FUPRE crisis: How a federal university was mismanaged

Emma Amaize

26 November 2011, Sweetcrude, Warri – That all is not well with the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun in Delta State is no longer news. What is baffling is why the Federal Government allowed matters to relapse to a despicable level in such a specialized citadel of learning.

When the university was established in March 2007, the objective was to produce manpower and expertise for the oil and gas sector in Nigeria and worldwide, but, five years after, the story of the university is a sad one, as its courses and programmes are not accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC). The simple meaning is that it cannot graduate students and as a matter of fact, a federal government institution is wasting the time and resources of students it enrolled for programmes/courses that are unaccredited.

The shame of it all is that some of the top officials paid by the government to manage the institution were busy accumulating wealth and witch-hunting themselves , while the basic thing for which they were employed- teaching and churning out manpower and expertise for the oil and gas sector are suffering.

In the past few weeks, the university had been in the news. Mobile policemen, a private security outfit with security dogs have been unleashed on the academic community, the workers, represented by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), are on work-to-rule.

There is tension everywhere in the school and during the week, the NUC, sent a fact-finding team, headed by the Director, Academic and Standards, Professor Alhassan Bichi to take over academic activities in the institution. Some said Prof Bichi was sent as an administrator and head of an NUC peace team to find solution to the crisis rocking the university.

Bone of contention
On the surface, however, the present imbroglio seems to be a power-play between the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Babatunde Alabi, who was sent on accumulated/terminal leave along with the Registrar, Dr. Mrs. L. O. Onwuka on one side, and the Governing Council, which ordered the leave and the interim management of the other side.

But, it is not a mere power tussle between Alabi’s group and the Governing Council, it is a battle for the soul of FUPRE; a battle for autonomy of the institution; a battle for due process; a battle for merit; and a battle against a cabal that is being on hijacking and cowing both staff and students of the institution”.

What has complicated the matter at the moment is that the NUC, which is supposed to act as an unbiased umpire, in the opinion of some stakeholders, has taken sides with one party in the feud and the stance of the Minister of Education had only exacerbated the anger.

The governing council of the school, headed by the first atomic energy professor in Nigeria and Africa, Prof David Onyejekwe was affected in last month (October) dissolution of boards of federal government parasatals, agencies, companies and institutions, ASUU, NASU, Ugbomro, the host community to institution and others are in support of the decision of the council, ordering Prof Alabi and Dr. Onwuka, saying it was to sanitize the system.

The council has not been reconstituted about a month after and it is expected that when reconstituted, it is the same council that will review the position, except the visitor to the university rules otherwise.

Prof Alabi’s five-year-tenure as vice chancellor of FUPRE is expected to expire, March, next year, and in his stead, the deputy vice chancellor, Prof Isaac Osazuwa was mandated by the council to oversee the affairs of the school, but the recall of the vice chancellor and registrar from accumulated leave, ordered by the governing council, allegedly without regards to the situation on ground by the Minister of Education, is the immediate cause of the present crisis

More than meet the eye
Really, there is more than meet the eyes in the FUPRE saga. The fact, however, is that an Investigative Panel, comprising Dr. Mrs. Love Ineh (chairperson), Alhaji Muhammad Gadanya (member), Prof Olatunde Damisa (member) and Barrister Flora Biose (secretary) was inaugurated by the Governing Council on July 20 and before the dissolution of the council when its four-year tenure had not expired, the panel completed its assignment and submitted its report, last month.

Fraud incorporated
The panel in its report, obtained by Saturday Vanguard, uncovered how some top officials perpetrated fraud and mismanaged the institution in the last few years.

The panel said a group hoodwinked the Vice- Chancellor, Prof Tunde Alabi on many issues and unilaterally ran the university without recourse to the Acting Vice- Chancellor, Prof Isaac Osazuwa, adding that a contract of N21 million for rehabilitation of the university access road was signed by an official without recourse to the acting vice chancellor, Prof Osazuwa.

According to the panel’s report, one of the affected officials diverted N1.524 million, belonging to a contractor into a private bank account despite a written instruction by the contractor to pay the money into the account of the company.

A bursary staff was found to operating business in dollars with a Nigerian –based company after the vice chancellor was misguided to approve money in dollars for local transactions. Besides hijacking contracts won by contractors, the clique paid approved money in dollars and naira into their personal accounts.

The panel stated, “On the bandwidth matter, the official (names withheld) was manipulating naira and dollar in payment to the vendor, with the intent of defrauding the university. Evidence of this amount advance is $12,400.00, but the amount paid is $12,300.00, leaving a difference for refund to be $100.00. This amount is converted to N15, 300 (at the naira-dollar exchange rate of 153: 1) to be refunded and not N2, 900, which the official refunded and receipt was issued to her by the bursary…”

It noted that most of the transactions, particularly the ones involving the said official “are fraudulent and due to lack of proper understanding of the job schedule”.

According to the report, “The council should direct the panel investigating the activities of the official to find out whether it is lawful for a chief executive officer of a government parasatal in Nigeria to approve and sign money for payment in any other currency other than the naira”

The panel also found out that N1.85 million approved monthly for security is paid into the personal account of a staff and thereafter, N902, 000 is withdrawn and handed over in cash to a top official.

Fraud in FUPRE
Are the Ministry and NUC aware that five years after it was established, the institution cannot graduate its students because its programmes/courses are not accredited? What did it do about the sour development?

The apprehension in the university, Thursday, was palpable, and except the Federal Government takes urgent and drastic measures to avert the looming danger, the present state of confusion might give way to complete anarchy, as it is already being speculated that some people have vowed settle scores with ex-militants and kidnappers.

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