The Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam-led Board of Trustees of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Tetfund, is currently on a tour of Nigerian universities and higher institutions of learning in a pioneering move that promises to engineer a paradigm shift in Tetfund’s interventions. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde, who has been monitoring developments, gives a highlight of the tour so far
As an intervention agency, Tetfund was established to provide supplementary support to all level of public tertiary institutions through the provision or maintenance of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, institutional material and equipment; research and publications; academic staff training and development; and any other need, which the Board of Trustees deems as critical for the improvement and maintenance of standards in the higher educational institutions.
At the heart of Tetfund is the 11-man Board of Trustees, which is charged with numerous key responsibilities, among them are the monitoring and evaluation of the execution of projects, issuance of guidelines to all beneficiaries on the use of monies received from the Fund, and general regulation of the administration, application and disbursement of monies from the Fund under the Tetfund Act 2011.
It was against this backdrop that the appointment of Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam as the Chairman of Tetfund Board in May 2020 was widely acclaimed across party lines as sound judgment on the part of President Muhammadu Buhari. In a piece he entitled “Kashim Imam: Prometheus Unbound”, public analyst, Taiwo Olujimi, summed it this way: “With Kashim Imam, one thing is sure: President Buhari has made a good choice, the tertiary educational sub-sector will never be the same, for there is no limit to what the imaginative and erudite mind of this Prometheus can do”.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Imam and members of his board have already hit the road, on a duty tour of over 50 universities in 18 states to interact with management and students of the institutions as well as monitor and evaluate, first hand, Tetfund-sponsored projects.
To underscore the importance of the mission, the Executive Secretary of Tetfund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro and relevant members of Tetfund management such as the directors of Physical Infrastructure, Finance and Investment, Monitoring and Evaluation, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), are on the trip.
Underscoring the essence of the tour at the University of Abuja, the Board’s first port of call, Imam said going forward, beneficiary institutions would be more closely monitored to ensure that they deliver quality and value for monies received from the agency to execute projects.
He said: “A lot of money has been disbursed by Tetfund since its inception to better the 226 universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education, covered by the agency. Tetfund’s interventions in the past three years and next year, put together, is in the region of N1 trillion.
“Tetfund has invested $360 million in Science, Engineering, and Technology equipment for 73 universities in the past six years.
“However, it wouldn’t do for us to just be throwing money about. We want the money that we are spending to impact most positively on academia, on the faculties, on the students, on learning, on research.
“So, our visit here, which will also take us to other institutions across Nigeria, is two-folds. Number one, we want to inspect, we want to see, and we want to hear from you. Has Tetfund impacted? This is very important. Have we invested in critical infrastructure? What is the effect of our investments in research? Has the money we disbursed to the institutions for various projects been well utilised? Are we getting value for money?
“There is one very critical element that is the most important today, namely e-learning. Once upon a time, it was a luxury. But today, it has become very essential, especially in the context of Covid-19. We all know that the presence of the Silicon Valley accounts for the State of California’s place as the 6th largest economy in the world? What is the strength of your ICT infrastructure?
“The second component is, what more should we do? There is a paradigm shift at Tetfund today because we will not sit down in the office to determine what your needs are. We must consult you in person, both management and students, as we are doing today. What are the critical needs of the University of Abuja? What areas should Tetfund focus on? We want to be guided by you going forward”.
The management of UNIABUJA, led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, and the students led by the President of the Student Union Government, Comrade Olaloja Habib, took turns to air their feedbacks.
The Director of Academic Planning, Professor Mohammed Damagun, narrated that as a member of a nationwide monitoring committee set up by Tetfund in 2019, interaction with the Vice Chancellors, deans, and students in various universities showed that although Tetfund invested a lot of money in these universities over the years, value for money was yet to be adequately felt due to poor execution by the beneficiary institutions, while in some instances, equipment approved for the universities were a far cry from the required number.
“Take engineering, for instance, a department has 300 students and Tetfund will bring (approve) three equipment. Imagine the ratio. So, at the end of the day, these students won’t get the value because of their number to the equipment.
“Also, Computer Science Department lost accreditation this year. The computer units we have are just about 30. We usually have to go borrowing because we have about 700 students”.
He however expressed happiness that Tetfund was beginning to improve both in needs assessment and monitoring of the execution of projects by institutions.
