The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (formerly called the Education Trust Fund), established through the TETFund Act in 2011, has been at the forefront of improving the quality of teaching and learning infrastructure, research and development activities, staff capacity building and academic book publishing in the Nigerian public tertiary education institutions. In spite of these game-changing achievements, there this is still a lot to be done because Nigerian universities are not yet among the highest ranked in the world. Moreover, there is a general perception that education is underfunded in the country. Recently, The Chronicle of Education had the opportunity of an exclusive interview with Professor Suleiman Silas Bogoro, a Professor of Animal Science, who was at the helm of affairs of TETFund, from April 2014-February 2016, as its fourth Executive Secretary. Our higher education reporter, Anu Oyeleye, asked the distinguished scholar and administrator a diversity of questions pertaining to tertiary education and the role of the TETFund in Nigeria. His insightful answers appear in the full text of the interview which is reproduced below.
Kindly introduce yourself to our teeming readers.
Thank you. I am Suleiman Elias Bogoro, a Professor of Animal Science, specializing in Biochemistry and Ruminant Animal Nutrition. I am of the Department of Animal Production, Faculty of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Nigeria. I came to the University of Ibadan (UI) today to join them in the joint celebration of the 70th Anniversary of UI along with the 70th Anniversary of the UN International Day of Peace, which Lecture has just been delivered by the former Head of State of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar (GCFR), and at which I was Chairman. Indeed I have been here in UI on several occasions, most of which were academic, professional or development engagements.
You were the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) from April 2014-February 2016. TETFund operates under the Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act 2011. What really are the fundamental functions of TETFund?
The TETFund Act of 1998 as amended in 2011 mandates the Agency to take delivery of the 2% Education Tax Fund of Nigeria collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and housed by the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation for the purpose of providing non-budgetary funding window for mainly capital and other relevant key needs of Nigeria’s public (Federal and State-owned) Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education as envisaged by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). These priority areas, as identified by ASUU in its 1992 agreement with the then Military Government of President Ibrahim Babangida, following years of strike action by the Union, include basic academic buildings and offices, infrastructure which had become derelict and decrepit or were non-existent in most cases , provision of laboratories, libraries, research grants, workshops as well as academic staff development, and any other relevant support towards improving the competitiveness and global ranking of our universities and other tertiary institutions. Although the federal government had earlier misapplied the funds to include other recipients like the Basic Education subsector, Monotechnics and Research Institutes outside the education sector, with the amendment of the Law in 2011 to return to the original concept of funding of only public tertiary institutions, our public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education have manifestly transformed with the emergence of more and better infrastructure in addition to aggressive academic staff development through higher degree acquisition, local and international conference attendance, TETFund-supported book publications, etc.
How does TETFund go about the implementation of its functions? What are the main challenges? What are some of the success stories?
I am proud to tell you that the TETFund that I led operated by the rules. Our operational guidelines were robust and result-oriented, but more importantly, was designed to protect public funds. Today I can tell you that TETFund had for several years won the top prize for the most transparent Federal agency and generally in respect of service delivery. Over 90% of our physical project and procurement activities are done by the benefitting tertiary institutions. This is why when there was blackmail propaganda that we diverted 200 billion Naira for unapproved projects, I laughed, and thank God, when the Senate Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFund launched an investigation, they discovered the whole allegation was a hoax mischievously sponsored by some interested parties to discredit my person and make a case for my disengagement. Thank God and mercifully too, I was exonerated. Perhaps I was vindicated the more when the Nigerian Society of Engineers about the same time rated TETFund physical infrastructure projects as easily the best in the Federal Public Service during my tenure. As a member of ASUU that negotiated the Education Trust Fund (ETF) which was changed to TETFund in 2011, I took over as Executive Secretary with a clear mind, focus and vision, and definitely, I couldn’t be bothered about mundane things because if personal accumulation of ill-gotten money was my intention in public life, I should have instead gone into business, and in the typical manner that some do, I would have been a multi-billionaire many years ago. Simply put, the misguided public perception of some people that every public officer is first of all guilty and must therefore acquit himself/herself, rather than the reverse universally-acknowledged position that all persons are innocent until proven otherwise.
