Like its counterparts everywhere, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, is primed to be the last bastion of merit, accountability and other values that nurture social progress. However, after wide-ranging investigations that started four years ago, Assistant Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF reports that the 42-year-old university seems to have lost its soul to practices that are anathema to the ivory tower of academia
FOR University of Ilorin, Kwara State, the facts really speak for themselves. Every year, its undergraduate admission slots go like hotcakes. Besides the fact that its admission space sells fast, the 42-year-old university has evolved to be the sweetheart choice for most prospective undergraduates in the country. This rating, which can be gleaned from annual records of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), a federal outfit overseeing entrance examination into tertiary-level institutions, has thus cemented the university’s standing as the institution of first choice for the preponderance of admission seekers.
Unlike other public universities continually plagued by the curse of recurrent strikes at the behest of the seemingly implacable academic and non-academic staff unions, the “better by far” university holds the rare distinction of being the only school that runs seamless academic sessions, setting it world apart from other universities nationwide.
However, as the university relishes a sky-high reputation and enjoys torrents of accolades and laurels, not many seem to care to pay attention to other issues that count, especially the ones that truly make an academia tick. Its peace and tranquility seem to have snowballed into a massive mask that obscures the stench of unethical practices blooming in the university’s well-guarded dark closets.
A safe haven for sharp practices?
After bestriding the universe of UNILORIN like a colossus for years, Prof. Ishaq Olanrewaju Oloyede bowed out as VC on Monday, October 15, 2012. In a country where holders of public office hardly complete their tour of duty without a stain, the Professor of Islamic Studies stepped down in a rare blaze of glory without sustaining even a bruise – or so it seemed at the time. And for having a string of achievements as bequeaths of an eventful five-year reign, the workaholic was hailed far and wide as a rare gem – prompting glowing reviews in the print and electronic media, attesting to the result-oriented style of his stewardship and brilliance. As old guards in the university would say, it could not have been otherwise in a system the erudite academic painstakingly studied for years and schemed frantically to conquer – from his undergraduate and graduate studentship years to his years as an academic in his alma mater where he spent an entire career – culminating in his appointment twice as Deputy VC (DVC) before outflanking his adversaries to land the university’s most plum job.
Oloyede, since leaving office, has boasted many times in the public that “I have never taken a bribe or committed fraud in my public career.” Like a Hindu mantra, he has also repeated time and again that “I stand on a high moral pedestal,” an hymn he relishes in whistling anytime probing questions come his way about his stewardship of UNILORIN. According to the obviously self-righteous tone of his regular media statements and blog posts, the Abeokuta, Ogun State-born Professor of Islamic Studies is a quintessential public servant with incorruptibility credentials; a demi saint of sorts. However, events have queried these credentials.
First, when the 63-year-old administrator quit the stage in 2012 as VC, he used his enormous influence and powers to corner his official vehicles illegally to himself, which he proudly took home as if they were gifts from a thankful employer to an industrious servant. And these were not just scrap materials; they were exotic cars bought with public fund at the twilight of his tenure.
Many stakeholders in the university are still nonplussed that the same man who was initially taken to be the most strident advocate against extravagance in public office, a stance he promoted vociferously when he welded enormous powers as DVC during the reign of unassuming Professor Shamsudeen Amali, embarked on a 180-degree turn. Immediately Oloyede clinched the top job in 2007, he shed his moderate taste , as the man regarded as the most powerful DVC in the history of UNILORIN (or de facto VC during Amali’s time) swiftly ordered the purchase of Toyota cars and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for himself and other principal officers. This was seen then as the height of posh in a university that was used to buying inexpensive Peugeot cars for its top officers, but Oloyede smartly explained it off as his own way of making up for the ‘embarrassment’ he suffered during a meeting with other public officials in Abuja, who came to the venue in more respectable vehicles.
After four years in office, which was a year before his five-year tenure wound up, the VC replenished his car pool with brand new cars and SUVs as permitted by law. He followed it up by acting ultra vires. At the expiration of his term, records revealed that he simply went home with the new acquisitions even without paying the mandatory scrap value, as required by extant regulations in the public service.
Because Oloyede’s vehicles were not amortised, other principal officers followed suit. And since the man who succeeded him seemed to lack the ball to query him, no formal question was put to those who served with the former VC.
But that is just a tip of the iceberg. Even though he often tries hard to portray himself in a different light, The Nation can exclusively report that the former UNILORIN boss ripped off the national treasury in the form of illegal emoluments, which he has enjoyed for more than four years – running into millions of naira.
After years of extensive investigations into the university’s financial records, including his pay slips, which were painstakingly crosschecked and verified from various agencies of government that warehouse records of public financial transactions, The Nation can authoritatively report that the former VC, since he left office in 2012, has been drawing the same salary and allowances he enjoyed for five years as a VC – against the laws of the land. Put more succinctly, Oloyede’s remuneration is yet to be reverted to the legally-approved salary and allowances for a professor, despite having vacated the office of VC since October 2012.
When he landed another public office as JAMB boss last August, it was expected that he would stop collecting the consolidated payments, but he continued to receive the salary. As at the end of October 2016 when The Nation last monitored UNILORIN payroll – which is two full months after he assumed duty as JAMB helmsman – it can be authoritatively confirmed that the former VC was paid N922,810.33 (including statutory deductions such as tax and pension liabilities), being monthly gross salary of a sitting VC, which he ceased to be since October 2012.
According to the regulations, as handed out to all public universities by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), a federal body statutorily charged with the responsibility of managing all issues pertaining to compensations and remunerations in the public service, a VC goes home with an annual consolidated pay of N11,073,724 (eleven million, seventy three thousand, seven hundred and twenty-four naira only). This amounts to a gross payment of N922,810.33 monthly – excluding a coterie of mouth-watering allowances, which the governing councils in many a Nigerian university always readily approve to please the huge appetite of their principal officers. Apart from the generous salary, the approved package by the wages commission includes a furniture allowance of N4.7million, which is meant to be renewed every four years. It also includes a severance package to reward any outgoing principal officer with unblemished tenure.
Another crux of the matter lies in the regulations of NSIWC, which also stipulate explicitly that any academic and non-academic employee who who assumes a political appointment – such as VC, registrar, bursar, librarian, etc. in any public university – is to return to the position and salary scale he or she enjoyed before clinching the plum job. And this regulation is not unknown to the bursary unit of any public university, UNILORIN inclusive. Going by the same approved salary structure, Oloyede (or other any academic at the peak of his or her career in non-medical fields), is legally entitled to an annual gross remuneration of N6,030,963 being the consolidated university academic salary structure (CONUASS 7 step 10). Therefore, since he is no longer a VC, the highest monthly salary the former VC or any professor whatsoever in non-medical fields can draw is N502,580.25 , if the annual consolidated salary of N6,030,963 (without statutory deductions) is broken down monthly.
Unfortunately, the former VC is not alone in this unwholesome practice in the “better by far” university.
Two ex-principal officers also involved
Call it a red-letter night, and nobody in the ecstatic audience would raise a dissenting voice. That was Thursday September 26, 2013. An unusual night of encomiums, tributes poured in torrents when the Governing Council of UNILORIN organised a special reception for the duo of Mrs. Olufolake Oyeyemi and Mr. Ayo Sijuwola, immediate past registrar and bursar, respectively. Besides family members and Olojoku of Ojoku Oba Abdulrasaq Afolabi (who is the traditional ruler of Ojoku community where Sijuwola hails from), also in attendance were the crème de la crème in the university – current and former VCs, current and former Deputy VCs as well as many academic heavyweights and other categories of serving or retired servants of the university, who gathered to honour their ‘irreplaceable’ colleagues.
At the well-attended ceremony, Ambali, like other dignitaries who graced the event, spoke glowingly of the two former principal officers, declaring that Mrs. Oyeyemi (who spent 14 years as registrar) was merely stepping down to “occupy the heartbeat of the registry.” And for holding sway as bursar and chief financial officer of the university for 10 years, Sijuwola was elevated to an apotheosis, as the VC awarded him a gong-less prize as “the most honest bursar in all Nigerian universities”. Recalling the day he began his tenure, Ambali said he was told that with Mr. Sijuwola as the bursar, he would never have any headache.
“I found this to be true as he never raised my temperature when it comes to settling bills. He is not retiring; he is just stepping aside from the office of the bursar. We have other responsibilities for him in the university,” the VC said.
However, after a more than cursory look at the books of UNILORIN, it is glaring that the integrity quotient of Sijuwola and Oyeyemi that was presented to the unsuspecting public is false. This is so because the two public servants were in cahoots with Oloyede, their benefactor who also graced the event to celebrate the duo. Like Oloyede, the two retiring principal officers were beneficiaries of the illicit naira rain in UNILORIN, which means that they persisted in collecting the illegal payments long after the expiration of their tenure. Instead of returning to Deputy Bursar and Deputy Registrar as the law expected of them, they were paid as Bursar and Registrar years after they had left such offices.
According to the national wages commission, a Bursar or Registrar is entitled to a consolidated total package of N6,030,963 per annum – minus allowances approved by the university council for principal officers. If split monthly, this translates to N502,580 – minus statutory deductions such as tax and pension remittances. Yet, there was no downward change in the pay slips of both Sijuwola and Oyeyemi – during and after the expiration of their tenure. Even two years after they had vacated office, that amount was what was reflected on the pay slips of the two former principal officers until one of them retired recently.
A well-organised scam
Did the mindboggling scam involving unlawful salaries and allowances happen as a result of an oversight on the part of payment officers? The answer is an emphatic no. Rather, it was indeed a well-rehearsed affair that transcended the walls of UNILORIN. The genesis, it was gathered, was traceable to a letter purportedly written by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to one of the nation’s public universities. The controversial letter compelled the university to be paying its former VC the salary and allowances of a sitting VC, long after he exited the system. Oloyede, on return from one of the meetings of Committee of Vice Chancellors, where he procured a copy of the letter through a colleague, furnished the bursary department with the letter – asking them to “take note.” Being at the tail end of his tenure at the time, his action raised no dust, but it left the bursary workers marooned in conjectures over the raison d’être of such a veiled directive. Before you could say Jack Robinson, the ill-conceived NUC letter had spread like wildfire to other universities. A few other outgoing VCs then, who also obtained a copy of the controversial letter, quickly followed Oloyede’s footsteps. This ultimately spewed a wave of crisis in the bursary departments of many public universities until the national wages commission got wind of what was going on.
An infuriated national wages commission had to write a strongly-worded letter to NUC, upbraiding it for misleading the university to be paying illegal salaries and allowances to its former principal officers, and warning it to desist from dabbling into such matters in future. That was how the NUC was compelled to do a volte deface, having to write to counter its earlier misleading directive. In a new letter, which was addressed to all public universities in the country, NUC, citing the circular from the wages commission, clarified that all matters concerning salaries and emoluments be directed to the wages commission henceforth.
Wages commission waded in
With Ambali firmly on the throne in 2012, time was ripe to breathe life into the directive of his predecessor, who reportedly facilitated his emergence as VC. It was an equivalent of a political IOU. And for two good years, the VC superintended over a blanket implementation of his predecessor’s directive, until opinions became divided over the legality of the payments – thanks to the new directive of NUC. Banking on the content of NUC letter, the naysayers in UNILORIN had wanted a reversion to the lawful salaries for the three former principal officers. Unfortunately, the plea appeared not to be a sweet music to the ears of entrenched interests who fought tooth and nail to preserve the status quo.
Perhaps to give a veneer of due process to the unfolding drama, the bursary unit in UNILORIN decided to write to the national wages commission seeking clarifications on the appropriate salary and allowances, which former principal officers should enjoy after leaving office. The letter, dated October 18, 2014, and with reference number UIL/BUR/760/Vol.1/03, was signed by Abiodun S. Yusuf, who succeeded Sijuwola as UNILORIN bursar. Almost two months later, precisely on December 3, 2014, UNILORIN received a reply from the national wages commission, in a letter with reference number SWC/S/04/S.302/69. It was signed by Chike N. Ogbechie, Director (Compensation), on behalf of Dr. Richard Onwuka Egbule, chairman of the National Wages, Salaries, and Incomes Commission. Among other things, the response vindicated the position of naysayers. The letter from NWSIC directed that all former principal officers in public universities – VC, Registrar, Bursar, etc. – who return to career service after their tenure cannot have the benefit of the salary and allowances of offices they have vacated.
“Where a person vacates a tenured position as a principal officer in a tertiary educational institution and chooses to return to a career position in the same institution or a similar one, he should be placed on the salary grade from which he was appointed to the principal office. Further, he should be placed on the step of the salary structure that he would have attained by annual increment had he not been appointed to the principal office. Such an officer is not allowed to carry to the career position, the remuneration package that he had earned while occupying the principal office position,” wrote NSIWC, which was clear a directive to guide university financial officers.
Unfortunately, UNILORIN held on to the illegality in complete defiance of the directive from the wages commission. Perhaps not ready to incur the wrath of his benefactor, Ambali promptly asked his financial officers to “hold on until further notice” on Oloyede’s case. The same VC was, however, man enough to return Sijuwola and Mrs. Oyeyemi to the salary of Deputy Bursar and Deputy Registrar levels, respectively.
But, immediately the VC directed the stoppage of illegal salaries of two of his former principal officers, former registrar wrote to remind the system that she was also on her leave of absence – just like Oloyede. A more intriguing twist in the tale began when she followed her letter with a protest to the VC, who promptly ordered that her windfall be restored. Sadly, while her own stratagem worked like magic, it was a different kettle of fish for Sijuwola, for the same privilege was not extended to the former bursar. His offence: he had not embarked on any leave of absence at the time.
And desperate to join the bandwagon at all costs, he quickly arranged to go on leave of absence, which was granted. But his naira rain was not eventually restored, as those who should act on the approved memo merely ignored it.
Current VC too
According to the salary structure stipulated by the wages commission, a VC takes home an annual consolidated pay of N11,073,724 , which is the equivalent of the Auditor General of the Federation’s yearly consolidated entitlements. Monthly, it amounts to N922,810.33 before tax and other deductions are made. This, however, does not include special allowances approved by the governing council of the university.
Much unlike their medical professor counterparts who collect salary and emoluments from two sources – Federal Ministries of Education (as primary employers) and Health (as secondary employers) – veterinary professors’ salary and allowances are paid from only one source, which is the Ministry of Education. In spite of the seeming disparity in the source of payment, a thorough dissection of extant regulations shows that the salary of a veterinary professor falls within almost the same range with that of a medical professor who also teaches. That is why it is often said among academics that if the only driving motive for vying for Vice Chancellorship is to enjoy a more generous remuneration, no medical or veterinary professor will consider the cut-throat tussle a worthwhile undertaking. This is because a medical or veterinary professor enjoys a coterie of allowances (such as call duty allowance, hazard allowance, teaching allowance, and specialist allowance), which puts them at par – if not even higher sometimes – on the remuneration scale with any sitting VC.
For example, call duty allowance alone is N280,000 per month, reviewed upward from N162,000 in January 2014. A further breakdown of the approved salary and allowances of a medical professor (CONMES 7, step 9) revealed that an annual gross payment of N11,235,308 accrues to a medical professor who also teaches. This effectively translates into N936,276 per month before statutory deductions. What this means, in essence, is that an annual gross remuneration of a medical professor is slightly higher than a VC’s.
It therefore goes without saying that, before his ascension to the office of VC, Ambali enjoyed the salary and allowances that were quite higher than those of his non-medical professor colleagues. Being a celebrated veterinary professor of several years’ standing, his pre-VC remuneration rivaled that of the current office he holds, as can be gleaned from his pay slips before he became the VC. That is where the real problem lies. Rather than content himself with the consolidated salary and allowances of his current office, Ambali has used his powers to ensure that veterinary professor’s allowances are further embedded into his consolidated monthly emoluments.
Going by all regulations governing salaries of public officials, any academic – whether medical or veterinary professor – who assumes the office of VC has become a political office holder. Therefore, regulations say he or she should be strictly treated and remunerated accordingly. What this means is that VCs are only statutorily entitled to the salary and allowances of their office, irrespective of their academic backgrounds before taking office.
A scrutiny of his pay slips over the years clearly reveals that the only legally-approved salary the professor of veterinary medicine has received since he became the VC in October 2012 is his first month pay in office; it showed only the statutory entitlement of a VC. All other payments since then have fallen far beyond the ambit of the law because they included allowances of a veterinary professor. After careful computations, it can be confidently revealed that the VC enjoys nothing less than N400,000 of illegal allowances per month. That is N4,800,000 in just a year. And if calculated fully since he mounted the saddle in October 2012, it means Ambali has shortchanged the national treasury of more than N20,000,000 in his first four years in office. Therefore, by the time he steps down from office in October this year, he will have been richer by N24,000,000 .
Why the mess persisted
Like other universities, it is true UNILORIN does have a standby internal audit unit, which is peopled with seasoned financial officers. In addition to this, the university also hosts external monitors as well as statutory auditors – mainly from offices of Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General of the Federation, NSWIC, among other federal agencies and ministries – who do regularly visit the school to scrutinise its financial activities so that best practices are adhered to in line with extant regulations.
Why then did the malfeasance thrive for so long? Internal auditors have continually frowned at the illicit practice, as internal audit reports have warned and queried the proprietary of paying unapproved emoluments, but such efforts have been to no avail. The reports from internal monitors have always gone untreated.
While external auditors always appear to be on the prowl to detect financial malfeasance anywhere its festers, investigations in the last four years have shown that some of them are often preoccupied with ulterior motives. Instead of helping to perfect or enforce financial discipline, bad eggs among federal or statutory auditors always seek avenues that can help them grease their itchy palms immediately they detect loopholes.
For example, when external auditors stormed UNILORIN in 2015, it was evident that they detected most of the financial anomalies, which were conspicuously reflected in their draft report. But, after indicting the university, they turned round and compromised. It was even so sad that the settlement option was first mooted by the auditors, who wanted the school to “shake our hands,” a euphemism for bribery to gloss over the illegalities.
Realising that UNILORIN was dillydallying, external auditors openly bluffed in anger that “even the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) always settles us when we go on audit.” That was how a deal was struck. Eventually, the university was given a clean bill of health – thanks in no small measure to the threat that the draft audit report would be leaked to the appropriate committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which they often claim would be invited to carry out legislative oversight on any ‘recalcitrant’ university.
Unfortunately, this has become a regular ritual as auditors always indict the school authorities on every visit. However, this does not suggest, in any way, that such financial recklessness can be properly tamed through oversight functions of the National Assembly. For instance, last year, it was drama galore when Ambali was literally humiliated during the budget defence session of the House of Representatives, provoking a ‘serves-you-right’ feeling among academics opposed to the style of the university’s current helmsman. The VC, precisely on Thursday February 4, last year, was summarily walked out of the green chambers by angry federal lawmakers who also declined to look into the 2016 budget proposal of UNILORIN over perceived overspending and frivolous expenditure. He was asked to go and prepare details of expenditures incurred by the school in the fiscal year 2015.
The House Committee on Tertiary Education, led by Aminu Suleiman, specifically frowned at submission that management of the school spent N42million on hotel accommodation alone. A member of the Committee, Mr. Kehinde Odeneye, openly queried the VC with a barrage of allegations. “How can you have an hotel expenses of N42million? How many days were spent at the hotels and who were the guests you hosted? Then another N100million for takeoff grant for new departments without actually telling us how many they are and the things needed for the takeoff? N50million on workshops and seminars? This is apart from the training grants obtained. Then, there’s maintenance of buildings which also is without details.” In addition, the committee further expressed displeasure at a project of N49 million for road culverts, which did not have details of the project description in the documents presented. It also vented its spleen over another N60million expended on environmental upgrading, which lacked details.
Days after the incident last year, when The Nation reached out to a member of the committee, he confirmed the melee and said he was even willing to spill more beans, vowing that this would be his own contribution towards enthroning transparency and accountability in public office. However, just a week later, the first-term federal lawmaker began to speak like a hen with a broken or cracked beak. He did not only eat his own words, he also turned his back on this reporter, refusing to answer or return his calls henceforth. And the VC, on his arrival in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State, denied being booed or humiliated by members of the House of Representatives Education Committee. With blazing confidence, he also debunked reports that he was being probed by the EFCC, stressing that he presented the budget of UNILORIN and it was well received by the lawmakers.
“I was not walked out of the National Assembly by the House of Representatives Committee on Education,” he said.
Culled from The Nation