Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro, the Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), has been in the news in recent months, not on the usual issues related to the disbursement of funds to tertiary institutions for the execution of infrastructures or staff training, but for ‘Advocacy and Public Awareness’ on his new found brainchild, Research and Development (R&D), a Universal initiative that has come to be embraced all over the world as the only surest way and secret of attaining all forms of national and academic developments.
In this interview with the Group Editor-in-Chief of Education Monitor, WAZIRI Isa Adam and Ag. Editor of Diplomacy Monitor, ZAINAB Atinuke Zakariyya, the ES, as usual, shed more interesting light on R&D, for the benefit of both government, members of the academic community and the nation at large. Because of Professor Bogoro’s passion for R&D, the acronym is fast becoming his other name. Excerpts:
Alot of People wonder how TETFund has proven to be one of the most successful and functional government agencies in the Country. What is the magic behind your Achievements?
Thank you for the compliment for what you call ‘magic’. For me, it is a normal duty. I’m just doing what my call to duty demands, and don’t forget, this is an organization vested with responsibility and statutory mandate by our law to administer interventions by using funds generated from the 2% Education Tax. So, specifically mentioned in the TETFund Act of 2011.
Before then, it was Education Trust Fund (ETF), but now it is Tertiary Education Trust fund (TETFund). You may say why the fund might have been applied widely. From 2011, it was redirected to be specific for public tertiary institutions defined specifically as Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. And for me, my background speaks to, perhaps, why I should, without excuse be a square peg in a square hole. I have been an academic; I have been a University Lecturer all my life. Two years after my NYSC, I went into the academic circle and I have remained there and I hope to continue to be there until I retire, as God permits.
So, the issues are very clear. When I was appointed in 2014, I came with a very clear mandate and vision as to what I could achieve. So, when the Board of Trustees asked me to put up my vision, it was very easy. I listed six things and I can tell you outright that I knew infrastructure was the first reference of the very poor rating and ranking of Universities, COEs and Polytechnics, but specifically, Universities, because if you are talking about accessing the quality of education, specifically at advanced research based levels, the Universities are the first references. So, I knew that we needed to consolidate on the infrastructure interventions. But beyond that, I then came up with the idea of looking at research beyond numbers of publications or indeed for promotion in the system. I thought we should be doing what I call ‘problem solving research’.
More recently, with the institutionalization of Research & Development in Nigeria, it was expected that we need to reach out to the consumers of the outcomes of Research, the users or the clients. That’s what the industry is and in the context of Triple Helix Concept Model, the three stands are academia on one, the industry on another and of course government as the third leg. The academia as you would appreciate as I have already named them, and in some cases, the academia will include partially the research institutes. If you choose to, in some cases also, they are equally mentioned in respect of industry because particular research institutes play the role of developing capacity as well as undertaking research as value addition; and that is one of the main modem expectations of any competitive industry.
So, that is why I went down working because I was focused, and I knew what I wanted. I reflected and knew the areas the University system is coming from, and where we had weaknesses. At some point, I got worried. Recently I said, it was so bad in the Nigerian university system, where people used to cluster in groups in the Universities, either discussing colleagues or discussing the minutest of problems that do not apply and solve problems of the society or Technology. That was bad enough. Or, they may be discussing the next strike action by ASUU or SSANU. This is what was happening in our Universities, which was not very good. So, I felt that was wrong and therefore we needed to do the right thing by doing things that will turn around the University system.
That was when we came to the issue of institutionalization of R&D. And in respect of the Triple Helix Concept, we invited intellectuals and discussed the way forward. That was what led to the inauguration of the R&D Standing Committee of TETFund. Here, there is a new impetus, a new resolve to go deeper in research. By going deeper, let it be solution driven rather than just an enterprise for the sake of perfunctory engagement of Research, No! It’s not right. Let us solve problems, whether it is a problem for Dangote Cement Company, Zobo seller, Suya, etc, just pick it out, it can be anything, that research can be carried to improve those products.
You can imagine Defense and Security, look at the challenges we have now. Land mine is one of the main challenges out there.
I have been in the system, so I knew precisely what was required. I proceeded along that way to just get it right and emphasize those things that we need to emphasize and de-emphasized those we don’t have to emphasize.
Sir, you said when you came on board, you had a kind of Six Point Agenda or is it a vision? What are they?
Well, I have not itemized them as it were, but if I were to do so, then number one on the list is the R&D. I made a case to the Board of Trustees for the creation of the R&D Department, Center of Excellence at TETFund, Driving TETFund using ICT, is the second, Developing a Strategic Plan over a period of five years, enhancing welfare and well-being and conditions of service of my staff, and the rest of them.
