Sonny Echono, the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), has revealed that over 137 Nigerian scholars whom the government sponsored to learn abroad have refused to return to Nigeria after completing their studies. While speaking on July 18, 2023, to the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee, he said that the matter had become a major crisis when Nigerians who enjoy scholarships for higher education overseas refuse to return to their country.
One of the requirements of the scholarship is that its recipient has to come back to the country after completing the program. The scheme also requires that this recipient provide a guarantor who will be held responsible should any default occur. He said that these guarantors have suffered undue hardship for these wards because TETFund actually holds them responsible for the scholars’ disappearance. “We hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf but that has not been effective,” he said.
How TETFund plans to tackle the issue of absconding.
This scheme was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011 to disburse, manage and monitor education tax to government-owned institutions in the country. Thus, it also handles the award of scholarship to undergraduate students and academic staff of tertiary institutions. The secretary disclosed to the press that TETFund is working with stakeholders to ensure scholars return to Nigeria after their studies and repayment for those who refuse to return to Nigeria if they don’t want to be declared persona non grata.
He said that the scheme believes that it can enforce the repayment for those who insist not to come back. That is in a system where they work with embassies and the institutions abroad. “We will write to the embassies and they will make it available to those countries and they will not be able to get jobs,” he said. Essentially, they will be seen as fugitives of law from their country. Echono said that this route may have to be taken because the numbers are alarming.
Echono solicits lawmakers’ support via policymaking.
In about 40 institutions abroad, there are over 137 absconders. In fact, he said that the review is still ongoing. Because of that, he solicited the support of the lawmakers through policymaking in order to go hard on defaulters. This will involve senators in the Senate and the honorables in the House of Representatives. The secretary said that the figure is a huge number and the country cannot afford to lose such an investment. Hence, they will be seeking the support of the legislative chambers to strengthen some of the existing regulations.
It will ensure that those who benefit from this programme must come back and contribute to the building of Nigeria. He debunked the claim that the agency is against people’s looking for greener pastures. Instead, he said that anyone who wishes to should do so on their own, and not through TETFund’s scholarship scheme or sponsorship. In addition, the situation of the country also affects their operation. “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,” Echono said. So, there may be additional costs in the course of their activities.
Plan to pause foreign training for a period of time.
Meanwhile, the executive secretary said that consultations are currently ongoing with all stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two. This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments. The scheme is unable to continue based on our disbursement guidelines. So, the money allocated in Naira cannot cover the dollar equivalent for training. For those already abroad, more naira is now needed to cover the dollar that is required for their annual fees. He said that they can retain resources in-house and cope with the change of foreign exchange variation this way.