How Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chair-designate, transformed TETFUND

Former President Goodluck Jonathan (seated) registers an Almajiri child at the Model Almajiri boarding school, Sokoto, while Education Minister, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai (right), Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko, Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar (second left)  and former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Prof Mahmood Yakubu (left) watch with interest.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan (seated) registers an Almajiri child at the Model Almajiri boarding school, Sokoto, while Education Minister, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai (right), Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko, Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar (second left)  and former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Prof Mahmood Yakubu (left) watch with interest.

By Abimbola Lagbedu

October 28, 2015

The creation of what would eventually transform to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), as an intervention agency under the Federal Ministry of Education in 1993, was circumstantial rather than by design. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was on strike in 1992 and had been negotiating with the former General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration. The Late Prof. Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa was the Education Minister and Prof Attahiru Jega, former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano and the immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was ASUU’s leader at that time.

The University teachers had tabled a long list of demands with huge financial implications before the federal government, which, in turn, had also challenged ASUU to come up with an imaginative way of raising funds for university education outside appropriation. It was at this point that ASUU suggested the introduction of Education Tax to the government, to be paid by all companies operating in Nigeria, the proceeds of which would then be channeled into the University system. The proposed intervention was intended to be transformative rather than palliative.

The federal government bought the idea, leading to the promulgation of the Education Tax Fund Act 7 of 1993, which was later amended by the Education Tax No 40 of 1998. However, instead of designating it specifically for higher education as negotiated, the new agency was now fashioned to support all levels of education. The logic at that time was that all the levels of public education were in need of support.

The Act imposes a two per cent Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria. It also empowered the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to determine and collect the tax, while the agency administers and disburses the relevant amounts to educational institutions in the three tiers of government: federal, state and local, including primary and secondary schools. The agency also has the mandate to monitor the projects executed with the funds allocated to the beneficiaries.

Although, the law allows the beneficiaries to, among other things, utilize the disbursed funds for any other ancillary matters, the specific purposes prescribed include: work centres and prototype development; staff development and conference attendance; library systems at different levels of education and research equipment procurement and maintenance. Other specifics are: higher education book development fund; redressing any imbalance in enrolment mix as between higher educational institutions; and execution of the nine-year compulsory education programme.

Former Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu (left), with former Vice Chancellors of the University of Ilorin and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Profs Ishaq Oloyede and Balogun at a programme in Abuja.

Former Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu (left), with former Vice Chancellors of the University of Ilorin and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Profs Ishaq Oloyede and Balogun at a programme in Abuja.

Thus, from the outset, the agency, had too much to contend with. Besides, the impression was now created that TETFUND was an alternative proprietor of some sort, with so much money to throw around, leading, ultimately, to unmitigated requests from those who apparently had abdicated their own responsibilities.

Although, its impact was indeed felt across all the education levels, with many new structures in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions ascribed to the agency, it did not take time for stakeholders to agree that something about the agency’s mandate was still not right. Besides, each time ASUU went to the negotiation table with the federal government, the union would remind the government that the idea behind TETFUND was to have an effective intervention specifically for the tertiary level and not in all the levels.

When Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was appointed Executive Secretary in 2007, he began consultations with strategic stakeholders on how to narrow the agency’s activities to its appropriate mandate. Meetings were held with, among others, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), both of which support basic education. While UBEC had the clear mandate of overseeing basic education, the MDGs also had eight goals, one of which is basic education.

They agreed to table the matter before former President Goodluck Jonathan, through the Education Minister, Prof Ruqqayatu Rufai for the streamlining of the agency’s activities in order to restore it to its original concept.

The President and the Executive Council approved it.  An executive bill was promptly forwarded to the National Assembly for the amendment of the Education Tax Act 1993, which had established the ETF, to pave the way for a Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). The law was eventually enacted by the National Assembly and assented to by the President on June 3, 2011.

According to Yakubu’s explanation at that time, TETFUND’s mandate had become more clearly defined. He explained that the agency will now focus on providing “essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional material and equipment, research and publication, 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 of quality and maintenance of standards in the higher educational institutions.”

The beneficiaries of the rechristened agency, as contained in Sec. 21 (1) of TETFUND Act include public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. All private universities, polytechnics and colleges are precluded, to the chagrin of the proprietors of such institutions.

From take- off to 2010, a period of 16 years, TETFUND netted the sum of N463 billion as Education Tax through the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). Much of this, however, came in during Yakubu’s tenure as Executive Secretary.

But Yakubu attributed the increased revenue to what he described as the “excellent work” done by the former Chairman of the FIRS, Mrs. Ifueko Omogui-Okauru. It is also on record that between 1999 and 2008, the agency disbursed over N72 billion to Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Monotechnics, State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) and states’ ministries of education.

Prof Mahmood Yakubu  (middle) after being conferred with a fellowship award by the Lagos State Polytechnic at the institution’s convocation ceremony.

Prof Mahmood Yakubu (middle) after being conferred with a fellowship award by the Lagos State Polytechnic at the institution’s convocation ceremony.

However, it was scandalous that many of the tertiary institutions that were always complaining of lack of funds could not access their intervention funds domiciled in the agency for many years, due to their non-compliance with the rules. In 2009, the agency had to organize zonal technical workshops on un-accessed funds and project implementation, in the six geo-political zones, when the accumulated funds climbed up to N23.6 billion.

