Dr. Abdullahi Bichi Baffa is the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). In this interview with journalists, the renowned educationist bares his mind on the TETFund he met on assumption of office and how the agency was reinvigorated. He also speaks on TETFund’s intervention on special high impact projects, among other several multi-billion Naira interventions that have now been a massive boost to the nation’s tertiary education institutions. FELIX KHANOBA was there.
What was your reaction when you got the announcement that you have been made to head TETFund?
It was a mixed feeling when I heard the announcement of my appointment, as Executive Secretary of TETFund by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. It dawned on me that a weighty responsibility is put on my shoulders. Indeed, there is every reason, therefore, to work hard and sincerely to see to the fulfillment of the promises made by Mr. President regarding the repositioning of the Nigeria’s tertiary education sector.
There was also a sense of fear. As an insider in the higher education system, I’m aware of the mess this critical, strategic and huge establishment of government, TETFund, was in at the time of my appointment. So what it means was that it has fallen on my shoulders the responsibility to clear the mess and reposition the organisation for efficient service delivery.
But to the glory of God, we thank Him most sincerely for granting us the opportunity to be able to get on with the job. We set the ball rolling, and we were able to, within reason, clear the bulk of the mess. We were able to, within reason change the perception of the general public and the attitude of the stakeholders towards TETFund.
Nigerians will want you to cite some of the rot you met at TETFund and how you dealt with them?
When we came, the house was almost upside down. Upside down in the sense that we met an agency where the primary purpose of establishing the agency, which is to intervene in specific areas regarding investments and financing was relegated to the background. The Annual Direct Disbursement (ADD) for the Year 2015 allocation was only 20 per cent of the total allocation for that year, while Special Intervention which is discretionally was 80 percent of the allocation for that year!
That is a recipe for corruption; that is a recipe for impunity; that is a recipe for fraud. Against this background, what we first did was to suspend projects under Special Intervention. For all the Special Intervention allocation for the Year 2014 and Year 2015 for which money had been disbursed already, we approved that they continued but ensured that they were done in accordance with the approval given. However, all other allocations and discretionary allocations for which TETFund has paid no money were cancelled. Interestingly, we made good savings of about N78 billion from that cancellation. We plowed that money into the Year 2016 allocation, and we were able to pursue the completion of those Special Projects as approved in the Approval-in-Principle, and as approved in the Bill of Quantities for which the institutions and the vendors have agreed.
What about the other areas of intervention, were they free from the rot?
Another area where we met real mess was in the implementation of the TETFund scholarships, what you call the Academic Staff Training and Development (AST&D).
But we realized that in quite some beneficiary institutions, the guidelines for the scholarships award were being implemented in the breach. Beyond violating the guidelines, many of the beneficiary scholars who were given money to go and pursue their studies abroad refused to go and have spent the money on something else. We further realized that in a few institutions they were not giving the scholars the total money that was approved for them. They deduct certain percentage using different sort of names like administrative charges, and all sorts of illegal deductions.
There are also scholars that were given the approval to go to Europe or to go the USA, for example, but they end up going to some African countries. Some scholars were given the authorization to do Ph.D., but they go and register for a Masters degree. But the worst of them were scholars who will collect the money and refuse to go.
Tell us about the High Impact Allocation which allows selected beneficiary institutions to carry out Special High Impact Projects.
It is noteworthy that for the Special High Impact Allocation, we have given six polytechnics, six Colleges of Education and 12 universities the Special High Impact Allocation. We are spending about N36 billion on that recently aside the over N132 billion already spent on Special High Impact Project before now, making that over N168 billion. And these projects have all sprung up across the beneficiary institutions landscape, and we are happy to say that we have thousands of projects all over our 202 beneficiary institutions.
Are you insisting that the Buhari Administration should be given kudos rather than knocks for the success story in TETFund?
Let me say all the success that we have been able to record was mainly because of the tremendous support we have been enjoying from the government. It would interest the general public that the maiden or the first intervention allocation that was approved by this present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari in Year 2016 allocation was the biggest allocation ever since the establishment of TETFund.
People will be wondering what was going on, whether there was any magic we were doing at TETFund. But it is not rocket science. We just realized that we should invest more in the core mandate of TETFund in the annual direct disbursement rather than spending more on the discretionary projects under the Special Intervention. As a result we were able to allocate N1.09 billion each to all the Federal and State Universities and close to N700 million each to all the Federal and State Polytechnics, and another N700 million each to all the Colleges of Education owned by Federal and State governments.
We have also tripled the allocation to capacity building, that is the TETFund scholarships. We gave each University N300 million, each Polytechnic N200 million and each College of Education N200 million to support scholars to pursue higher degrees at home and abroad. These were the highest ever since the establishment of TETFund.