When the news of the appointment of Architect Sonny S.T. Echono as the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) filtered the media space, it was greeted with delightful comments from several quarters.
This was expected given his background; having retired as the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education shortly before his appointment. Beyond that, he was a representative of the Ministry at the TETFund Board for four years. An accomplished technocrat and embodiment of knowledge in several walks of life, Arc. Echono is bringing to the job, a diverse wealth of experience in infrastructure development, public administration and procurement management. Others are, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Education.
On assumption of office, the Executive Secretary hit the ground running having declared his determination during his maiden press conference, not only to tread the path of his predecessor, Prof. Suleiman Elias Bogoro but also, to improve on his achievements.
The smooth change of baton from Prof. Bogoro to Arc. Echono was unprecedented in the history of the Fund. It was a moment of excitement for both at the handover ceremony witnessed by the management and staff of the Fund as well as staff of the Federal Ministry of Education.
In his maiden press conference, the Executive Secretary has outlined new policy changes needed to take TETFund to a new era of excellence through curriculum review, entrepreneurship studies, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as well as research and development.
“This is because the Nigerian curriculum system is theory driven and does not meet the requirements of the industry. As such, graduates who join the workforce usually require further training and retraining to fit into job roles”, the ES has said.
He added that more funds would be earmarked for building capacity of lecturers so as to equip them with the requisite skills for entrepreneurial studies and research studies in digital technologies to prepare Nigerian students for global competitiveness with the end goal of building a knowledge economy and increasing the country’s global presence.
“We have done so well in physical infrastructure, and we will continue to do so but we also must focus on those we entrusted with the evaluation of our students. We must focus on the type of curriculum that is being taught and the delivery systems”, he added.
Since assumption of office at the Fund, Echono has steered many initiatives, activities and partnerships from within and outside the shores of the country, projecting the Fund globally.
It is worthy of note that Arc Echono has initiated series of partnerships with notable institutions locally and internationally, including University of Brazil, Vicosa, 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) as well as African Union (AU).
Other landmark achievements include signing of a Memorandum of Association (MoU) with the University of Sussex for the development of tertiary education in Nigeria and partnership with the European Union (EU) on Research, Development and Innovation at Brussels among several others. All these, he stated, are aimed at articulating new strategies to reinforce existing efforts of government at improving standard of education in Nigeria.
The TETFund Boss equally made history as he was recently bestowed with the first and most prestigious Medal of Honour Award by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in recognition of his outstanding support and vision for implementing the blueprint of Agricultural Research and Development by the African Union for Nigeria.
The brief but solemn ceremony took place in Accra, Ghana, at the Extra Ordinary Steering Committee Meeting of the Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA).
Presenting the award to him on behalf of the Chairman, FARA Board of Directors, Dr. Alioune Fall, Executive Director of FARA, Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo spoke highly of Arc Echono, describing him as “An Architect by training and well-established agribusiness entrepreneur, who comes to his current position with strong accolades and solid footprints in the agricultural sector.”
Adding: As the erstwhile Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Arc Echono demonstrated a commendable support for the efforts of FARA as the Capacity Development Cluster with accelerated vigour.”
The year 2022 intervention activities kickstarted with the distribution of allocation letters to the 244 beneficiary institutions across the country, with each university getting a total sum of N642, 848, 138.00. Meanwhile, the sum of N396, 780, 086.00 went to each polytechnic while every College of Education got the sum of N447, 758,804.00 according to the ratio of 2:1:1 stipulated by the TETFund’s operational mandate.
Distributing the allocation letters at a Strategic Interactive Session for Heads of TETFund Beneficiary Institutions held at the National Universities Commission (NUC), Abuja; the Executive Secretary announced the Fund’s commitment to reviewing some of the policies that cause delays in project implementation.
In a drastic move to restore sanity, protect the academic integrity of educational institutions and the academia, Echono constituted a Digitization Project Steering and Coordinating Committee with the mandate to create a national research bank to serve as a repository for academic works.
These repositories will help generate a large collation of local institutional research into Digital Repositories in line with international standards in public tertiary institutions across the country; in addition to exposing and appreciation of intellectual activities of Nigerians by the international communities across the globe.
Without doubt, Arc. Echono’s 100 Days in office has witnessed sincere and exemplary leadership geared towards repositioning the Fund for better service delivery aimed at the development and global competitiveness of our tertiary institutions and ultimately, the overall development of the country.
Interestingly, the giant stride of Echono since assumption of office is not visible to only staff and management of TETFund, or perhaps, the relevant stakeholders in the academia, but to everyone, who has the interest of the nation’s tertiary education sector at hear.
In one of the numerous articles to project his commitment to duty, it was revealed that Echono without delay, embarked on a total and unhindered reforms that were already paying off. Some of these reforms include attempt at curb reckless spending, financial leakages, continuous wastage of government funds as well as spurious programmes that had no positive impact on either the Fund or tertiary institutions across the country.
According to reports, review of public procurement to bring it in tandem with global best practices are also yielding desired result. It was disclosed that all manners of sharp practices such as contract splitting and job padding have been nipped in the bud. This implies that such issues as job execution and delivery by proxy has finally been nailed while due process in the execution of jobs has been restored to bring sanity into the system.
It was also disclosed that he championed the ongoing reorientation of the workforce of the agency through seminars and workshops with a view to acquaint workers with the new practice. This, he believed, will discourage continuous deployment of any unethical practices that are in contrast with the new development in the agency.