Nigerian students and vanishing scholarships, bursaries
When indigent students are lucky to be awarded scholarships, the social intervention scheme becomes not just an avenue to alleviate their circumstances, but also serves as a lifeline to realise their educational dreams. And for those with proven academic abilities, scholarships launch them to their desired educational heights without pilling so much pressure on the finances of their parents and guardians.
In the same vein, bursary payments have a way of making light, the burden of schooling in an environment where quality education is not deemed a social service, but one that has to be paid for. From 1960s up to 1990s and early 2000s, many companies, boards and parastatals, regional and state governments, as well as the Federal Government gave out tonnes of money in scholarship and bursaries to deserving students. Unfortunately, now the economic downturn, lack of political will, misplaced priorities, as well as, widespread corrupt practices have joined forces to deny students these critical intervention schemes.
Consequently, the few states that have not abolished bursary payments and scholarship awards are struggling with backlog of arrears, which run into a number of years, while the Federal Government has continually subjected itself to opprobrium each time students it sent abroad on scholarship protest the non-payment of their entitlements in their country of study.
Be that as it may, one of those that have benefitted from government scholarship of yesteryears is Professor of Extractive Metallurgy and Materials Processing, University of Lagos, David Ehigie Esezobor.Looking back, Esezobor, who was formerly Head of Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, University of Lagos (UNILAG), said the scholarship he got boosted his education as he had no reasons to bother about how his education would be financed. “Because of the scholarship that I enjoyed, I was given that opportunity not to bother so much about finance. The scholarship was very helpful to my education. I also enjoyed bursaries as a student and we sat like kings in the university environment, as we were not bothered about school fees, but had to focus on our studies and the reasons we were in school. For those of us who enjoyed it, we were actually lucky,” Esezobor stated.
He continued: “The scholarship also allowed my parents to carry out other projects with their finances instead of worrying about my school fees; they concentrated on giving me moral support and parental guidance.” Even though the university teacher admitted that his parents were ready and keen on “sponsoring my education,” he added that he was uncertain of what would have been the situation if the scholarship and the bursaries were not there because when somebody comes to your assistance, you have more opportunities, and they were there for me and my parents. There were colleagues whose parents would not have been able to pay the school fees, so it was a very big relief to them and their families.”
The Vice Chancellor of Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, Prof. Friday Ndubuisi, believes that bursary and scholarship should be an integral part of the country’s educational system, as is the practice all over the world, especially in advanced countries.According to him, the gradual disappearance of both from the country’s “education sector is as a result of poor governance and pervasive corruption; as a lot of our resources are being siphoned abroad by politically exposed persons and businessmen. You can imagine Gen. Sani Abacha’s loot repatriated recently totaling over $300m, and the $70m Malibu illegal deal. The United States has equally accepted to repatriate a meagre sum out of the lot siphoned there by Abacha. If all these monies were here, the government could finance scholarship awards and bursary payments with such large amounts.”
The Professor of Philosphy, who specialises in Philosphy of Science and Jurisprudence, while also making reference to the abuse that scholarship schemes have been subjected to in the country said, “scholarship should be based on merit if we want to promote excellence. To give scholarship based on sentiments is a promotion of mediocrity, and it is not helpful to national growth as such funds are most times wasted. Thankfully, I am aware that most private universities give scholarship to only deserving students. Here in Christopher University, we assist indigent students and orphans.”
Stressing the need for sustainability to be the watchword in the institution of any scholarship or bursary awards, Ndubuisi said that it does not make sense to send students abroad for scholarship in first degrees courses that are available in Nigerian universities.Since a good number of persons acquire tertiary education through loans and scholarships in the West, Ndubuisi stated that education bank is one thing that the Federal Government should think seriously about, saying, “with advancement in information technology, it is easy to recover loans once the beneficiaries begin to work. That is the practice in the western world. We must go back to professor Joe Irukwu’s recommended loan system that was operational immediately after the end of the Nigerian Civil war in the 1970s. That was how many cash-strapped students were able to go back to school. Education is the bedrock of development in every country that is anxious to move forward. If we keep on neglecting education, we are doing so at our peril, and we will continue to be dependent on the Western world for technological advancement.
