BY IBRAHIM ABDULHAMID, JULY 28, 2022 | 11:25 PM
President Muhammadu Buhari was in the University of Maiduguri (UNINAID) January this year to inaugurate a massive project donated to the institution by Alhaji Muhammadu Indimi, a businessman and his in-law.
Over the last few years, the institution, first established in 1978, has undergone series of infrastructural transformation, thanks especially to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).
Prof. Aliyu Shugaba, the Vice Chancellor, who now oversees the operations of the second generation university from a massive recently built office, the Muhammadu Buhari Senate Building, is proud to have had the privilege of having some of these projects executed during his tenure.
Despite these interventions, it is widely believed, especially among academics, that Nigerian public universities are still and continuously in need of more infrastructures, from lecture halls, laboratories, libraries … to student hostels, among other facilities. And that is true, given the rapid increase in the number of students now seeking admissions into universities and new dynamics in various aspects of teaching.
YERWA EXPRESS NEWS' reporters x-rayed the procurement profile of UNIMAID, after which they discovered that the institution is hugely indebted to contractors and suppliers, thanks to a number of reasons.
Most universities have at least two kinds of projects: those carried out internally or what they call IGR Projects and those funded from outside sources, courtesy of the TETFUND projects and donors. Nigerian universities record little alumni projects compared to other countries who enjoy huge investments from their successful products and wide networks; but they benefit from donations made by philanthropists from time to time.
The management of the institution has little or no involvement in the execution of the latter projects, at least, if anything, not beyond playing supervisory role to ensure standards requested are met. Beyond that, the farthest they go is to submit requests for projects based on their (ordinarily) masterplan and other needs to the TETFUND; and subsequently follow them up till approval and execution. At that level, recommendations (or as some of our sources called lobbies) are made on behalf of preferred contractors. The motives, as we were made to understand by sources familiar with the processes, are not always ‘ill-motivated’, as they are for confidence, effective and timely service delivery.
The management however has full control over the IGR projects, which are mostly internal supplies, renovations and what have you. They are called IGR projects because they are funded through Internally Generated Revenues. A university’s major source of internal revenue is students’ tuition, paid at the beginning of every semester. UNIMAID has about 75,000 students, spread across over 14 faculties and at least 100 departments, which is a further emphasis on why students’ tuitions is its biggest IGR source. Other sources include fees paid for hostels, shop rent by businesses and other charges, including change of course, transcripts and certificates.
A former university administrator, who pleaded anonymity, told YERWA EXPRESS NEWS that the internal revenue of universities are akin to other businesses or institutions; they are not anything fixed even though it is a huge sum of money.
‘The students’ registration account is not fixed; you can only surmise. Even if you have a fixed number of students with given fees, it is not all students that at the end pay. Then you have new admissions. Many candidates may change their minds and go to other universities,’ the source explained.
Beyond that, UNIMAID has other sources of IGR, which are largely from businesses it runs. For instance, it has hotels in Abuja and Kano, both named Kanem Suites, even though we cannot establish authoritatively what it generates from these and other internal sources.
But these funds are what goes into internal projects such as supplies, renovations and maintenance, including other services.
Our investigations have however shown that there are certain infractions in carrying them out.
Several contractors of the school, who cooperated with YERWA EXPRESS NEWS, gave account of some abuse of contract terms as it relates to payment and meeting its other contractual obligations--a situation the school attributed to shortage of funds.
Contractors are not paid years after completion of project
Many contractors, whose names we are withholding as per our commitment to protect their future business relations with the university and other clients (who might feel wary of dealing with them), confirmed to YERWA EXPRESS NEWS that they have not been paid several years after the completion of their contracts, a claim admitted by the vice chancellor.
‘My own is a supply, which were (sic) completed long ago, I think even before COVID-19,’ a contractor said, which was further confirmed by a waybill and contract award sighted by our correspondent. For a fact, the supplies, which were of equipment, were completed in 2019 at the cost of N6.8 million.
‘I was awarded the contract after all due diligence with assurances that I will be paid duly upon completion,’ he said, adding that ‘I didn’t even have any doubts because I didn’t have any bad experiences in the past’.
A contractor who confided in us last April, claimed to have been threatened by his business partners who helped him with financing to carry out the contract.
‘My explanation is not making sense to anybody because they think I have been paid. The university says it is cash strapped, but even if I try to understand that, these people don’t get it because they see projects going on always. They even contact the school to find out if I was paid,’ he said.
Cash strapped varsity still awards contracts
Our sources are wondering why the university is still awarding new contracts despite claims of being broke.
‘What confuses me is why the university is still giving out new contracts if they don’t have money to pay?
‘If you don’t have money and you already have many people’s money with you, how do you expect people to believe you?
‘The problem this is causing us is that the people who give us materials or money for the works will be thinking that we are lying to them because they are seeing a lot of works going on. This is a big problem,’ another contractor said on condition of anonymity.
Some of the contractors confirmed that some of them completed their works as far back as 2019, but have not been paid yet. YERWA EXPRESS NEWS cannot establish the total sum of the claimed contracts, as some of the contractors did not disclose the figures.
When our reporter drew the attention of the vice chancellor to these concerns, he admitted and even went on to justify some of their feelings.
He admitted that the university is hugely indebted because of a number reasons.
In his explanation, he attributed the cause to two things: the COVID-19 pandemic which caused closure of schools nationwide for many months and the ongoing ASUU strike.
According to him, a major source of internal revenue to the institution is students tuition fees.
As such, he said the management initially planned the academic session in such a way that it will be a continuous one, with successive semesters without long break; so that a new session would have by now started to enable them generate some revenue to set off their debt.
However, that was not possible with the ASUU industrial action in its seventh month now, the vice chancellor said.
‘Just few days ago, I was complaining to some of my colleagues in other universities that we need a means to settle our debts, only for them to say that I am in a better situation.
‘The situation is the same in almost all universities’, the vice chancellor said in a phone conversation with one of our reporters.
He assured that the management is currently devising a means to ensure that some of the debts are paid.
While speaking on concerns about new projects, he said it is 'the same contractors who come and lobby for the new works even after we inform them that the management has no money to immediately settle them. Yet, they will insist.
‘Later on, they will be the ones complaining that the university has not settled them; so that is the situation.’
He said most of the contractors don’t believe that the university is cash-strapped because they see other projects going on, but the VC clarified that what they see are mostly projects executed by either donors or TETFUND, which are not entirely under the school’s direct control.
YERWA EXPRESS NEWS shall keep you posted on developments in the institution and similar schools.
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30 January 2023