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TETFund in the days of COVID-19

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By Emmanuel Aziken

IT was unarguably a statement of satisfaction from Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, of the new kick that Nigerian universities were getting towards scaling up research and development as a way of actualising the country’s development needs.

Speaking in an interview with Thisday, the ASUU president observed the commendable role that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, was playing in encouraging applied research through its new initiative in supporting research and development through handsome grants to university lecturers.

All over the world, universities have been known to be the cradle for new technology and thinking in both the sciences and social sciences. As Ogunyemi, a lecturer in the Department of Curriculum Studies and Instructional Technology of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, Ago Iwoye said: “Research comes in different grades and dimensions.

These are foundational research activities not necessarily meant to invent tangible products, but to prepare grounds for innovations and inventions; and applied research directed at addressing practical problems in the immediate community or the society at large.”

Indeed, the thrust towards scaling up research and development in the universities has been the singsong of the TETFUND management ably led by the Executive Secretary, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro.

Remarkably, the concept easily found favour with the TETFUND board led by Alhaji Kashim Imam who may have also brought his legendary savvy in the political arena to provide the needed prop for the TETFUND management to push through with the initiatives.

The political savvy would undoubtedly have counted in the more than 100 per cent raise in the approval from President Muhammadu Buhari to TETFund in the current year. Speaking when the board of the agency had a retreat earlier this year, Prof. Bogoro revealed that President Buhari had approved an increase of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund National Research Fund to N7.5 billion for 2020 from the initial N3 billion.

That inevitably has further strengthened TETFUND’s position as the largest holder and distributor of research grants in the country. With the approval also came the directive to establish six medical simulation research and clinical training facilities in six colleges of medicine in each geopolitical zone within the year.

That may have opened the window for the agency in funding the establishment of 12 COVID-19 molecular laboratories in the six geopolitical zones.

ALSO READ: N7.5bn grant: TETFund to involve private institutes, non-state entities on research – Bogoro

While with that feat TETFund may have been the highest single provider of COVID-19 test centres in Nigeria, the clincher in the effort of the Fund is the fact that it is going beyond testing to funding research on COVID-19.

As Prof. Bogoro said during the retreat: “The BOT also approved that TETFund sponsors some COVID-19 research proposals to the tune of over N200 million, mainly from universities and NAFDAC, this being one of the reasons TETFund has recently been made the secretariat for the Nigeria COVID-19 Research Consortium R&D.” It is remarkable that the Fund is not limiting its research initiatives to the universities.

Not too long ago, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology signed an agreement with TETFund towards boosting research.

The agreement with TETFund is coming against the background of the duplication of resources that had in the past seen laudable research efforts stymied by bureaucracy and dysfunctional schemes in the government.

As the minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, said at the signing of the agreement Nigeria has been greatly disadvantaged in not mobilising enough of her human intelligence.

“We know Nigerians are some of the most intelligent people in the world but we have not exploited that God-given gift of human intelligence in our nation. We need it because we must be in a position to produce many of the things we now import into the country.”

He also used the opportunity to commend the TETFund under the Bogoro management for its innovative schemes. Bogoro at the ceremony also signaled the determination of the Fund to through the scheme fashion out ways of scaling up research through the many agencies in the ministry.

“For too long, things have been done in perfunctory manner in our country. We have not been sufficiently creative and innovative to do things differently.

“TETFund in the Education Ministry, because of its focus on R&D, has today come to sign a document with the Ministry that will get us engaged specifically with agencies in the Ministry that have various mandates in the numerous areas of science and technology that define our capacity to apply science to solve Nigeria’s national, technological and particularly economic problems,” he said.

Prof. Bogoro further stated that in order to broaden the scope of TETFund’s National Research Fund, NRF, Grant, the Board of Trustees of the Fund had approved that private entities, including private universities, polytechnics, research institutes in science and agriculture and centres of excellence can now apply for the NRF Grant.

Stakeholders would recall that TETFund had in 2019 constituted an ad-hoc committee to broaden research and development in the country.

Bogoro while announcing the move had lamented the low level of R & D infrastructure in the country which he said stood at 0.02 per cent compared to developed economies where it ranged from five to 10 per cent.

The team comprising Nigerian experts from within and outside the country is expected to chart a new course for R & D. Members of the ad hoc committee include a former Vice-Chancellor of Federal University, Umudike, Prof Placid Njoku serving as Co-Chairman and a United States-based research scientist and professor of Chemistry, Ibrahim Katampe who holds nine patents, is the Vice-Chairman.

The TETFund initiatives are coming against the present realities in the country and the worldwide race for a COVID-19 cure, especially with focus on the perspectives of the TETFund board under Alhaji Kashim and the management as led by Prof. Bogoro.

Aziken is the publisher of GWG.NG.


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