States Wobbling In Scholarship, Bursary Payments
In the last 10 years or thereabouts, most states have tactically withdrawn from bursary payments citing serious financial straits, while also scaling down on the number of beneficiaries of foreign and local scholarships. In bad cases, foreign scholarship was deleted entirely from the menu as was the case in Rivers State.Shortly after coming on board, the state government discontinued foreign scholarship and recalled home all students under its scholarship programme, except those in final year.
The government while informing parents and guardians of its decision, said it took the step because resources were no longer available to continue with the programme. It therefore stressed that it would no longer pay the tuition and allowances of the scholars, whom it advised to return home and continue their education in country. A letter dated February 6, 2016, by the Executive Director/CEO of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), Lawrence Pepple, noted that except those students in their final year ending 2016, “All others will need to return to Nigeria to continue their studies; the government will continue to fully sponsor them. This way all the students will still achieve the desired objective of successful graduation in your chosen field of study.”
Before the stoppage, the overseas scholarship programme, which was administered by the RSSDA had been running since the 2008/2009 academic session and had a target of sending 300 students overseas annually.Other than ending the scholarship, the state government has also been unable to pay bursary to her 50, 000 students in tertiary institutions across the country. The Guardian findings revealed that the last time the state paid bursary was in 2014. Rivers State students under the aegis of National Union of Rivers State Students (NURSS) had, as part of steps to register their grouse, planned a major street protest over the non-payment of bursary last September. That was later called off after the state government promised to address their grievances.
NURSS President, Patrick Ogbuehi, assumed the responsibility to explain to The Guardian that the drop in the state’s revenue from the Federation Account was primarily responsible for government’s inability to pay bursary to students.Ogbuehi explained that the immediate past administration paid N10, 000 to each student as bursary, and promised to implement a 100 per cent increment, which means that if this incumbent government was to pay bursary, each of the approximately 51, 000 students would get N20, 000.
The NURSS leader stated that last year when the students wanted to take to the streets, the governor who wasn’t around at that time sent his representatives, who promised that once he was back he would address the issue. Upon his return, he said the governor directed the commissioner for education to verify the number of affected students to enable the state commence payment.
“The ministry has sent out letters to schools to send names of bonafide Rivers State students to it so that it can compare it to what NURSS had submitted. No registrar in any of the schools in Rivers State has been able to do this. The state government has done its part; we have done ours, and so we expect the schools to do the same,” he said.
When contacted, the state Commissioner for Education, Tamunosisi Gogo-Jaja, simply said the state scholarship board is saddled with bursary and sundry matters.
While Rivers State owes its students bursary arrears of about four years, students in Cross River State are alleging that the government has not paid them bursary since 2002. Student leaders could not be reached, but some of the students, who spoke to The Guardian said they have not been paid bursary since Donald Duke left office as governor.An undergraduate from Ogoja Local Council, John Ogar said, “bursary is strange to me because I have not heard of it since I started school three years ago. It would be good if government can re-introduce bursary because it will help us a lot. So many students come from poor homes and there are lots of demands from the schools on us. If there is anything like bursary government should re-introduce it,” he said.
A postgraduate student from Abi Local Council who simply identified himself as John said, “the last time I got bursary from the state government was in 2002, and in 2008 from my local government.“For now, the state is not paying bursary. What some of us are enjoying today is scholarship from politically exposed individuals. This has been running for many years for indigent students from the Central Senatorial district for instance,” he said.
In the last seven years, Imo State government says it has invested so much on free education for its indigenes, from primary to tertiary institutions to the point that it is of no use dabbling into bursary payment and scholarship programmes.Its Head of Service, Calistus Ekenze, told The Guardian that on assumption of duties in May 29, 2011, the State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, announced free education for all, in line with his campaign promise, adding that after that, the governor also committed N4b security vote to education.
