By Our Correspondent
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has said it may suspend foreign scholarships due to additional costs caused by the exchange rate.
TETFund Executive Secretary, Sonny Echono, said this when he appeared before the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee investigating the alleged mismanagement of ₦2.3 trillion in tertiary education tax by TETFund.
Echono said that some of the taxes are paid to TETFund in foreign currencies at the account domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but when fees are to be paid for scholars abroad, the apex bank insists on TETFUND sourcing Forex by itself.
“We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at an official rate, and we apply like anybody else to get it, sometimes it leads to additional costs. Currently, as I speak, we are in consultation with all our stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two,” Echono said.
“This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments. We are unable to continue based on our disbursement guidelines.”
According to him, the naira funds allocated cannot cover the dollar training requirements, and for those who are already there, TETFund now requires more naira to cover the dollar required for their annual fees, noting that the commission is attempting to put a hold on it.
Echono also stated that most of the TETFund training will now be done locally through “our experienced, first-generation universities and other specialised universities” in the country.”
“This way we can retain our resources in-house and cope with the change in foreign exchange variation,” he added.
The TETFund Executive Secretary also disclosed that more than 137 students sponsored abroad by the fund have absconded.
Echono said it has become a major crisis when some of the scholars sponsored abroad for higher education have “unpatriotically” refused to return to the country upon completion of their programmes.
“Some of the scholars that have been sponsored, unpatriotically, go, enjoy our scholarship, acquire a higher degree, then refuse to come back; it has become a major crisis,” Echono said.
“The scholarship requires that you come back. It is required that you have a guarantor, and in many cases, the guarantor has suffered undue hardship because when you disappear, we hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf, but that has not been effective.”
According to him, TETFund is working with stakeholders to implement “stringent and effective measures” against those who refuse to return to Nigeria so that Nigerians can benefit from their expertise.
“We believe that in a system where we work with our embassies and institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back,” he noted.
He also stated that if the scholars who don’t want to return to the country refuse to repay the money expended on their programmes, they will be declared persona non grata.
Echono added, “We will write to the embassies, and they will make it available to those countries, and they will not be able to get jobs. They will be seen as fugitives of the law from their countries.”
He also mentioned that the federal government owes TETFund ₦371.3 billion, of which ₦46 billion have been repaid. He denied allegations of mismanagement of the ₦2.3 trillion fund by TETFund.
The committee’s chairman, Oluwole Oke, clarified that the investigation is not a witch hunt and aims to prevent the misuse of public funds.