SPESSE meeting

The National Universities Commission (NUC), along with other Implementing Agencies and the six benefitting Universities, under the Federal Government’s Sustainable Procurement Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) Project, interacted with the World Bank Mission to discuss implementation progress, long term plans, expected results and fiduciary issues that were germane to the Project.

In his remarks at the meeting, the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, Mni, MFR, FNAL, said that the purpose was to discover the extent the Centres of Excellence had achieved the objectives set out in the project implementation framework.

He recalled that, in August, 2021  a similar meeting was held, where issues critical to the success of the project were discussed and reviewed comprehensively. He expressed delight that several achievements had been made since then with trainings and several workshops taking place subsequently in October and November, 2021, respectively. 

He also highlighted that at the earlier Pre-project Performance Review Committee (PPRC) meeting, the benefitting institutions used the opportunity to access the achievements and challenges of the Centres. 

He regretted that some Centres, like the University of Benin, were just about getting their money since October last year when it was ready, attributing the delay to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the World Bank had already released the money.

He stressed that the World Bank SPESSE mission was very significant as it signaled a movement gradually towards the mid-term. He stated that the ultimate question remained that if some of the lost ground would receive World Bank’s consideration for grant for an extension?

Prof. Rasheed reminded all that NUC had concluded plans to conduct Resource Verification Exercise to the Six Universities in the SPESSE project, which would happen as soon as the Universities Lecturer’s strike is  over.

He commended the Vice-Chancellors, Task Team Leaders (TTL), Centre Leaders and Chief Bayo Awosemusi for their tenacity and hard work so far, stating that the project midterm review was just around the corner. He, however, expressed optimism that the project teams would be able to review the progress, identify the common challenges, and allow for exchange of knowledge on how to fix these challenges to ensure the success of the SPESSE project in Nigeria.

The World Bank representative and Project TTL, Chief Awosemusi thanked the Vice-Chancellors for their support to the SPESSE project, pledging that the Bank would continue to support the Universities. He reiterated that for the University of Benin, funds would be released as the delay must have been from the CBN. He urged the Vice-Chancellors to share their experiences with each other and called on the Centre Leaders to put in extra effort as  the project has a time limit.

He explained that additional finance could only come when the money that was given had been exhausted and when results for what it had been used for is seen.

While stressing that the World Bank appreciated the Centre Leaders’ Commitment to the project, the TTL also thanked the participating MDAs and the Universities. He stated that the focus and gains should be on the expected outcomes because the resources allocated were time-bound.

Giving an update on the work plan, NUC Coordinator, Special Projects, Dr. Joshua Atah said that the Commission was meant to provide technical assistance to the Centres and also support them to establish their Centres of Excellence.

He explained NUC’s activities under the Project Preparations Advance (PPA) which centred on the sensitization of the general public, needs assessment, demand assessment, facilitated center-selection, curriculum development, engagement of consultants, training and preparatory workshop, training of trainers (ToT), learning management system modules, learning management system devices, Wi-fi system, accounting software and connection to NgREN.

Dr. Atah mentioned the status of activities under the current project phase to include: implementation of the 2021 work plan and the spillover of some 2021 work plan to 2022. According to him, required items would be proposed to the World Bank, while plans was underway to visit the centres of excellence by the Honourable Minister of Education, the Executive Secretary of NUC and his management, and finally the Independent Verification Agents (IVA) would be appointed to verify the projects. 

He pointed out that the challenges that NUC faced right now were delay in the take-off of so many projects; disbursement, payment through the CBN, industrial action by the university-based unions and revised budget system in 2022, which had added the borrowed funds to MDA’s capital allocation.

He said, the next step would be to: engage with all the stakeholders, including the CBN, with the hope of addressing all challenges, rapid implementation of all outstanding activities, performance monitoring and verification, as well as ensuring  that students of SPESSE graduate within (4) years.

He enumerated the longterm plans to include; campaigning for change, sustainability drive at the centres of excellence and NUC, and e-contents, Verification courses modeled after a new course era.

The six Universities’ Center Leaders also gave an update on the progress, longterm plans, expected results, challenges, achievements and their expectations from the World Bank.

