Part of the indices of underdevelopment is the propensity of political leadership to shut down the system on the eve of transition to a new regime. As political office holders scheme to return to power, day to day running of government is usually sacrificed for political maneuvering, thereby exposing the citizens to all manners of challenges. In Nigeria, the scramble for nominations into various offices, especially by serving political office holders has underscored the vulnerability of the Nigerian system, as Ministers, governors, and other officeholders have practically abandoned their responsibilities.
This perhaps explained the insensitivity of the Nigerian government to the plight of its scholars studying in various countries under its Bilateral Education Agreement with those countries.
Nigeria has four categories of scholarship awards, namely the Bilateral Education Agreement, the Commonwealth, the Nigerian awards, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) awards.
For 2020 alone, the federal government claimed it expended N4 billion on scholarship awards. The breakdown for the 2020 BEA awards was as follows: Morocco 100, Russia 97, Hungary 50, Romania 10, and Egypt 5. Commonwealth 23 slots while the Nigerian awards are 2,294 slots.
According to Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, the money was spent on scholarship awards for Nigerian students both at home and abroad as part of the government’s determination to increase access to tertiary education and reward excellence.
The Bilateral Education Agreement, which began in 2015, offers the undergraduate course in the fields of Mathematics, Geology, Agriculture, Science, Engineering, languages, Environment science, sports, law, social science, biotechnology, medicine, etc, and the postgraduate course in the fields of master’s degree and Ph.D.
The countries with Bilateral Education Agreements (BEA) with Nigeria are Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Meanwhile, fields of study are Natural sciences, Technology, Engineering, Information Technology, Medicine, and Medicine related courses. The scholarship awards are leading to first degrees, Master’s, and Ph.D. studies. All the countries are non-English speaking, the scholars are made to study in the language of the countries except Hungary.
Detail of the scholarship program shows that the award entitles the scholar to Supplementation allowances of $6,000 per annum to augment feeding, local transport, maintenance, equipment/books; Warm clothing allowances of $250 per annum; Health Insurance of $200 per annum; Take-off grant of N60, 000.00 once before departure; and Passages in form of a one-way ticket to the country of study and a return ticket at the end of the course to be collected from the Nigerian Mission. The commitment of the donor countries is limited to tuition fees and accommodation.
Under the arrangement, the Nigerian scholars are expected to be paid every month, but the reality, over the years, is that supplementation and other allowances of BEA Scholars currently studying in various countries are paid when the fund is released and made available to CBN in dollars ($) for remittance to Nigerian Embassies in host countries for disbursement to the scholars. The Board in liaison with the Federal Ministry of Education facilitates the process.
It also provided that a high-level Ministerial delegation goes on Verification Exercise to monitor the academic progress, welfare, and accounts records of BEA Scholars in some of the countries, especially where the scholars have unresolved issues about their scholarship awards. During these visits, necessary counseling and support are rendered accordingly. Consultations with relevant partners in countries visited are engaged and all vital documents to enhance the scholarship implementation process in Nigeria are also obtained.
Sadly, however, the current experience of Nigerian scholars in many of these countries is pathetic as the Nigerian authorities are withholding their allowance since August 2021. The situation is worse for those in Russia, who have to contend with the rising cost of living in a nation facing severe economic sanctions over its hostilities with Ukraine. Already, some parents have been returning their children home, leaving the innocent students with the choice of having to sit for JAMB afresh.
Expectedly, the students are turning the heat on their parents who have to run helter-skelter to raise funds for their upkeep.
Reports have it that the Minister of State for Education, had in a meeting with representatives of the parents of the scholars in Russia, disclosed that the money was in the Central Bank of Nigeria, awaiting disbursement, a claim, which was promptly debunked by the apex bank. The spokesperson for the apex bank, Osita Nwanisobi had told this newspaper early last month that the bank was yet to get a payment mandate from the Ministry of Education.
The Nigerian Ambassador to Russia, Prof. Abdullahi Yibaikwal, in a press conference last month disclosed that he had advised the Ministers of Education on the need to urgently pay the outstanding allowances to Nigerian students in Russia even before the commencement of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. But the education ministers were too busy plotting for the next year’s election for them to attend to the students’ ordeal.
On the claim that the sanction against Russia has made it impossible to send dollars to the country since the Swiss Bank had suspended operations there, critics said the Nigerian government could have come up with a solution to this much earlier as suggested by the Nigerian Ambassador to Russia, wondering how the government manages to pay the Nigerian embassy staff in Russia.
It is an irony that the Minister of State for Education who has not been able to address the frustrations of the future leaders of Nigeria currently stranded outside the shores of the country was able to muster N100 million for the purchase of the APC presidential nomination form.
It is equally frustrating that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also keeping quiet while Nigerian scholars are languishing in foreign lands.
Sadly, most of those running the various ministries today were one-time beneficiaries of such scholarship arrangements. One, therefore, wonders why they decide to toy with the destiny of the future leaders of the country.
We, therefore, call on President Muhammad Buhari to step in and arrest this ugly trend to avoid a situation that might push the students into vices out of frustration and turn them into a nuisance in the host countries.