His words: “Imo offers free education from primary to tertiary levels, so there is no point talking about bursary or scholarship programmes in the state.”Initially, the free education policy was for all students in the state, irrespective of their state of origin, until recently, when the state governor excluded non-indigenes from the list of beneficiaries. He said his decision was premised on the fact that his counterparts in other states were being selective regarding the beneficiaries
Five months ago, Ebonyi students pursuing various Ph.D programmes in different universities abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, under the state’s overseas scheme scholarship, appealed to Governor David Umahi, to help them settle their mounting debts and save them from embarrassment.The students in a statement entitled, “A passionate appeal for an urgent intervention to salvage the deteriorating conditions of abandoned Ebonyi State government-sponsored Ph.D students in the Diaspora,” explained that they have incurred huge debts through house rents, feeding and other miscellaneous expenditures to support themselves in the course of their studies.
Signed by Chuku Ejike, Enyita Clifford Iteshi and Jude Ogbodo of University of Bradford, Lancashire, University of Salford, Manchester and University of Central Preston, respectively, on behalf of their colleagues, the postgraduate students said, “many of us in the final years of our researches are perching precariously on the precipice and without paying up our bills; all our efforts and steadfastness in the past three years will be in vain.
“Your Excellency can recall that your administration had approved about £5, 500 for each of the beneficiaries of this scholarship scheme on two different occasions. This money was tagged our ‘school fees’ but we want to bring to the notice of Your Excellency that the approved fund could not pay our school fees, to say the least.“We have all received first and second warnings from our various institutions and the third one may involve the Debt Collectors Management who shall commence legal actions in this regard. The legal proceedings will be initiated against each of us in accordance with the laws of the land as well as those of our institutions of study. The incumbent administration of David Umahi, inherited the students from the past administration led by former Governor Martins Elechi.
In April this year, a coalition of students in Kaduna State under the aegis of Coalition of Youth and Students, gave Governor Nasir El-Rufai a 14-day ultimatum to begin a scholarship scheme. Failure to heed their advise, they threatened to launch a mass protest that would cripple government activities.The group’s spokesman, Adamu Adamu Matazu, regretted that el-Rufai, who rode on students’ platform to become governor, has failed to protect their interest, and has insisted on not paying bursaries or awarding scholarship to students of tertiary institutions since he became governor.The group, which rose from a meeting in Kaduna, vowed to mobilise students from the 23 local councils against the government, if the governor fails to act.
Matazu said: “Fundamentally, we are talking of the governor’s failure to fulfill his campaign promises. For three years, he has not given scholarships to students in the state. When El-Rufai spoke at the Zaria Education Development Association (ZEDA), he described scholarship as 419. But when he graduated on scholarship from the Ahmadu Bello University, it was not 419 then. Why would he deny us of what he benefitted from?”Matazu, who described the state government’s educational reforms as mere propaganda, expressed concern that the governor had advised poor people to go to farm, describing education as not meant for everybody.
When The Guardian contacted the media aide to the Governor, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, on phone to state government’s position on the group’s demand for a scholarship scheme among others, he said he had no answer to the issue.
While Kaduna State government is having it rough with its coalition of students, its Kano State counterpart appears to be ridding the crest having settled N6.4b of the N8b outstanding scholarship sum it inherited from the immediate past administration of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.According to the Executive Secretary, Kano State Scholarship Board, Professor Fatima Mohammad Umar, the money paid by the Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje-led administration was part of the over N8b debt inherited from the Kwankwaso administration on both foreign and local scholarships.Umar pointed that out of the over N6.4billion paid in the last three years, N1, 194, 52, 964 was for foreign scholarship, and N946, 592, 838 paid for those in five private universities within the country. “Out of the money released by Governor Ganduje, the sum of N660m was equally used to settle two years outstanding fees of our regular and specialised students schooling in Nigeria.
“For the purpose of emphasis, let me inform you that scholarship scheme in Kano comes in different forms, aside the traditional form being paid to students in some states of the federation. Here in Kano, we have foreign scholarship, private institutional scholarship, specialised scholarship and regular students scholarship.
“The foreign scholarship include, about 2, 500 Kano indigenes spread across various higher institutions in 11 countries including India, Malaysia, United States, Jordan, China, Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. They were sent during the immediate past Kwankwaso’s administration. Unfortunately, these sets of students were sent to study academic courses that can be easily done in Nigerian universities. Also, the immediate past administration sent these students abroad to study without proper arrangements for their tuition fee, accommodation and welfare, thereby leaving a huge debt for the Ganduje-led government.
While applauding Ganduje for sustaining the foreign programme despite the huge resources involved just to enable the students complete their programmes, she deplored the level of fraud that went on in the foreign scholarship, and also alleged that the previous administration did not consider the cost implication of sponsoring students on foreign scholarship before embarking on the project.The Professor of Education and Academic Planning said, “It is disheartening the level of fraud that went on in the foreign scholarship scheme. Students were sent overseas to study courses like economics, public administration and many programmes you can study in Nigeria.
“Apart from that, the money being spent on each of these students abroad is enough to pay for 80 students in Nigeria. The worse part is the fraudulent act that characterised the whole system. The past government claimed it had settled everything about the foreign students scholarship, but when we came in, we realised that it was a huge fraud. The monies were diverted, and the government only paid for one session.”
Despite the economic crunch facing states, Enugu State government has continued to award scholarship to deserving students in various higher institutions.According to the state Commissioner for Education, Prof Uche Eze, about 300 indigenes of the state in various institutions of higher learning received scholarships to continue their education last year
He noted that the beneficiaries were drawn from the 17 local councils of the state, adding that the award was to ease the burden of educating their children and wards. He added even though the state has not paid attention to bursary payment, this year alone, 680 students of the College of Education, Iwollo and Institute of Management and Technology (IMT),
Enugu, have been awarded scholarships.
The commissioner said: “The awards would cover tuition and sundry fees, even as some of them are provided with textbooks and other writing materials.“We are succeeding in this area because it is about planning and proper management of resources. We have a governor who is an expert in financial management and if we could do this under the economic stress the country is passing through, then we can do better given more resources,” he said.A female student of College of Education, Iwollo, who gave her name as Jane said, “my school fees for the semester has been taken care of through the scholarship provided by the governor, and I am grateful to God. I pray it continues.”
Federal Government Scholarships Gasping For Breath
The fate of Nigerian students studying in Russia under the Federal Ministry of Education’s Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) programme has been pathetic in the recent years.The BEA scheme is a joint programme run by the Nigerian government (through the Federal Ministry of Education) in collaboration with governments of other countries, such as Russia, China, Cuba, Morocco, Algeria, Ukraine, etc.By December last year, BEA beneficiaries in Russia had not been paid their stipends by the Federal Government for 18 months. And this is happening in a country where it is illegal to work as a foreign student.
Currently, there are over 400 Nigerian students pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Russia under the scheme, requiring the Federal Government to settle their upkeep, and the country, where the scholarship award is tenable takes care of the tuition.Before the latest outcry by the BEA beneficiaries, they had in 2014, under the auspices of the Association of Nigerian Scholarship Students in Russia (ANSSIR) protested the non-payment of their stipends for eight months.
This was shortly after Bayelsa State government-sponsored students also protested the non-payment of their 14 months stipends and tuition by the state government.President of ANSSIR, Ike David Ikenna, who led the peaceful demonstration at the Nigerian Embassy there, said they decided to stage a protest to disrupt the normal operations of the embassy so as to get words out that they had not been paid their allowances for eight months then.
Also in December 2015, BEA scholarship students in China wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari narrating their plight. They said they were constrained to write the letter, having explored all available formal means of resolving the quagmire to no avail.“As we write to you, all the 27 BEA students in China are yet to be paid a ‘kobo’ since January 2015. This includes eight students who graduated in July 2015, majority of whom had to borrow money to buy their return tickets at the risk of almost being deported due to close expiration dates of their visas. The situation has seriously impeded academic, social and emotional welfare of students, whose major means of sustenance comes from this allowance from the Federal Government.
It is not only in the BEA scholarship that unwholesome things are happening to their beneficiaries. Those benefitting from the Presidential Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID) are not faring better.When in 2012 the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration launched the PRESSID to sponsor first class graduates of Nigerian universities to pursue master’s degrees and PhD in any top 25 universities in the world, the gesture was hailed by many as a laudable one.
Expectedly, many bright heads applied and within a short time qualified ones were notified. At their inauguration, the then Executive Secretary of the National University Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, told the successful candidates to drop every other scholarship they were eyeing or they had been awarded as they had been chosen to lead innovation in the country.
Unfortunately, those elated beneficiaries, some of whom are billed to obtained their Ph.D at the end of this 2017/2018 session are in a quandary now because their benefactor, the Federal Government, stopped paying living stipends, as well as, their tuition from the beginning of the 2016/17 academic session.According to the terms and conditions of PRESSID, the scholarship was to take care of their feeding, accommodation, return flight tickets, tuition, research bench fees, field trips, living expenses and local travels. But while the scholars are burning the midnight oil, the Federal Government had reneged on its part.
One of the major factors that threw spanner in the works for PRESSID, apart from its movement from the NUC to the Federal Ministry of Education, was splitting of the scholars into different groups with different part-funders, including the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).When The Guardian visited the office of the Federal Scholarship Board, an official said that the former director of the board, Mrs. Fatima Ahmad, had retired from service, and no other official was authorised to speak to journalist on any issue.He advised that an application for an interview be made through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, who would in turn authorise an official to speak for the board.
Two visits made to the ministry failed to yield result as the director of press was not on seat on both occasions. A top official in the unit, who promised to make available details of BEA and PRESSID scholarships backed out after two days. He also advised going through the office of the permanent secretary. TETFund Scholarship Faring No Better
INTERESTINGLY, last Monday, TETFund said it had begun the recovery of funds from students who won the Federal Government scholarships, but refused to pursue the designated programmes, or failed to proceed to the designated countries.
The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Dr. Bichi Baffa, who made the disclosure in Abuja, said the revelations were made after the agency carried out a scholarship audit. Baffa, who informed that the Federal Government had in 10 years sponsored about 22, 000 scholars to pursue master’s and Doctor of Philosophy programmes in different fields of endeavour within the country and abroad, added that the agency projects to sponsor about 45,000 scholars for higher degrees in the next five years.
Baffa said, “An area where I met real mess, on assumption of office, was in the implementation of the TETFund scholarships. The scholarships are part of the capacity building intervention in our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. But we realised that in some beneficiary institutions, the guidelines for the scholarship awards were being implemented in the breach.
“Beyond violating the guidelines, many of the beneficiary scholars who were given money to pursue their studies abroad refused to go and they spent the money on something else. We further realised that a few institutions were not giving the scholars the total sum of money that was approved for them. They deducted certain percentages using different sort of names like administrative charges, and all sorts of illegal deductions.
“There are also scholars that were given the approval to go to Europe or America, for example, but they end up going to some African countries. Some scholars were given the permission to do Ph.D., but they registered for master’s degrees. The worst of them all were scholars who collected the money and refused to go.“What we did was to conduct what we call scholarship audit. Right now, we are making progress with the recovery of funds from some scholars who had collected the money but refused to go. Also, funds are being recovered from scholars that were given approval to go for one programme and they ended up going for another one. Similarly, funds are being recovered from scholars that were given money to go to one country and they ended up going to another country.”
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