The Provost of Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), Prof Sola Akinrinade, has opened a can of worms of high-level corruption ravaging the nation’s tertiary institutions. He dropped the bombshell while delivering the 28th and 29th combined convocation lecture of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. He was emphatic that corruption thrives at every level of the education ladder.
A Professor of African Diplomatic History and International Relations, Akinrinade spoke on “The Integrity Imperative in Nigerian Higher Education: Towards Creating a New Normal.”
His words: “Creating a new normal presupposes there is an existing undesirable abnormality, that has assumed the status of a normal situation and which should be replaced by something different. That is the situation with regard to integrity deficits in Nigerian higher education today.’’
The former Vice-Chancellor, Osun State University (OSU), Osogbo, stressed that in recent years, tertiary institutions have hugged the headlines for very wrong reactions as the nation was inundated with reporters of various unwholesome practices emanating from these institutions: “Indeed, it is frustrating and very sad, that the problem of corruption in higher education appears to be intensifying daily instead of abating. Among the problems being reported to the anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies as well as to the higher education regulatory agencies on fairly regular bases are stories relating to admission racketeering, examination malpractices, sexual harassment, certificate forgery, embezzlement of funds, and several others.
“All these stories make for titillating reading and easily attract audience attention simply because of their nature. If only 50 percent of the reports are true reflections of happening in our higher institutions, then indeed, we have a major problem on our hands. Apart from undermining the core values of higher education, the integrity deficit is creating creditability problems for our institutions that are being linked with these unwholesome practices and activities.
“While certain crooked individuals connive with pernicious outsiders to confer degrees that have not been earned, tertiary institutions forge their own certificates nothing that it is that outside, who never completed the course of education being claimed that forged the certificates.”
He explained that corruption in the educational sector is even more calamitous in terms of its negative impact on society: “When the system is corrupted, public trust in higher education is greatly undermined, quality is compromised, values are distorted and unqualified young professionals are released into the political and economic life of the society.
“Corruption in admission means that the beat students may not be admitted. When the promotion process is corrupt, the best minds are not rewarded and are sometimes consciously excluded. When funds are misused, the results are that libraries and laboratories do not have the support they need and infrastructures for adequate learning are not put in place. Corruption compromises other outputs of the university system, including and importantly, its research.
“If the development of the society is dependants on knowledge produced from its tertiary institutions, it behoves us that such knowledge must pass the integrity test as countries cannot afford to base development policies and programmes on false or faulty foundations.”
Akinrinade said in other climes particularly in North America and Europe, reports that each year, a number of students are caught and disciplined for engaging in academic dishonesty or the others. He revealed that in 2011, over 16,000 cases of cheating where reported in 85 universities in the United Kingdom alone: “This confirms our statement that integrity deficits in the academic are a cross-cultural phenomenon.”
He observed that most times, as in order acts of corruption, students engage in dishonest practices because they are convinced they can get away with it. He noted that systemic lapses in many institutions encourage such acts on the part of the perpetrators: “Students engage in cheating, and plagiarism occurs because they lack understanding of what constitutes academic dishonesty. Sometimes, students come under pressure to succeed academically which motivates them into taking short cuts in order to achieve or simply to meet up.”
He said in 2012, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), collaborated with the National Universities Commission (NUC) to conduct a pilot survey of corruption in the Nigerian University System (NUS). The report identified important areas of corruption in NUS to include; admission, enrolment and registration of courses; examination administration and award of degrees; teaching and learning services; facilities and research administration, appointments, promotion and discipline of staff, departmental administration and faculty governance management of funds and contract awards as well as contact management:
‘’There are different dimensions to this problem, the first of which has to do with teacher quality and the unspoken and or unwritten institutional support for inflation of grades in certain institutions. When poorly staffed in fifth-generation universities churn out first-class honours in number massively larger than those in second class lower, it is clear that there is something wrong somewhere because his phenomenon defies the traditional trajectory of student performance in graded examinations.
“When students who could not make the grade to study in federal and state universities suddenly emerge as geniuses in their large numbers in fifth and sixth generation universities, we need to ask questions.
“Many staff tasked with overseeing the admission process in many tertiary institutions have become overnight millionaires as they actively profit from marketing admission spaces to those less qualified. Corrupt practices of how students are offered admission to courses such as Law and Medicine because their parents were prepared to do anything to get their wards admitted into such programmes.
“That tertiary institutions cheat during accreditation exercise is not a secret.” He listed the sharp practices relating to accreditation to include the recruitment of “accreditation lectures” manufacturing payrolls to give the impression that such staff has been their staff for the required minimum number of months to be regarded as regular staff: “Some borrow equipment and books, doctoring of statistics relating to the academic programmes being accredited and painting of offices as well as classrooms to create the impression of a good working environment.”
He then asked: “But how do you deal with a university that cheats on accreditations or falsifies its enrolment figures in order to hide part of its revenue? Or who do you punish when the institution pockets the caution deposit paid by students upon being admitted are never refunded when students graduate? Who should be prosecuted when institutions fail to remit taxes deducted from personnel or in the course of business transactions to the appropriate authorities in order to shore up their finances?”
Akinrinade observed that “there is strong linked between societal corruption and corruption in tertiary institutions. The larger society is to a great extent culpable in many of the sharp practices for which tertiary institutions are daily being blamed.”
On the way forward: “Tertiary institutions must acknowledge that they have the primary responsibility for entrenching integrity in their systems because they have the greatest stake in the process and bear the brunt of the consequences of integrity deficits on their institutional reputation.”
He advised the institutions to implement structural reforms to reduce the opportunity for corruption: “Schools should take steps towards enhancing prevention mechanism by entrenching good governance and transparency in their academic and administrative processes.
“The third leg of internal measures is the application of sanctions and enforcing the rule against infractions. Sanctions are penalties for professional misconduct that courage from public exposure, naming and shaming to interdiction, suspension or dismissal from employment for staff and expulsion for students. In some instances, sanctions could be escalated to prosecution in the law courts.”
He lamented that apart from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), efforts of ACAN and ICPC to work with regulatory agencies to implement the initiative at addressing the problem of corruption in the long term have not met with any robust welcome from them.
He pleaded with regulatory agencies and the tertiary institutions to collaborate with the anti-corruption agencies to ensure that undergraduates are taken through a general studies course on anti-corruption: “We already have in place a curriculum that you can adopt and we are prepared to train your staff that you may wish to deploy for the teaching.”