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ODEKUNLE, Abdul-Lateef Alani Ph.D, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (FCA), Member, Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) former treasurer and later, President of UNILAG Staff Multipurpose Cooperative Society, member of UNILAG Muslim Community where he once served as treasurer, Chairman the Lagos chapter of  one of his  Alma Mata,  Nawair-Ud-Deen Grammar school Obantoko Abeokuta old students association,  a proud Alumnus Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka Lagos, the Universities of Benin and Lagos respectively. He has published in reputable journals, Books and conference proceedings. A passionate Egba man from Ogun-state is the immediate past Bursar of the prestigious University of Lagos, Nigeria.

He has had a very distinguished career in financial management at several levels particularly as the Bursar of the University of Lagos. Among some specific innovations and landmark achievements initiated are: improving the quality of financial reporting; expanding the scope of IT based processing in budgeting and payments including the digitalisation of staff and pension records to create record integrity and make retrieval easy; expanding human capacity building through seminars and trainings; preparing work procedure and ethical documents – Manual of Operation and Handbook of Financial Regulations; all of which resulted in cost efficiency and savings for the University.

In this interview with our crew, this one time Chief Financial Officer of University of Lagos and the youngest bursar ever in the history of the institution explains and enlightens on the roles of the Bursary department of a University. Excerpt.

Can we have an understanding what the bursar office is all about in a University?

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The office of the bursar is the office of the chief financial officer in a University. The office is responsible for the day to day financial operations of the University and reports to the Vice Chancellor on those operations.  Some of these are: management of the entire finances of the University, sourcing of funds, allocates efficiently these resources (funds) among the competing needs in line with the University’s objectives and account for resources gathered and allocated because some of these funds might be from persons who are partners. Let me add, the office of the bursar is created by the act that set up a University and the act specifically mentioned, the office of the Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Registrar, Bursar and librarian as principal Officers and Bursar being a principal officer who heads the Bursary department equally participates in other functions as it may occur from time to time and oversees all the activities including human elements in the department of bursary. 

What are the sources of fund available to Federal Universities?

The Federal government being the owner of the University is the principal source. For instance, the payment of salaries, training of staff both Academics and Non-Academics, meeting part of the overhead recurrent expenses, as well as funds for capital developments are borne by Government.  We also have intervention funds, these are not actually regular but they come in to fill major gaps in the areas of physical infrastructure and capacity developments. I can mention TETFund (Tertiary, Education Trust Fund) as well as Needs Assessment in this regard. Endowment from Individuals and Corporate bodies under their corporate social/ religious responsibilities is another key source of funding for the Universities. For example, here we have magnificent edifices of Pastor D.K Olukoya research laboratory and Aare Afe Babalola auditorium as examples. Also an endowment by well known religious leader for the purpose of teaching an area of mathematics that has not been taught for a very long time in UNILAG. We also have professor Ogunye’s endowment in Chemical Engineering. We also generate revenues from grants locally and internationally as well as through ancillary services provided to students, such as collection of certificates, transcripts, identification cards and others.

With all these sources of funds, why the dearth of infrastructure in Universities?

For University of Lagos that may not be true.  Our buildings are different from what they were thirty years ago and the number is still increasing. People should not forget we are in a water locked area so there is limitation to our expansion. The University is now embarking on vertical growth to overcome the challenges. Any building to be erected must have a minimum of 9-10 floors as our policy now. I must note that the government owns the institution and because of that there are regulations as well as restrictions that guide what the institution can do in infrastructure development. The funds collected are not enough to do massive expansion. Electricity bill is on the average of forty-eight million every month; excluding the amount we spend on diesel. Our Bandwidth data subscription to internet providers is about ten million naira monthly, whereas what a student pays is a mere thousand Naira for the whole session and must have access to it every day. We should give kudos to the Universities particularly UNILAG for the prudent Management of resources. Some of the structures you see around here are done through money generated from within

There is criticism that UNILAG commercialises its courses, your reaction sir?

No. I will tell you. University of Lagos charges the lowest among the Nigerian Universities despite its location, Lagos. A fresh undergraduate student admitted into a science based course such as medicine will only pay N63,500 for the whole year and for non Science courses like accounting such student pays N53,000 only. This covers all expenses except accommodation. Returning students for Science based courses pay N19,500, while student in the non-Science  based courses pay N14,500. Even for Post Graduate studies, what they pay only cover services we give to them. So where is the commercialisation? University of Lagos is a national asset and Nigeria federal universities’ students do not pay tuition. What students pay are for some services rendered by the University because those services will have to be provided by third party who the University has contracted. For an example internet services, provision of ID cards, cleaning of the hostels and others. However, for our foundation and part time studies the amount is higher because it is not covered by Federal government funding. Part-time and foundation programmes have to pay their resource persons because if you don’t pay them well they will not participate in the programme, So University of Lagos does not commercialise her courses and if anyone tells you to be admitted into the institution you have to break your bank, it is not true, it is one of the cheapest schools to attend.

Why is it becoming difficult to gain admissions into Universities?

