Why public tertiary institutions cannot access N20.8 billion, by ETF boss

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GUARDIAN

 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

 

 

Why public tertiary institutions cannot access N20.8 billion, by ETF boss

PROFESSOR Mahmud Yakubu is not a new name in the tertiary education sub sector in Nigeria. During the one year tenure of Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili as Education Minister, he served as the Head of Task Team that prepared the blue print which led to merger of some tertiary institutions with contiguous federal universities, a job he accomplished successfully.

His second national outing was his appointment by the immediate past Education Minister, Dr. Igwe Aja-Nwachuku as the Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund (ETF). Since his assumption, Yakubu has been busying carrying out a quiet re-organization of the agency.

Recently, he spoke to Education Correspondents, including MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR in Abuja, on what he has been doing since he assumed office in 2007. Excerpts:

 

FOR quite sometimes now, there has not been information from the ETF on what has been happening. Why?

In 1993, when the law establishing the Fund was passed, it was a decree under the military, to become the Education Trust Fund, instead of the Higher Education Trust Fund. We were supposed to fund every level of public education in Nigeria, and it is impossible for us to make an impact that way. We can’t fund every level of public education in Nigeria from basic to secondary to tertiary. So the first instruction we had when we came in here was that we should exit basic and secondary education and concentrate our intervention effort at the tertiary level based on the original conception of the fund.

And I’m sure you are aware that we took an amendment to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which agreed to it and an executive bill is going to the National Assembly to amend the ETF Act, to enable us exit basic and secondary segments, so that we can concentrate solely on tertiary level.

Even the tertiary level has to be defined in terms of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education only. Now, we fund the monotechnics, single subject polytechnics, colleges of agriculture, colleges of theology and business studies, freshwater fisheries, forestry, veterinary medicine, water resources. At that level alone, we have over 60. So there is little money going round, but I think there is need for us to make more impact than we have achieved.

ETF was not originally conceived for the renovation of buildings, or provision of computers. It was conceived to carry out revolutionary innovation in the education system. This hasn’t happened. Now, with the approval by FEC for us to exit basic and secondary education, the moment the law is enacted by the NASS, we will then concentrate on the tertiary level of education system.

You probably would have noticed that our 2008 budget was the highest ever allocation to the beneficiaries. This was mainly because we have stopped funding what I call tangential projects; projects outside out core area of mandates. For instance, the ETF was giving N850 million to the Ministry of Science and technology for national science park and museum; N300 million to the Ministry of Transportation for the second Maritime Academy in Badagry, Lagos; N160 million to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for a national digital planning; $3 million dollars to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for Nigeria-UNECSO memorandum of understanding (MoU), at a time when we did not have a single N200 million project standing in any university in Nigeria. So fortunately for us, Mr. President vacated all the approvals and asked us to concentrate the resources on our core area mandates, that is why we were able to achieve what I just told you; the highest ever allocation to our beneficiaries.

By the time we did the budget, each university, for the first time, got an equivalent of over a million dollars, the highest ever allocation. Before it was just about N50 million. Secondly, we looked at the system and we resolved that funding agencies can only succeed, where the intervention is substantially high. But if you spreading the money around, you are not likely to achieve that. In 2008, almost 80 percent of our income came from oil and gas sector. Whenever the price is favourable, we collect more, if it is not enough we collect less. But happily, in 2008, the telecommunication companies started paying after their five years tax holidays. The MTN paid last year; Zain, and I think even Globacom will come on stream next year, and of course, we expect banks now to begin to pay. So, it is only the oil and gas and the service sector that constitute the largest chunk of our income.

So, happily with improved collections, and with good relations with the Federal Inland Revenue Service, we will collect more and then we will be able to do more. For the first time as a feature of our budget, some amount of money has been allocated for staff training and development, I mean academic staff training. The only other time we intervened in that area was in 2005, where we gave each university about N1.7 million. I wonder what that amount will do for a university like Ibadan, or UNN or ABU in terms of development.

Go to our institutions, and you will see a terrible culture of in-breeding, where you have lecturers who did their first degree, second degree and even PhD in the same department and they rise from graduate assistant to professorship in the same department. The consequence is that our universities are no longer universal places of knowledge. They have become local places of knowledge. Some of us were attracted to the teaching profession because of the prospect of going overseas for postgraduate training. Most of the universities in Nigeria today are not in a position now to sponsor their staff. So, we thought that, as part of our 2008 budget and consistent with our national vision of becoming one of the greatest economies in the world by the year 2020, in order to export our academic staff, to add intellectual tradition outside Nigeria, and we also need to export them to other intellectual traditions within Nigeria, so that somebody in Sokoto can go to Ibadan, or somebody from Port Harcourt can go to Maiduguri for postgraduate studies.

So we made a provision of about N40 million each for every university and we expect them to sponsor the academic staff to universities outside Nigeria as much as the money can accommodate. And it is going to be a permanent feature of our subsequent intervention budgets.

