THE executive secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, has lamented that the protracted strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has impacted negatively on the implementation of the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) projects in some beneficiary universities in Nigeria.
Rasheed said this while declaring open the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and World Bank supervisory missions for the Centres of Excellence and their Implementing Agencies, under the Sustainable Procurement, Environmental, and Social Standards Enhancement (SPESSE) project.
The project, funded by the World Bank and the Agence Française de Développement (the French Development Agency), with a budget of U$350 million over five years, began in 2014.
The focus of ACE is on West Africa and Djibouti and it includes 53 centres in total with Nigeria alone hosting 17 centres in various universities to include nine in Ghana, one in Gambia, two in Guinea, five in Burkina Faso, four in Côte d’Ivoire, three in Benin, three in Togo, three in Niger, four in Senegal and two in Djibouti.
ACE, which is being coordinated by the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Inter-University Council of East Africa, is designed to support the conduct of world-class research by the centres involved, while the researchers and students are being trained to increase the pool of Africa’s base of researchers.
Recall that the Africa Centre of Excellence in Genomics of Infectious Diseases hosted by the Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, was the first institution in Africa to successfully sequence genomes of SARS-CoV-2.
The Nigerian centre also developed a COVID-19 screening tool to measure individual’s risk level, collaborating with the Africa Centres for Disease Control to sequence all the COVID-19 virus variants in Africa.
According to a report, ACE has graduated over 8,100 students made up of 1,600 PhD students and 6,500 Master’s students since the inception of the initiative in 2014.
Of the graduates, 25 percent are women and 25 percent are regional students who came from institutions outside the countries where the centres are based.
In addition, 16,000 students benefited from short-term courses offered by the centres and they entered into 87 partnerships with other institutions and industries.
The NUC boss said the double tragedy of COVID-Pandemic and the ASUU strike in 2020 had impacted negatively on the project which dashed many gains that would have been recorded that year.
He also noted that the just-suspended over eight months strike by ASUU has forced stakeholders to start finding alternatives to achieving the desired goals of the project irrespective of the situation in the land.
He added that the project ought to have recorded achievements such as resource verification exercise by the Independent Third-Party Verifiers (ITPV), the launch of Track A courses, and the various capacity-building programmes organised for staff of the SPESSCEs as well as the Project Implementing Universities (PIUs) of the various implementing agencies.
He also said that the arrangements for the deployment of the Learning Management Service (LMS) and network devices have also reached an advanced stage and anticipated that they would be deployed soon.
He revealed that an approval had been given for the payment of a stipend/performance allowance to faculty in the universities (to be paid from the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). Rasheed prayed that the allowance gets to deserving members of the team to help cushion the economic strain that had been heightened by the industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
He decried the unending strike action by ASUU, saying that though ACE impact and SPESSE projects were not the prime targets of the strike, the situation had cost the projects to lose grounds that might never be recovered even if an extension is approved by the World Bank.
He urged the centres to continue to work hard towards ensuring that the project’s objectives are met within the project cycle, bearing in mind its time-bound nature.
Rasheed recalled that the last mission of April 11 to 14, 2022 was to ascertain the progress of the centres and Implementing Agencies in the achievement of their Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). The current one, he said, is aimed primarily at providing support and guidance for project implementation as well as verifying the output of the maiden Independent Verification Report (IVR).
The executive secretary listed other objectives to include: assessing the status of implementation on actions which were agreed upon during the last implementation support mission; while there will also be reviews on positive lessons learnt from the SPESSE Project; deciding on necessary corrective actions, and addressing any delay(s) by the Implementing Agencies in launching the project’s certification portals.
He stated that since the last mission, several activities have taken place and quite a few achievements have been recorded, but unfortunately, the project has been affected by instability in the public universities in the country. Three years ago, it was expected that at least 60 – 70% of the project would have been covered by this time, postgraduate diploma, undergraduate and MSc students would have been preparing to graduate and a collaboration of NUC with one or two universities to encourage the introduction of PhD programmes that will be supported outside the mission should have started.
He recounted that the maiden meeting of the Project Performance Review Committee (PPRC) was planned to hold in September which could not happen, but hopes that a joint PPRC and NPPRC meeting will hold sometime in late October or early November, 2022. During the meeting, the 2023 Work plans of the Centres and PIUs would be reviewed and cleared for submission to the World Bank.
Rasheed, therefore, enjoined the Centres to fine-tune their work plans, stressing that the NUC planned to conduct resource verification visits to the SPESSCEs as it was long overdue, but was stalled by the ASUU strike. He said the verification exercise must be fast-tracked in order to remain on course with the commencement of Track E-courses.
The NUC scribe commended the World Bank’s Task-Team Lead on the SPESSE Project, Chief Bayo Awosemusi, who with the co-TTLS has demonstrated an admirable commitment to the success of the project, including the Vice-Chancellors of the Centres.
He urged them not to relent in their dedication to the actualisation of the project in their institutions and commended the Centre Leaders and their staff for their unquantifiable sacrifices; the contributions of the PIUs and all those working behind the scenes to ensure the success of the project, the heads of the various MDAs that are participating in this project.
The Project Coordinator, Dr. Joshua Attah underscored the importance of the mission since a series of important information would be brought to the attention of the members.
The team, according to him, has reached a major milestone in the implementation of the project by the presentation of the first independent property verification report, which will allow the World Bank take stock of what has been done and make any major changes to restructure the project in a way its objectives will be better achieved.
He said it was his belief that the week will be a very interesting one and charged everyone present to utilise the opportunity to make it a very successful meeting.