The Executive Secretary/CEO of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund), Architect Sunday S.T Echono recently celebrated his 60th birthday amidst commendations by Nigerians from different walks of life over the impact he has made in less than a year as Chief Executive of the nation’s administrator of education tax proceeds for institutions of higher learning in the country, the TETfund.
The accolades that kept coming at Echono’s 60th anniversary beginning from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari as well as other eminent Nigerians applauded and honoured him for his selfless service to humanity as well as the growth and development of the nation.
President Buhari while conveying his birthday message to through Femi Adesina, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, expressed confidence in 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.
He expressed the confidence that 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.
For Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Echono’s achievements and contributions over the years towards the growth and development of Nigeria are far reaching. To him, for Echono to have distinguished himself as a public servant who rose through the ranks to the apex of his career and retired as a Federal Permanent Secretary, followed by his appointment as Executive Secretary of TETfund and the conferment of a National Honour of OON by Mr. President is not a surprise following his excellent and unblemished track record of service to the nation.
The Executive Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency Simon Lalong described Echono as a patriotic Nigeria who has remained consistent in the pursuit of excellence while showcasing his talent, demonstrating diligence, character and competence at every opportunity given to him. He also celebrated Echono’s resourcefulness, patriotism, professionalism and passionate leadership towards the development of the country, saying little wonder that the he was appointed as the Executive Secretary of TETfund shortly after he meritoriously retired from the service of the Federal Government as Permanent Secretary.
When he took over the affairs of TETfund in March, 2022, Echono made it clear that his administration will remain committed towards driving research and development as key components of the Fund’s mandate. He did not only promise to build on existing policies targeted at adding value to the nation’s tertiary education sub-sector but has so far demonstrated his determination to provide a quality, transparent and accountable leadership through total commitment to upholding and entrenching tenets of accountability and transparency in the Fund. This he has demonstrated in the period of being at the helm of affairs, through introduction of innovative policies and reforms aimed at improving efficiency.
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.
He has also initiated 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, 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; all aimed at articulating new strategies to reinforce existing efforts of the government at improving standard of education in Nigeria.
Internally, Echono is undertaking a holistic review of the operating procedures of the Fund, operationalized 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. 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 sacrifice 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.
Perhaps more problematic are 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. Hardly the stuff of a wheeler and dealer.
Apart from these reforms, Echono shortly after resumption of duty was brave enough to freeze, cancel or suspend programmes and consultancies adjudged wasteful or economically disadvantageous to the Fund. Some of those affected are licking their wounds while a few who initially threatened legal actions have settled for renegotiation after realizing their weak positions.
With these measures introduced by the Executive Secretary, there is no doubt that some long toes may have been stepped on having disengaged or discontinued their services for not been necessary, wasteful or lacking in value, hence their grievance. Despite attempts to ridicule the personality of the Fund’s Chief Executive by these aggrieved interests, Echono remains focused and committed to providing quality, accountable and exemplary leadership and will not be distracted for whatever reason.
A Public Affairs Analyst wrote from Abuja.