Lecturers in the throes of fraud, corruption
Has Nigeria debased to the point that its educational system is characterised by deception, fraud and sharp practices? UJUNWA ATUEYI examines the recent report that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has suspended sponsorship of conference attendance for Nigerian lecturers over alleged fraud.
The allegations were that some Nigerian lecturers diverted academic grants from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and use the same to buy cars, build houses and acquire properties. If this narrative is true, that university teachers who are supposed to mentor young ones in character and learning engage in such unholy and outrageous act, then the situation is hopeless for the country.
Notable among qualities expected of every lecturer is a recreation of themselves in the younger generation as supposed role models and mentors, but the tales surrounding the activities of many teachers in various campuses put this in doubt.
It was in 2018 that the suspicion of diversion of grants by university teachers heightened, when the then Executive Secretary, Dr. Abdullahi Baffa, announced that the fund will restrict the sponsorship of academic staff members of public tertiary institutions in Nigeria to local academic conferences.
TETFund, in a letter to vice-chancellors of Nigerian universities then, also added that condition would be attached to any sponsorship.
The letter, which was signed on behalf of Baffa by the then Acting director, academic staff training and development, Dr. Salihu Bakari, stated that the sponsorship condition was such that they are expected to make paper presentations at such conferences.
While it was not clear whether this was later implemented or not, the report of the agency suspending its sponsorship of conferences went agog a few days ago, with many observers affirming that some university teachers actually take the grant as their own share of the national cake.
Despite stringent conditions attached to accessing money from the agency, it is still baffling that some individuals will go all out to access the fund for personal and dubious purposes.
TETFund’s director of research and development, Salihu Bakari, according to reports had accused some of the beneficiaries of its support funds and opportunities of spending such grants in building houses, buying cars and engaging in other flippant activities, rather than the main purpose of the grant.
The agency alleged that large amounts of money provided for lecturers for conference attendance and even researches were most times pocketed by the awardees, as they hardly account for the money.
He said: “It is sad to note that public funds made available to lecturers to conduct groundbreaking and demand-driven researches towards solving Nigeria’s socio-economic, and even political challenges, are misappropriated by those who are expected to be above board. I mean the beneficiaries of our grants.
“Through our recovery efforts, we had traced monies to houses built by lecturers with the public fund; there are cases of cars purchased with the money, without any research work done. And these are the people who would be accusing politicians of being corrupt.”
As unpleasant as the news was, a Professor of Applied English Linguistics and English Sociolinguistics, Mountain Top University (MTU), Prof. Emmanuel Adedun, affirmed that the information was very correct. However, he appealed to the Fund not to throw away the baby with the bathwater.
He said: “To be honest what they have said is very correct, even though it is not everybody that is involved. A lot of people struggle to win the TETFund award and eventually use it as a way of upgrading their lifestyle. But that does not mean that there are no honest people who use it for the purpose for which it was approved. For instance, at my former place of work, University of Lagos (UNILAG), the grant has increased the academic profile of a lot of staff there.
“When they win the award they go for conferences abroad, have international exposure, exchange ideas with international minds and when they come back, it definitely affects what they give to their students here and they are able to contribute to the body of knowledge generally. Without the award, those honest people who are using the fund for the purpose for which it was approved may not have been able to achieve that.
He continued: “So, it has positive sides, but there are also negatives. It is the negative that is causing TETFund to raise an alarm, and of course, they must put checks in place to ensure proper monitoring of the fund, not an outright suspension. They have to be very careful because this is a union matter. The fund came about as a result of the ASUU struggle. So, you don’t invite the wrath of ASUU, as it would become another national problem. The moment ASUU believes that you are trampling upon their rights to have access to what they fought for, then it can go all out to disrupt the system and I know that no responsible government would want to do that.”
Adedun further advised the leadership of the Fund to put in place, good monitoring mechanism and regulatory approaches that can ensure that those who want to have access to the fund legitimately do so, and those who don’t want to use it for the purpose for which it as approved, will face sanctions. “So, TETFund should be proactive.”
To his colleagues in the industry, he advised, “They should speak to their conscience, people have different levels of conscience and morality. It is a matter of conscience. A lot of them believe is an opportunity for them to also have access to the national cake since they are not in Aso Rock. To be sincere with you, it is a Nigerian mentality, that when you have access to that kind of fund, you can use it to better your own lots. It may not be right, but that is their mentality.”
Meanwhile, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, has informed The Guardian that the so-called suspension of scholarship for the conference by TETFund was a rumour, as the body has not received any memo to that effect.
“The reported stoppage of sponsorship of lecturers to conferences or further training by TETFund is a rumour, as far as ASUU is concerned. We have not seen any memo or written directive to that effect. We shall make our position is known to the public immediately we have a piece of confirmed evidence from TETFund on this,” he submitted.
While the leadership of ASUU awaits formal memo to the rumoured decision of TETFund, the former Chairman of Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), Prof. Debo Adeyewa, remarked that the unfortunate development is not befitting for university teachers.
Though, he pointed out that the situation may not be so common, notwithstanding, every teacher who worth its salt will uphold character and integrity at all times.
He said: “First of all, I would like to say that the situation may not be as rampant as portrayed. The truth is that some public universities are still maintaining high academic and moral standards. However, any true leader in the academic community or in fact, any proper and passionate ivory tower don will frown seriously at any form of academic fraud no matter the proportion of those involved.
“This is because universities should serve as the lighthouse in a world where corruption has formed a thick cloud of darkness signaling moral hopelessness over the great horizon of our dear country. Our ivory towers should serve as an oasis of excellence and refinement where the society looks up to and future leaders are being groomed and imbued with the highest form of discipline and unimpeachable character. Sexual harassment or any form of academic fraud, therefore, robs our citadels of learning of our priceless and choicest possession, which is credibility.
“How then do we discipline students caught in academic malpractice, where such lecturers could even be in the disciplinary panel? How do we trust such leaders with our children? How do we trust such persons with authority? How do we trust the integrity of the research output from such persons? Individuals in that category are therefore not fit to abide in the delicate and glamorous glasshouse where true academics live and university authorities should waste no time in sending them to where they belong for the sake of systemic integrity! “
Advising the leadership of the Fund not to cancel travel grants for university teachers, because of few bad eggs, the former vice-chancellor of Redeemers’ University (RUN), counseled them not to forget the sole aim of the grant.
“My advice to TETFund is that the should ask universities concerned to investigate observed sharp practices in their domain, noting that universities are autonomous and only the university authorities should discipline erring staff members. Indeed, where academic fraud is perpetuated and yet undetected by internal mechanisms (through monitoring and controls), the leadership of the system is indicated. If corrective measures are not taken or applied by the institution, such an institution should be blacklisted.
“This will go a long way in sending the strongest signals that TETFund would only work with. It would only reward honesty and truthfulness. Also, each university should ensure best practices in the administration of travel grants and research funds. I know some public universities where at least, there are three levels of regulatory control before funds are released. These controls should start at the departmental level. Each university should also set up monitoring systems such that integrity is never compromised.”
To nip the act in the bud, Adeyewa advised the government to revamp the system of administering travel and research grants and give all university teachers equal playing ground irrespective of sector, adding that overall national development should be the major determinant of awarding such grants.
He further regretted that awarding grants, especially for research through very competitive processes is still lacking in the Nigerian university system.
To all university teachers, he said, “I would like to appeal that we imbibe the culture of excellence in all we do, whether in teaching, research or community development. We should behave as true ambassadors of the academic community worldwide. Incidentally, Nigerians are respected and honoured around the world for our academic and professional prowess. We have been primed to rule the world and to encourage other African colleagues who look up to us to raise the standards and become the beacon of hope.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, had in a recent report announced that any institution or individual lecturer found in fraudulent acts would be heavily sanctioned.
According to him, “We have taken actions and will continue to do that. This happens as a result of beneficiary institutions keeping the funds of scholars longer than it should be. Some of them up to one year or more and some of them giving them as at when they wish not as approved and directed by TETFund. We got this information and we moved very fast. One of what we did was sorting out the stranded scholars.
“Any institution confirmed breaching our guidelines, there are sanctions. If we confirm it, we will query you. If you don’t comply, you are likely to face a comprehensive stoppage of our funding of all interventions, so that you feel the pinch. We have taken actions to ensure that avenue used by some institutions to syphon money are closed permanently.”