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N1.2bn Fraud: Universities Begin Secret Moves To Clear Name

UofA Lodge – uniabuja portal, news and general news, JAMB, POST-UTME, admissions Forums Education N1.2bn Fraud: Universities Begin Secret Moves To Clear Name

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    • Following the alleged irregularities of over N1.2 billion unearthed in the Federal Government’s audit report in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 finances of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Imo State and the University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), the authorities of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri may have commenced subterranean moves to clear its name in the alleged scandal.

      This was as the management of the University of Abuja, led by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’allah said that it was not aware of such fraudulent activities in the finances of the university.

      Na’allah, who assumed office as the Vice-Chancellor of the university in July 2019, was said to have taken over from Prof. Michael Adikwu, who held sway at the institution between 2014 and 2019, when the alleged financial infractions were alleged to have been committed.

      The alleged financial report that indicted the management of FUTO and University of Abuja respectively, according to stakeholders, suggests lack of fiscal discipline and outright recklessness in financial management of the universities leading to hundreds of millions of naira alleged to be spent or paid to contractors in breach of the laid down fiscal rules and regulations.

      Though efforts to reach the Vice-Chancellor of FUTO, Prof. Francis Eze proved abortive and text message sent to his phone was not replied, sources in the university, however, hinted that the institution might have commenced the process of clearing its name from the indicting and incriminating audit report.

      Meanwhile, another impeccable source in the university, who also craved anonymity, told our Correspondent that though he might not know the stage of the damage control effort, he expressed optimism that the university was not resting on its oars over the scandal issue.

      “Based on our stand, we believe that most of the claims against the university are unsubstantiated. However, I can tell you for certain that the necessary documents had been sorted out and some officials of the university have been dispatched to Abuja to the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, with relevant documents to deflate some of the claims on which the scandal was generated,” the source added.

      The Chairman of the university chapter of the National Association of Academics in Technology (NAAT), Mr. Prince Agugbama, said though the union was aware of the scandal allegations, it is still in the realm of allegations and there is nothing the union could do about that at present.

      He, however, regretted that “the university had been in the news for the wrong reasons,” saying: “Nevertheless, it is still an allegation as no court of competent jurisdiction has made a pronouncement on the matter. We will rather wait until an investigation into the matter is carried out and as a matter of fact, we urge the relevant authorities to do the needful by thoroughly investigating the matter and anyone found culpable should be made to face the music. So, we cannot say much until we see the report of the investigation by competent authorities.”

      This was as the university lecturers, under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), FUTO chapter, declined comments on the issue, saying the union had nothing to say yet until it had more details on the fraud allegations levelled against the authorities of the institution.

      The Chairman of ASUU-FUTO, Dr. Christopher Ikoh said: “You know it is unfair to start talking about issues you do not have sufficient information about. We are still trying to get details of the audit report and within the week, we may have to engage the university management. It is only after that we can be competent to talk about the issue.”

      However, the national body of the Academic Staff Union of Universities has berated the Federal Government over the allegations for falling short in its responsibilities to curb misappropriation of funds and other financial excesses in the university system, especially in the federal institutions.

      ASUU National  President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, while reacting to a report by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation on irregularities in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 finances of the University of Abuja and Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), accused the government of negligence over the N1.2 billion fraud.

      The report reads in part: “During the periodic checks conducted at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, for the period between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017, the following were observed; payments without raising payment vouchers to the tune of N43,543,129.34; payments totalling N43,543,129.34 were made without raising payment vouchers in violation of Financial Regulation 601, which provides that payment vouchers must be raised before any payment is made.

      “Response from the university on the above issue failed to address the issue.

      “The recommendation is that the Vice-Chancellor has been requested to account for the sum of N43,543,129. Also, sanctions stated in financial regulation 106 should be imposed on the Vice-Chancellor.

      “Also, payment of unapproved allowances to the tune of N244,325,021.26. It was observed from sampled payment vouchers that a total of N244,325,021.26 was paid to staff as allowances for recharge cards, council incentives, security shift, contract addition allowances, among others from personnel cost between 2016 and 2017. Similarly, the documents conveying approval for such payments from the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission could not be made available during the periodic check.”

      For the University of Abuja, the report noted that the institution had unaccounted payments of N17,924,585; payment of unapproved allowances at N84,748,382, among other infractions.

      The report added: “During the periodic checks of the University of Abuja for the 2015 financial year, the following observations were made. One, unaccounted payments – N17, 924,585; 27 payment vouchers totaling N17,924,585 were paid to a staff of the university for printing services and jobs. The amount should have been made direct to the University Bookshop or University     Printing Press rather than personal account of the officer.

      “However, there was no record of utilisation of the various amounts collected by the payee in order to ascertain transparency, probity and accountability of the transactions. Our recommendation is that the Vice-Chancellor is required to account for the sum of 17,924,585 and forward evidence to me for confirmation.

      “Also, payment of unapproved allowances is put at N84,748,382. Furthermore, there is diversion of funds through fictitious contracts which is put at N23,921,250.”

      Meanwhile, key stakeholders in the system are calling on relevant anti-graft agencies including the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to launch comprehensive investigations into the various transactions in the affected universities with a view to recovering allegedly misused funds and return same to the federal treasury.

      The university authorities, according to them, should also ensure strict compliance with relevant fiscal provisions and procurement laws in the implementation of new contracts.”

      But, ASUU while raising concerns that contrary to the laws establishing the university, the Governing Council of each university, which are in charge of the finances and personnel of universities, said they are having a field day running the system as they pleased.

      According to Ogunyemi, the visitation exercise(s) to universities by government in accordance to the Act establishing the universities, which is designed to interrogate and check excesses of the governing councils, was last conducted almost 10 years ago.

      Ogunyemi said: “Accordingly, the Visitation exercise should ordinarily be carried out at least once in the five-year life span of governing councils, or more when there were suspected cases of financial mismanagement.

      “The system actually has a way of checking financial excesses or recklessness of the university management before such matters become so terrible. We have been crying out that government has not been playing its role as expected in ensuring that the governance of the universities is carried out as appropriate and as specified by law.

      “The governing councils are expected to be checked through regular conduct of visitations to the institutions. The law says that there must be at least one visitation exercise and where it becomes necessary especially when there are suspected cases of fraudulent practices the process can be initiated and carried out more than once in five years, which means at least once in the life of a governing council. And, if the situation is correctly applied any case of corruption would have been nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand.

      “The last visitation exercise was carried out in January/February 2011; and for almost 10 years now, no visitation exercise had been conducted in any of the universities. We cannot say that the governing councils are corrupt until I have the evidence. But, I am also not saying that they are saints. Governing councils are supposed to manage the universities finances and personnel very well.

      “If they have that role to play, it is not when they are not playing the roles as expected of them that funds would be properly applied and where government is also not performing its role as the visitor, the government should be blamed. In the case of federal universities, the Visitor is the President. Where a visitor is not playing the roles expected of him, most especially through the conduct of visitation exercise to track what is happening in the university, it will be difficult to actually curtail the excesses of governing councils.”

      The ASUU President, who threw the union’s weight behind the government to hammer anyone found guilty and culpable to have indulged in acts of fund misappropriation in a university, called for intensive investigations to fish out perpetrators of the financial crime against the system.

      He added: “It should be taken through the due process, if there are cases of allegations of misappropriation thorough investigations must be carried out and if anybody is found culpable, the union is not against justice taking its course. We are not against the law being applied accordingly. We have never supported any acts of corruption and we will never support any.

      “What we always insist on is that the process must be thorough and clear of bias so if those cases are being proven beyond any reasonable doubt, we are not going to stand in the way of justice.”

      On the financial infractions hanging over UNIABUJA within the period under review, Ogunyemi specifically lamented that the report did not come as a surprise to the union given the fraudulent dance steps that had been adorning the institution.

      Unfortunately, he also expressed regret that all efforts to uncover the fraudulent practices engulfing the university had proved abortive, especially with government’s insincerity in carrying out its functions to the letter towards ensuring enforcement of appropriate sanction on erring parties to keep the system sane and devoid of criminal activities.

      “In the case of the University of Abuja, it is actually not surprising some unpleasant things were detected because there was a time we called for a visitation panel to the university. There was a special visitation to the University of Abuja, but the white paper was never released, and by not releasing the white paper, those who could have been found culpable of acts of misdemeanor were not punished. Indeed, when they could not be exposed early enough and where sanctions are not activated and applied appropriately, the crime will continue to thrive.

      ASUU further noted: “We believe that if we follow our rules and laws, and the Establishment Act of the Universities, we have in place mechanisms for tracking acts of corruption and nipping them in the bud.

      “What the establishment Act says is that where a governing council is found to be corrupt or incompetent, such council should be dissolved immediately and another one constituted. Since that is not happening, those members in council can do what they like in the university and they get away with it especially if they have discovered that those before them perpetrated something similar in the system and got away with it.

      “The governing council has a lot of work to do in ensuring that universities finances are not misapplied. Of course, financial crime will continue to thrive where there is room for it.”

      https://www.newtelegraphng.com/n1-2bn-fraud-varsities-begin-secret-moves-to-clear-name/

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