…How He Earned His Place in Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Train

Arc. Sonny Echono is the poster boy for versatility and excellence in Nigeria’s Federal civil service. In the course of his over three decades in the service, he served in very many diversified and unrelated capacities and, each time, he earned accolades for outstanding performance. It was, therefore, not surprising that, immediately after his retirement as Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, he was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari as Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in 2022. And, in  line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s character to always appoint the best hands into positions of responsibility, he retained Sonny Echono to continue with his good work at TETFund.

As in his previous assignments, Echono began to distinguish himself quite early at TETFund, a Federal Government education intervention agency for the sponsorship of lecturers for postgraduate studies, funding constructions and refurbishment of educational facilities, promoting creative and innovative approach to learning; provision of higher educational books and funding of libraries, and provision of learning equipment.

In his first year on the saddle, Echono introduced sweeping reforms in various activities of the agency to eliminate corruption, reduce delivery time of projects, prevent cost escalation and improve general efficiency in the discharge of the Fund’s mandate. 

Under the new dispensation, all projects to be executed by the Fund are planned, packaged and selected by the beneficiary institutions for review and concurrence of the Fund. No more TETFund or vendor-promoted projects, as the needs of the institutions now prevail. The annual disbursement allocations are now made directly to the beneficiary institutions. The Executive Secretary, at a public ceremony held at the National Universities Commission (NUC) on 9th May 2022, directed that the Vice-Chancellors, Provosts and Rectors are to advertise and procure their projects through open, competitive bidding to achieve value for money.

TETFund, under Echono’s leadership, has formed a partnership with the Brazilian government and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to achieve the needed transformation in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. The deal was sealed at the first Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) Symposium held at the Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, with the theme, ‘Pedagogic Retooling Strategy for Africa’s Agricultural Research and Innovation System: Lessons from Brazil.’

Other areas of intervention by TETFund under Echono are deepening research development and innovation, and provision of funds for capacity building of lecturers to equip them with requisite skills for entrepreneurial and research studies in digital technologies.

The tempo and consistency of Echono’s leadership were acknowledged by the chairman of the TETFund technical advisory group, Charles Aworh, at the public presentation of 10 TETFund-sponsored textbooks in Abuja where he commended the Fund for this laudable feat, stating that the transformation brought on board by the current leadership is result-oriented and will advance the educational curriculum. Praising the Chief Executive for the milestones achieved within just a few months in office, the Minister of Education, Goodluck Nana, in his remarks at the ceremony, said that the scarcity of tertiary textbooks in Nigeria was alarming and the proportion is evident not only in the quality of books but also in the number of books produced locally. He, therefore, commended TETFund for the establishment of the TETFund higher education book development project.

Echono also improved on the welfare of workers. An average TETFund staff today is sufficiently motivated to ply his or her job with contentment and renewed strength. It is, therefore, not surprising that their productivity is rising higher every day.

Echono is a stickler for innovation. In many fora he has emphasized that TETFund under his leadership will continue to deepen and champion a robust innovation and ICT infrastructure across the centres of learning that will transform Nigeria’s educational system and make its graduates global competitors. He believes that research will lead to innovation and commercialization of such patents.

It is in recognition of his contributions and reforms at TETFund in advancing the tertiary education system that President Buhari conferred on Echono the National Honour of Officer of the Order of Niger.

Arc. Sunday Sylva Togo Echono’s journey stands as an inspiration to all aspiring architects, civil servants, and individuals striving for excellence. His dedication to service, continuous learning, and unwavering commitment to progress paint a picture of a visionary leader whose impact will be felt for generations to come.

His educational voyage began at St. Mary’s Primary School in Otukpo, Benue State, and continued at St. Theresa’s and St. Murumba’s College in Jos. His early promise and leadership skills shone, leading him to graduate as the top student of the class of 1973-78 with a Division I in the West African School Certificate (WASC) Examination. An accomplished athlete, he excelled in soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Despite initial plans for overseas education, Echono’s journey took a different course after the passing of his father. He embraced ‘A’Levels/IJMB at the Murtala College of Arts, Science, and Technology (MUCAST) before enrolling in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to study Architecture. Graduating with a BSc. (2nd Class Upper) in 1983 and an MSc. in 1985, his academic achievements were recognized and celebrated.

Echono’s entry into the Federal Civil Service in 1987 marked the commencement of a distinguished career. At the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, he exhibited unwavering dedication. His roles ranged from committee secretary to overseeing pivotal projects, and he played a crucial part in pioneering procurement reforms in Nigeria through the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU).

Over his 35 years of service, Echono has played a pivotal role in policy formulation and reforms within the Nigerian Civil Service. His ontributions extended across sectors such as housing, procurement, infrastructure, and education.

While his accomplishments within the civil service are monumental,  Echono’s leadership reverberates through the architectural community. His journey from Secretary of the Admissions Committee to become the 28th President of the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA) showcased his dedication to driving architectural progress.