The Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, Sonny Echono disclosed that over 137 students sponsored abroad by the fund have absconded.
Echono, who appeared before the House of Representatives Ad-hoc committee investigating the alleged mismanagement of N2.3tn tertiary education tax by TETFund, stressed that the scholars refused to return to the country after completing their programmes.
The Executive Secretary said: “Some of the scholars that have been sponsored, unpatriotically when they go, they enjoy our scholarship, acquire a higher degree, then refuse to come back, it has become a major crisis.
“The scholarship requires that you will 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”.
Echono said TETFund is working with stakeholders for “stringent and effective measures” to be taken against those who refuse to return to the country for Nigerians to benefit from their expertise.
“We believe that in a system where we work with our embassies and the institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back”, he said.
He added 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 stressed that: “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 law from their countries.
“We may have to take that hard stand because the numbers are alarming. We just checked about 40 institutions and over 137 absconders and the review is ongoing.
“It is a huge number that we cannot afford and so we will be seeking your support to strengthen some of the existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from this programme must come back.
“We are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not through our scholarship or our sponsorship.”
The Executive Secretary said TETFund may suspend foreign scholarship due to the exchange rate crisis.
Echono said that some of the taxes are paid to TETFund in foreign currencies at the account domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria but when fees are to be paid for scholars abroad, the apex bank insists on TETFUND sourcing Forex by itself.
He added that the Organisation operates a system where its’ forex is being sold on its behalf at an official rate and application is made like anybody else to get it, which sometimes leads to additional cost.
“Currently as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two.
“This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments. We are unable to continue based on our disbursement guidelines.
“The money we allocated in naira cannot cover the dollar requirement for training. For those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees. We are trying to put a hold”.
He said most of the training will now be done locally through “our experienced, first-generation universities and other specialised universities” in the country inorder to retain the resources in-house and cope with the change of foreign exchange variation.
Echono also said the federal government was owning TETFund N371.3 billion out of which it has repaid N46 billion so far.
He also denied the allegations that TETFund mismanaged the N2.3tn fund.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the committee, Oluwole Oke said the probe is not to witch-hunt, adding that the lawmakers are out to stop the misuse of public funds.