Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro is the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). In this exclusive interview with UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU, he talks about his disengagement and later reinstatement by President Muhammadu Buhari, the recent NEITI report on the Fund and the new course of TETFund interventions.
How has it been at TETFund?
It has been so far so good. My reinstatement miraculously by Mr President is unprecedented in public service. For a government that disengaged you from your position to reinstate you, not just in the service but in the same position, is a miracle. Since then I appreciate God and Mr President. You can imagine how many people out there who did not know the fact. I thank Mr President for giving me the reproof. As far as I was concerned, I was condemned and the government decided to probe me because I requested for it. The probe panel established that the basis for my disengagement was wrong. So graciously I was reinstated. I came back with renewed vigour to do even more than what I did during my first tenure, that was one year 10 months. It was not even up to two years, but graciously and mercifully, I thank God that I left behind a legacy of performance in our nation’s public tertiary institutions to make a difference, including the rating and ranking of our universities in particular; because that is a global index of intellectual strength of any nation.
So what has been the difference between now and then?
I like that. That is a good one. The difference is that I have higher tempo. I came back with higher tempo. I can’t believe what I had been able to achieve. Honestly, I must give credit to the Board of Trustees of TETFund and my honourable Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, because he virtually approved what my BOT recommended, including the 2019 budget that we are implementing now. The BOT recommended it to the president through the honourable minister. I am always putting the question to myself: how can I not disappoint the minister who has put a lot of confidence in me? How do I ensure that I do not disappoint Mr President who took unprecedented action in returning me even when there were issues? He probed me diligently and brought me back. I must justify that confidence. So there is a greater burden on me to prove my case. And I can assure you that I have been moving at a faster tempo than before. I know what I have been able to achieve which I can show to you.
What is your take on NEITI report that between 2012 and 2016 TETfund had spent N993.3bn naira without guidelines and accountability?
I will tell you one thing. I am too focused to be distracted by speculators. And I will tell you the grounds of this. One, Premium Times which is an online publication had gone out to talk about Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, and unqualified contractors being used. I will not pre-empt them but my joy is that they are talking about a particular contract organisation and these guys quickly went and checked their records both by registration and performance and they said it was very unfortunate that they would associate them with non-performance. I know the institutions that we had even sent queries to in respect of non-performance. ATBU has never been one. Except for one or two specific cases that there were observations and they were corrected. Recently, we issued out queries to about 11 universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. We will not expose the details. We make sure that there is value for money. I am sad and disappointed when a journalist decides to look at the figures that had been quoted or approved in a budget. Premium Times talks about the federation account. For your information, I tell you outrightly that they were wrong. They should do their home work thoroughly next time. They should not just talk because they want to malign somebody. TETFund fund is not from the federation account. Go and check our law. The protocol is simple. The management packages our budget and sends it to the Board of Trustees (BOT). That is the position of the law. The BOT that manages TETFund on behalf of the federal government in the TETFund Act of 2011 stipulates that the BOT send it to the minister of education who if he recommends it, will send it to the president. If he wants amendments, he points out where they are to be done. And if the president approves it, it comes back to us for implementation. People forget about how Education Tax Fund (ETF) and TETFund came about. It is the innovative outcome of good thinking by ASUU between 1990 and 1992. We signed the agreement in 1992. Incidentally, I was physically involved when ETF came into being in 1993. We make sure the law was cast in a way to avoid bureaucracy and other factors that may affect the effective utilisation of the fund. Our Act stipulates that out budget goes to the president but not the National Assembly. Those who talk about the federation account do not even know the laws of TETFund. They are talking about somebody else, but because they wanted to malign TETFund, they brought in its name. One of the journalists who left said they had seen the report of NEITI but they did not take out TETFund. But they focused on TETFund negatively. It is about agencies that are definitely underperforming, which we know. The main thing or reason why ASUU negotiated with the federal government was the dilapidated and decrepit infrastructure in universities. At that time in 1990, brain-drain was at its highest. University lecturers were leaving the country in droves. First-class graduates, instead of going to teach in the university, would prefer to go to the bank or oil sector. Then there were no even offices for lecturers. Laboratory reagents were not there not to talk of equipment. It was a depressing environment. I knew it because I was involved. I became foundation graduate assistant at Federal University of Technology (ATBU) Bauchi after my national service. So I know no other place than the university community. We who wear the shoes know where it pinches. So to say federation account was a deliberate misrepresentation. They just want to malign TETFund. The time they came here I was not around, but I take the responsibility as the executive secretary to explain the true position of TETFund if someone wants to misrepresent it. For somebody to say that we have no operational guideline and accountability is unfortunate. Sometimes I wonder if those guys were from the moon. Let them go to Auditor-General of the Federation or Accountant-General. As recent as two weeks ago, I met one of the top guys that monitored us here. He told us, ‘well done’. I don’t know where these guys got their story. We may not be perfect because I know it is not the angels that are presiding over Nigerian public service. TETFund has never claimed that we are perfect. But for God’s sake, we should be given credit. Go to any tertiary institution you had visited 10 years back and tell me if there are no remarkable differences in terms of infrastructure. TETFund’s name was so manifest that people jocularly said we should change the names of public higher institutions to TETFund. We just inaugurated about a month ago Technical Advisory Committee on Impact Assessment (TACIA) for self evaluation. Tell me which government agency has ever done that. We should be given credit as it amounts to self assessment. All the TACIA members are not TETFund staff. So we are open enough. We allow them to go to our finances. You can call the Abdul’s, Ajayi’s or any TACIA member and ask him. Go to our audit and check our books. If there are things that were not rightly done, tell us so that we mend our ways.
What do you want Nigeria to know about TETFund specifically?
TETfund is an exceptionally impactful intervention agency in Nigeria. This is why about six African countries had come to understudy the TETFund model. What is the secret behind the effectiveness of TETfund? That takes us to the original idea and I say it was from ASUU. ASUU felt that the annual budgetary system had failed the nation. So they drew up a non-budgetary funding window from two per cent deductible tax from profit-making entities. That is what TETFund is all about. That money goes to our central education pool account; they post it to our project accounts before we will be informed. We cannot spend it without due process, our law stipulates that. The Board, the Accountant-General or the Auditor-General has not queried us that we had not been doing the right thing. I don’t know how somebody who does not even know the law of TETFund would sit and speculate in his bedroom and tell the world lies.
It seems the interlude you spent at home has reinforced your patriotism. Can you tell us briefly about the three committees you had so far inaugurated within this short period of your resumption?
God bless you. You are current. In those committees, I spoke with passion and the speeches poured forth from my heart. I was not just reading a speech. I will start with National Research Fund (NRF), which is the highest research granting platform in Nigeria. If you go to America there is a foundation.
In South Africa, there is a national research foundation. Their own is just for training higher degrees. But ours is to fund research for lecturers. We have another department that supports training for academics so we are doing even better in all honesty. When I returned I found that some 130 academics got their research grants approved, but there was no money so the number was reduced to 39. The others had to be left in the wilderness so to say. I said no and made a case to BOT. The first NRF was three billion naira, about eight years ago. After five years, they added one billion naira. Until this year, it had just been four billion, but I made a case to BOT who passed the recommendation to the president. Mr President graciously approved five billion naira, the highest. That is the new tempo that I came up with. As it is now, we want to avoid building only structures. We want to invest in the content component: research publication and journals. We must improve our own and make them more in-depth, better than it were in the past. That is why I am emphasising research and development. The second committee is the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) whose job is to preside over three sub areas. One is the manuscript development. There are lecturers who show us their manuscripts and once they are assessed by our assessors who are members of the committee, they will give them some money. There are PhD theses that are considered very good. They are assessed and they are picked out and transformed into textbooks. People don’t seem to know all this. Then we have professional journals being supported by TETFund. If you are a professional in any field you know it. And the third is the Technical Advisory Committee on Impact Assessment (TACIA). The committee is to assess the impact made by TETFund intervention on the beneficiary institutions from 1999 to 2019.
TACIA was mandated to determine the level of implementation, mandates and effectiveness of the Fund; to determine challenges, achievements and weaknesses recorded and observed in the course of the implementation of the existing projects, programmes and intervention lines of the Fund; to improve future direction of the Fund within the TETFund statutory mandate as encapsulated in its establishment Act.
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