Viewpoint

June 14, 2024

Echono: The architect building people and institution at TETFund

Echono: The architect building people and institution at TETFund

By Austin Oniyokor

AND Originally established as Education Trust Fund (ETF) by the Act No. 7 of 1993 as amended by Act No. 40 of 1998 (now repealed and replaced with Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment, Etc.) Act No. 16 of 2011), the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) is an intervention agency set up to provide supplementary support to all levels of public tertiary institutions with the main objective of using funding alongside project management for the rehabilitation, restoration and consolidation of Tertiary Education in Nigeria.

The main source of income available to the Fund is the two percent education tax paid from the assessable profits of companies registered in Nigeria.

However, the Tax was reviewed upwards to 2.5 percent by the Finance Act 2021 and further increased to 3 percent by the Finance Act 2023, effective September 2023.

The funds are disbursed for the general improvement of education in federal and state tertiary education institutions specifically for the provision or maintenance of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning; instructional material and equipment; research and publications; academic staff training and development; and any other need which, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, is critical and essential for the improvement and maintenance of standards in the higher educational institutions.

The Fund is managed by a thirteen (13) member Board of Trustees with members drawn from the six geo-political zones of the country as well as representatives of the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Finance.
The Board of Trustees is charged, among others, with the responsibilities to monitor and ensure collection of Education Tax by the Federal Inland Revenue Service and ensure transfer of same to the Fund; manage and disburse the Tax imposed by the Act; liaise with the appropriate ministries or bodies responsible for collection or safe keeping of the Tax; receive requests and approve projects after due consideration; ensure disbursement of funds to various public tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria; monitor and evaluate execution of the projects; and invest funds in appropriate and safe securities.

Just as a cell cannot function without the nucleus, it is given that TETFund would not have been able to achieve its mandate, if it does not have emplaced, an efficient management team led by Mr. Sunday S. T. Echono, an accomplished architect and fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA).

Since 2022 that the 61-year-old bureaucrat assumed office as the Executive Secretary of TETFund, a lot of landmark projects have been recorded at the Fund – all geared towards delivering on its mandate.

For instance, in the area of physical infrastructure, the Ochono-led TETFund has equipped beneficiary institutions with relevant facilities for academic activities. Specifically, it has funded 5,525 physical infrastructural projects, 188 equipment fabrications, and provision of 576 Faculty/Departmental Libraries in tertiary institutions across the country. In addition, the Fund has successfully completed the following projects, among others, 13 Senate Buildings (12 Universities and one Polytechnic) and 19 Library Buildings (14 Universities, three Polytechnics and two Colleges of Education).

The Fund has also commissioned a total number of 74 projects in beneficiary institutions across the country during this period. The President was represented by members of his Cabinet and other top government functionaries at those epoch-making events.

Poised to curb medical tourism and the attendant capital flight that goes with it, TETFund has intervened in the provision of modern laboratory equipment for Urology, Endourology and Cancer Centres in six University Teaching Hospitals across six Geo-Political zones ABU Zaria, Bayero University- North-West; North-Central University of Jos and University of Abuja; North-East: Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and University of Maiduguri; South-East: Nnamdi Azikiwe University and University ofNigeria Nsuka; South-South: University of Benin and University of Port Harcourt; South-West: University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

In order to deliver on one of its core mandates – Research and Development (R & D) – the Fund set up a National Research Fund (NRF) which is meant to address the paucity of funds necessary to facilitate cutting-edge research in the areas of national priorities. Through this initiative, the Fund has sponsored 270 NRF research projects across the various thematic areas of national priorities worth ₦5,715,534,203.00 in 2022, and 185 research projects worth over ₦5,128,180,623.63 in 2023.

To facilitate the revival of quality foundational research among the lecturers in tertiary institutions and assist them to build capacity for higher research, the Fund has disbursed the sum of ₦10,579,286,437.71 for Institution-Based Research in beneficiary institutions as first and second tranches.