In the past, some Universities had collected money from the agency and had constructed car parks, drainages or built fences, when other serious areas like libraries and laboratories were left to wither away. But under Yakubu, while TETFUND did not outrightly dictate what institutions must do with their funds, the agency insisted on the right priorities.

“Generally speaking, our beneficiaries have internalized our processes and procedures,” Yakubu told a national newspaper.”  As a special fund, our allocations don’t lapse at the end of the year. Since funds are released in tranches, there is no question of collecting funds without executing projects. Some of the projects may take a while to complete, but institutions know that they cannot access subsequent allocations without completing the previous projects.”

One of the new innovations introduced in 2008, but which effectively took effect the following year, was the Academic Staff Training and Development Programme (AST&D).
The National Universities Commission (NUC) had raised an alarm that about 61 per cent of the academic staff members in the federal universities were within the Lecturer 1 rank and below. ASUU had also raised a similar alarm earlier.

What TETFUND under Yakubu did was to introduce the AST&D. A particular sum is set aside from the regular annual intervention budget for each institution, to be utilized specifically for the sponsorship of the respective institutions’ academic staff members for post graduate studies both within and outside the country. The various institutions are required to nominate eligible lecturers and recommend them for funding from their own allocations for the AST&D.

Yakubu explained the agency’s purpose: “Our intention is to sponsor the lecturers for postgraduate studies in a qualitative manner (and) to break the unhealthy culture of inbreeding, where lecturers earn all their degrees in the same department. We have been insisting that with the level of support we are providing, they (lecturers) must register for postgraduate studies in other universities within the country.”

By 2012, the agency had sponsored 5, 038 lecturers for postgraduate studies, 1, 132 of which studied abroad. “I am glad to say that this is the most intensive academic staff training ever undertaken in the history of higher education in Nigeria,” Yakubu affirmed. “At no point in the history of this country was such a number sponsored in three years for post graduate programmes within Nigeria and abroad.”

Still on staff capacity building, Yakubu also introduced the Conference Attendance programme, for which provision was set aside from the annual budget of institutions, for the sponsorship of their teaching and non-teaching staff members, on the basis of 70:30 in favour of the teaching staff.

“The idea is to provide an opportunity for our scholars to interact with their colleagues worldwide and many have benefitted from a variety of courses within and outside the country,” Yakubu affirmed.
However, chief executives of the various tertiary institutions were excluded from benefitting to avoid unethical practices.

Another milestone Yakubu achieved was the resuscitation of the Higher Education Book Development Fund. TETFUND’s enabling law had made a provision for it, but competing demands had suppressed it until Yakubu’s intervention in 2009. The persistent scarcity of quality books and journals in the tertiary institutions persuaded TETFUND to submit a proposal to the Federal Government for the sum of N2 billion to be set aside for the purpose. Once approved, the agency’s Board of Trustees established a Book Development Committee, which teamed up with the agency’s management to produce a draft working document.

The initiative was intended, among others, to encourage the production and consumption of internally produced books and journals. Besides, the resuscitation of quality research and capacity for academic publishing in the country’s tertiary institutions was the project’s main thrust. It also had five objectives, which were to: create the capacity and provide outlets for the production of quality academic manuscripts, using the state of the art facilities inside the higher institution of learning; design, construct and equip model Academic Publishing Centres (APCs) in selected institutions and link their activities to selected University Printing Presses, which will act as publishers for the project; and to enhance the capacity of the country’s tertiary institutions and professional bodies to produce and circulate quality academic books, journals and other learning materials.

To implement the tenets of the BDC, the agency’s Board of Trustees set up a 48-member Technical Advisory Group (TAG), with membership drawn from the universities, the NUC, National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE). Also included were representatives of the print and broadcast media. The members include several eminent Professors, academics and journalists.

The first phase of the initiative was to focus on three areas. One is the publication of specialized books in various subject areas of Medicine and Pharmacy, Engineering and Technology, Arts, Social and Management Sciences, Education, Agriculture, Physical and Life Sciences, Law, Veterinary Medicine and General Studies, written by Nigerian academics for Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. These were to be derived from the doctorate theses already positively assessed by the NUC in the last few years.

The second area is to give support for Academic Journals, because the proliferation of poor quality journals had been recognized by the regulatory agencies: the NUC, NBTE and NCCE. The first phase of this intervention is to extend support to carefully selected journals, like professional, academic and association ones, and those already ranked by the NUC. It was also intended to reactivate moribund journals of academic societies.

The third area is the establishment of Academic Publishing Centres.
The TAG, chaired by Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, has since established a Central Coordinating Committee (CCC) and has gone very far.
Also in 2009, Yakubu initiated a Research Fund, with N3 billion allocated to it. A special committee of 61 experts mostly made up professors and headed by Jega, fashioned out the policy document.

Yakubu also revealed that TETFUND has a special intervention dedicated to the provision of specialized equipment. His words: “This is administered on the equality of geo-political zones as enshrined in our Law, on the basis, for instance, of equal amount to one university per zone or for the benefit of a particular category of institutions, such as our intervention in science and engineering equipment to all polytechnics, through the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

“Once funds are allocated, the institutions determine their projects, engage their contractors, vendors and suppliers in compliance with the requirements of the Public Procurement Act and pay them from the funds that we release to them. We monitor the projects before further disbursement and monitor the dedicated accounts opened by each institution into which our intervention funds are paid.”

Several institutions conferred Yakubu fellowship awards in recognition of his achievements. They include the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) and the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH).

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