The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was established as an intervention agency under the TETFund Act, Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act, 2011, charged with responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Over the years, the Fund which is also saddled with the responsibility of the implementation of TETFund scholarships, called the Academic Staff Training and Development (AST&D), had been bedeviled with frauds,especially from scholars and institutions who misused the intervention funds on pretext that they are pursuing further academic qualifications or attending conferences.
The scholarships are part of the capacity building intervention aimed to build the capacity of scholars working in the nation’s universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education and to create an opportunity for them to pursue higher degrees for Masters and Ph.D. both at home and abroad.
Last year, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Abdullahi Baffa, revealed that a high-level fraud involving some academics and staff of his agency was uncovered.
The lecturers and the staff, he had explained were awarded sponsorship to attain further degrees as well as attend conferences but had ended up abandoning such programmes, using the monies for other purposes.
In an interview recently, Baffa added that many of the beneficiary scholars who were given money to go and pursue their studies abroad refused to go and had spent the money on something else while some institutions had failed to give the scholars the total money that were approved for them.
“There are also scholars that were given the approval to go to Europe or to go the USA, for example, but they ended up going to some African countries. Some scholars were given the authorization to do Ph.D., but they go and register for a Masters degree. But the worst of them were scholars who will collect the money and refuse to go. Now, all these were fueled by apparent disobedience to the directives of the Fund as it relates to the beneficiary institutions. The guidelines require all beneficiary institutions to pay the scholars their living costs on an annual basis and to pay their tuition to the training institutions also on annual basis,” he said.
He revealed that institutions instead of complying with TETFund guidelines, pay the money to the scholars directly and the scholars will collect the money and refuse to go for the studies.
“Imagine a situation in which someone has never seen a N2 million or even a N1 million at once in his account, and in one fell swoop you depotsit N30million in his account.Then he will start thinking what would he do?To take all money abroad all because of Ph.D.? Then people will refuse to go,” he said.
However, TETFund, according to the executive secretary has come up with ways to checkmate such actions. Apart from retrieving money from the scholars who had committed such acts, the Fund has also systematized the process that it will be impossible for anyone to commit any fraud.
“Once we identify a violation or a breach of the terms of the guidelines by the beneficiary institution, we will not give you any money again for subsequent years until we have seen sufficient evidence that you are recovering the funds that you have paid to these defaulting staff or scholars.
“Right now we are making progress with recoveries of funds from quite some scholars who have collected the money but refused to go.
Recoveries are being made from scholars that were given approvals to go for one programme and they ended up going for another. Also, recoveries are being made from scholars that have been given money to go to one country, and they ended up going to another country.
“We have systematized the process in such a way that it is going to be almost impossible for anyone to commit any fraud. For example, we insist that as one of the necessary conditions for disbursement of scholarship fund, we must see an evidence that the beneficiary institution has opened a domiciliary account, since the scholarship money is supposed to be kept in a domiciliary account to protect the value. Also, we are now paying tuition fees directly to the training institutions on an annual basis. So the beneficiary institutions will only be receiving the living cost which they will remit to the scholars on a yearly basis.
“We have also taken the firm view that not all countries have the quality University System to train our scholars. Consequently, we have determined which countries our scholars should be sent to pursue higher degrees. We have also determined the universities where our scholars, should and would be trained in those countries,” he said.
Also in the case of scholars and conference attendance, the executive secretary added that a number of conferences were just talk-shows or jamborees, adding that the Fund had insisted that it would only spend public funds on genuine academic conferences.
“So what we are doing now is that we are going to institution by institution, auditing the conference attendance investment so that we see the evidence that you have gone to the conference and that it is a genuine academic conference. We are also making substantial progress here. We have already started asking scholars to refund money,” he said.
He aslo added that the Fund has also reviewd the operational guidelines which had a lot of loopholes that the beneficiary institutions, beneficiary scholars and the agancy’s staff were taking advantage of and had revised them in line with sound practices which was yielding desirable results.
The executive Secretary, who expressed his unflinching resolve to adhere strictly to the provisions of the TETFund Act in carrying out the activities of the Fund, described transparency and accountabilityas his watch words.
“The agenda of the Buhari administration regarding accountability and the fight against corruption is the fulcrum upon which we anchor everything we do at the TETFund,” he said.
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