in Nigeria, from the individual through family and up to different larger sectors of society, the ICPC Report conservatively estimates that between $4 billion to $8 billion is stolen from the national treasury yearly and goes on to cite the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2011 which ranked Nigeria 143 among 183 countries.
The compromised conduct of our leaders is the reason why “most of our national social and physical infrastructures are decadent”.
The earlier cited Nigerian Tribune editorial echoes this point in its condemnation of the complicit and corrupt conduct of university administrators in the rot plaguing university education. Although established in 2000, the ICPC in its latest initiative of preventing and or reducing corruption in the Nigerian university system aims to re-engineer itself under its new leadership as part of its Strategic Action Plan for the next five years.
This much the report says. And although the ICPC’s concern was for the entire education sector, it chose the university system as its special focus following reports of flagrant abuse of laid down rules and procedures.
Such disregard of rules has resulted in “admission and examination records mismanagement, delays in students’ timely graduation, all kinds of victimisation, admission racketeering, high level examination malpractice, graduation of unqualified students, financial impropriety with regard to project and infrastructural development, distortion in enrolment/carrying-capacity/ admission quotas, and misappropriations in the application of funds leading to inadequacy or outright absence of requisite learning/teaching facilities amid substantial provision of funds by government and other stakeholders”.
It is debatable to what extent the identified anomalies in our universities can be blamed on irresponsible leadership alone. Indeed the reported claim of substantial provision of funds by government and other stakeholders is so much blather where these so-called stakeholders and especially government in the executive and legislative arms consume the largest chunk of the national appropriation in extravagant personal displays that cripple the entire country and the universities which in terms of revenue allocation are adversely affected by government falling far short of the UNESCO recommendation that 26 per cent of the national budget be set aside for education.
How about admission quota: how much of available spaces in the various admission lists (‘merit’, ‘catchment’ and ‘discretionary,’ etc) go to persons in government (president/governor/LG chair/first ladies, etc); legislators (speaker/‘honourables’), their families, cronies and ‘other stakeholders’, forcing university administrators to devise alike legitimate and illegitimate stratagems to create space for better qualified candidates? Talking of contract allocation, how many of these go to government functionaries and members of university councils nominated by persons in government or are in fact the ‘face’ of these government functionaries in the councils?
It is these internally and extraneously induced anomalies that account for the “present state of affairs (of dilapidation, low institutional esteem and poor quality products)” identified in the ICPC report- anomalies which for the agency send danger signals for the future “when the factory [that is the universities] for producing present work-force and leaders of tomorrow became greatly compromised in its natural role”. In conducting its pilot study, the ICPC had before its six specific objectives/ terms of reference informed by the petitions it received from the public and the veracity of each of which was to be tested in the course of the study.
The ‘findings’ from this pilot come under eight broad headings with appropriate remedial/preventive guidelines, namely: ‘admission, enrollment and registration of courses’; ‘examination administration, award of degrees and graduation of students; ‘teaching and learning services and facilities’; ‘appointment, promotion and discipline of staff’; ‘departmental administration and faculty governance’; ‘contract award’; ‘management of funds’ and ‘research and research administration’.
The Report is far more detailed than space would permit but it is sufficient to say none of the findings reported comes under the rubric of ‘sexual harassment’ to justify the statement attributed to the ICPC chair or The Punch editorial that followed from it. Nor was ‘sexual harassment’ one of the briefs of the ICPC pilot. And in as far as findings go, the ICPC’s are more in the mold of extrapolations arrived at from general observations/conclusions it made on the basis of its interactions with diverse people in three university sites.
Under ‘examination administration, award of degrees and graduation of students’ the rubric under which issues related to ‘sexual harassment’ could likely have come up, the ‘associated corrupt practices’ identified by the ICPC include ‘gratification and inducement to manipulate award of marks/grades’, ‘delay of students from graduating due to poor record keeping and deliberate victimisation by officials’ (my emphases) among others.
The Report stipulates preventive action that the concerned university, the ICPC and NUC could take to address the problems- remember it’s all about collaborative effort. For the university, suggested steps include ‘provision of a platform for students to report any form of victimisation’ and ‘enforcement of the university’s code of conduct for examination’ which implies there are extant regulatory provisions for dealing with such problems. But the ICPC, the Report advises, can in addition take the following preventive steps among others: establish anti-corruption units to serve as whistle blowers and prosecute offenders; while the NUC is enjoined to invigorate its regular oversight function over universities as well as ensure enforcement of stipulated sanctions even as it makes effort to formulate policies that call for stricter sanctions.
All told, the point can’t be too loudly or frequently made that the critical issue confronting Nigerian universities today is that they are poorly resourced in extremities in terms of human and physical capital. These twin problems account for the myriad incongruities in various aspects of university life and administration, including problems of discipline and associated misdemeanours. It, however, takes a lazy or poorly-trained reporter or indeed a chairman unaware of his brief to gloss over the material rot in this space of post-secondary scholarship in all its prominence and elevate sex as its central concern or attribute such claim to a phantom report. Concluded