Ministry demands greater accountability from universities

The government has introduced new accountability measures for Nigerian universities following corruption allegations against vice-chancellors of some of the country’s universities, allegations that have already prompted the suspension of discretionary funding from government.

In terms of the new measures, universities are to submit their financial reports to the Education Ministry for scrutiny on a quarterly basis.

According to Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu, the quarterly financial reports will be sent to through the National Universities Commission, or NUC, which will coordinate the process and give feedback to the ministry.

The universities will also be expected to account more thoroughly for the funds the government releases to them in terms of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, a project aimed at the development of skills and boosting of research in the tertiary education sector.

Intervention funds scrapped

In February President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Tertiary Education Trust Fund to scrap the special intervention fund given to institutions on special request for the purposes of research, laboratory equipment and scholarships abroad.

This fund is one of the most important among those disbursed to tertiary institutions.

NUC Executive Secretary Professor Abubakar Rasheed said the NUC and Federal Ministry of Education have been flooded with allegations of fraud and corrupt practices by vice-chancellors and executives who direct finances.

“The university administrators and the university setting have become theatres of corruption. NUC had been doing its best to confront these issues through active engagements of vice-chancellors and the leadership of the Nigerian university system,” Rasheed said.

Corruption cases

According to local news reports, several vice-chancellors and senior executives have recently faced allegations and charges of corruption after the university administrators were exposed by members of staff unions.

The corruption allegations have affected trust between government and universities, influencing government decisions regarding finance in the university system. The allegations have also increased the vulnerability of the universities to greater government control.

Newer universities

Afam Ituma, a former director of research at one of the newest universities in Nigeria, the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, said the government should not punish all universities because of the sins of a few.

“The new universities cannot survive if funds are withdrawn, as they are largely dependent on funds that come from the federal government,” he said.

Another senior academic who requested anonymity said although he is supportive of government scrutiny, withdrawal of the funds would make it difficult for universities to maintain standards and would make them more susceptible to disruptive strike action.

“For the special intervention fund, for example, research, scholarships abroad and knowledge exchange will be greatly threatened. Many researchers in the university system depend on the special intervention fund to improve their knowledge.”

“There should be a total overhaul of the Nigerian education structure as a whole … The federal government should also place checks and balances at their own end instead of making it sound as though only the university system is corrupt,” the academic said.