In a summary presentation, Centre Leader of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Prof. Mohammed Bello Yunusa, said that the issue of accommodation had been resolved, with only structured left to be renovated. He informed the meeting that the building that had been dedicated for the project has a conference room, classrooms, postgraduate study rooms and offices. 

He said that programmes had been approved for Bsc procurement, environmental standard and social standards in addition to M.Sc programmes by the institution’s Senate. He mentioned that the centre had fully enrolled online, short executive courses and advance courses which had been advertised, advocacy visit had been made and letters distributed to stakeholders for patronage and sensitization. Trainings and workshops were also organised for the Programme.

He said their challenges remained growing insecurity, power supply, and poor connectivity and funding and noted that the way forward would include reaching out to the public, rigorous advertisement, engaging curriculum expert and online training.

On behalf of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, (FUTO), Prof.  Gloria Chukwudebe highlighted that approval had been given by the Senate concerning the implementation plan on procurement, while executive short courses had started, several meetings held with relevant stakeholders, the curriculum already in place for the courses, while the Executive Track A courses had been launched Via advertisement, including postgraduates programmes.

She added that procurement as well as social standards workshops and trainings were done in February and March, while remitta is now being used for payment and thanked the NUC for access to the loans.

She noted that the University’s immediate plan was to tackle the renovation of buildings and preparation for resource verification. She called on NUC to help in the area of e-Library, fast tracking and intensifying efforts to advertise tracks CD and E courser and training of facilitators.

Prof. Chukwudebe said, the long-term plans included: online training which remained an issue for potential clients, expansion of PPRC facilities, preparing for accreditation, strengthening the Liaison office, developing good incentives for staff, providing support for conference and training research for funds support.

She enumerated some of the challenges as some MDAs refusal to let their staff attend trainings, inability to use ICT infrastructure, power supply and inflation arising on procurement. On the institution’s expectations, she stated that they were preparing for resource verification and currently reviewing projects to make sure that all the projects succeed.

Other institutions whose Centre Leaders gave reports on their SPESSECE achievements, long-term plans, next steps, immediate plans, challenges and expectations from the World Bank were the University of Lagos (UNILAG); Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi (now Joseph Srwuan Tarka University, (JOSTU), Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi and University of Benin (UNIBEN). 

In his presentation, Director General, Bureau on Public Procurement (BPP), Mamman Ahmadu, said that the bureau had been able to put in place the project implementation unit, procured some office equipment and training tools for the effective performance of the project in line with the work and procurement plan.

Adding that the Bureau had also engaged some consultants for the development of the procurement qualification and certification policy which is now ready for the review by all stakeholders, established a communication link with the six centres of excellence, with particular reference to the conduct of Track A Executive Courses and the Certification Programme, while the Bureau would be visiting the six Centres for verifications on compliance with the Bureau standards.

According to the DG, the Bureau had identified some challenges which hinged on timely release of funds for the implementation of the project, need for synergy between the Bureau and the Centres of Excellence for the delivery of the Track-A Executive Courses and lack of incentives for the project implementation units. He stressed that the Bureau would ensure full implementation of the work plan under the project and would not shy away from raising its concerns on the project.

The SPESSE Project Coordinator, Ministry of Women Affairs, Mr. Ben Okwesa recounted that the Ministry was meant to conduct short online courses on social standards practices and also to certify graduands.

On this, he highlighted the progress made so far to include: organising a workshop on social standard to prepare and enhance the skills of officers of the Ministry on social standard scheme, preparation of stage by stage implementation strategies and working with the Project Coordinator to develop contents.  In addition, offices had been allocated for social standards projects, following strictly the World Bank procedures in equipment provision while procurement had been completed and sent to World Bank for refund.

He listed some of the challenges such as the need to install the items procured and the safety of the items, lateness on the project take-off, inadequate guidance from the bank, no procurement officer, low power supply and none approval of allowances to motivate workers.

According to Mr. Okwesa, some of the Ministry’s proposed activities include: installation of internet facilities, construction and inauguration of a technical working group and engagement of a consultancy firm.

The Federal Ministries of Environment and Finance also provided an update on their work plan, activities and challenges.

It would be recalled that the SPESSE was conceived based on the need to bridge the gap between insufficient supply of quality professionals in the procurement, environmental and social standard sectors and the lack of academic programmes and curriculum in these sectors in the Nigerian educational system.