Is the scope of intervention by ICPC restricted to higher education?
No, we are not but we are looking at quick and immediate gains. I can tell you that some of you who are females that went through the university, you know the pressures you went through. At the end of this exercise we want to see a situation where even if some of the females claim to be consenting adults, it would not be acceptable to date your lecturer. You would hold that love until you graduate because there is no way it would not affect the grading of your papers and the rest.
What we have started is beginning to take root in the university system because we know some universities that have started sacking their lecturers and professors and cleaning up the system and they inform us.
Why is ICPC only embarking on this exercise now. What informed the sudden interest in education particularly?
People want quick gains and the quickest gain is at the tertiary level because these are the persons who are coming into positions of authority. We are emphasizing more on prevention. Earlier, ICPC was on investigation and prosecution to make a mark, we had high profiled people and slammed them in but you cannot continue to do that on a permanent basis because Nigeria is a very religious society, immediately you arrest the head of an organisation, his deputy would step in and tell his pastor or imam who would tell him that it is not his portion to be caught and he would go ahead to repeat the same mistakes.
From your visits so far how have the authorities of these universities received you?
The universities complained bitterly about visitation panels and other bodies that when they come they expect you to provide accommodation, transportation and we have put that in our report and it would be unfortunate for any public officer to request for such things in future. As a matter of principle, here in ICPC you are provided accommodation in any agency you are going to give a lecture you must exclude that from this organisation.
When it comes to investigation, it is even a no go area. We would not even ask you, if you offer it, it is a criminal offence because you tried to solicit. If any staff is found in that business, too bad for him.
What did you discover during your investigation of these universities? What is the fate of those found guilty of establishing illegal universities?
First the raid of these universities and illegal degree awarding mills was unexpected because we did not announce we were coming and they were taken unawares. Some had shouted that they were not degree awarding institutions and we collected as evidence fliers stating that they award degrees. We found academic gowns, we found research reports and term papers in fulfillment of BSc. We found signed certificates and we are not stopping at seizing those things, freezing their accounts and locking their properties, the commission is saying the law does not end at that level, it is the court that would decide whether you are guilty or not when we produce all our evidence.
Obtaining transcripts from universities can be very difficult, is the template for prevention of systemic corruption in universities addressing this too?
I can speak authoritatively on the issue of transcripts because I was a records officer of a university as a Senior Assistant Registrar. It is in the university setting, a thankless job because it does not give you an avenue to travel. You can be there for 15 years you would not travel out of your office because that is the way the universities have designed it and it requires a lot of intellect for you to have proper records. Universities exist on the basis of records so we must begin to pay attention to the training of records officers to move what we have now to the electronic version and in the proper format. We are going to help the universities to come to an agreement on what should be and we would give timelines that the transcripts must be produced on application within a number of days.
Corruption thrives when you have discretion whether to respond or not to respond but when it is made part of the regulation that you must respond within four days then they would start sitting up.
Are you thinking of re-orienting parents, because they also contribute to this desperation of just going to any university so in the long run you reduce the expenditure the commission is likely to incur on litigations?
Some of our children who are going abroad are just leaving frying pan to fire. They are going to attend institutions that are not even approved in those countries. In the course of the last investigation we carried out to rid the system of illegal degree awarding institutions, some of them claimed to be representing institutions abroad. To tell you the thoroughness of what we are trying to do, we had to make contacts with the ambassadors of the countries aside from googling which would give you an immediate response.
Some of the ambassadors said, “do we have such a school in our place?” It is bigger than what we are even trying to do to contain it within Nigeria. We are also into bilateral relationships with other countries to help inform the appropriate persons what we found.
You need to re-orientate the parents and that is why we normally have town hall meetings. The desperation of parents is actually contributing and pushing children into the wrong places. When you begin to send 16 and 17 year old children to Ukraine to go and learn a new language, can you imagine your 16-year-old daughter going there because you want her to read medicine in a society that is very racist, when jobs are not even available for the local people. You might be earning good money in government suddenly you get thrown out what happens to the child who would not be getting money for sustenance.
The National Universities Commission is supposed to check some by-products of the system review of universities which you mentioned as proliferation of illegal universities, unaccredited courses, flouting due process in awards of contracts and so on. Is this an indictment on the commission itself?
We have looked at the rules, laws and acts that establish the NUC and in terms of enforcement they were not really equipped to do that and that is the aspect we have come in for. We are not doing regulation, they are still doing that. If you tell a man do not open a university and he goes to do that what would you do if you do not have the powers to shut him down technically? You look for a partner who would be able to shut him down and that is what they have done.
Your template for prevention, how is it different from the rules and regulations already guiding the university system and to what extent do you think it would make an impact?
If those rules and regulations were working we would not need a template and mind you, mutation happens on daily basis. The template we are developing is for the universities to follow the rules and regulations.