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TETfund: Echono’s revolutionary impact

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TETfund: Echono’s revolutionary impact

Erstwhile President Muhammadu Buhari almost caused a media meltdown when he announced the appointment of Architect Sunday Sylva Togo Echono, popularly referred to as Sonny Echono, a retired permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, as the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) in 2022. Because Nigerians have become accustomed to seeing academics as heads of TETfund, many questioned the propriety of the appointment. However, Buhari in his characteristic manner simply paid no heed to the media shellacking, many of which were probably sponsored by those who had lobbied in vain to be so appointed.

After coming to terms with the futility of casting aspersions on the propriety of Echono’s appointment, the dark clouds dissipated to give way to hope. The then President Buhari had succeeded in ending an entitlement that left civil servants, who had served diligently for the fund, disillusioned. Civil servants were confronted with the grim reality that as non-academics, they couldn’t aspire to lead an agency that they have worked for and know better than most of the bleary-eyed academics that are usually foisted on the fund.

The intrigues and dynamics around the emergence of Sonny Echono, an architect who has held the prestigious position as the 28th President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, are more complex than what obtains on the surface. On the one hand, his appointment to lead an agency that has been an exclusive preserve of academics is a test not just of his administrative credentials, but also a trial run that will determine the fate of career administrators hoping to get a shot at leading the agency.

By and large, appointing Echono to head TETfund was Buhari’s demonstration of the trust and confidence he has in the Kogi state born administrator who had achieved tremendous feats while serving as the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Education between 2017 and 2022.

It appeared Echono has succeeded in riding the troubled waters of his appointment until recently when a malicious smear campaign was launched against his stewardship of TETfund, perhaps by interests who want to press home a sinister agenda in the face of a new government. But, Echono could not have attained his present heights without learning a thing or two about how best to shut down drivel anchored on falsehood and misinformation. In a recent tell-it-all interview with the Cable, a national daily, the TETfund boss did not only dispel the fake news, but he also highlighted the positive impact of the agency’s programmes and policies since his appointment.

As a consummate administrator, Echono conceded that the programmes of the fund are tailored to the president’s ideas. Echono told TheCable’s Taiwo Adebulu that “we are taking our bearing from Mr. President. What the president is focused on is the competitiveness of our tertiary institutions. He is also focused on skills. What Mr. President is saying is that train our students not just to obtain a degree, let them have proficiencies. Let them be modern graduates that can work anywhere in the world. Regardless of the course, he wants to promote employability. Entrepreneurship is there, so that we produce people who will be wealth creators, not people who are queuing to look for jobs.

The TETfund executive secretary revealed that: “There are new initiatives in ICT that we are bringing on, Learn to earn; that’s coming on board, right on our campuses. We are making it possible to provide resources, provide training opportunities for our students while you are doing your course. It will not affect your academic programme. But you will learn skills that you can take on board and begin to do outsourcing jobs while you are in school. Nigerian students are very hardworking. They are very brilliant. They can combine these easily.

He further revealed that Mr. President said “we should upskill. As I am talking to you, three of our team members are moving across the country to polytechnics, universities, assessing their laboratories, workshops. We want to provide them equipment. We want to upskill those instructors. We want each polytechnic to adopt a number of skills that they want to be known for”.

However, no part of that interview was as clear as when he unequivocally shut down rumours of financial malfeasance, including allegations that local contractors were paid in dollars. After explaining how the dollar component of the payment, a non-negotiable access fee to foreign owners of an IT application, it became clear that all those who made the claim about dollar payment to local companies were simply on a fishing expedition, a mission that has been made to blow up in their faces.

The appointment of Echono may not have come at a better time than this. Revelations that cartels hitherto controlled the TETfund’s contracts make his appointment imperative. And, as a technical professional in the construction value chain, the TETfund helmsman has moved swiftly to come up with solutions to the few cases of TETfund’s abandoned projects in tertiary institutions.

From cleaning the rot left by the past head of the agency to introducing more robust programmes and approaches via which TETfund can continue to meet its statutory mandate, Echono has justified the confidence reposed in him by former President Buhari. I reckon that he has given a very good account of himself. No wonder, President Bola Tinubu has kept faith with him in the face of a very vicious campaign of calumny. Indeed, Echono has done his civil service constituency a great deal of service and our tertiary institutions and the nation are better for it! (BLUEPRINT)

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