EDUCATION

SUSPENSION OF UNICAL BURSAR: A CASE OF INJUSTICE IN THE IVORY TOWER

By Bassey Edet Asuquo

The Bursary Department of the University of Calabar is the custodian of the University’s financial records and manages its financial resources through the efficient application of accounting principles, practices and procedures.

The Bursar, Dr. (Mrs) Beatrice Igwe who holds a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Accountancy from the defunct Polytechnic, Calabar and a Master’s degree in Business Management from Unical is also a Chartered Accountant amongst other qualifications and professional certificates to her credit.

Since her appointment in 2017, the Bursar has lived up to the main responsibilities of her office which includes management of the university budget, procurement and payment of supplies and set up of financial procedures. She has also performed creditably by undertaking general and financial administrative tasks such as managing employment contracts, ensuring compliance with the law and contacting local authorities amongst others.

Her commendable performance and exemplary style in office has been adjudged worthy of emulation as reflected in her general acceptability by the University community which was unprecedented in the historical annals of the institution.

It was in recognition of these rare professional qualities that Mrs. Igwe was, among other prominent Nigerians honoured with the prestigious Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science (D.Sc) in Financial Management by the European-American University (EAU), Commonwealth Dominica in 2019.

This is why her sudden suspension from office as the first female Bursar of the University of Calabar has got many people thinking and talking.

Mrs Igwe was expected to complete her five-year tenure as the University Bursar by 2022 before she was placed on suspension for a period of three months beginning from December 22, 2020 over what the University Governing Council termed “acts of alleged official misconduct”.

Her appointment as substantive Bursar in January 2017 was highly applauded by members of the University community in view of her reputation for hard work, integrity and professional excellence demonstrated in her long years of meritorious service as financial manager.

Investigations revealed that all through her career, spanning over three decades, she has never been involved in acts of financial indiscipline or recklessness, let alone face any disciplinary panel. On the contrary, Mrs. Igwe’s tenure as Bursar has recorded increased IGR for the University which helped in clearing off most of the University’s debt burdens. She also introduced innovations that greatly enhanced transparency and accountability in the operations of the University Bursary.

From information I gathered from the University community, It appears obvious that any interaction with the erstwhile VC, Prof Zana Akpagu would result in the rufflling of even a saintly garment. Igwe’s predecessor, Mr Peter Agi suffered a similar fate as his appointment was terminated and his career almost ruined when he encountered Prof. Akpagu in Unical after his long sojourn in theprivatesector. He was barely two years and five months in office at the time of his feud with Akpagu which led to his removal from office.

Mr. Agi was not the only victim of Prof. Akpagu’s over bearing and high handed administration as he became a dreaded demigod in Unical who readily brought down anyone who dared to challenge his administrative excesses or raised opposing views against his military style. After pushing out Mr Agi, many more high ranking academics and Administrators also fell under Akpagu’s bossy hammer as he dished out unwarranted queries, warnings, demotions, suspensions and sack letters to anyone who questioned his maladministration. There was tension everywhere in Unical during Prof Akpagu’s Administration.

In his usual vindictive and acrimonious manner, he ordered the sack of Dr. Sjmon Ajom (Director, Physical Planning), Prof. Enu (Director, Academic Planning), Prof. Okpiliya (Director, CES) and many more. Beyond administrative lashes, Akpagu also chased many of his colleagues who dared to challenge him out of circulation by framing up frivolous charges against them and following them up with the Police and other law enforcement agencies. Under this atmosphere, he was able to grant approvals (order) for the release of University funds for frivolous expenses at will.

He would abandon his official duties for several weeks going out on political campaign trips and obtaining chieftancy titles from every village clans and hamlets, across the length and breadth of Cross River State and any staff that refused to accompany him on these aimless journeys or don’t join the ‘Akpagu choir’ to chorus his praises was blacklisted and had a good fight for it. No one dared to stop him or advised him and no one attempted to question him, not even the University Governing Council whose duty it was to do so.

It was therefore easy for this highly dreaded warlord from the hills of Bebuagbong in Obudu LGA to armtwist the female Bursar, Mrs. Beatrice Igwe into getting whatever money he wanted and at any point in time. That was the terrible working condition that Dr. (Mrs.) Igwe found herself. Attempts to educate her all-knowing and all-powerful boss on the need to be guided by financial and procurement rules or to ignore approvals were construed as an affront. So Prof Akpagu threw caution to the wind and spent the University’s finances like a drunken Sailor. He awarded contracts to friends, family members and concubines. And rather than the Governing Council bringing Prof Akpagu, who as Vice Chancellor, was the Chief Accounting Officer of the University to give account of his wasteful tenure, Council rather decided to go after shadows by suspending the Institution’s Bursar and Procurement Officer for daring to take instructions from their boss.

It is also not clear why these staff were suspended from office even before investigations had commenced because as a seasonal and professional Accountant, Dr. (Mrs.) Igwe has her records intact and expects to receive a clean bill if due process is followed in the ongoing investigation. But it appears decision has already been taken against her even before the commencement of investigations to sacrifice her in place of Akpagu, the sacred cow.

Observers in the Unical drama cannot understood why Prof Akpagu constituted himself into a huge grave yard along the career paths of University staff who were unfortunate to work close to him even as he goes about freely, enjoying his ill gotten wealth.

Another school of thought linked Dr. (Mrs.) Igwe’s trouble to the current Vice Chancellor, Prof Florence Obi who they said was not happy with the duo of Dr. (Mrs.) Igwe and the present Registrar, Mr. Gabriel Egbe for joining their former boss, Prof Akpagu to work against her candidature as Vice Chancellor of the University and that she was determined to ensure the removal of Mr. Egbe as Registrar after she is through with the Bursar. If she succeeds in executing her plans, it would then be on record that the first female Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar removed, in her very first month in office, the first female Bursar.

The question on everyone’s lips begging for answer is why can’t Prof. Akpagu be brought to book? and why should Mrs. Igwe and others atone for the sins of Akpagu? Until that is done, the stench of injustice will continue to stink in the ivory tower.

Bassey Edet Asuquo, a public affairs analyst and commentator writes from Calabar, Cross River State.

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