There are series proposals from the universities, the polytechnics and colleges of education. We have re-aligned the budget, and we shall convey to the institutions, what they need to do to access the intervention. Another major problem area that we are addressing is the inability of many of our beneficiaries to access the intervention. When people complain that the system is under-funded, we understand the system is under-funded, but there is so much money lying in the ETF that a lot of beneficiaries are not able to access in billions.

At the moment, there is about N20.8 billion of such intervention fund. This is mainly because the beneficiaries are not able to account for what they have collected earlier as a basis for accessing subsequent allocations. So what we have decided to do is to fast track it, and the Minister of Education, on behalf of the Board, has given approval for us to actually name and shame those who have huge backlog. We are just tidying up the reports. You will see the number of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education that have huge amount of money that they are unable to access.

At the SUBEB level, we have about seven states with over half a billion naira that they have not accessed, and ETF, unlike UBEC does not require counterpart matching grant from the states. It is money gratis, so we felt that honestly, there is no reason why we should be keeping so much money and the money is losing value, yet beneficiaries are not accessing. We have appealed to them, we came up with the policy of merging the interventions. For instance, we can merge 2003, 2004 and 2005 and execute projects, yet they have not been accessed as they should.

So universities that are in arrears to the tune of hundreds of millions, we will publish the names of these institutions in the papers. What we are going to do is to give them marching orders. If they fail to reconcile the projects by next month, and start accessing the monies by July, we will not consider them in our 2009 budget. So any beneficiary with huge arrears that is unable to start accessing by the first week of July this year will not be eligible for further allocation, and then if the situation remains the same by the end of this year, we will mop up all the monies these institutions have not accessed and plough them into our 2010 budget, so that we can give it to institutions that can access them.

The biggest culprit at the university level is the Niger Delta University (NDU) Wilberforce Island. That university has over N350 million that it hasn’t accessed. The condition is, please account for what you have collected as a way collecting more. But the Niger Delta University hasn’t complied, and like I said we will make available details of other universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

We need to organize another interaction where I will have the documents and we will give you so that you help us inform the public and the beneficiaries. It is one thing to get as much money into the institutions, but it is quite another for the beneficiaries to access and to judiciously utilize the money.

The next step is the utilization of these resources. You know there is so much money going to the institutions, and when you look at the kind of projects they are undertaking, you will start worrying. For instance, how can a university start embarking on the construction of car parks, drainages, fencing of campuses, when there are empty laboratories and empty studios, or workshops, not pertaining to development? However, when we addressed them in December last year, at a stakeholders’ workshop, we told them that there is no more of these kinds of projects. So we have forged a special relationship with the regulatory agencies such as the National Universities Commission (NUC); National Board for Technical Education, (NBTE) and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) that henceforth, ETF intervention must follow the criteria for accreditation to the regulatory agencies.

You can’t have a programme that requires some money to buy equipment for teaching and research, collect the money from the ETF, and you spend the money on fence. We will make sure that they no longer use the resources on these kinds of project.

For the taxpayers, we intend to organize a taxpayers’ forum. The companies that dutifully pay their taxes should know what the money they have been paying is being used for. Towards the middle of this year, we intend to organize a taxpayers’ forum, and it will become a yearly event, to show them what we have done with the monies that they have contributed and also recognize their contributions. Though by law, they have no choice, but it will be nice for them to know what they are paying the money for and also for us to show appreciation to them.

But the major issues now are the amendments to our enabling Act so that we finally exit basic and secondary schools and concentrate the resources on the tertiary level as originally conceived. We cannot make impact by throwing these resources on the 774 local governments including the six Area Councils of the FCT, 37 States SUBEBS, 36 States Ministries of Education and 230 tertiary institutions. We can’t make impact like that. Importantly, Ghana, which borrowed the idea of using tax to fund education from Nigeria, they came and understudied the ETF and established a GETF (Ghana Education Tax Fund) in 2002 is making more effective use of GETFUND than we have made of our ETF, because there is for a specific purpose; tertiary unless otherwise directed by the Ghanaian government. And so you go to the university of Legon and see what their Fund has done. We are considering special intervention in select tertiary institutions. No approval has been given yet, but we really considering such.

We take one university in geo-political zone and see how we can upgrade the teaching and learning environment, so that we can begin to say yes, in Nigeria, we have world class- University. If you see the recent world ranking of universities, you will see that there is no Nigerian Universities among the first 50 universities in Africa. The most recent ranking is Ilorin, but as of December last year, the best Nigerian University was Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and it was number 67 in Africa and number 7704 in the world. We don’t have any laboratory in Nigeria that can rank among the top 1,000 in the world, and we believe this is the kind of facility that our intervention should provide.

How do you response to clamour by the operators of the privately-owned universities to be included among the beneficiaries of the ETF? They argue that after all, they are equally Nigerians who also contribute to the economy of the country by paying taxes?

