The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has suspended sponsorship of conference attendance for Nigerian lecturers over allegations of fraudulent practices by many the beneficiaries, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The decision, which seemed to be a confirmation of a recent allegation of grant diversion levelled against the lecturers by the agency's director of research and development, Salihu Bakari, was taken by the governing board of the agency at its meeting held last week.
This newspaper in its report on Tuesday titled; "Nigerian Scholars spend research grants on cars, houses" had exclusively reported the director's allegation against some of the beneficiaries of its support funds and opportunities.
Mr Bakari made the allegation in his response to a question by one of the participants at a research conference organised by the agency in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on why conditions attached to accessing grants by TETfund are "too stringent."
But the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the umbrella body for the lecturers, has reacted angrily to the allegation, describing it as "hasty generalisation, blanket condemnation, and ridiculing" of the country's academia by a funding agency.
According to a reliable source within the agency, TETFund took the decision as part of efforts towards sanitising the country's academic system.
The source, who is a member of the governing board, does not want to be named, saying he was not authorised to speak on the matter.
The governing board, currently headed in acting capacity by the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), the source noted, met last week to review the 2019 activities of TETFund.
"The agency's activities were reviewed at the meeting, and more importantly was the sponsorship of the lecturers' conference attendance. Quite unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of lecturers' sponsored by TETFund for both local and foreign conferences did not attend the conferences but pocketed the money," the source said.
The source added that the agency was considering various options towards dealing with the challenge of abuse of funds by the beneficiaries.
The source added; "Just like foreign grants there are lots of measures put in place to guide the disbursement of TETFund grants, but sometimes some either abscond after receiving first tranche or they change institutions without informing appropriate authorities. But it is new dawn at TETFund now.
TETFund's 2019 restriction order failed
In 2018, TETFUND said beginning from January 2019, it would restrict the sponsorship of academic staff members of public tertiary institutions in Nigeria to local academic conferences.
The decision, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was based on various excuses offered by the lecturers whenever they failed to account for conference grants they received.
The Fund's former executive secretary, Abdullahi Baffa, in a letter addressed to universities' vice-chancellors, said that sponsorship condition was such they are expected to make paper presentations at such conferences.
The letter, dated August 30, 2018, and signed on behalf of the executive secretary by the then acting director, academic staff training and development unit, Mr Bakari, said the new position was in line with the fund's policy that is aimed at supporting teaching staff of Nigeria's public tertiary institutions.
Meanwhile, efforts to get the reaction of the acting director of TETFund's public affairs unit, Uche Wogu, to confirm the suspension order, were unsuccessful as his line was not available as at the time our reporter called.