It was a historic moment as Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, last Thursday, formally set the ball rolling for the implementation of the World Bank-supported Sustainable Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) Project, which stakeholders regard as the first of its kind in higher education in Nigeria, involving six universities chosen as Centres of Excellence.

In his speech at the elaborate ceremony held at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium, National Universities Commission (NUC), Abuja, Prof. Osinbanjo, who was represented by the Minister of State, Education, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said he was proud to be there on the invitation of the NUC as government placed high premium on the project considering its importance, as procurement touched on every sector whether public or private.

He noted that a lot of financial resources go into the processes of procurement which push the cost of governance higher and because of lack of procurement specialists this encouraged financial waste. He said procurement, environmental and social standards, had assumed a huge dimension which brought to the fore that issues related to public health, water and sanitation, reduction in human contribution to global warming, gender equality and encouragement of the social protection of natural resources and the environment needed to be enhanced. 

The Vice President stated that the project which sought to address training, professionalisation and research in procurement, environmental and social standards, through certification, undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate studies underscored the objectives of the SPESSE. He said job creation and youth empowerment was part of the key features of the project, which encapsulate the present government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which would both, help to support governance, increase transparency, competition, equal opportunity, sustainability as well as environmental and social standards. 

He said good procurement practice occupied the front burner of President Muhammau Buhari administration which it was working to preserve through prudent financial management and encouragement of local content in contract execution. He said Nigeria must get its public procurement procedure right with the ERGP initiative as well as the SPESSE so as to help government to reduce its cost of governance. He acknowledged the use of quality framework in the selection of the six centres along with geo-political considerations, expressing his elation that women were given due consideration by setting aside at least 30 per cent admission quota for them which signposts the place of women in the economic growth of a nation.    

The Minister of Education, Mal. Adamu Adamu, whose speech was read by the Permanent Secretary, FME, Arc. Sunday Echono, expressed delight that the little seed sown in the area of procurement was yielding much fruit in Nigeria championed by the Project Task Team Leader at the World Bank, Chief Bayo Awosemusi. He recalled 20 years ago that the first country’s report was received aimed at promoting procurement practice, noting that two key revelations it brought was that out of every naira spent in government business only 40 kobo services was rendered, and secondly that nearly 70% of the things done in Nigeria had to do with procurement.

He said it was the reason Nigeria must utilise such a platform afforded it by the Bank to produce the right kind of personnel that would take charge of its procurement. He said he was not surprised about the symbiotic relationship between Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards Practice, recounting that during his days as a procurement trainee, he was taught so. He also pointed out that embracing the project would also justify the nation’s preaching about the Triple Helix method in the management of its affairs, involving government-academia and the industry, which help create facilities that would enable the country address its challenges in these sectors.

Arc, Echono on his own, advised the universities to explore the experiences of some persons who might not be in the core academics like himself and the likes of Chief Bayo, by tapping from their practical knowledge in the field.   He thanked the NUC for the vision and the Bank for providing the support to the government on the project.       

While welcoming stakeholders, Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, expressed a sense of fulfillment on the launch as he described the journey to the project as a long drawn and painstaking one that began in December 2018 at the Commission, with several other meetings, consultations and due process leading to the consummation of the project. He said that the approval by the National Assembly for the disbursement of funds in July 2021, was the latest success recorded which, he added, culminated to the eventual assurance that the project had finally navigated the path towards producing a critical mass of professionals in the field of procurement, environmental and social standards. 

He stated that the project was Nigeria’s first attempt at institutionalising the much needed sustainable and credible qualification framework in the field of procurement, environmental and social standards, that would be offering professional and academic programmes in such a sustainable and fit-for-purpose manner. According to him, the momentous SPEESE project was one that had the capacity to generate multiplier effect across Nigeria’s economy with the production of professionals whose promises no doubt indicated that there would be proper management and effectiveness in service delivery in public expenditure.

He noted that though the project was originally designed to be a four-year programme (between 2020 and 2024), there was however, some hiccups including the Covid-19 pandemic. He pointed out that although the Centres might be behind schedule, he was convinced that with the present level of their commitment and determination the goals and objectives of the project would be met. He mentioned that the Bank had not given any hint on extension of the project timeline in view of the delays and called on the six centres to be focused so as to achieve the targets within the available period.

