We’re committed to prompt delivery of quality construction, says Echono
There is no doubt that the choice of Architect Sonny Echono, as the Executive Secretary, of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was a wise one.
He has brought to the Fund, the same commitment he exhibited while he served as the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Civil Service. His achievements have also brought him laurels among which are the recent awards of OON and a Fellow of the Nigerian Association for Educational Administration and Planning (NAEAP).
In this interview, he talked about the awards and some of the innovations he has introduced at the Fund.
You have recently received the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) from President Muhammadu Buhari for your contributions to the development of society. What kind of feelings does the award invoke in you?
Well, thank you very much.
First is to express my deep appreciation to the body of Federal Permanent Secretaries led by the Head of Service that made the recommendation and to Mr. President, for graciously approving the conferment of the award. Well, it is supposed to reflect one’s modest contributions throughout my tenure as Permanent Secretary. I became a Permanent Secretary on October 2014 and I started at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
It was myself and Akinwunmi Adesina at the time, and we also received commendations from the previous administration. And thereafter, when the present administration came, I went first to the Ministry of Communications before my redeployment to the Federal Ministry of Education in August of 2017. So, the first reaction is one of gratitude and appreciation and the other is the fact that it is a motivation.
Once your services are appreciated, it tends to give you the impetus to do more and to dedicate yourself to greater vigour and that is my expectation, not just for me but for all the recipients. Also, it is a way of rekindling hope in the populace that if you work very hard, if you work conscientiously, somebody would be watching and that such would be acknowledged and also acts as an incentive for others who want to do the same to emulate and to aspire for the same achievement. So, I am grateful.
Since you assumed office as Executive Secretary of TETFund in March this year, the Fund has become a beehive of activities. In the past few weeks, we have noticed the commissioning of projects such as the one done by the President in Kano, then Benue State. Most people are wondering how you have been able to do all this. Also, Nigerians would actually want to know your policy trust.
Yes, we are committed not only to delivering our projects promptly but also, to stepping up the quality of construction. When I came on board, I made the point very clear that given the background of my project, it is absolutely very imperative that the quality of our projects will have to showcase the fact that a professional in that area is in charge. I held meetings with the institutions and I also conveyed that meeting across all our contractors. We issued deadlines and on our own, we also made promises.
We held ourselves accountable to the people. We are committed that for any submission that comes to us, we will complete all the processes including going to visit sites and assessing and making processing deployment within two weeks and we have been holding ourselves to that standard.
For my team, it has always been the tradition and I have been very lucky to have very committed staff. So, the staff have been very wonderful. When I gave them the charge, they took it, and I can see that expressed in the enthusiasm and the robust reports I receive.
From that dashboard you see there, I can actually monitor all our projects across our beneficiary institutions right there and then, and I can talk in real-time and upload even the photographs of the projects. And I have direct links to the heads of institutions.
We have met and we have a timetable that will take us all the way to April of next year, of meetings with institutions to address issues around what we call distressed projects – the projects that have not been moving very well or that ought to have been completed but are not yet completed or those that have contractual disputes. We are also meeting, we are coming with experts in fiscal planning and procurement staff. We are sitting on our own to see how we can work out ways because we are committed to completing all these ongoing projects.
We also encourage institutions, we have now given them the lee-way to do what is called multi-year budgeting. But one of the things we found out and wanted to address is the fact that because our budget cycle is one year and our disbursements have a one-year cycle, most institutions are just dotting their campuses with small, small projects because they want to be able to complete them within a one year cycle.
Also, because TETfund contracts are described as fixed costs and again, again, that ties to the one-year cycle too, but now, we have allowed them to do multi-years so that they can do iconic projects, they can do a Senate building and do it for three years or four years with all allocations consolidated instead of being forced to do those small, small projects.
Even within our own system too, we have refined our guidelines that would be unveiled very soon but we have issued some transitional directives to institutions on the new changes that we have introduced. Basically, our delivery mechanism has been reinvigorated. We are training the institutions and also organising workshops for them. We were in Lagos and Kano for procurements and next, we are going to Enugu. We brought the country under three zones and all of them are coming with their experts for them to see we also educate them on how best they can deliver on that projects.
So, that is all about the reforms we are doing but the results are what you are seeing now. I am particularly impressed that you mentioned Makurdi; two of those projects started this year and they have been completed and we have commissioned them.
So, you can see how responsive, and I am particularly impressed with the quality of work of the contractors. We don’t award contracts in TETfund, but we encourage institutions that this is the type of contractor you should be giving your projects.
I also conveyed to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) that we have a system that is based on merit and encourages good performance, and when that happens based on the track record, BPP should be able to grant a waiver for them to award the contract to contractors that have done very well without the need to go through the entire process again. These are the things we do.
Sir, barely 24 hours after the National Honours Award was conferred on you, another award was bestowed on you, this time, a Fellow of the Nigerian Association for Educational Administration and Planning (NAEAP), and the President of the Association, Prof. Hauwa Imam, stated that the award was in recognition of your leadership quality, quality assurance and service delivery in the education sector. Again, what does this award mean to you?
Well, it was one of those recognitions that we cherish because, in their own words, it derived directly from my work because they are the professional association that deals with specific areas of educational planning and administration, which is almost half of the work of a Permanent Secretary in the education sector because we do policies and we do planning for them, including budgeting, recruitment, staffing and all the other issues around it such as curriculum and the rest of them within the planning, measurement, examinations within the planning sphere while their general administration also entails how you manage both the human and material resources in the sector, to harness them and channels them towards attaining the sectorial mandates. So, I was delighted to the pleasant surprise and I received it with a great deal of appreciation.
Now, that particular body is also becoming increasingly important because of the new focus – the additional role that they have acquired. They and the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), based in Ondo State are charged with the joint responsibility of preparing, nurturing and developing education managers and that is anything from primary school headmasters to principals and vice principals of our secondary schools, all way to Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors, Chancellors, Rectors and Deputy Rectors, Provosts and all those charged with the administration because it is specialization by itself.
Many people come into that position on the strength of their academic qualifications and they find themselves at sea because of the emotional intelligence, the interpersonal skill, and organizational abilities that you require to be able to manage people and resources, manage processes, report and all of that, and all the principles that run through all of these functions, the need to be prudent, to be accountable, the need to be transparent, the need for everything, decision-making process, the need for empathy, your self-awareness and all those leadership traits, things that for some, are not imbued in them. So, they have to acquire them, they need to learn them and that is the reason a body like that, engaging in the continuous professional development of the leaders of our education sector will be a big plus for us and we see that happening. We saw it from the strength of the quality of the executive they have, we now have a new career path policy that the government has adopted and is now about to be implemented.
That career path policy in a nutshell allows teachers to specialise. If you want to specialise in curriculum, they will teach you to specialise in that area. If you want to specialise in the administrative aspect of education, you will learn how to organise, how to assign classes, how to compile results, how to conduct examinations, how to do admission and so on – those aspects of administrative duties that lead up to you heading the institution; you will also specialise in that area. If you want to do curriculum delivery in various subjects, how to determine what to teach, how to teach them, how to mark them, how to assess them and so on, that is also another area. And if you want to go into planning, policies and so on, when you hear about 6, 3, 3, 4, how did it come about, when you hear about early childhood education, how? When you talk about special education for people who are disabled, those are the policy issues that come into it. So, these are parts of the things we are all grabbling with in the sector. As I said, the award is another pleasant surprise and I give God the glory.