INVESTIGATION: Offa Poly students groan as school officials, associations impose illegal fees (1)

Alfred Olufemi

In a recent interview, the spokesperson of Federal Polytechnic Offa, Olayinka Iroye, announced that the school authorities had eradicated all forms of corruption and that no one sells handouts to students no matter the condition.

“Management of the Federal Polytechnic Offa headed by Dr Lateef Olatunji has eradicated all forms of corruption and malpractices, and machinery have been put in place to curb and check every form of indiscipline by both staff and students,” the spokesperson stated.

“For the benefit of the doubt, sale of handouts has been banned for more than two decades at the Polytechnic and no lecturer sells handout to students no matter the situation”, Iroye further boasted.

However, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES over weeks revealed the reality to be the opposite of Mr Iroye’s words. Students are still being compelled to buy handouts among other corrupt practices.

The Federal Polytechnic Offa, Kwara State, a polytechnic in north-central Nigeria operates on two campuses. The mini campus is in Offa and the permanent site is located in Ojoku, about 36 kilometers away from the former.

With six faculties, the school runs Ordinary National Diploma (OND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) programmes.

Lamentation and Regrets

For students of this institution and their parents, it has been unending lamentations emanating from constant, mostly illegal requests for payments.

An average student in FEDPOFFA pays levies in their double figures annually. Such payments include; departmental student associations’ fees, faculty students’ associations’ fees, departmental levy, faculty levy, maintenance of some facilities, religious groups’ fees, indigenous association fees, general course fees and many more.

This reporter confirmed from several students that failure to pay and submit receipts of any of these levies usually lead to reprimand from registration officers of departments. In most cases, this leads to incomplete registration and ultimately withholding of results.

“When I got to the registration officer’s office, some receipts like three were converted into one for reasons best known to them – because they have similar specifications. He even sent some students out because of these students’ association receipts,” an HND 1 student of Mechanical Engineering shared with PREMIUM TIMES.

“If you want them to approve your kits in my department, you have to present nine compulsory receipts. Without them, your kit will not be approved and your results won’t be released,” Oluwadare a student at the department of Business Administration also said.

This reporter also sighted receipts of payment made by a ND1 student of Mass Communication Department for the 2018/2019 session. The sum of the payments amounts to N13,000 paid at various points after the student had paid the school fees of N30, 000 and an acceptance fee of N15,000. The student prefers not to be named for fear of victimisation.

A breakdown of the 12 receipts shows that N700 is for School of Communication and Information Technology (SCIT), N1,000 for National Association of Mass Communication Students, N200 for bus maintenance, N1,500 for book reading levy, N1,500 for practical manual, N1,000 for National Association of Communication and Information Technology Students (NACITS), N200 for Joint Christian Campus Mission, N500 for National Association of Kwara State Students (NAKSS), N200 for the Departmental Christian Fellowship and N500 for biodata form at the Directorate of Students’ Affairs.

Similarly, Olalekan Muyiwa, a student of the Department of Computer Science, stated that he spent over N10,000 on the receipts deemed compulsory by the registration officer. His payments were for similar items as those of the ND1 student.

Sanmi Oluwadare, who travels 15 kilometers daily to the main campus for lectures, complained bitterly about the outrageous fees.

He said, “If I tell you the amount I have spent so far, you will pity me. It is even worse when you get to HND. On handouts for this last semester alone, I have spent N15, 000. I have not mentioned that of receipts.”

He added that even when a student’s state does not have an association on campus, he or she must claim another one in order to have a state’s association receipt to present for registration process.

Illegality, Violation of Student’s Handbook

Practices by officials of the polytechnic contravene dictates of the school regulations as contained in the students’ handbook. Although the school authorities encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities including religious and cultural groups, membership is voluntary.

Also, contrary to the current practices, the only criterion required for students to complete their semester registration is the payment of tuition fees and the acceptance fee (for fresh students). None of the levies imposed by students’ associations, religious groups, faculties and departmental levies were mentioned as criteria.

Sometimes, students pay higher than what is reflected in their receipt. After some complaints, this reporter disguised as a student, visited the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) to pay N2,200, a payment compulsory for all part-time students. Only N2,000 was recorded on the receipt issued. The lady drafted to collect the money said the N200 was for agent banking fee and this does not reflect on receipts.

Also at the Division of Students Affairs, this reporter witnessed how students are made to pay N600 for a bio-data form while only N500 is reflected on the receipt.

Connivance with banks – violating FG’s TSA policy

In 2016, the federal government announced that all federal agencies must operate the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy in a bid to fully implement the policy. This forbids government parastatals, ministries, departments and agencies from operating a bank account outside the single account. As a federal institution, all financial transactions by FEDPOFFA and its departments are meant to end in the TSA. However, school officials have devised a means of by-passing the system.

Finding by this newspaper indicates that the officials connive with micro-finance banks within the polytechnic. PREMIUM TIMES found five of them in Offa namely; Stockorp, Sincere, Ibolo, Citizen Trust and Ours

The massive extortion would not have been successful if it was not done in connivance with the banks, who run an agent deposit system at designated spots on the campuses.

The money collected from students are paid into various accounts designated for each levy.

Under the TSA, all government payments for services and revenue collections are done through one account known as Consolidated Revenue Fund/Treasury Single Account (CRF/TSA) domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The sums of money collected by the micro-finance banks at the polytechnic never end up in the TSA.

A top official in one of the microfinance banks, who sought anonymity to protect his job, said that the departmental and faculties’ authorities levy the students out of greed.

“These departments prepare their annual budgets and present to the school for funding from the federal government and they still end up billing the students in the name of development fee and others. I must say that they collect too much. At least, we are the ones who collect on their behalf,” the official said.

Polytechnic approved some payments – Spokesperson

Meanwhile, the school’s spokesperson said that he is not aware that a fee is charged at the faculty level, but he is not ignorant of the departmental fee.

“We have what we call departmental fees approved by the academic board. There is no institution where they don’t pay departmental fees. Academic board stipulates what they must pay. There is a benchmark and it varies across different departments,” he explained.

“Departmental due is something the management has sealed with all the departmental HODs. According to the management, the amount has been pegged at N1,500,” he stated further.

He said that the institution’s management frowns at other fees, adding that “once you have paid the compulsory school fees, the school is not concerned with all other fees.”

But when asked the rationale behind such payment since all the departments benefit from the allocation to the school in the budget, he claimed the allocation from the government is insufficient.

Denying that those payments are prerequisite for departmental and course registration, he added that the fees charged by students’ associations are not made compulsory.

General Courses, General Scam

In the breakdown of the school fees paid by students of the polytechnic, examinations and courses have already been catered for but it was discovered that some school officials collect extra for general courses.

General courses, which go with the course tag ‘GNS’ are usually taken by all students within a level at the institution.

For students to offer English Language as a general course at both the OND and HND levels, they must purchase registration forms sold for N500. Similarly at the Department of Social Sciences, there is a compulsory payment of N500 for some courses offered.

Citizenship Studies and Sociology are also two general courses in the Department of Social Sciences with such enforced payments. Students are compelled to pay N500.

This reporter obtained multiple receipts from students who lodged complaints to serve as evidence.

This newspaper also gathered that lecturers deny students who fail to pay these fees access to examinations and tests. A student said, “I was in a class one day when the lecturer told those who have not paid not to write the test. He added that even if they write, they wouldn’t see the result.”

Also, textbooks are sold to students in Citizenship Studies and English Language class for N1200 each. Many students confirmed that the course coordinators threaten students with failure if they refuse to buy.

Meanwhile, the school spokesperson in his response, did not deny the existence of these general courses’ fees.

“There is no way you will not pay for General Studies. In General Studies, they don’t sell textbooks just anyhow. They have different courses in the department of languages and they don’t write books as individuals. I am aware but it is approved by the academic board.”

“In the General Studies, they don’t have students whereas; they have their own laboratories and other facilities.”

He, however, reiterated that the fees are not compulsory, but the lecturers only threaten the students so as to encourage them to pay.

The spokesperson also kept mute when asked about the sum approved by the board.

No Value for monies forced out of our pockets – Students cry out

Even with illegal payments, students are worried about the state of infrastructure the monies were purportedly collected to provide.

“I’ve been paying for Christian fellowships since my ND days and, up till now, we still gather on Fridays under trees for worship. What is the essence of the N300 collected from every Christian student,” Wale, an HND1 student, lamented.

Students of Mass Communication Department who were made to cough out N1,500 for a publication named ‘Book of Reading and Practical Manual’, said they were never given copies of the book.

“Everyone in the department paid for the book but no practical manual was issued neither was any book given,” a student who did not want his name mentioned lamented.

Even though this complaint cut across students from different levels, Head of the Department of Mass Communication, Binta Oloyede, assured that he will commence the distribution of the materials to students.

“Now we have the materials ready and we will commence distribution next Wednesday,” he announced to PREMIUM TIMES in July. However, the students have not gotten the materials at the time of filing this report.

Students’ union stance

In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Students’ Union Government (SUG) President, Muritala Saheed, said that the association levies should be voluntary. He, however, admits the fees are being made compulsory by departmental heads.

“Before we came on board, there were departments and faculties that have started collecting all these fees. Now it will be so difficult for us to tell them to refund the money. All the money being paid by students should be voluntary and not mandatory.

“From this regime, we have been to the hospital to pay some students’ bills. We have been to the police station to bail some students without even asking for their dues. So, it is not mandatory,” said.

Claiming to be handicapped in doing something because his tenure is almost over, Mr Saheed, however, promised to recommend the reduction of these fees to incoming union officers.

Activist demand probe of authorities

    In opposition to some of the extortionist fees, the national coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign, Taiwo Hassan, called for the probe of the officers in the tertiary institution.

    The activist stated this in a telephone interview with this newspaper. “They are in violation of the law and the tertiary institution’s rule, because it does not form part of the conditionality or eligibility to earn academic certificate. What they are doing is criminal. Whoever is found guilty should be made to face the wrath of the law.”

    Mr Hassan said instead of imposing levies, the associations should demonstrate why students should fund them through programmes, including the Students’ Union.

    He also called for the democratisation of the decision-making organs of the school in a way that students, lecturers, and the management will be ably represented.

    * This investigation was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative reporting, ICIR

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