Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF Boss Mustapha in a letter described Arc. Sonny Echono as “Bureaucrat par excellence” stating that “You are indeed a blessing to the nation as you have left an indelible mark and inscribed your name in gold, in Nigeria’s rich history by way of impacting positively on the lives of so many people.”
The letter which is dated December 14th, 2022 was a goodwill message by Mustapha to mark the 60th birthday celebration of Echono, the Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund.
Richard Branson wrote many years ago that there is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions in a way that serves the world. Imbibing Branson’s philosophy has been rewarding for Echono in both personal and career lives. When he was recently honoured by President Muhammadu Buhari with Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), one of the highest national recognitions for excellence and meritorious service to the country, it did not come as a surprise to many given his inspiring and proven pedigree, dedication and patriotic zeal which has been his hallmark.
Few hours after receiving the national honour of OON from President Buhari, Echono was awarded a Fellow of the Nigerian Association for Educational Administration and Planning, NAEP. At the investiture of the Fellowship, the National President of NAEP, Prof. Hauwa Imam, said the award was in recognition of Echono’s track record of leadership in the education sector, quality assurance and service delivery in Nigeria.
Congratulating Echono, Plateau State Governor, Solomon Lalong said “I urge you to continue to avail the nation the benefit of your reservoir of knowledge and experience. Plateau is proud to be part of your success story through your early formative days.” Exactly what Echono is doing!
The Clarion call
“Echono’s youthful start, careful adherence to public service culture, his patience in climbing the ladders as well as regular update in attending courses both at home and abroad which no doubt, has separated him for distinction and leadership positions”, Special Adviser to President on Media and Publicity, Femi adesina stated.
According to President Buhari, “having served the country with foresight, humility and diligence with solid foundations as Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (2014-2015); Federal Ministry of Communications (2015-2017); and Federal Ministry of Education (2017-2022).
“Director of Procurement in the Federal Ministries of Defence, Water Resources, Environment, Agriculture, and Rural Development as well as Power and having served in many Committees and Special Task Forces for reforms and policy formulations, Echono will certainly bring his wealth of experience to support the nation in the march to greatness, especially in the education sector.
When he took over the affairs of TETFund in March, 2022, Echono was unequivocal that his administration would remain committed towards driving research and development as key components of the Fund’s mandate. He has demonstrated this commitment in the period of being at the helm of affairs through introduction of innovative policies and reforms aimed at strengthening tertiary education in Nigeria.
Part of the reforms introduced by 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. He also prioritised 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.
Determined to improve the standard of education in Nigeria, Echono has also initiated a series of partnerships with notable institutions globally and locally, such as University of Brazil, Vicosa on tuition free agreements for training of more Nigerian professionals in agriculture, transnational cooperation with the Government of Britain.
TETFund also partnered Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), African Union (AU), signing of an MoU with the University of Sussex for the development of tertiary education in Nigeria, partnership with the European Union (EU) on Research, Development and Innovation at Brussels among others.
Echono is also undertaking an internal holistic review of the operating procedures of the Fund, operationalising the zonal offices with delegated functions and set 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.
Perhaps more ambitious was the Procurement and Project Management reforms introduced 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.
Annual disbursement allocations were made directly to the beneficiary institutions at a public ceremony held at the National Universities Commission (NUC) on 9th May 2022. The Vice-Chancellors, Provosts and Rectors were directed to advertise and procure their projects through open, competitive bidding to achieve value for money. This was widely reported in the media and commended by the Procurement Professionals Association of Nigeria along with the threat to punish erring contractors who delay project execution or deliver poor quality jobs.
The TETFund 2022 Alliance for Innovative Research for Nigerian Researchers also known as TETFAIR is yet another milestone achievement by Echono. It has engaged about 66 participants to intensify efforts toward solution-driven research and development in Nigeria.
The TETFAIR programme is being conducted in collaboration with Innov8 technology Hub, a firm championing the advancement of science and Technology Education in the country.
Despite attempts to ridicule the personality of the Fund’s Chief Executive by people whose toes may have been stepped on in the course of reforming TETFund, Echono remains focused and committed to providing quality, accountable and exemplary leadership. Echono is definitely proving Mr. President right.
The academic star boy
Born on December 16th, 1962 in Otukpo, Benue State, Echono had his primary and secondary education in Jos, the capital of the defunct Benue-Plateau State at St. Theresa’s and St. Murumba’s College respectively. At the latter, he led the Debating Society and Quiz Club, and was the best graduating student in the class of 1973-78 with a Division I in the West African School Certificate (WASC). He also excelled in soccer, basketball and volleyball.
Thereafter, he was admitted to study at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1980 to study Architecture. Echono graduated with a Bsc. (2nd Class Upper) in 1983 and an MSc. in 1985. He was awarded the Best Life project and followed this with the Best-All-Round Performance in the Nigerian Institute of Architects Professional Practice Examination in 1989.
Upon completing his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1986, Sunday Echono had a brief stint with the Benue State Housing Agency before joining the Federal Civil Service in January, 1987. The rest they say is history.
Umar Gimba, A Public Affairs Commentator wrote from Yola, Adamawa State.