The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the National Universities Commission (NUC), in a collaborative effort, last week, closed down and physically sealed up the premises of 41 illegal universities operating in the country.
The exercise, which was simultaneously carried out in nine different zones nationwide, with the assistance of the Police, the State Security Service (SSS) and the National Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) also involved the arrest of some proprietors and top officials of the affected institutions.
Justifying the move, the Chairman of the ICPC, Mr Ekpo Nta, represented by Prof. Olu Aina, a member of the Board and Chairman of the ICPC/NUC Task Team, told Journalists that the 41 institutions sealed up were those whose addresses were known out of a total of 67 unapproved universities offering un accredited courses discovered during a University System Study and Review(USSR) by the ICPC and the NUC.
He said the crackdown was the first in the series of implementing the outcome of the review and that it will continue until all corrupt practices and impunity associated with the physical existence of such illegal institutions cease completely. He explained that Section 37 of the ICPC law empowered the Commission to carry out the exercise, adding that a Federal High Court warrant was sought and duly obtained to seal up the premises of the affected institutions, seize their properties, make arrests, prosecute and execute such other actions it may deem fit.
Nigerians are familiar with the issue, nay menace, of illegal universities or what many refer to as fake universities. In fact, the proliferation of such institutions over the years despite the government’s warnings against their existence, has been a source of worry to the authorities as well as right thinking citizens. The NUC has had a long running but unsuccessful battle with the operators. The failure of the NUC to stop or curb their activities has been attributed partly to its reliance on civil measures, such as directives. It lacked power to coercively enforce compliance with the law on establishment of universities.
Section 22 of the Education Act cap E3 LFN 2004 only directs the NUC to close down illegal institutions without prescription of criminal sanctions against the operators for promoting the illegality. The intervention of the ICPC and its collaboration with the NUC has brought a welcome fillip to the war against illegal universities. The new approach of physically closing down the affected institutions,seizing their properties and arresting their officials for possible prosecution will go a long way to deter actual and potential offenders.
The case against illegal universities and their operators is a very serious one because of the evil and danger they pose to the society and the development of the country. Succinctly articulated by the ICPC Chairman , it evokes national outrage and societal condemnation. He argues: ” These un accredited institutions,apart from extorting huge sums of money from Nigerians,are manned by unqualified personnel and operate in makeshift structures and poor environment that cannot qualify our youth both in learning and character for the award of recognised university degrees.
“Students of these institutions are not admitted through JAMB( Joint Admissions. and Matriculation Board ), neither are they qualified or considered for the NYSC ( National Youth Service Corps ). As a result of these deficiencies, the so-called students of these illegal outfits are not equipped for employment in the public or private sector. In the end, certificates obtained from such institutions become useless and the period of study becomes a monumemental waste of precious time.
“Therefore, the activities of these illegal operators have impacted negatively on the mental, psychological and economic well-being of many young Nigerians and their parents. The institutions constitute an embarrassment to the government and remain a monumental corruption of the education system”, he concluded.
Close watchers of the education sector believe that to find an enduring solution to this menace, the authorities should address the issue of abuse of establishment of satellite campuses of universities, which some traced as the root cause of the emergence of illegal tertiary institutions in the country. Government directives and sanctions in this regard must be diligently enforced.
The government also needs to take a look again at the rules, processes and stages of establishment of universities to see if there are loopholes being exploited by operators, in view of the claim by some illegal operators that they were given temporary approval and conditions to fulfil. Nevertheless, such claims are untenable, inexcusable and fraudulent if the affected institutions have been awarding degrees and diplomas for years without meeting the conditions which should have qualified them to award such degrees.
Analysts also believe that parents have a crucial role to play in ridding the country of this menace. According to them, parents who know that their wards are not qualified to gain admission into the standard public and private universities patronise the illegal ones in a bid to cut corners. They are the type of parents who encourage their wards to engage in examination malpractice and even go to the extent of arranging special centres in remote places to facilitate it.
Analysts of this school of thought agree with ICPC’s view that students of shut illegal universities did not deserve compensation; rather, they posit that parents in the records of such institutions, responsible for paying student fees, should be treated as accomplices aiding and abetting the crime.
Some stakeholders have, however, laid the blame on the government’s doorstep, arguing that the inability of the country’s tertiary education system to provide enough space for all prospective students is responsible for the desperation of some students and their parents who fall prey to the unscrupulous activities of illegal operators. This argument is neither here nor there because inadequate tertiary education space is common in developing countries with fast growing population not matched by corresponding infrastructure growth and development.
The solution applied globally is to allow the estabishment of private institutions to fill the gap and that is what government has done. There are several standard private institutions in the country today that can compete favourably with their counterparts in the developed countries. The crisis of illegal universities is to the education sector what advance fee fraud is to the business sector. It is perpetrated by dubious people with criminal intentions who are exploiting the system for what they can gain. It is another manifestation of the hydra headed corruption monster in the polity.
The ICPC and the NUC should not allow sentiments by interested parties to sway their resolve on this matter. This war to sanitise the countriy’s tertiary education sector is one war they must win because of its importance to the future of the nation.
– Seye Adesina
Mr Adesina wrote in from Lagos