The truth is the population is getting bigger and facilities in the Universities are not been expanded. In addition, it is as a result of concentrated number that want to come to one particular school thus over subscription to some Universities above others. Students do not want to go far because of security challenges, for instance everybody in Lagos wants to come to University of Lagos. During my time, I picked University of Benin because I wanted to explore and have experience from other places but students do not want to do that again.  There are still Universities whoseadmission will be gained on a platter of gold because sometimes they are not able to fill up their quota, as they are not heavily sought after.

Do you think going on strike is helpful to University education?

It does not help anybody rather it harms the education of the future leaders of the country and to all the stakeholders in the University system.  Strike in the Universities is akin to one listening on radio to an interesting programme and suddenly there is a break in transmission one will feel discomforted. A semester is about 16-17weeks and there is a calendar that has been agreed upon and set for students to graduate, often the strikes make nonsense of the University calendar. Till now, most Universities are yet to recover from the six months strike ASUU, embarked upon in 2013. That’s almost a session. There is the need for Government and ASUU to have an understanding and build confidence in each other to ensure we have strike free sessions.

Does the one single tenure of principal officers promote development?

Sincerely speaking, to me it is a welcome development and may mitigate rancorsin succession order. One cannot claim to have mastery of everything and at a point principal officers can get exhausted after the rigour of first 5yrs or 6 years which the law allows. Being asked to step to another area gives the University opportunity to benefit from such officer’s wealth of knowledge that cannot be wished away. Similarly the policy now gives opportunities to staff that hitherto might not be opportuned to be made a principal officer because of the two tenure policy. With the single tenure many dream will be fulfilled and will promote all round development.

What are the challenging moments?

One of them is strike, it slows down things. If there is a strike principal officers must come to office but there will be limitation to what we can do when other operatives are not available. Another challenge is that the resources available to the university are never enough and there is nothing anyone can do about it, especially these days that disposable income on the part of government is shrinking. Also the challenge of students not paying on time before the portal is shut down and students pleading for it’s reopening to allow them register. They sometimes turn to riot against the Management.

What are the legacies you are leaving behind?

Al hamdulllah, when I assumed the position of the Bursar I submitted a mission and vision statements to be followed and to the Glory of Allah we achieved much of it.  I will mention some. University of Lagos did not have an operation manual for its operations at the Bursary department. I have not seen it anywhere. I assembled my officers and told them we must document our operations such that anybody coming to work in the bursary will be given that document to study and follow. In addition, it will make the bursary open to the community in terms of having an understanding of what we do and how. We have been able to get the manual produced. In addition we have now put together financial regulations to guide the entire University finance management system, particularly the budgeting aspect and ensure that the University budget is held as an article of faith. Budget guides finances and with it the finance system will never summersault.  Also, the Information Technology of the Bursary department is now in line with best practices.  We raised the bar of IT to a very large extent. Hitherto, we used to print pay slips manually every month to distribute to staff but now, pay slips are sent directly to email account of individuals. Furthermore, our operations are now computerised for E-payment vouchers and students now pay through the E-channels. Thus UNILAG has outgrown forgery. Any students that attempt such will be caught.  In terms of staff development Allah has assisted us to do a lot. My team is fortunate to operate when the number of professionals increased in this department, as we speak we have about 42 Chattered Accountants working in the bursary alone and 20percent of that number are Fellows of the Institute. This has improved proficiency and our image as a professionally managed finance department. To create a level playing ground and knowledge sharing, we introduced monthly seminar where every unit take turns to present papers account of what they do. People will listen, criticise and offer suggestions towards improvement. On staff training we have assisted a lot of our staff to embark on training both locally and internationally. The Transaction Alert SMS which is in the working is also our idea. Thus whenever we do a transaction before the bank alerts the receiver gets alert so you know what you are expecting. Al-hamdulliah.

What is the most difficult decision you have ever made?

There was a case of fraud alleged against someone here. I cannot say it was difficult, because it had to be done.  If I had given it a second thought I might not have done it and it would have backfired on me. I personally investigated the matter and subsequently made a report to the Vice-Chancellor who would not tolerate such. The guy faced the music as he eventually confessed to the Law enforcement Agency. Incidentally, his family house and my family house are in the same neighbourhood in Abeokuta, his uncles are my personal friends but we had to do it.

How much support do you get from UNILAG Muslim community?

Tremendous support, incidentally I had been the treasurer for the community for a while before I became the Bursar and till date, I remain a member. I had spiritual support from all members of the community in terms of prayers and best wishes and prayers can never be too many. That no doubt strengthens me.

Who is your role model as a Bursar?

My Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rahamon A. Bello. He is a superb supervisor, manager, adviser and paragon of brilliance. The man has all round wisdom. I wish to be like him when I grow up. He allows me to do the work without interference, gagging   or arm twisting.  In spite of the age difference between us, my opinion counts. He has what I will call natural and academic wisdoms.

Your best time in office

Actually, it is while working.Other good time is when staff demonstrates against the Management. It shows what the University should actually represent; a community of conflict and its resolution. It is a comic relief because same staff that demonstrated against us a day earlier would be the ones to show affection when their grievances are addressed by Management.  Also, when rumours are peddled, it gives opportunity to laugh off tension.  I relax whenever I recall those rumours especially with my immediate family.

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