Tertiary unions oppose anti-corruption treasury account

Tertiary education unions in Nigeria are campaigning against a Treasury Single Account, implemented by President Muhammadu Buhari to checkmate fraud and corruption in federal institutions and agencies, including in the education sector. The unions are worried about delayed salary payments and crippled grants from foreign partners for training and research.

All federal organs now operate only one dedicated account and all of their money is lodged and disbursed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Tertiary education unions say that partners have threatened to withdraw financial support if the rigid new system is not made more flexible, and they have threatened industrial action if appeals to the visitor of federal universities – President Buhari – do not yield positive results.

According to a reliable source, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities recently met with Mallam Adamu Adamu, the education minister, and asked for universities to be exempted from the system. The minister was reportedly sympathetic.

Zero tolerance for corruption

Nigeria’s new president has zero tolerance for corruption. He told the education minister that the heads of tertiary institutions must strictly adhere to the Treasury Single Account, or TSA.

Before, the councils of universities, polytechnics and colleges had been granted autonomy to manage institutional financial resources. At the end of each financial year, they submitted reports on how resources had been managed to the National Universities Commission.

The liberal Treasury system followed practices for universities in Europe and North America – it allowed institutions to receive and disburse grants and endowments from in and outside Nigeria. Money for tertiary institutions went directly into their commercial bank accounts.

But the system was abused by some university leaders. According to a university bursar who did not want to be named, an example was the illegal transfer of money from the account of a university to the personal account of its vice-chancellor without the approval of council but in conspiracy with the bank manager. It was such actions that led to Buhari’s TSA move.

Initially hailed as a step in the right direction to fight fraud and corruption, within a few months the Treasury Single Account system had come under sharp criticism from unions.

Problems for universities

Professor Josiah Ajiboye, branch chair of the Academic Staff Union of Universities at the University of Ibadan, is positive about the Treasury Single Account but believes it is not working for universities.

He said the TSA was a good policy aimed at checking the excesses of the political class and top bureaucrats, and lamented the stealing and corruption that had squandered resources.

“However, when you consider the Treasury Single Account and the operations of universities, there is no compatibility. Universities are autonomous institutions with governing councils at the helm of their affairs.” With the TSA, university autonomy was “completely eroded”.

Universities obtained resources from proprietors, endowments, grants and locally generated revenue. “Without endowments and grants, universities cannot exist. The TSA is the last sledgehammer to kill research initiatives in Nigeria universities,” Ajiboye said.

Linkages between Nigerian and foreign universities may have to be cancelled. Universities abroad reportedly reject the idea that funds meant for research in Nigerian universities should be deposited and managed in a government single account.

The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities is also strongly opposed to continued implementation of the Treasury Single Account.

The union’s chair at the University of Lagos, Adetomiwa Adekola, complained that the TSA had created hardship by affecting salary payments and projects in universities.

“We are no longer sure when our salaries will be paid. For instance, we did not have money to celebrate the last Christmas and New Year festivities. Our December salaries were paid only in the first week of January.”

The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics is equally opposed. Its president, Usman Dutse, welcomed the anti-corruption initiative but faulted its mode of implementation. He regretted that there had not been a comprehensive analysis of the policy and its consequences.

“Up until now, our institutions do not have access to some of their dedicated funds meant for staff development and sponsorship to conferences.” Beneficiaries of international initiatives had had to defer admission to foreign institutions and in some cases had lost their places because of non-payment. Dutse appealed to the government to solve these problems.

President Buhari, speaking through the National Universities Commission Executive Secretary Professor Julius Okojie, noted that his attention had been drawn to the challenges the new account had caused federal tertiary education institutions. He promised to quickly resolve the problems.