“We are glad they are changing because even the needs assessment they set up last year has never been done before. It is now that they are waking up to say okay, let us go and see what value have been added with the money given”, he said.
Describing Tetfund as “the oxygen we breath in the University” the University Librarian, Professor Roseline Echezona, said “without Tetfund, nothing will happen because without Tetfund, there would have been no university library; without Tetfund, there will be no university”.
She, however, lamented the paucity of Tetfund’s allocations to the nation’s universities.
In his submissions, the University Registrar, Mr. Yahaya Mohammed, commended the new Tetfund Board and Executive Secretary for bringing a “clear change at Tetfund”, noting that “for three days now, Tetfund has moved their office to University of Abuja”.
He sought Tetfund’s interventions in the areas of 2,000 capacity auditorium to, among others, reduce by half the number weeks spent on examinations. He equally pressed for multipurpose laboratory for the Faculty of Science.
Mr. Mohammed said that as the only national university since it had no catchment areas, but expected to admit students and employ staff equally from all states of the federation and the FCT, UNIABUJA lacked the facilities to accommodate the pressure.
“Right now, if we are having practical, you see our students perching on the windows, standing at the corridors. It will help if we have a bigger, well-equipped multipurpose laboratory that can accommodate a reasonable number of students”, he added.
While the academics advocated for sponsorship of Tetfund scholars to be paid in dollars to ease the challenges they face in foreign lands over naira depreciation, the University Bursar, Mallam Rufai Ahmed, also said that release of funds to staff attending international conferences just a week or few days to the event made it impossible for such university staff to make use of such opportunities.
Other areas of critical assistance sought include reliable source of power, university health facility, and accommodation for students.
According to the SUG President, it takes a healthy man to attend lectures. He said only 20 per cent of the university’s students were accommodated on campus, thus endangering the students.
Sighs of Relief
However, faces of management and students lit up once the Chairman of Tetfund Board, Alhaji Imam, began to respond to their observations and also reel out the agency’s plans towards raising the university to a premier ivory tower befitting the nation’s capital.
He said: “Tetfund has designated the University of Abuja as a Centre of Excellence. We have 12 Centres of Excellence spread across the country and we are investing N1 billion in each of them. But we have also in consultation with the Vice Chancellors decided that each of the universities will focus on one critical area. For Abuja, it is Governance and Leadership.
“For the year 2020, I am happy to inform you that by the time we are done this year, we are looking at spending a total of N10 billion on critical infrastructure in the University of Abuja.
“Tetfund, in consultation with the University of Abuja will be investing in laying the necessary infrastructure that will facilitate e-learning on this campus. Towards this, already as I speak, 20km of fibre optics are being laid across the University. Today, I will also inspect the site where we are going to build a brand new and state-of-the-art ICT Centre. We want a place where students can learn in a 21st century environment”, he said to the applause of his audience.
Imam added that part of the money voted for the University of Abuja would go into the construction of a new senate building, and a 1,000 capacity international conference centre, while the agency would collaborate with the University to develop a 2,000-bed space accommodation for the students.
Time for private sector mentality
He, however, explained that Tetfund was not in a position to provide for all the school’s needs, adding that students would pay tokens for data and accommodation facilities: “The problem with most public projects in this country is that at the end of the day, such projects are orphaned. We have to promote the culture of taking ownership. I am a private sector person. I have the mentality and values of a private sector person. All the universities must be driven with the mentality of the private sector. Our universities must be conscious in generating funds to address critical sectors because Tetfund cannot provide for all your needs”.
Stressing the need for closer project monitoring, Imam said that Tetfund was not a project-executing agency, noting that although it provides funds, about 75 per cent of project execution falls on the university management.
“It is a sad thing that a few years after completing projects we gave the schools money for, such projects are already falling apart. There is something fundamentally wrong; and going forward, I personally will not accept it and the Board will not accept it either.
“In fact, if any project fails after completion, the contractor should and must be held liable. Importantly, if projects are being poorly implemented, both Tetfund and the university should identify it, not after the completion, but during construction. I want to see results. I don’t mind repeating myself by reemphasising that we want value for money”, he stated.
The Board thereafter proceeded to inspect both ongoing and completed projects sponsored by Tetfund. It also inspected the equipment it funded.