It may interest you to know that, believe me, even within the university system, a number of people do not know what is R&D. They think it’s just a vocabulary. It pains me because I’ve always said that there are three things a university lecturer does; Teaching, Research and Community Service. Teaching is the basic, but you can’t do teaching if you are not engaged in profound research, that gives you opportunity to raise questions and undertake inquiry to query, review and seek to improve with innovative thinking, creative mind, generating new ideas and new products. That is what research is all about with much defined methodologies, from empirical research to theoretical research as it were. And it is very clear you could not proceed to make a difference in the University system, in the Polytechnics and the Colleges of Education, if you are not developing the outcome of your research. cont’d on page 4
In fact, research has not been a priority not to talk of developing products of research. That is what the ‘D’ is all about. The ‘R’ is for research. Then I said we have theoretical and empirical research. There is a strong correlation in the competitive index of Nations between money spent on R&D and the outcome in terms of the strength and competitiveness of the economy of those Nations. Today, I can tell you what is spent across the world, on R&D. In Albania in the state of New York, that is the Headquarters of GE Research, Development and Training. Right there at the GE (General Electric). We were also in Siemens in Germany. Go and see the profile of the outcomes of their research. They have produced Nobel Prize winners at their Research and Development Centres. That speaks to the reality of the depth of research. They have a table for patent rights where many researchers have many different patents. It is a patent emerging from deep research that tells you the quality of the research in the first place. And it is from the patent that industries would come for them. But things are so bad that we are neither characterizing nor rating our researchers by way of patent nor appreciating the research grant holdings, we have local research grants, World Bank, USAID or EU. What type of grants do you have? Is it a grant of N5m or you have the TETFund Threshold of N50m that you can do deeper research with it or that you are talking about Centres of Excellence that has research grants of millions of dollars. And if somebody is a principal investigator of any of those research endeavours, you now can rank and rate that particular Professor. And you may have many of them in the department, faculty, the university and it gives a global ranking to that. For too long we have not been doing that, and believe me that is why all technological products are dumped in Nigeria because we did not even realize that.
Remember Bambina drink. It was a renowned Scientist that died some few years ago, Professor Fetuga that did that. When he left the University of Ibadan, he was taken up by the company that produces Bambina. He was a profound biochemist, and it was from his patent that the company acted on and he became so famous. These are great examples. And for our country, everything we do is dumped on us. Is it the mine detector or the UAVs i.e., the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the military that some countries can hold us to ransom because of that less profound Technology? These are the things that bothered me that I decided that we ought to do research and development and then centralize it. When I say institutionalization of R&D, I mean let us have a law that compels the recognition of R&D. R&D has Positive correlation with the strength of the economy and technology of a nation.
It is that strength of the economy and technology that made Japan that is so small to be the world’s second economy for a long time until China overtook it recently. But compare the population of Japan and that of China, and that tells you that the assessment on per capita basis on the quality of the human person. And this is the area that we are focusing on at TETFund. Here, we are funding basically the Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. So what I want us to know is that we have been clapping too long on building, for God’s sake. Let’s look at the profound area that would make us more competitive so that we can put up Technologies where brilliant young boys and girls will showcase their talents.
In fact when you go to the best centers of excellence across the world, for instance, for medical consultation, you pay all your money to go abroad only for you to discover the consultant you see is a Nigerian. Once we improve our environment, centralize, recognize and elevate R&D, institutionalize it and make it compulsory for all entities, profit making or non, to have R&D, it will change many things.
We ought to have R&D even in governance, that is why one of the thirteen subcommittees we put up is defense and security. We need to be able to find out why is it that kidnapping has suddenly become the most lucrative Criminal business today. Very sad! It shouldn’t be so. So let’s put up the researchers from the Professors, the Chief lecturers in the polytechnics and their students to undertake profound research to find out and to get solutions to some of these riddles that are embarrassing us. That is the essence of the R&D moving forward. It is an index of the competitiveness of any Nation.
When you came up with this idea of R&D it was seen as a laudable initiative, is it your own concept or you borrowed a model from a different country?
