The Sad Story of the Nigerian Scholars Abandoned By Their Government

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Education is perhaps the greatest source of social mobility in a world where capitalism and the ensuing income disparity reigns supreme. In part, it’s because of this desire to present opportunities to those who might not otherwise get them that governments offer scholarships. Over the years, the federal government has offered scholarships to students by bearing the costs of their education at foreign institutions. However, it has been accused of not living up to its end of the bargain after failing to cover the costs of scholarships of qualified students. On Tuesday, attention was drawn to the protests of scholars outside the Nigerian High Commission in London.

The Niger Delta Development Commission Scholarship Scandal

The scholarship awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for students from the Niger Delta region, who have a first degree or second class lower division and have completed their national service to further their Masters and Doctorate Degrees abroad. The Agency was established in 2000 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to facilitate development within the region as part of a bid to address the feeling of exploitation felt by those from the oil rich region. In 2015, Former President Umaru Yar’adua created the Niger Delta Ministry with the Niger Delta Development Commission becoming a parastatal under the ministry.

A report by CNN on Monday suggests that beneficiaries of these scholarships were left stranded and unable to care for further studies. Mercy Eyo, from Bonny Island, is one of over 200 students who secured a scholarship through Nigeria’s Niger Delta Development Commission in 2019 to start a Master’s degree in Global Healthcare Management at Coventry University, UK. After losing her parents, the scholarship offered some respite. However, she is yet to receive funds despite selling some of her property to secure a visa before refunds by the government are made. She shared her story with CNN.

I was super excited … I felt it was a consolation that would change my life forever. It was that one little time I had hope in the Nigerian dream because I wanted to return home afterward to offer what I had to the society.

These are things that make me cry sometimes or feel depressed.

Eyo Mercy lost her place at Coventry.

Andrew Saba, a Masters student at the University of Aberdeen also shared his story.

I don’t know the worth of a Nigerian life to the people in power. I feel betrayed by Nigeria … I can’t understand how a country can abandon her brightest of minds in a foreign land. I can’t relate to the priorities of the country.

I am disappointed. It is supposed to be a joyful thing to get a scholarship from your country. Numerous countries give their citizens scholarship… but ours require extra activism to work. This is not how it should be.

The scholars scattered across universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada are living hand to mouth without jobs due to the pandemic. CNN reported that each Masters Scholar is owed $30,000 while Ph.D. scholars are owed $90,000.

In response to this, Charles Odili, the NDDC Director of Corporate Affairs claimed the pandemic and death of the Executive Director of Finance were responsible for the delay of payments.

President Buhari … has ordered that all stops be pulled to pay the students by the end of this week. We expect a new (executive director of finance) to be appointed this week. As soon as that is done, they would all be paid.

However, the protests by the scholars were staged after the agency failed to pay despite orders from the President.

In December 2017, the Russian government in a letter stepped in to fund visa payment for about 100 Nigerians who had been offered scholarships despite the lack of commitment by the Nigerian government through the Federal Scholarship Board to fund the visa payments as well as stipends.

According to the Nigerian Scholarship Board’s information, the authority cannot provide funding for transfer to the Russian Federation and its part of academic allowances for the Nigerian students, enrolled in Russian Universities under the Scholarship program of 2017,” the letter read.

Under these circumstances, an option of a self-funded trip to Russia has been brought under consideration.

Given the current situation, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Nigeria, acting under an agreement with the Russian universities, confirms its readiness to provide free visa assistance for Nigerian participants of the scholarship program of 2017, who decide to embark on the study at their own expenses.

A member of the board, Jerome Okolo, claimed the government was aware of the situation but refused to do anything.

As of 6th December, the FGN says it can’t afford to pay the airfare to Russia for these students to get free education in Medicine, Engineering, etc.

The Minister for Education, his Perm Sec & many top officials of the FGN are aware of this grotesque & callous throwing away of an opportunity of a lifetime for humble students who don’t have a voice. If a child of the rich and mighty was involved, they’d long be on their way.

Yearly, the Russian government offers about 100 scholarships ranging from courses in Medicine and Engineering. Successful aspirants are selected after a rigid selection method that entails essay exercises and interviews.

It is interesting to note that scholars of the Presidential Scholarship for Innovation and Development led by the Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to sponsor students, who earned first-class grades in their undergraduate studies in Nigerian universities, to pursue master’s degrees and Ph.D. in any top 25 universities in the world also had woes to recount.

In an interview with The Punch, Uche Ukwoegwu was uncertain about graduating despite being in his final year of a Doctoral degree at the University of Cambridge.

I started the master’s program in Integrated Immunology at the University of Oxford in 2013. My tuition, living expenses, and flight tickets were borne by the Federal Government. I completed MSc in September 2014 and a month after, I resumed for Ph.D. in Veterinary Science at the University of Cambridge. I am currently in the final year and should complete the program by September 2018.

I am scared to read the emails from my college bursar because I don’t know what my debt is now. When I go to dining to eat, I feel ashamed because I am in debt and at the same time trying to get food.

The past year has been the toughest time of my life. I was planning one of my last experiments but I was scared to discuss it with my boss because of the cost.

According to a report by The Punch, the scheme was unable to fund scholars after it was split into groups with different funders.  Scholarships were funded by Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, and a few others by the National Information Technology Development Agency. Scholars of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund/Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PTDF/PRESSID) are mostly first-class engineering graduates, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) group comprises a few first-class computer science graduates while the TETFund/NUC PRESSID scholars are from social sciences and science backgrounds.

Over time, the government’s refusal to take responsibility for the beneficiaries of its scholarship schemes has left a generation of its brightest to suffer financial indignity. While some work, others cannot due to the complications of working on a student visa. It is imperative that the government asks itself a difficult question: Can it sustain these scholarships?

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