Public universities stink with fraud – FG

Sonny Echono, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education

Despite opposition by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Federal Government has expressed determination to purge the public universities in Nigeria of massive frauds which have taken a heavy toll on the system.

Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Arc. Sonny Echono, speaking with select journalists in Abuja on Wednesday on the two weeks warning strike embarked upon by ASUU, said the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), which ASUU is opposing was designed to check payroll fraud that most of the universities were involved.

He, however, disclosed that about 70 percent of the workforce in the 37 Federal Universities have fully enrolled leaving 30 percent of the workers, mostly the ASUU members who have refused to enroll on the IPPIS platform.

He said it was unfortunate that ASUU had continued to feed the public with false claims and information about IPPIS that has tremendously check payroll fraud in the public service in the country.

Echono, while advising the members of ASUU to reinvent themselves instead of resort to strike at every slight moment, said the warning strike was ill-timed when the world is being ravaged and looking for the solution to coronavirus outbreak.

The Permanent Secretary while quoting the report on system check by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC), recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari, said he and the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu were deeply embarrassed by the ranking of Nigerian universities as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.

Echono said: “The fraud in the universities is amazing and you will be shocked. ICPC did a system check recently, and it was so shocking. In fact, the worst two organizations they mentioned are the Teaching Hospitals and our universities and it is true, I am the accounting officer of the ministry.

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“I can tell you, there is massive fraud going on there. There is hardly any university that is an exception. We will not have the record for state universities but you can imagine if it is a pattern.

“It is not unique to universities, before IPPIS we were having similar problems in the public service.

“People will tell you, I have 1,000 staff but in real terms is only 500 that you have. In fact, when we now migrate to IPPIS, you are journalists, you should know that there were so many secret recruitments just to see how to put their names because of the gap.

“If you have been claiming 1,000 and you have only 500 names somebody would look at it and say where are these millions going to every year. Many have not been able to fill all the gaps because they also have some challenges.

“If you recruit somebody today, you cannot put him on the nominal roll two years ago. So if you ask them for the nominal roll three years ago, there are two things you can do, is either you give us the correct thing which will show that you didn’t have them or you go and put fake names there now and tell us that those people were there before but they left. And if you go and put fake people, this can be verified.

“The system check by the ICPC was launched by the President and it is in the public knowledge. In the report, they mentioned Constituency projects in the National Assembly as a major source of fraud but our own it is the payroll system and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in universities.

“Teaching Hospitals are the same thing. These are the three main areas of fraud within the system.

“In fact, the Minister, Adamu Adamu and myself had been very embarrassed because they say the education sector, and not a single fraud was dictated in the Ministry of Education and our parastatals, JAMB, do not have any problem,” he said.

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Echono insisted that ASUU as a Union needs to correct their perception in the public, saying the warning strong was against the norm because no notice was served the government suddenly declared the two weeks warning strike.

He debunked claims by ASUU that their salaries were stopped because of non-enrollment on the IPPIS platform, saying many other agencies of government who are on IPPIS were not paid February salaries because of financial challenges.

He said: “In any case, I need to advice the ASUU on the need to reinvent themselves because ASUU must change its own perception. I know it is going to be difficult for them because if you check the composition of ASUU negotiation team, it has been constant for the past 20 years.

“It is always the current President and all the past Presidents. The same set of people. Those who fought for Ali must go 40 years ago are still the same people. The world has changed.

“This approach of the carpenter who has only one hammer believing that every problem will begin to look like a nail must change. The strike has become the only tool and we said no.

“There are other forms of engagement that we can productively engage and achieve more, than every time you revert to strike,” he said.

He clarified that the salaries of ASUU members were not stopped by the Federal Ministry of Finance because of IPPIS, saying it was a general challenge, adding that Customs and Immigration have not been paid their February salaries.

According to him, just because there was a threat before and as soon as they did not see the February salaries they jumped to conclusion that government had stopped their salaries.

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“What has happened this time, even those who have enrolled have not been paid. And they are not the only one. Customs have not been paid. Immigration Service has not been paid their February salaries and there are so many other organisations within the Federal setting.

“It was a challenge we had and people know that we are going to have these revenue challenges, Coronavirus now is taken a heat on our oil prices.

“They just concluded that since they did not get the February salaries, it means the Minister of Finance has stopped their salaries and without consultation, they embark on the warning strike,” he said.

He, however, disclosed that there was the Presidential directive in 2019 that those who did not enroll should not pay their October salary, saying this was extended after ASUU met with the President.

According to him, ASUU gave the impression to the President that the Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) was ready and that it was the Account General who did not want to accept it.

“But when we insisted in our last meeting that they should make it available to us, they had to admit that it was not ready. We don’t it to be an open-ended thing.

“They said they have been working on this UTAS for the last five years and you can see that from December to now nothing has happened. They may be working on it for another 10 years,” he said.

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