Prof. Rasheed expressed the hope that when the mid-term review would be due, the project would have generated some tangible results. He explained that NUC on its part had to bring together the Vice-Chancellors and Centre Leaders (CLs) to discuss on how best to synergise before the disbursement of funds, expressing delight that the outcome showed the buy-in of the VCs. He said to underscore the premium placed on the project, NUC had to up-skill the capacity of the staff on the World Bank’s procedure on the management of the procurement framework as well as evaluation and monitoring strategies, in addition to a Train-the-Trainer workshop that were organised for faculties of the centres.

He said the programme had come to stay and therefore urged the universities to ensure that the programme does not stop simply because of expiration of the Bank’s funding by taking ownership just as in the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) that was a success. He appreciated the efforts of the Federal Ministries of Education, Environment, Finance, Women Affairs and Social Development, Budget and National Planning, as well as the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) towards the successful take-off of the project.

He also commended the SPESSE Project Task Team Leader, Chief Bayo Awosemusi for his unwavering support and other members of the World Bank team as well as the CLs and NUC Project Coordinating Unit, noting that the Commission, along with a multi-stakeholder collegiate, would continue to do its best to monitor the project.

The NUC Project Coordinator, Dr. Joshua Atah, whose presentation dwelt on the emergence, implementation pillars and readiness of the five Federal Government agencies and six centres to kick-start the SPESSE project, highlighted that its objectives was to develop capacity in managing and producing experts in procurement, environmental and social standards in the country, within the public and private sectors. The Project, he said, also aimed to establish strategic partnerships with leading international research funding, research performing and international capacity building organisations and top performing institutions.

On the funding mechanism, he explained that there was a huge chunk of resources devoted to capacity building on procurement, representing 66%, while the environment and social standards would each share 17 % for the project. He further explained that the project was borne out of the need to for the nation to build physical capacity of skills in these identified areas that existed within the country, stressing that the government made a bold decision to approach the World Bank to fund it. The project was also designed in line with government policies, one of which was to meet the target of producing Human Capital that was globally competitive in the public and private sectors.

Dr. Atah reminded the stakeholders that the total projections in terms of figures that had been factored into the SPESSE project was USD80million, explaining that 37.5% out it would be utilised by the various entities, that is the five government agencies, that were part of it in order to upgrade their facilities and infrastructures required for the implementation. He stated that the remaining 62.5 % would be disbursed to the six centres based on evidence of performance as outlined in the Disbursement Link Indicators (DLIs).

He said, though the five government agencies and six centres were to implement the project, the direct beneficiaries would be the students and those in practice either as procurement, environment and social standards officers that would emerge from the SPESSE training as professionals. The target he disclosed was to train about 25, 240, out of which initial students would be drawn from Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs), federal universities and regulatory agencies as well as organised private sectors and contractors, foreign universities and training institutions, including from the professional bodies like Council for Regulation of Engineering (COREN), Auditors Registration Council and non-state actors like the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).

On output, the Project Coordinator highlighted that the six centres would mount about 30 short courses, producing nothing less than 3,000 female students, over 13 industrial partnerships and six international academic partnerships with globally competitive Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards (PES) programmes. He said the expectation was that 30 per cent of the programmes would be organised through blended learning (online facilitation), and the degree programmes were all accredited, while emphasis would be led on internships, so that the trainees would acquire the requisite practical skills at the industry. The implementing agencies, he added, would be mounting a certification programme cluster and under it about 4,000 certifications would emerge, coordinated by the Federal Ministries of Environment, Women Affairs and Social Development as well as BPP.

He also explained that the modules of the programmes had been integrated into tracks of A, B and C, with the former being short-courses between one week and one month, B being  advanced certificates, which people from Track A, could also further earn and C, the degree and postgraduate levels.  For the Track C, those with Diplomas and degrees in any field of study that needed to transit into PES officers could go and obtain postgraduate diplomas in the six universities.  In addition, the universities would also run a four-year degree programme in the fields as well as M.Sc and PhDs, so as to produce critical mass of academics and professionals that would sustain the programme when the World Bank’s funding would expire. In terms of output, track A had a total demand of 32,000, B about 10,000 and C with 5,741. 

The NUC had already developed the BMAS for the PES programme and had approached the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for the purpose of the six universities advertising and commencing admission next year.  He said everything that would make the project a success had been built by NUC as the Coordinating unit, ranging from assuring quality and competitive bidding by universities, extraction of commitment from all the agencies involved, deployment of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) facility as a support system, as well as the Commission’s track records and experience in managing World Bank’s projects such as the recent ACE 1 and the ACE Impact.