Additionally, I am proud to say that within the period I was Executive Secretary, the global ranking of our Universities improved significantly, and for the first time in recent memory, the University of Ibadan was ranked among the top best 1000 universities in the world. During the same period, the number of academic staff that were sent out for higher training for Masters and Doctoral degrees contributed to the improvement from 40% to 60% of Ph.D. holders in our university faculties. I made sure our scholars got research support funds from TETFund at a frequency never witnessed before I took over.
No doubt, we had challenges of poor implementation performance by some institutions leading to their poor access of even approved funds. The other problem I grappled with was poor monitoring of ongoing projects, which led to the emergence of substandard infrastructure in a few institutions.
Nigeria has both public and private tertiary education institutions. For some time now, the latter have clamoured for TETFund’s support, like their private counterparts. Could you outline the reasons why they are not receiving any TETFund support?
The restriction of access to TETFund money by only public tertiary institutions as mentioned earlier is in compliance with the provisions of the law, which you can verify online. This is consistent with the original vision for the creation of ETF, now TETFund. The justification for limiting it to public institutions was as defendable as it is today. Globally and as a matter of development priority, public institutions are always the priority of the government. This is even more so because as a developing economy with all the demographic realities like high poverty, high birth rate among the poor and high inequality rate, the priority of government must always be that of public institutions. Indeed, the United Nations demands that as a moral duty, priority must be given to the education of the disadvantaged, minorities and women in our societies.
Incidentally in this country, private universities constitute about 55% of the total number of universities, yet in terms of student population, private universities hold only 6% of total Nigerian university student enrolment (NUC, 2018). Since the smaller proportion of private university student enrolment is made up of mainly children of the privileged, there is still sufficient justification for the retention of the TETFund 2011 law. There has been debate about the need for TETFund to fund research in private universities. While the law of TETFund may not be changed now to enable private tertiary institutions to access the fund for research, there is nothing that stops public universities from going into partnership with private universities through research, and so should be able to benefit from research funds principally granted to public tertiary institutions.
What would you characterize as the core systemic and structural problems of Nigerian tertiary education institutions? How can the problems be addressed?
There are very many issues and challenges. The first which has attracted attention, because it is a primary limiting factor, is funding. The unions in our tertiary institutions as well as other experts identified this problem long ago. Mercifully, the capital expenditure requirements of these public tertiary institutions have in recent years been significantly addressed by TETFund. Yet, granted the huge capacity gap existing in our institutions, the provision of the infrastructure and other support services in our institutions will still require more funds, especially through improved budgetary allocation to the education sector. As a start, there is a need to immediately double the current low budgetary allocation so it climbs to not less than 15% and hopefully to rise to 20% within 5 years from now. If our education sector is well funded as is the case in Ghana, soon we shall witness a reversal of brain drain.
Beyond budgetary funding, we must also beam our lights on the mismanagement of the meagre allocated funds under the Supervision of Governing Councils and the management of all our tertiary institutions. In addition, our University System must recruit leaders and managers with the capacity to attract grants and aid to the universities through innovative measures.
Finally, it is necessary that government minimizes politicization of universities through the appointment of Chairmen and members of Governing Councils who don’t have the academic capacity, pedigree, record of involvement and justifiable basis to be appointed into the Governing Councils of our tertiary institutions. When such persons take office, they are more interested in the privileges of the portfolios than in adding value. This must stop, and thank God, the National Assembly has started a process of amending the laws of our universities to effect the desired change. It is important that the amendment be made for all tertiary institution laws rather than a select few which was started recently.
Over the years, TETFund has continuously provided support to eligible tertiary education institutions for staff development and also to enable them upgrade their teaching, learning, and research environments. How well did the institutions utilize the support?
Good question. Generally, we tried to make sure that the funds were appropriately channelled to the intended scholars. Despite this, we had cases of some diversions and corrupt practices. The exercise is being reviewed to ensure the funds are transparently, promptly and judiciously utilized.
Globally, Nigerian universities continue to rank poorly. In your view, what is responsible for this kind of outcome, in spite of TETFund’s activities?
Let me use this opportunity, in addition to the previous challenges in our universities, to inform you that a major additional factor that has over the years contributed to stunting the growth, competitive capacity and ranking of our universities is that Nigerian universities don’t give premium to research. So long our lecturers just publish for promotions, while product development is relegated or non-existent, so long shall our tertiary institutions remain laggards on the ranking scale. I have a lot more to say, but let’s leave other details for another day.
What are some of the key initiatives that you introduced during your tenure? What impact did the initiatives have on the Nigerian Tertiary Education System?
Indeed I arrived and took over at TETFund with a clear vision. Among my vision points were: 1. The Creation of Research and Development (R and D)/Centers of Excellence Department on arrival was aimed at deepening research beyond theoretical findings and publications by lecturers, and also creating the platform for interphase between researchers and the Industry. We also used the new department to encourage the establishment of its replica in public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, invariably to promote the same objective down to the levels of the benefitting institutions. 2. The Creation of the Information and Publications Department, an upgrade from its former status as a Unit in my office then. The aim was to ensure that Nigerians are adequately informed and educated about the activities of the agency for which billions of public funds are being committed annually. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say without fear of contradiction that at no time in the history of the organization was there such regular media engagement and public interest in the agency. 3. I decided to aggressively upgrade the use of ICT in driving our operations in line with global best practices. For instance, I immediately ordered that the full contents of the TETFund 2011 Law be uploaded, just as I also directed that all departments must be digitally compliant. I again directed that most of our activities should be uploaded in line with my policy of transparency. 4. I also directed that since the agency interphases with tertiary institutions, its staff must try and acquire higher qualifications to be confident to face Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Provosts, Professors and senior staff from those institutions who visit and interact with them. 5. I also made it a policy to ensure that staff enjoy good working conditions and environment in all ramifications.
In 2015, you formed a committee of eminent Nigerian scholars, called the TETFUND Standing Committee on Research and Development (R&D). Many persons in academia and industry welcomed this initiative, considering its vast potential to accelerate national development. Why was the Committee never inaugurated and pressed into action?
I can tell you that the committee was supposed to be the most innovative creation from my vision of the Nigerian Millennium University researcher/Government/industry triangular partnership that is responsible for driving and shaping development and competitiveness in contemporary economies and technology. If the committee has not taken off years after I left TETFund, a similar initiative in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has gone far and may soon be a law. We cannot live in self-denial. Gone are the days when agencies and sectoral operators will be living as islands to themselves instead of as complementary partners. More importantly, so long the Ministry of Science and Tech, Education, Health, Agriculture, Environment, Petroleum, Solid Minerals, etc are not collaborating in R and D, that long shall we remain behind the rest of the world.
From your experience as a former Executive Secretary, is the present mode of operation of TETFund the best for Nigerian public tertiary education institutions? What kind of reform or restructuring of TETFund would you recommend to enhance the effective implementation of its mandate?
I plead with you to grant me amnesty on this question. Hopefully, I shall be ready to give you an appropriate response soon.
What would be your closing thoughts on how to resolve the perennial funding problem in Nigerian tertiary education institutions? For example, should tuition fees be re-introduced in the institutions?
Very good question. I will not like us to put the cart before the horse. If governments at both federal and state levels increase their budgetary funding of the education sector to not less than 15 – 20%, there will be justification for sacrifice by parents through the re-introduction of tuition fees. I am convinced that the students and unions in our tertiary institutions have over the years opposed the reintroduction of tuition fees in our tertiary institutions because they are seeing public funds being wasted in other areas which should be used to subsidize education for the less privileged. Having said so, invariably I will support reintroduction of tuition if the precondition for adequate public budgetary funding of tertiary institutions is effected by both federal and state governments. When this is done, both students and ASUU will witness such improvement on campuses that they will hardly oppose sacrifice by parents in the form of gradual reintroduction of tuition fees.
Thank you so much, sir, for this exclusive interview.