The law is for the funding of public educational institutions, not private. As the law exists today, we fund tertiary and non-tertiary educational public institutions. If the private proprietors of universities want to be included as beneficiaries, nothing stops private proprietors of secondary schools from asking for the same thing because just as we have private universities, we have private polytechnics, private colleges of education. For now, the law says public, and that is what we are following. Secondly, public institutions are guided more by social considerations rather than profit. Of course, there are some private institutions that are not necessarily driven by profit, such as the faith-based institutions, but at the same time, they are free to charge the kind of fees that cannot be contemplated in public tertiary institutions and as it is today, latest statistics from the NUC has shown that only three percent of Nigerian students are enrolled in the private universities, which means about 97 percent are enrolled in public institutions, with the majority being in the federal universities.

And so, if somebody has convinced the NUC that he or she has the capacity to establish a private, there is no reason why he or she should go through the backdoor now and agitate for a government agency should fund its projects. So the law doesn’t permit the funding of private educational institutions, whether it is a tertiary or non-tertiary, and even the proposed amend hasn’t contemplated that at all.

Shed more light on the N40 million allocations to universities for staff training and development in your 2008 budget. Is it for each university?

Each university has been allocated the sum of N40 million for staff training and development. Each polytechnic, whether federal or state, has been allocated N22.4 million and each college of education has been allocated N10 million. The criteria used for the sharing formula is 2:1:1. 50 percent of the entire budget goes to the universities, and the polytechnics and colleges of education will be sharing the remaining 50 per cent.

But the polytechnics are getting marginally higher than the colleges of education. We are funding about 50 polytechnics and we are funding over 60 colleges of education. We made some money available to for research, N10 million to each university and N5million to each polytechnics and colleges of education. But from the proposal we have received so far from the institutions shows no serious research. So we again asked for the minister’s approval in the absence of our Board of Trustees to re-align the budget, so that the money meant for research of N10 million per university could be added to staff training and development, which means each university will now get N50 million for staff training; each polytechnics will get N27.24 million and each college of education will get N15 million for staff training and development.

How does the ETF address complaints about secrecy surrounding allocations to the institutions, especially from the unions against the authorities of such institutions? What sanctions do you have against the authorities of institutions that embark on projects outside your core mandates?

Let me tell you something. I’m not sure that any Vice Chancellor or head of tertiary institutions can do car parks or fences anymore. We can’t sit here in Abuja and determine what the Universities of Maiduguri or Ibadan need and you have people there as VCs, professors who know where the shoe pinches and so we will allocate based the resources available and based on the allocation formula attached to each university.

The mistake we made in the past was to accept whatever proposals made by the universities. But now, we do not accept such proposals, so you can’t construct the drainages and car parks again, because you are required to propose the project and for us to grant the approval in principle. We have to review the project and once we do that, it will be easier for us to monitor such projects. We will not give you the money 100 percent. If it is construction, we give you 50 percent first tranch; 35 percent second tranch and 15 percent retention, and we will not give the remaining 15 percent until we are satisfied that it has been satisfactorily completed.

So it is impossible now for institutions to propose projects outsides their core mandates. Secondly, we have reports from all institutions at the tertiary level from the regulatory agencies We have information on programmes that have been accredited; programmes that have been granted partial accreditation and those denied accreditation and the regulatory will state the reasons why. So when they make proposals, we compare such proposals with the accreditation reports. For instance, one of the VCs proposed to ETF to construct an Administrative block, I said not under my watch will you do that. He had to re-prioritise and said he wanted to use it to construct a Servicom office. I said no, I wouldn’t allow that. It is only when we rejected the proposals twice that he discovered that he had three programmes that were denied accreditation, that he wanted to use the money to address the deficiencies. It is very sad that somebody from Abuja should tell a Vice Chancellor that between an academic programme and a Servicom office, he should select an academic programme.

Secrecy is a major source of problem. I had cause to address all our beneficiaries between the late November and early December last year at the NUC. We invited the Vice Chancellors and I addressed under the auspices of NUC; in Kaduna, I spoke to the Rectors and Provosts of Monotechnics under the auspices of the NBTE and then in Abuja again, we addressed the Provosts of Colleges of Education under the auspices of the NCCE. One of major problems is the culture of secrecy. In a way ETF funds are handled by some heads of institutions, not all. Where we have given letters of allocation, they collect the letters and then there isn’t an open process of how much has been received. Let’s sit down and decide what we are going to use what we are going to use the money for. I believe there should never be secrecy in the handling of public funds. I told them that we should do away with that culture. That is why we called a press conference sometimes where we announced to you how much we have allocated to each university. Again, what we want to do is to promote the culture of openness and to insist that each beneficiary must establish a committee for the handling of ETF projects. The committee should be broadly representative of the entire strata of the institutions, including most importantly, the unions, particularly the academic staff union. It may interest you to know that I relate very well with my colleagues in the universities, ASUU, COEASU and ASUP. So that people must know what a particular institution has collected from the ETF and what use such collections have been put to.

 

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