TETFund is failing local universities – Academics

The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), the agency tasked with the disbursement of the education tax to public universities, has turned its back on its corruption-plagued past and is “cruising to success”, according to its executive secretary. But Nigerian academics say the agency is still essentially enriching universities abroad instead of investing in higher education in Nigeria.

Set up by the federal government in terms of the TETFund Act of 2011 to manage and disburse to public tertiary institutions funds gained through the imposition of a 2% tax on company profits, TETFund has worked in the following areas: provision of physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional material and equipment, research and publication and academic staff training and development.

In a press conference in May, TETFund boss Dr Abdullahi Bichi Baffa acknowledged that when he was appointed executive secretary in August 2016, the agency was marked by corruption.

“When we came, the house was almost upside down. Upside down in the sense that … 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 for the year 2015’s allocation was only 20% of the total allocation for that year, while special intervention, which is discretional, was 80% of the allocation for that year. That is a recipe for corruption; that is a recipe for impunity; that is a recipe for fraud,” he said.

Violation of guidelines

He said the guidelines for scholarships – intended to build the capacity of scholars in universities and create opportunities for them to pursue higher degrees at home and abroad (which fall under the agency’s Academic Staff Training and Development programme) – were being routinely violated.

He said many of the beneficiary scholars who were given money to go and pursue their studies abroad refused to go and spent the money on something else.

“We further realised that in a few institutions they were not giving the scholars the total money that was approved for them. They deducted a certain percentage using different sorts of names like administrative charges, and all sorts of illegal deductions,” he said.

He said scholars given funds to study in Europe or the United States in some cases ended up going to some African countries, while some scholars given the authorisation to study for their PhD registered for a masters degree.

However, he said since his appointment, things had been turned around.

“We have a solid and capable team at TETFund. It was not easy at the beginning because of those teething problems I have mentioned earlier. Even trying to understand one another, appreciate one another, trust one another so that we would be able to accept and work with one another was a challenge. However, gradually, after the turbulence the water found its level, we have now stabilised and believe me, we are now really cruising to success,” he told journalists.

Fortifying foreign universities

While Baffa insists the organisation has been refocused to implement its mandate, some scholars argue that the fund has succeeded in carting away taxpayers’ money to fortify and strengthen universities abroad.

Dr Celestine Aguoru, a lecturer and research scientist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, told University World News the fund was enriching universities “outside the shores of Nigeria to the detriment of universities in Nigeria”.

“If we dedicated the amount of money committed to foreign training for academic and non-academic staff of universities every year, to one university each year, we would have state of the art research facilities in Nigerian universities that foreign researchers would visit. But TETFund prefers to send the money to foreign universities for training rather than spend it in Nigeria,” he added.

According to Aguoru, the fund discourages internal training. “How can the universities in Nigeria grow when the major source of funding prefers to give it to some other universities outside?”

He said the fund had become a hotbed for corruption as more funds were allocated to staff to go overseas for monitoring of those sent on training than the money even spent on the training itself. “So the reason for insisting on academics being trained overseas is not for any altruistic reason but for their pockets.”

Professor Akinbowole James of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in South West Nigeria said it amazed him that the fund was building structures at universities across the country without corresponding facilities to aid teaching or learning.

Lack of equipment and expertise

“The fund is busy providing gigantic buildings with no equipment inside, forgetting that quality research is not about buildings but about equipment and expertise. TETFund must commit itself to the latter if it is to improve the ranking of Nigerian universities,” he added.

In an address earlier this year to delegates at a conference of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana said the TETFund was the product of the many struggles by the union to address the problem of perennial underfunding in Nigerian universities.

He regretted that while TETFund projects, especially in the area of physical infrastructure, were in evidence across tertiary institutions owned by the government, only a fraction, and a tiny one at that, of the huge funds amassed under the act had been disbursed.

Despite Baffa’s reassurances, there is a fundamental lack of trust in the fund on the part of the academic community.

Dr Mohammed Usman, of the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma in Katsina state, said the fund had been abused in the past resulting in a loss of confidence of many in its ability to deliver on its mandate, particularly as it was only the position of the executive secretary that had changed.