R&D is a universal acronym. So I found it difficult to have the word concept to have space around my thoughts. What I think is that R&D is already a universalized acronym. The difference is simple, that each nation has its peculiarities so that the R&D in the pure context is universal but the priorities are what matters. In Nigeria we have an R & D standing Committee and 13 subcommittees. We call one ‘One Health’. In ‘Health’, we brought out both the human medical experts and the Veterinarians. Then under the Subcommittee on Agriculture we brought in food security, Food Science and Technology and put them together. We also have a subcommittee on Bio-science and Environment. There are other subcommittees on governance, social development and internal security, which is different from larger Security which goes to defense. It is the military that handles that beat. But we have internal security whose line of charge goes to the police. So we disaggregate them into the relevant segments so as to know which one you will approach, whose responsibility is it; and by our law, they are universal practices.
In Nigeria we always have a lot of research but slow, inconclusive or no implementation. How do you think R&D will solve this problem and bridge the gap between research and practical application of the research?
In fact, that is what R&D seeks to address. What we have been doing is ‘R’, now I’m importing ‘D’ as an imperative inseparable partner to ‘R’. Like I said for too long we kept the outcome of Research on the shelf. We have fantastic beautiful coloured PhD, Masters Thesis, B.Sc projects, but we are not advancing, we are not taking up the outcome of those researches. It’s like nobody was concerned. What we are trying to do now is to change this attitude.
For instance, we can sponsor a PhD person to go back, for instance, to the Sociology Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and characterize all PhD Thesis that dealt with criminality. Then if we have a basket of the national R&D foundation that we are hoping for, it will now have the funds to work on. But first and foremost you must be ready to do a profound research, anticipating the outcome that would be taken up. The problem has been the quality of research. Many research fell short of quality. Which industry will come for you if your research is not qualitative? For instance, I remember one of the M.Sc. students I supervised who tried to run away from some laboratory analysis of some parameters and chose to give us theoretically reported equivalent values. The day I came for his defense; when he finished, I said No! We would not okay this Thesis and allow you to graduate, you have to go back to the laboratory and give us Biochemical analytical breakdown of the components of claims to a particular level. At the end of the day he went and did that. Afterwards, he did some publications, and when he later met me he said to me, “Oga, I will never forget you. I nearly cried when you said I should go back to the laboratory, but honestly, I know that my Thesis is now a better one”. So we should not get results for the sake of it and then you forget about it after they might have clapped for you.
How did you identify and compose the list of members of the R&D Committee you set up, was it on merit or how?
Very easy, today when you have a Professor like Prof Njidda M. Gadzama chairing that committee, unless you want to be pretentious; but go and check his profile, you will know that he is one of the best things we have picked. I know that some people have said that there were heavy loads of veterans, they wish they were younger. I said No! Professor Gadzama has founded two very important Centres at the University of Maiduguri. He started with the Centre for Arid Zone Research and later established the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence. You don’t establish a centre by pronouncement. It is a vision and you have to justify it. Today I love to remember that the Agro Meteorology Centre at ATBU Bauchi was my own creation. ATBU Diary Research and Development Centre was also my creation. As for the Agro Meteorology Center, I was the first Director, while the Diary Research and Development Centre was more recent. It was when I was at TETFund that it was created and the University adopted it. Then we have the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Center in Tafawa Balewa Campus of the ATBU.
If you are visionary, these things come naturally. I saw the essence of establishing them and as I’m talking to you now, the entrepreneurship Center in Tafawa Balewa is being taken up by AFIT (Air Force Institute of Technology), Kaduna. So you have to be visionary, you have to have dreams and long thrust plans, as strategic in that regard, for you to be seen as serious.
We also have people like Professor Anya Oko Anya. If we are talking about science, he has been President, Academic of science, he has been chairman, a medallion of Nigerian Order of Merit as a scientist and he has been chairman of the Board. So a man like that, if he speaks with you for just ten minutes, you can go and work for ten years on his ideas.
So there was wisdom in what we did. We mixed them up with the younger ones, for instance Engr. Ahmed Mansur Mohammed, each time we meet, he would say “Prof., why did you bring me in among these our fathers”, I would say “Sir, you are not ordinary.” Engr Mansur was a lecturer in ABU Zaria. In fact my former VC Prof. Abubakar Sani Sambo said Engr. Ahmed Mansur Mohammed taught him in ABU. A Very Smart person; he has been all over the industries as MD Portharcourt Refinery, GED at NNPC, GED at Dangote, President, manufacturers Association of Nigeria, etc. If you tell me that we have nothing to learn from him then you are not serious.
Then we have even much younger ones like Professor Shehu Galadanci who is chairing the ICT subcommittee. A consistent first class material and he is one of our best Professors conducting and evaluating our National Research Fund of TETFund. So I have a way of picking the best using my criteria that I am convinced is good enough.
