By Steve Anyebe

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It has been euphoria all the way from all over Nigeria, and even outside, since President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Arc Sonny Echono, newly retired Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, as the new Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund(TETFUND).

In Nigeria, a person is usually judged according to certain skewed factors, ethnicity and religion being the most available and employed. However, the thickness of expressed euphoria towards the assumption of office of TETFUND’s new Executive Secretary seems to have broken this old normal and appears to be a demonstration of a new Nigerian spirit. From the various Ministries where routine civil service transfer has taken Arc Echono, to the high walls of the academia, as well as the rigorous private sector, the comments have all been positive. Even in his native homeland of Benue State where the fabled story of the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone recently played out, the Prophet has this time become accepted in his own place.

The overwhelming positive vibes towards Arc Sonny Echono is by no means a simple coincidence. It would be too simplistic to regard it as such without recourse to his antecedents in places he earlier worked.

It is not for nothing that the President of Africa Development Bank(ADB) and Nigeria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Professor Adewumi Adeshina, recently made a global statement that without Echono he could not have succeeded as the best performing Minister under President Goodluck Jonathan. He described Arc Echono as one of the sharpest and most organized persons he has ever met.
It is also very insightful the revelation of a Director at the Federal Ministry of Education at a seminar for building artisans recently that their Honorable Minister tried unsuccessfully to elongate Echono’s service period, due to the huge gap his retirement was about to create in the critical educational sector. The Minister then recommended the retiring Permanent Secretary to Mr President in view of the expiration of the tenure of the TETFUND boss, Prof Suleiman Bogoro, and the imperative of getting a competent replacement at a critical time as this in the history of education in Nigeria. University lecturers are on strike. Students are edgy at home. Every Nigerian is worried. The situation demands a pragmatist, a problem solver and a consummate administrative guru, to get things going again at the management of tertiary education.

Minister Adamu Adamu’s nomination and President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Arc Sonny Echono as Executive Secretary of TETFUND has been aptly described by Dr Musibau Atilade as a masterstroke deployed to engender a new lease of life into Nigeria’s tertiary education system. Echono is not new to his new place of assignment. His intimate familiarity with TETFUND, having been a Board Member there, should put him in good stead to hit the ground running.

A peep into the career profile of Arc Sonny Togo Echono shows that it is not in short supply of novelties and achievements. Stories are still being told at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture where, as Permanent Secretary, Echono instigated the unprecedented internal production of especially rice, an initiative successfully employed by many States towards attainment of food security. At the Federal Ministry of Communication, his contribution to the digital economy has been described as next to none by experts. While at his last lap of service at Federal Ministry of Education, Arc Echono represented Nigeria on the Board of the Global Partnership for Education(GPE), among many other national assignments. There, according to Dr Atilade, Echono secured a grant of 125 million US dollars for Nigeria within six months.
On 28th July 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya ahead of the Global Economic Summit, affirmed Nigeria’s commitment to progressively increase her annual domestic education expenditure by 50% over the next two years. Permanent Secretary Echono was to oversee this presidential push which made things better for the agencies under Education. In addition to all these, ASUU members are on record to have had a robust relationship with Arc Echono.

Apart from these numerous achievements, Arc Sonny Echono has for many years been Member of the Council of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, performing various roles ranging from standardization and certification in architectural education, rising to become its President in 2019.

Stakeholders of the Nigerian tertiary education sector are very optimistic about Arc Echono at TETFUND. Expectations are at an all time high. But Arc Echono has some factors going for him, one of which is the Prof Bogoro legacy which he will build on. Those who should know have applauded the cordial relationship which existed between Permanent Secretary Echono and Executive Secretary Bogoro. The outgoing TETFUND boss is known to have performed very maximally, especially in the area of research funding.

If anybody was wondering as to the area of concentration Echono might have in mind upon assumption at TETFUND, then his mindset was clearly encapsulated in the ovation drawing Convocation Lecture he delivered at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, on 16th March, 2022. In the Lecture titled ACCELERATING THE TRIPLE HELIX: NEW VISTAS IN UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION AND CURRICULUM DELIVERY IN NIGERIA., Arc SONNY Sylva Togo Echono, FNIA, submitted that he is confident that “our Universities and Industry, brought together by Government, with support, facilitation and encouragement, shall spearhead the needed transformation of our country. We must not only seek to be active participants in the global knowledge economy, but also aim to become bonafide citizens of the knowledge society — one that recognizes, utilizes and accords respect to the centrality of knowledge in all spheres of development.

It is only then we can answer in the affirmative the questions posed by the silent voice of majority of Nigerians on the fate of future generations of our country, including those unborn.”

As the concluding remarks of his Lecture, the above sure sounds like the prescription of the new Executive Secretary of TETFUND for national development. Our Universities must utilize this new pedagogy optimally. And the one poised to drive this engine has said it.

Arc Sonny Echono has a pedigree of unassuming simplicity, covering a stupendous database of essential knowledge, backed by demonstrable teamwork, an unwavering commitment and dedication to achieve set goals, as well as core loyalty to procedural ethics. Most of all, he has a penchant for sacrifice. All these, plus a spirit of fairness, are what the new Executive Secretary of TETFUND is bringing on board.

Arc Sonny Echono cannot afford to toil with the national euphoria that has ushered him to his new office. Time, the universal decider of all things, beckons Arc Echono to another momentous height. Nigerians are impatient human beings. Time ticks on. Nigeria tertiary education sector is estatic. The world watches will veiled expectations!

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