He added that the demand assessment showed that many interest groups were ready for its roll out with over 57,000 waiting for enrolment already because of its employability disposition, while feedback mechanisms were in place to monitor and evaluate the performances before disbursements to universities and expressed joy that the programme was scalable and could be easily replicated across the centres.  

In his remarks, Chief Awosemusi, commended the Project Coordinator for his excellent presentation on the SPESSE project and expressed hope that being the first of its kind for both the World Bank and Nigeria, it would make the country the hub for Africa as it could only take the six selected universities to make that happen. He stated that the project was a continuation of the successes recorded in the ACE, which the Bank was proud about and urged all to make the SPESSE surpass the targets. He recalled that from ACE about 10,084 students enrolled for short-courses, M.Sc. and PhDs and 80 new educational programmes approved from it, 2334 internships processed under the ACE scheme, while 1861 internationally recognised research publications were also achieved.  

He said when government borrow money and judiciously utilise it, it normally bring about changes and resources to the government and expressed delight that ACE was able to deliver USD57million from externally granted revenue to Nigeria and other resources from donor agencies for the country to contiune to improve its human capital, as a key lever towards  acheiving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing developmental challenges.  This, he said, could be achieved through disseminating technology across learnings by the advancement of systems that had already been deployed in the six centres so as to take advantage of technology.   

He reiterated that 30% of the programme in the various Tracks must be online, to gurantee that those in remote areas actively particpate in the courses and benefits likewise, stressing that it was meant to adress inequality and balance gender education, by providing that at least 30%  should  be females and incentives would be sent to centres that maintained or surpassed it. He commended Professor Rasheed for his unprecedented commitment to the success of the Project and other agencies of government and development partners. According to him, the programmes outlined were all fit-for-purpose and would by 2024 be expected to start exporting professionals to sister Africa countries and earning huge revenues for the government of Nigeria.   

In his remarks, the Country Director, World Bank, Mr. Shubhan Chav, who spoke via online, commended Nigeria for recognising the importance of funding the critical project of SPESSE which he described as very inspiring to the Bank. He said that the issue was beyond just teaching people at the brick and mortar environment, but focusing more on reevaluating the human capital whether they have the capabilities required to deliver on the needs of people. He noted that it was part of the reason the Bank decided to invest on the facilities and infrastructures that was in dire need to achieving the project. 

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Dr. Ahmed Aliyu, on behalf of the Minister, said the project was about to hit the ground running and addressed vital missing link in procurement, recalling that some important projects were executed in Nigeria by consulting the services of experts from other African countries and even beyond. He said the development of home grown expertise and specialists as enunciated in the SPESSE project was the best way to go, noting that most projects failed because of lack of expertise and inability of government to pluck the loopholes engineered by corrupt officials at the level of procurement procedure.

He expressed the hope that by this initiative the unease that had characterized the nation’s procurement procedure would be enhanced, pledging that the Ministry was ready to ensure timely disbursement so long as the due process was followed as established in the Project. He added that the SPESSE project as packaged had a way of instituting the maximization of the benefits inherent in it. He also acknowledged the roles of Chief Bayo, Prof. Rasheed, the universities and the technical team of NUC.      

Speaking, the Director-General, (BPP), Mr. Mamman Ahmadu congratulated the partners for the initiative and said the agency was responsible for formulation and regulation of procurement and was involved in its formulation in line with the Procurement Act. He called on the other implementing agencies to rally round the project for its success, stressing that BPP did a lot in developing some of the frameworks meant to address the skills gap identified in procurement practice. 

There were also goodwill messages from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, represented by Permanent Secretary, Office of the SGF and Political Affairs, Mr. Sunday Adejo; Ministers of: Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Paulen Tallen, represented by Engr. Olufunsho Adeniyi; State for Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, represented by Mr. Stanley Jonah, Statistician General, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Mr. Simon Harry and representative of the Clerk of National Assembly and Director of Procurement NASS, Mr. Yusuf Saliu and representative of National Environmental Standards Regulatory Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Mrs. Miranda Macula.  

In a vote of thanks delivered by the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, promised that the centres would do well to justify the essence for which they were chosen host the project and thanked the World Bank and other agencies of government involved for such feat attained in education delivery in the country.  

The six federal universities selected to host the Sustainable Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards Centres of Excellence (SPESSCEs) include; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, (ATBU), Bauchi; Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM); Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO); University of Benin (UNIBEN) and University of Lagos (UNILAG).

It is being implemented by the National Universities Commission (NUC), Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Federal Ministry of Environment and Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.