Soon after taking over the affairs of TETFund, Echono assured that his administration would build on the solid foundation that has already been laid, especially in the area of promoting content development and research and development (R&D).
One hundred days later, Echono has delivered with a range of achievements that build on his vision to drive the nation’s economy through industry-academia relationship.
Just like his predecessor, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, Echono stressed the need to build a symbiotic relationship between the industry and academia to ensure seamless production of manpower needed to drive the nation’s economy and even produce in excess for export to other countries.
The TETFund boss said he would focus on curriculum delivery in tertiary institutions in Nigeria to make the nation’s graduates more relevant and not just employable but creators of wealth.
On the 4th of March, 2022, TETFund received a boost with the approval of Echono as the new executive secretary of the Fund.
As a seasoned architect, civil servant and technocrat, Echono has made tremendous achievements within 100 days of assuming office. On receiving a deluge of suggestions, complaints on various areas of concern by stakeholders, the new TETFUND boss had to chart a course for progress.
He promised to focus on capacity building and staff development and effective service delivery. To keep to his promise, by March this year, Echono received the Governing Council of the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo led by the Vice Chancellor, Mallam Abdullahi Abba, calling on higher institutions in the country to prioritize specific programmes and boost the human capacity development components in their TETFUND allotted funds.
In consonance with its statutory role of managing education tax funds in supporting projects and capacity building for public tertiary institutions, TETFUND under Echono sponsored a research on the newly designed Smart Climate Information Services for Early Warning on Climate Change for farmers with about one thousand five hundred farmers from seventy villages across six states receiving training on the innovation.
Within the first one hundred days of Architect Echono’s leadership of TETFUND, the agency allotted funds ranging from 300 to 600 Billion Naira to Federal and State Higher institutions of learning. This was with the aim of ending incessant strikes and enhancing their viability.
Under the leadership of Architect Echono in the last 100 days, the agency also ensured the establishment of the Federal Polytechnic, Ogo-Oluwa in Oyo State.
That’s notwithstanding, after 16 years of abandonment, the National Library Headquarters Complex, Abuja received a boost with the approval of 15 Billion Naira by TETFUND under Architect Echono as first tranche for the completion of the project.
Echono noted that the Fund had put all plans have been put in place for the completion of the National Library building, adding that the Fund has conveyed its readiness to provide the funds to the ministry as soon as the Federal Executive Council assents to it.
“On our own part, we have set aside the first tranche of about 15 billion already in our coffers to be deployed as soon as the approval from the reversed cost is granted by the Federal Executive Council”, he further explained.
He emphasized the importance of the library, saying, “for us in the tertiary education, the library is where learning takes place, including research, teaching materials and resources that students access to improve themselves are all deposited for record purposes. Library is usually the center of any academic institution, he added.”
Within his first 100 days in office, Architect Echono also endorsed the Anti-Plagiarism Test developed by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) to address the rising cases of plagiarism amongst the academic community.
In the last one hundred days of office as Executive Secretary, Architect Sunny Echono has indeed made phenomenal achievements too numerous to mention. These successes would set the track to optimize the operational efficiency of TETFUND.
Also, as part of efforts towards promoting Nigeria’s drive towards a knowledge economy, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has approved the setting up of a Coordinating Secretariat to operationalize the partnership between government, private sector and academia.
Echono noted that the opening of the secretariat which would be domiciled in NESG was part of the synergy-building efforts by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and TETFund under its policy of the Triple Helix approach to research which is anchored on government, industry and academia partnership.
Determined to bring the needed transformation in the nation’s Agricultural sector, TETFund has formed a partnership with the Government of Brazil and Forum For Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to achieve the objective.
The deal was sealed at the First Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) Symposium, held at Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, with the theme “Pedagogic Retooling Strategy for Africa’s Agricultural Research and Innovation System: Lessons from Brazil”.
The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc Sonny Echono, who led the Nigerian delegation to Brazil, said the Fund is committed to the success of the partnership, having weighed the multiplier positive effect to Nigeria.
The achievements and reforms at TETFUND has brought about false accusations that the executive secretary has turned the Fund into a fiefdom where contract splitting and padding was the order of the day.
Reacting to the allegations recently, Abdulmumin Oniyangi, the Ag director, public affairs, TETFund, said Echono was appointed as Executive Secretary of TETFund by President Muhammadu Buhari, in March 2022 based strictly on his track record as an astute administrator, having served meritoriously as the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal ministry of education, as well as Federal Ministry of Communication.
He said the executive secretary, in his determination to provide quality, transparent and accountable leadership has frozen, cancelled or suspended programmes and consultancies judged wasteful or economically disadvantageous to the Fund.
Some of those affected, according to him, are licking their wounds while a few who initially threatened legal action have settled for renegotiation after realizing their weak positions.
“The unwieldy 99-man Technical Advisory Group (TAG) has been put on notice to right-size for prudence and greater operational efficiency. The Executive Secretary is indeed stepping on some long toes and the expected response is to question his qualification for the job which none of his five (5) predecessors (3 academics and 2 technocrats) was better prepared for.
“It is worthy of note that part of the reforms introduced by Arc. Echono include the need for curriculum review, skill acquisition/Entrepreneurship, advancement of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as well as deepening Research, Development and Innovation. Others are provision of funds for capacity building of lecturers to equip them with requisite skills for Entrepreneurial Studies and Research Studies in Digital Technologies and prepare Nigerian students for global competitiveness with the end goal of building a knowledge economy and increasing the country’s global presence.
“Internally, he is undertaking a holistic review of the operating procedures of the Fund, operationalized the zonal offices with delegated functions and setting targets for all departments and standing Committees. For example, the Book Development Committee which last published books in 2014 has been directed to publish at least 40 standard, peer-reviewed academic textbooks on diverse topics by 31st December, 2022.
“The Monitoring & Evaluation Department must complete site visits and process recommendations for tranche releases within 2 weeks of receipt of request from institutions. Starting with ICT interventions, beneficiary institutions shall henceforth make submissions electronically (Online) to minimize human contact. Staff of the Fund were also requested to make sacrifices by forgoing certain privileges in response to the sharp drop in tax collections in 2021, with a promise that they will be restored when the situation improves.
“He is also committed to the completion of on-going projects rather than starting new ones, and has taken steps in that direction. He interacted and secured the buy-in of Management and Staff of the Fund for the reforms, which have received widespread support of stakeholders,” he added.
He further said the ES has also introduced Procurement and Project Management reforms to eliminate corruption, reduce delivery time of projects, prevent cost escalation and improve general efficiency in the discharge of the Fund’s mandate.
“Under the new dispensation, all projects to be executed by the Fund are to be planned, packaged and selected by the beneficiary institutions for review and concurrence of the Fund. No more TETFund or vendor promoted projects, as the needs of the institutions shall prevail.
“ It is therefore laughable that these measures are being described by some aggrieved vested interests as “unwholesome practices”. Equally instructive is the fact that TETFund is not a contract awarding agency on behalf of beneficiary institutions so the reference to contract splitting and padding are totally baseless and incomprehensible. The design and costing of projects are done by the respective institutions. So also is the supervision and management. TETFund only monitors milestones attainments ahead of releases in tranches.”