Call for probe
•You can’t probe us, show us your evidence of payment -VC
By: Felix Onajite
Students of the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, are currently kicking over their inability to retrieve monies they left in the school portal’s wallet for which the new school leadership claimed were unable to be retrieved, NIGERIAN WITNESS reports. To this end, they have called on the National Assembly, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other anti-corruption agencies to initiate probe into the activities that would have robbed them of their monies. The monies, when put together they claimed runs into hundreds of millions.
However, in a reaction to the students’ claims, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, the new vice-chancellor who introduced the changes that led to the alleged disappearance of the monies retorted that neither Nigerian Witness nor the “so-called students have the right to audit the university’s account in order to establish the amount of money accruable as a result of money in students’ wallets.”
The students in their petition to Nigerian Witness claimed that before now, the National Open University of Nigeria outsourced its website management to an IT company which managed all the activities of the school and the student information until the new vice-chancellor, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu came in and faulted the process. The VCs argument was that the school spent a large junk of it monies to manage the web when according to him, the school has enough manpower to manage it in-house.
This led to the suspension of the contract and subsequently sparked off series of problems the students are currently facing.
“NOUN has under the current VC launched more than three different websites apart from the old www.noun.edu.ng. It started with www.nou.org, it moved to www.noun.net and then www.nou.edu.net. Never has any of them lasted more than a month before it was pulled down,” the students revealed.
Nigerian Witness gathered that when the students were finally able to access information on the portal, they saw all their details intact except monies they lodged into their wallets with the school.
The wallet is virtual account on NOUN’s portal where students lodge their monies in for future payment of fees, registration of courses, and registration of exams.
“Students pay in monies into their wallets more than they need to use in a semester for safety. Some rich students pre-fund their wallets as much as N100,000 or more. The monies are the ones the new management and their ICT collaborators have refused to reflect. The school authorities are claiming they could not retrieve the wallet details after they have retrieved the other students information. This we believe call for proper investigation.”
Some of the students interviewed claimed they had balances ranging from N45,000 to N25,000 left in their wallets. Others as well had as little as N1,000 or N5,000.
Other issues raised by the students border on a possible collaboration between the ICT staff and owners of business centers within the school premises which makes it near-impossible for students to download information elsewhere unless one uses the facilities provided by business centers operating within the school premises supposedly owned by ICT workers in the school.
“Another face of fraud is the fact that one can hardly download materials from the so-called NOUN website elsewhere unless one uses the facilities of the business centres in the school premises who charge so outrageously. For materials that ordinarily cost one, say around N200 to download from other business centres, one spends as much as N3,000 to download same from business centres in the school. The possible implication is that these ‘special business centres’ have special IP numbers or codes given to them by their ICT collaborators making it impossible for one to access information on the portals accept one uses the ‘special business centres’ facilities which are believed to be owned by some of the ICT staff.
The students further complained of their exams which were never released but tagged pending. Pending results are those which the student have registered as courses, registered for exams, written the exams, but are not released due to circumstances only known to the school management.
“Students are made to re-register for the exams and courses they have already written. The staffers of the school seem to misplace the students’ manuscripts and materials out of sheer laxity only to demand that the students pay and re-write the courses and exams they have paid for and written.”
A law student who spoke to our correspondent lamented how all the five law courses she sat for in her 200 level were declared ‘pending’ and are not released after three semesters.
“Now I’m asked to register the courses all over again at N3,000 per course and an exam fee of N1,000 amounting to N4,000 each and five courses totaling N20,000 for no fault of mine,” she lamented.
It was the same sad stories of fleecing from other students who demand that their monies in their wallets be given back to them.
“It looks like a fraud. How can you tell me that you were able to retrieve every other information about me and you’re unable to retrieve the money I paid into my account with you? That’s impossible. It’s a glaring fraud. Our monies must be paid back,” another student said.
Since the VC’s assumption in office, there have also been several controversies with the mode of administration in terms of recruitment. It was gathered that there are different unpublicized recruitment going on in the institution to absorb the “who knows who” set of staff while jeopardizing merit. In a related concern, certain officers were also demoted to satisfy the preference of the VC in the move to empower his allies. The issue of tribalism is also taking a firm stance in the institution as there are more Hausa appointees coming on board in the institution.
Another major issue that cannot be easily frayed is the breach of contract with facilitators promised to be paid for instructional video recording and eventual non-payment of such allowances following the transition. The administration of the VC did not only stop the payment of such allowances but also infringed on certain fringe benefits that are meant for facilitators as they no longer receive their annual rent allowance and this does not go well with the school staff as their welfare is affected.
Students of the institution have also taken to different social media channels to vent their anger on the different means by which they have been exploited by the institution. It was revealed that they pay for course materials which they don’t get regularly and which they are yet to get an explanation for.
When contacted by Nigerian Witness, Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu, the new vice-chancellor debunked all these. He described the allegations as the handiwork of the fifth columnists. In a letter addressed to NIGERIAN WITNESS and signed by his spokesperson, Dr. Eric Omazu, he declared that the claims did not emanate from “bona fide students of the institution but faceless individuals who hide under the banner of NOUN students to initiate and sustain their attacks on the university.”
According to him, prior to June 2016, the university had no control of its information management and learning networks. They were controlled by two companies: CyberSpace and Emerging Platforms.
“However, due to his vast knowledge in information and computer technology, Professor Adamu conceived an internally designed and internally managed ICT solution that will not only perform the functions undertaken by the two companies but would also be responsive to data security need of the university,” Dr. Omazu explained.
“The administration proposed a utilitarian approach that would transfer 100% control of data to the university,” he said, and that did not go down well with the contractors who wanted the maintenance of status quo.
Following the inability of the parties to reach an amicable solution, as it became clear the university was being held to ransom, the institution is said to have initiated the process of disengagement as spelt out in the MoUs with the companies.
Among other things, the MoUs demanded that the two companies be served notice of termination and that within the period, they were to transfer all the university data in their hands to the university.
We learnt the terms of agreement were not kept; rather the companies took some unprofessional steps targeted at sabotaging the entire NOUN operation. “First, they demobilized the website, forcefully shutting down the students’ portal in the process.
“Second, they proposed outlandish sums of money as settlement with threat of possible lawsuit. The good news is that NOUN has moved on to greater things in spite of all these,” the university’s spokesman concluded.
In defense of the monies not reflected in the newly created portal, the university’s vice-chancellor said: “NOUN has at no time claimed that monies in the students’ wallet were unable to be retrieved. All genuine and honest students of NOUN can attest that in view of the challenges posed by the systemic sabotage, NOUN has directed its Students Account Unit in the Bursary Department to credit accordingly the new wallets of students with proof of balance in their old wallets.”
“Neither your organization not the so-called students have the right to audit the university’s account in order to establish the amount of money accruable as a result of money in students’ wallets. Each affected student is affected in his or her person and not the amount of money in the university’s bank account.”
The university also ruled out any possibility of collaboration between its ICT staff and owners of business centres within the school premises, saying that it was simply false.
On complaint regarding the mode of administration in terms of recruitment, it said the instinctive response was to dismiss it. The school quickly added that all recruitments under the administration of Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu were conducted “with strict compliance to laid down rules and guidelines.”
It described the allegation that certain officers were demoted to satisfy the preference of the VC in the move to empower his allies as completely false and uncharitable to a man whose administration has removed all sorts of bureaucratic bottleneck to promotion in the university.
It declared: “Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu’s administrative philosophy is based on the fact that NOUN is a national institution that must retain its federal character. Expectedly, he has ensured equal treatment of all segments of the Nigerian society within the university without any discrimination whatsoever.”
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