Sir, can we say so far so good, as far as your dream here is concerned, are you fulfilled?
So far so good, I feel not accomplished yet until eventually we are able to get the national R&D formulation that we are hoping this committee will recommend. If we are able to get it and the Government takes it up with an executive Bill that will address it, take it to the National Assembly and they approve it and once it is approved and the President signs it into law, that will be a dream come true. Though we have other accomplishments, it is a continuous journey and we want to improve at each stage as we move.
COVID-19 came as a shock to the world that cost us a lot of things. For you as an Agency, what are the setbacks with the pandemic and what plans do you have to carry out your mandate?
I tell you it is not just TETFund or Nigeria; it is the entire world that got the shocker called COVID-19. So it set us thinking beyond the ordinary realm. The essence of these things is creativity and innovation. We had to devise ways of doing many things now. Before now there was hardly anybody talking about zoom meeting or virtual meeting, but now it is the in thing. That is good because it has helped us. We have moved on. Almost everywhere now people are going for conference materials, and ICT infrastructure that will support e-learning as we call it, migrating to e-learning more than physical; of course physical contact would always be there but significantly, it has minimized mandatory physical contact. This is very important to me on R&D. In fact it was during the COVID-19 lock down in Nigeria that it occurred to me that we got it right at TETFund by aggressively promoting the institutionalization of R&D. They locked the borders, no flight, even those who for slight headaches would take the next flight overseas; they couldn’t go again because there was an absolute restriction. That reminded them that we must have to improve our own environment.
In TETFund we made our own contributions for the COVID by providing money for 15 molecular laboratories for COVID-19 test across the six geopolitical zones of the country. Two in each zone and we added three more to make it fifteen. Because of R&D, we now saw that there was wisdom that we are emphasizing Research and Development in all disciplines; from Medicine, whether it is infectious diseases or Cancer, Ebola, Lassa fever, malaria, etc, or other organs of the body, we have the challenge now to stop thinking but go into practically developing our capacity internally.
If we do not challenge ourselves to develop our capacity internally, we will continue to depend on others. Remember some years ago some countries refused to sell some particular arms to Nigeria and some of them are not so sophisticated arms. Why can’t we get them? Why can’t we use those brilliant engineers and technologists that can do those things? It is the same thing with agriculture, let’s do some value addition so that our crops and livestock will be taken up across the borders and we will make money from those things.
Sir, how can you say TETFund has been accountable to its contributors?
Each year we arrange interactive forums in each of the six geopolitical zones to interact with tax payers, to interact with the Federal Inland Revenue service saddled with the mandate to collect the 2% tax. In fact it gives us the opportunity to know that at TETFund, there is a feel good factor from the responses from people. There is commendation and appreciation from the public and I think we are giving something back to the taxpayers to earn such appreciation.
Sir, has the suspension for the sponsorship of conferences for Nigerian lecturers been lifted?
The suspension of conferences for lecturers has not yet been lifted because we have not finished the investigations and assessment of what led to it, the factors and whether there were loopholes in the implementation of that intervention that we can review; and block the leakages. So we are working on it. The Covid lock down contributed to the slow pace of the work but we hope that in a matter of months we will conclude on it and the outcome will be made public. But we are not happy that some lecturers will take money and refuse to go for the conferences, they sit down and do whatever they want to do with the money, is unacceptable.
What is your take on the stranded students abroad Sir?
That is more of an aberration. It existed for a while but we’ve significantly taken care of it. What we have are false claimants now who call themselves stranded students but they are not. They created the problem themselves between them and some of their institutions and they want to blame TETFund, No! We have much less of the stranded scholars now. We are up to date with our overseas students’ welfare. We send money out to them every week.
Sir, why is TETFund not funding Colleges of Agriculture?
Colleges of Agriculture are under the Ministry of Agriculture and not the Ministry of Education and so cannot be captured by TETFund which is an agency under the Ministry of Education. Initially when it was ETF, it captured Colleges of Agriculture and Nursing but that was wrong. The concept of TETFund was for public tertiary institutions. It was for the Universities but we said let us have the Colleges of Education and the Polytechnics. So where do Colleges of Agriculture and Nursing come into? Colleges of Agriculture are not in the education sector they are in the Agriculture sector. It was ASUU that innovate the thought of an out of the box funding window that got the ETF. So some stakeholders in the ministry of agriculture should go and also think to come up with an alternative but not to apply to benefit from ours in the education sector.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *