The allegations made by vice-chancellors and provosts, accusing a committee from the House of Representatives of demanding money from them, have been refuted by the House.
Previously, Vice-chancellors had claimed that members of the TETFund committee were coercing universities into paying money under the guise of supervisory duties.
It has been claimed that the committee, under the leadership of Honorable Miriam Onuah, requested that Vice-Chancellors and provosts contribute a specified sum of money to the committee.
According to Rotimi Akin, the spokesperson for the House of Representatives, the recent accounts have recycled an incorrect narrative, claiming that members of the legislature are trying to coerce money from university officials.
In his statement yesterday, he clarified that when lawmakers oversee or give instructions regarding the funds allocated by Congress to a public institution, it does not amount to an improper or excessive interference in the operation of these educational establishments, nor does it violate their independence as the reports have suggested.
He further explained that according to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), specifically section 80(3), it is explicitly stated that withdrawing any funds from the Federation's public accounts, other than those from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, is prohibited unless such a transaction has been officially sanctioned by a legislative act passed by the National Assembly.
He said according to articles 88 and 89 of the Constitution, the National Assembly is empowered to instruct or mandate an inquiry into the actions of any individual, authority, ministry, or government department that is tasked with or expected to handle the distribution or management of funds allocated or intended for allocation by the National Assembly.
The Constitution of Nigeria stands as the ultimate legal authority within the country, with all other laws and actions deemed secondary to its directives, especially when conflicts arise.
This foundational status is established by Section 1 of the constitution itself, a fact that has been repeatedly upheld by the nation's highest court. It is crucial to understand that the constitution is the benchmark by which all other laws and actions are assessed for their legality, ensuring they conform to the foundational legal principles. With this constitutional mandate in mind, we strongly hold that the TETFund Act, just like any other piece of Nigerian legislation, must be construed and implemented in a manner that is consistent with the constitution.
Although the TETFund Act in Section 7(5) does not specifically state that the National Assembly must approve withdrawals, this requirement should be considered within the greater framework of the Constitution that requires this approval for accessing public funds. The fact that the TETFund Act does not explicitly mention National Assembly approval does not mean it is not subject to constitutional rules. Instead, this should be seen as an implicit acknowledgment that the TETFund Act, like any other law, falls under the supreme guidelines established by the Constitution.
Rotimi emphasized that the directive issued by the House Committee on TETFUND to the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU), as stated in their letter to halt the roll-out of the 2024 Intervention Fund until it receives approval, is completely within the constitutional rights and corresponds with the necessity to guarantee fiscal responsibility.
Asserting that if an individual or group threatens the Committee with claims of extortion, it is important for them to realize that such accusations constitute defamation, and the appropriate legal measures will be pursued.
"It must also be acknowledged that the substance of these reports ignites new concerns regarding the declining quality of journalism in our beloved nation, particularly when considering that mere assumptions (as opposed to the presentation of evidence) could receive such prominence in a national newspaper."
Additionally, it's important to note that while the initial correspondence regarding this topic originated from the House, the upcoming hearing set for February 27, 2024, will be conducted by a collaborative committee formed by both the Senate and the House, focusing on TETFund activities. This joint effort mirrors the method used when different Ministries, Departments, Agencies, Parastatals, and Government-Owned Enterprises presented their budget defenses while the 2024 Appropriation Bill (which is now law) was under review.
"We are of the opinion that convening Joint Committee gatherings as required helps to alleviate any concerns related to expenses and various other factors. This ensures that governmental bodies can communicate with the alleged 'redundant committees' that were hinted at in a recent report."
Thirdly, it's widely recognized that formal paths exist for these "complainants" to express any grievances they might have concerning the invitation they received or the contents of the letter itself. In respect to this, neither the CVCNU nor TETFund has lodged any official grievances or assertions with the Committee regarding the aforementioned invitation.
Since we haven't had any complaints of this kind, we're inclined to think that the misleading stories being spread don't reflect the views of the college and university administrators. Rather, it appears to be the actions of a small number within their ranks who are apprehensive and therefore trying to conceal something. These individuals have abandoned official lines of communication in favor of orchestrated, funded attacks on the Committee.