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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Nigeria's ‘TETFund’ killing another dream economic sector


By Paul Ukpabio

It was a rainy morning in Lagos. But ‘Lagosians,’ as the people who live in Lagos are called, defied the rains that morning to go about their businesses and routine for the day.

But at Executive Trainers Limited, a once vibrant office located in
highbrow Omole Estate, in Ikeja, Lagos, the atmosphere was tense

and the offices empty of its usual staff.  The few staff in sight, had nothing to do, business had suddenly become dull and in a group of two and three, they discussed their fate and the fate of their families at home, as they expect their retrenchment letter to come to them any moment from Management.

These people are not alone, all around Nigeria; an indigenous training business, which fortunately was pioneered by Executive Trainers Limited, is dying a 'forced cruel death.'

Dr. Ayodeji Ogunsan is the Chairman of Executive Trainers Limited, he unburdened his sorrow and fears about the sector, to a few news men, who called on him that morning, to make findings of how a recent policy of TETFund is ruining the educational development of both academic and non-academic community and collapsing a local initiative.

“We are the strongest educational development force backing TETFund and the development of academic and non-academic staff across Nigerian tertiary institutions. Unfortunately, it is the same TETFund that is strangulating us right now,” lamented a livid Dr. Ayo Ogunsan, as he faced the newsmen who came looking for answers in his cosy office.

According to him, “Executive Trainers Limited came into existence in September 2008, with the aim of addressing a gap we have identified in the higher education sector. We are primarily into higher education consulting. We train higher education professionals, academic and non-academic. We train them locally, onsite on their various campuses. And most importantly, we take them abroad for international training. Anyone who wants to verify our competence should consult with renowned professors such as Peter Okebukola, the former executive secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC)."

“Most people call us international higher education trainers and
consultants. We dwell a great deal on the international arm of the
training because of the preference of Nigerians, especially in this
sector we are talking about, the higher education sector. A good
number of them do not like their trainings done locally. They want it abroad because they want to travel out, explore other lands, see how things are done in other countries and borrow a number of things and ideas.”

With his experience over the years training academic and non-academic university staff in Nigeria, Dr. Ogunsan said that, colleagues within Nigeria for instance, think there is not much to be learnt from local colleagues or local trainings and want to travel abroad to learn from those they believe have superior knowledge.

“A professor from the University of Lagos might frown at going for week long training at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. Similarly, a professor from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka would not want to go to the University of Benin for training. They feel at par.”

But how did Executive Trainers Limited come about? How does the organisation carry out its trainings and what kind of trainings are they about? Dr. Ogunsan had a ready reply, “We picked notable business schools and universities across the globe as partners through various, contracts and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The first training we had was with Oxford Brook University, in the United Kingdom. When we advertised the conference, many universities in Nigeria, across all the regions participated in the conference. This marked the birth of a great movement. A movement every self-respecting higher education professional wanted to tap into; Vice chancellors, Provosts and Rectors of Nigerian institutions all struggled to get on board.”

Dr. Ayo Ogunsan
Asked what made his programmes attractive, Dr. Ogunsan had this to say, “Our training ensured that we structure training programmes, customized to meet the needs of our delegates. We locate Nigerian professionals abroad, who are experts in their various fields of learning. Some of these Nigerian professors are hidden, some in Harvard, some in Cambridge, and so on. Our job is to find them and have them train our delegates since most of them do not want return to lecture in Nigeria. This is in addition to the foreign lecturers that take part in the programmes we organise.”

But what went wrong? How did TETFund come in against all these? Dr. Ogunsan sat back in the easy swivel chair in the conference room, heaved a perplexed sigh, adjusted his body frame, looked at the newsmen, and struggled with himself on how best to relay an answer.

“TETFund, the Tertiary Education Fund, sponsors training programmes for higher education professionals. But it is sad that the new administration of that body has in recent times come up with a policy alienating local initiatives, which of course runs contrary of the aims and desires of this present administration. The Mohammadu Buhari administration has been voicing the need for indigenous businesses and creative ideas to survive but TETFund is working in an opposing direction. TETFund administration came up with a policy to revert to professionals sourcing for training institutions directly online by themselves.

“The new directive will definitely kill local consultants with foreign
affiliations. For instance, Executive Trainers Ltd is a local
consulting firm with foreign affiliations. We deliver training
programmes that meet international standards and do so in foreign countries and our delegates are certified there too.

“If we do not patronize local initiative like ours, how do we local
consultants grow? As I am talking to you now, a lot of local
consulting firms in this sector have closed shop, we are still
struggling to stay afloat because of one or two other businesses that we do. It is a sad situation. The government says we should patronize our local products, our local content, to grow the naira, we must consume more of made in Nigeria goods and services. But what do we have here now, retrenchment in a viable critical sector. We create employment opportunities. We employ many people, both directly and indirectly. TETFund should understand that we remain their best partners, since they cannot work with those foreign institutions directly. We can easily be regulated. Some of the Chief Executive Officers of various agencies under the ministry of education have attended our programmes and can testify to the authenticity of our claims.”

Dr. Ogunsan held his breath for some seconds, as he looked for
documents to verify some of the facts he was revealing. Then he
continued again.

Dr. Ayo Ogunsan
"When we started this programme, for the first time government was able to track payments. In the past, money was disbursed to the higher education professionals, academic and non-academic to go online and search for institutions where they could go for their various trainings, between one and two week programmes. Some, in the process of registering online lose funds; others find that the dates for training conflict with their schedules and their funds go un-refunded. And most times the trainings are not paid for. Some simply generate some kind of receipt without registering for the training and find a way of making the TETFund believe they have attended the training. TETFund has no way of verifying who went where for which training. But with a local consultant, the Fund can easily track this. There is no agency of government that has not written to us. There is no panel of higher education institutions that has not written us, to verify that someone truly attended a given training. The procedure is simple. We get a courier summoning us to appear before a panel, we appear within
24 hours but they cannot achieve this with foreign institutions, say
in England. The cost of investigating in the latter case will be more
than what was paid for the training in the first place."

Now, Dr. Ogunsan fished out some documents. "Look at this, here is a letter we got few weeks ago from the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), telling us a new administration in a college of education in the north wants to find out how their training funds were managed within the period under review. And most part of the years under review that Executive Trainers organised the training, so the school wanted information from us. We did so and everyone involved was happy. Also, recently, Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos, invited us to confirm whether a certain member of staff had attended certain training. We went and delivered our understanding of the situation. So you can easily check. In the past someone might apply for a programme, secure a place but get denied visa and the money is gone with the winds. In addition to accountability and transparency, our programmes are adaptive and inspired by local realities. Even when we take our delegates abroad we make sure the themes of the training take Nigeria’s peculiarity into account."
 
So who will rescue this sector from the strangulating grip of forces at TETFund?

Should the local consultants and their businesses be wiped out?
Should the presidency intervene?

Or should the presidency fold its arms and watch the indigenous initiative die?

Only time will tell.

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