There is also the TETFund Centres of Excellence that are meant to support strategic and applications-oriented research and expertise with potential industrial applications. In 2023, the Fund established three additional Centres of Excellence (CoEs), which brings the total CoEs to 27. The new Centres are the Centre of Excellence for Diaspora Research and Development at the University of Ibadan; the Centre of Excellence on Pedagogy and Curriculum Development at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and the Centre of Excellence on Digital Literacy and Emerging Technology at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

Still under its R & D initiatives, the Fund has a Research for Impact (R4i) programme through which it seeks to enhance the capacity of lecturers for innovative and impactful scientific research. Thus far, the Fund has sponsored about 602 lecturers from beneficiary institutions for intensive capacity building programme on Research for Impact (R4i) programme between 2023 and 2024 to enable them translate their research to innovations, inventions and solutions for practical application and commercialization.

Enter the TETFund Alliance for Innovative Research (TETFAIR). Through this laudable initiative, the Fund facilitates the uptake of research outcomes with potentials for commercialisation. The Fund has sponsored the training of 44 Teams of 176 Researchers from tertiary institutions across the six geopolitical zones under the TETFAIR Programme. The first group of sixteen (16) Teams have developed 16 prototypes. Most noteworthy is that a team designed and developed a hearing aid that is self-programmable, affordable, and more suitable for the African market. This team was selected among the top three participants in the ARC Center for Digital Innovation Entrepreneurship Program at the Sheba Hospital in Israel, where they presented their innovation at an international medical conference.

The Fund has also upgraded equipment in laboratories and workshops to enhance the capacity of beneficiary institutions to deliver on their mandate and be globally competitive. It has provided ₦25 Billion under the 2024 Intervention for the upgrade of equipment in laboratories and workshops of the institutions.

That is not all. In order to promote the creation of enabling environment to enhance impactful and innovative research outputs as well as global competitiveness of tertiary institutions for national development, the Fund provided N6,000,000.000 in 2023 and N26,000,000.000 in 2024 for the establishment four Central Multipurpose Laboratories across the country.

In the area of Academic Staff Training and Development, TETFund has achieved so much and yet it is not resting on its oars. Through the TETFund Scholarship for Academic Staff (TSAS), the Fund has sponsored 23,271 academic staff of public tertiary institutions for Ph.D programmes. Out of this, 4,598 were sponsored to foreign institutions, while 18,673 attended institutions within Nigeria. Likewise, 15,977 academic staff were sponsored for Master’s degree programmes. 3,525 were in foreign institutions, while 12,452 undertook their studies in institutions within the country. The Fund has sponsored 911 scholars of beneficiary institutions for Benchwork in foreign institutions and 872 academic staff for post-doctoral programme specially targeted at strengthening scientific research capacity of the country.

Under the Conference Attendance Intervention, 31,071 academic staff of tertiary institutions were sponsored to attend international conferences in foreign countries, while 46,604 were sponsored for local conferences, bringing the total scholars sponsored for academic conferences to 77,675.

The Fund has also sponsored 110,432 academic staff of Colleges of Education to conduct supervision of teaching practice across the country.

TETFund has been involved in various education support services and ICT intervention in various tertiary institutions. It has funded the procurement of 3,099,871 library books in beneficiary institutions. The Fund has also sponsored the publication of 845 titled Academic Research Journals projects, and the development of 2,307 Academic Manuscripts to Books, just as it has sponsored the publication of Higher Education Textbooks. A total of 60 TETFund-sponsored Textbooks written by Nigerian scholars were unveiled since 2022.

As part of efforts to enhance the performance of our tertiary institutions, the Honourable Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman (SAN) unveiled the Tertiary Education Research, Applications and Services (TERAS) Platform, a Digital Services Application designed by TETFund for tertiary educational institutions in the country. The platform comprises IT Infrastructure and services structured into separate but interconnected modules, offering compute, storage and networking infrastructure with high reliability and availability available to participating institutions. With TERAS, institutional libraries are empowered to squarely address the business of providing support for publication and learning needs of students.

The Fund is carrying out the provision of converged services inclusive of educational resource subscriptions, software licenses and specialised capacity development programmes for both academic and non-academic staff, and students. It has also sponsored the provision of ICT infrastructure to all beneficiary institutions. This includes fixed mobile internet access, solar power to libraries and data centres, among others.
The Fund has trained over 20,000 teaching and non-teaching staff of Beneficiary Institutions on ICT using the ICDL Digital Literacy Curriculum.

