By Dominic Njemanze
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has a knack for falling below our expectations just when we think it is about getting it right. I have always shared the Union’s reservations with government’s poor budgetary allocation to the education sector and penchant for reneging on agreements reached with ASUU dating back to 2009. But waking up to the realisation that part of ASUU’s six-point condition for calling off its ongoing strike is the exclusion of its internally-generated revenue from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) is sobering and questions the prudent management of cash resources by the university body.
ASUU went up in arms against the TSA earlier this year, claiming the inclusion of university funds in the policy was an infringement on its autonomy and a limitation to lecturers’ access to hard-earned foreign grants. I had argued at the time that the inability of the TSA to process payments and collections made in foreign currency was indeed limiting, but a justifiable enough reason for ASUU to pressure government to speedily activate the foreign component of the TSA to serve their needs. However, ASUU’s current demand is mischievous and suspect, considering government’s ongoing efforts to enforce erring MDAs’ compliance with the TSA. Indeed, one is tempted to think ASUU wants a return to the dark era when the management of university funds was shrouded in secrecy while developmental projects were left abandoned.
Our tertiary institutions have a propensity to mismanage scarce resources while pointing fingers at government for dilapidated infrastructure and paucity of funds. The reports on their shenanigans are staggering, and leave one with no iota of doubt that the fate of the students whose future they claim to shape is imperilled. It is ironic that in December last year, the same ASUU petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the management of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) over alleged N2 billion fraud. According to the petition, UNILORIN had been operating under the pretext of keeping a stable academic calendar to silence whistle blowers while perpetrating pension fraud, unremitted deductions, extortion from students, contract inflation and kick-backs; as well as unlawful payments to ex-principal officers of the university.
A few months ago, the top management of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso were found to operate 97 different bank accounts and HMOs. In the past 5 years, the institution has reportedly received a cumulative N13.7 billion from owner states which it has failed to remit into the TSA in compliance with policy. More recently, the management of the prestigious University of Ibadan (UI) was alleged to have declined auditing its accounts between 2010 and 2015.
The amount of funds unaccounted for by the management of the institution was so convoluted that external auditors were at a loss how to proceed. However, their summation was that UI was grossly unprepared to adopt the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) for its financial reporting process. Note that UI was one of the universities vociferously opposed to the inclusion of university funds in the TSA on grounds that it would deny them administrative autonomy.
The summation is that our universities have not displayed the maturity that independent management of funds – even internally generated funds – demands. And it is disappointing that rather than push for government’s compliance with its earlier 2009 agreement, ASUU has elected to use this impasse as a plank to advance its selfish anti-TSA agenda while our students sit idle at home, susceptible to all manner of social vices.
Nigeria has not displayed the will for positive change; hence the high level of aversion to the TSA displayed by several MDAs in recent times. Last time we checked, some elements in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) argued for exclusion over claims that funds meant for healthcare delivery to the indigent were ‘trapped’ in the TSA. Sometime later, their mischief was exposed upon the discovery that an estimated N2.1 billion of NHIS funds was misappropriated while ailing pensioners were left to their fate.
As we speak, the Federal Government claims it has lost over N70 billion of public funds lodged with commercial banks in contravention of its policy which stipulates that all revenue generated by MDAs should be deposited in the TSA. The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has also been found to be fleecing Nigerians of their hard-earned money all in the name of passport processing. This practice has persisted because the TSA policy of e-Payment for immigration services was contravened in favour of cash payments, leaving a lot of room for racketeering.
Consequently, the Comptroller-General of the NIS, Muhammad Babandede, has directed that henceforth, all payments for passport processing must be done online and through designated banks. The case is no different with the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). The House of Representatives Committee on Telecommunications recently resolved to probe the activities of the DBI management for alleged non-compliance with the TSA policy and suspect N1.2 billion disbursements for capital projects and procurement in the 2016 budget. Consequently, it has demanded a comprehensive audit of DBI’s account in the last five years. But it is instructive to note that none of this would have happened if all the MDAs had complied with the TSA policy.
In my opinion, the case with the TSA is simply calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Since the policy was fully implemented in 2015, it has exposed the rot in the public financial system and continues to instill a culture of probity and accountability that has been sorely lacking in the country all this time. We need to unite against selfish interests who want the policy to fail so they can perpetuate their mindless looting of the treasury while a cycle of financial mismanagement persists. ASUU should not be allowed to win this battle since it is motivated by selfish interests whose price our students will continue to pay for years to come.
*Njemanze is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst