The alleged exploitation by some unprincipled officials of the National Universities Commission (NUC) during accreditations has drawn the attention of lawmakers who recently directed their committee on tertiary education to beam its searchlight on the unending tales of misconducts during the exercise.
UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
Accreditation of degree programmes in tertiary institutions is aimed at keeping Nigerian universities in good standing without compromise.
This was why the National Universities Commission (NUC) was created and vested with the powers to lay down minimum academic standards for all programmes being taught in universities.
Some of the criteria include, philosophy and objectives of the programme, the curriculum, teaching staff quality and quantity, students admission; retention and graduation, standards of degree examination, financial support, physical facilities, administration of departments and employers rating of graduates, among others.
This system has been used over the years to maintain and monitor quality and high academic standards. Programmes that did not meet up with the set standards are denied accreditation and this is the aspect most vice chancellors detest, hence their resort to sharp practices. But it takes two to tango.
Little wonder, these university administrators are quick to boast about accreditation status of their programmes while reeling out their achievements at any special functions.
But all that glitters is not gold, as some of these universities are notable for borrowing academic staff and equipment during the NUC’s scheduled visits. Surprisingly, some officials of the regulatory body who are meant to expose these fraudulent acts feign ignorance for obvious reasons.
The narratives surrounding the accreditation of university programmes and the alleged misdeeds of some NUC officials are indications that there is hardly any facet of the country’s affair that is spared by the storming wind of corruption.
It was even alleged that some NUC officials intimidates and coerces university managements into giving them monetary gifts or face their academic programmes being denied certification.
This was what prompted the recent directive by the House of Representatives, which instructed the committee on tertiary education and services to probe the accusations.
The motion entitled “Need to investigate the allegations of corruption in the National Universities Commission (NUC) during its accreditation of universities” was moved by Sam Onwuaso (PDP, Anambra, Ogbaru federal constituency) and was generally adopted by the lawmakers.
The House expressed concern on allegations of “intimidation and extortion of money from universities in order to ensure accreditation of their programmes,” and therefore directed the committee to investigate the allegations and report back within six weeks.
Former Vice Chancellor of Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki, Prof. Frank Idike, had once decried the misdemeanour, wondering why the people who are supposed to know better are destroying the system.
Idike had in an interview with The Guardian confirmed that universities chief executives do take shortcuts to gain accreditation. “Years back when I came to ESBU, the first accreditation of our academic programmes was very poor as we had about 11 programmes okayed, 25 interim accreditation, and six denied. Though I was not happy with the outcome, but I accepted it because what we had is what we deserved, and what we got will guide us in the future.
“But what used to happen in some universities, when the NUC visits for accreditation, is that some of these universities would rent staff, buses, and other learning facilities in order to raise their status. It is a very bad practice.
“They borrowed all these to gain full accreditation status in a misleading way. Within two weeks in office, a chief nursing officer of the state came here crying. She was a member of nursing council and she guaranteed this university. During their last accreditation exercise, the team asked her if all the equipment there were ours, and she said yes. So, she came crying because three months after, there was nothing in the laboratory. They were all borrowed. NUC should have a way of dictating this.”
Former vice chancellor of The Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, Prof. Isaac Adeyemi, expressed deep concern on the alleged corrupt practices, questioning how the country degenerated to this level.
He said: “When I watched on the television and read of the allegation on the pages of newspapers, I felt concerned and worried. Concerned in the sense that a system in which I had served for over 40 years in federal, state and private universities would have degenerated to that extent. Given the fact that corruption has become endemic in all spheres of the Nigerian life the present dispensation and political class not excluded, I still believe that comparatively, there is sanity within the academic system.
“Worried for the fact that there is lack of understanding on the part of those who are expected to play legislative and supervisory roles on various national and specific agencies under their control. One would have expected that they would have been educated and well grounded in the procedure and processes of accreditation.
He continued: “The first question one will like to ask is: who are the NUC officials? Who form the core members of each accreditation team? How is each team composed? How is the exercise carried out? What are the guidelines? Are there templates to guide the team? Has there been a reported case of demand for cash before, during or after the exercise? More questions than answers.”
Explaining the steps towards obtaining accreditation, Adeyemi said it is not a once and for all affairs. “It is a continuous exercise in the Nigerian educational system. At the end of an exercise, there are three options: full, interim and failed accreditation. For full accreditation, the programme would be presented at end of every five years while for interim accreditation; it will be at exactly two years after the last exercise.
“If there is back to back interim accreditation, admission of candidates into the programme would have to be put on hold, students currently on the programme would be allowed to graduate while admission of new students would be put on hold until there is another visitation and a green light is given. It is to be noted that for each of these visitations, different teams would be composed. The question is, has Nigeria degenerated to the level that all these professors in the different teams at different times would be bought over, he queried.
He expressed hope that the outcome of the investigation may throw more light into the procedure and processes of accreditation, thereby ushering a good fortune for the system.
“The findings may also enable the system have a critical assessment of itself and its operations. Moreover, it would enable the committee gain a better knowledge and understanding of what accreditation entails.
Therefore, the outcome of the current investigation, I hope, will not be counterproductive but will bring desired improvements in standards and quality. Nevertheless, it is not this investigation that will propel Nigerian universities into top class universities globally without proper funding and pragmatic and proactive actions.
“Finally, on the issue of corruption, which is the focus of this article, my submission is that Nigeria as a nation is going into comatose, as corruption has gained an upper hand in all facets of our lives, including elections. Unless and until our ‘rulers’ are transparent in their dealings and politics ceases to become the ladder to the acquisition of wealth while the suffering masses end up in graves unsung, am afraid, “Not yet Uhuru.”
But a Professor of Applied English Linguistics and English Sociolinguistics, at Mountain Top University (MTU), Emmanuel Adedun, was not really surprised at the development.
According to him, “You don’t find it unbelievable that things like this actually happens. The fact is that when you have anything that is legal, there is opposite of it, which is illegal. So if NUC is given an assignment to regulate, they can decide to regulate well, and can also decide not to regulate well and do the opposite of what they are expected to do. So there is nothing that is strange. They are all human factor.
“The guiding principle is morality and integrity, everybody wants to have it, but not everybody has it. They all want to be associated with it. Integrity is a thing of hard work. We have seen people in the houses of God who claim to be men of God and are still found wanting in attitude, character and practices. So, if NUC has been accused of conduct that is not expected of them. Nobody should really be surprised.”
Speaking on the implications, he said, “corruption is a culture in this country, it is very difficult not to be corrupt. Is there any facet of the Nigerian society where there is no corruption? The corruption in NUC would definitely water down the system. You are sent to go accredit a programme and you know the essence is to maintain standard and quality and then NUC on papers has stipulated the conditions and you that has been selected as a team to go and carry out the inspection, will go and report that what you did not see. As a result, a decision will be taken that the university is okay and functioning optimally.
“Now, facilities that are supposed to be there which the students need to be able to do well in that course, graduate and move into the society to function are not there. Meanwhile, in the record of NUC it will be present, what do you think will be the implication? If there is a medical doctor among them, that one already has the license to be killing people. If it is an economist, he will just be giving us wrong statistics and wrong economic policies, and then are we not surprise that we are where we are.”
Expressing doubts that the committee assigned to investigate the matter might decide to be diplomatic in their findings, Adedun said: “the people they have sent to look into it, will they say, what they have found? That is another angle to the issue.”
Now that Nigerians are waiting to hear the authenticity of this allegation, it is hoped that those assigned to do the job will eschew every form of corruption and do it thoroughly.