Buoyed by the unprecedented Education Tax (EDT) revenue collection of N725.74 billion in 2023 and a presidential approval, there has been an unprecedented increase in the allocation and disbursement of funds to beneficiary institutions under the 2024 Intervention. Each University got N1,906,944,930.00; each Polytechnic got N1,165,355,235.00; while each College of Education got N1,398,426,282.00.

There is no gainsaying the fact that these phenomenal feats at TETFund would not have been possible but for the astuteness of the Echono-led management team which sees leadership as opportunity to impact, motivate and inspire others to do more.

Born in Otukpo, Benue State, on the 16th of December, 1962, Ochono had his early education at St. Mary’s Primary School, Otukpo, before proceeding to Jos, then the capital of Benue-Plateau State, to complete his primary and secondary education at St. Theresa’s and St. Murumba’s College respectively. At the latter, he led the Debating Society and Quiz Club and was the best-graduating student in the class of 1973-78 with a Division I in the West African School Certificate (WASC) Examination. He also excelled in soccer, basketball, and volleyball.
Ochono later enrolled at the Murtala College of Arts, Science, and Technology (MUCAST), Makurdi for his ‘A’ Levels/IJMB. He was admitted to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1980 to study Architecture and graduated with a BSc. (2nd Class Upper) in 1983 and an MSc. in 1985. He was awarded the Best Life project and followed this with the Best-All-Round Performance in the Nigerian Institute of Architects Professional Practice Examination in 1989.
After his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1986, Echono had a brief stint with the Benue State Housing Agency before joining the Federal Civil Service in January 1987. He was inspired by his father’s legacy of service and integrity as a quintessential civil servant. Between 1987 and 2005, Echono served in various management capacities at the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing including: Secretary, Implementation Committee on National Housing Policy (1991 to 1995); Secretary, Special Projects Task Force (1992 to 1995); Secretary, Committee on Lands and Housing (1993 to 1995); Chief Executive Architect in charge of Administration of the Department (1993 to 1994); Special Assistant to Permanent Secretary (1999); Head, Council Affairs and Parastatals (2003 to 2004); and Secretary, Ministerial Tenders Board (2004 to 2005).

With the advent of procurement reforms in Nigeria, Echono was among the first set of civil servants deployed to the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) or Due Process Office in February 2005. By 2006, he was appointed Head of Team ‘A’ with responsibility for procurement review and certification of projects for Ministries of Works and Housing, FCT Administration, Transport, State House, Defence, Police, and all the Security Agencies.
His quest for personal development has seen him acquire additional qualifications while in service. They include: Postgraduate Diploma in Management (PGDM), University of Calabar (2002); Master of Business Administration (MBA), Benue State University (2004); and MSc, Procurement Management, University of Turin, Italy (2011).
In addition to these qualifications, Echono is currently running a Ph.D programme on Leadership and Good Governance at the University of Abuja and a Ph.D programme in Knowledge Management at The International School for Social and Business Studies ( ISSBS) Celje, Slovenia.
A thoroughbred civil servant, with 35 years of exemplary service, Echono enjoyed the admiration and respect of his peers and colleagues while he was in the civil service.

Echono was appointed as a Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service in October 2014. He served as Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (2014 – 2015), Federal Ministry of Communications (2015- 2017), and Federal Ministry of Education from 2017 to January 2022 when he retired.

Prior to his appointment as Permanent Secretary in October, 2014, Echono served as Director of Procurement in five key Ministries namely – Defence, Water Resources, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development as well as Power.

He was appointed the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TetFund) in March 2022 where he continues to serve the Government and people of Nigeria.

He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, Founding Member and Trustee of the Procurement Professionals Association of Nigeria; Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Building; Fellow and Patron, Nigeria Library Association; Fellow, Nigerian Association for Educational Administration and Planning; Fellow, Historical Society of Nigeria, among others. He is a recipient of several awards of excellence and commendation by the Federal Government, including the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). He is widely travelled and has presented over 40 papers at national and international fora. Architect Sunday Sylva Togo Echono is happily married with children.