One year after the Nigerian Senate moved to intervene in the non-payment of tuition fees and allowances of Nigerians studying abroad on Federal Government scholarship, the scholars are still stranded in various universities across the world.
According to one of the beneficiaries of the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), Ayoola Shoneye, he and his colleagues are now in huge debt, while many of them have had to drop out of school to find other means of survival, including menial jobs.
There seems to be no hope in sight as the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB) gave no assurance of payment, after a meeting with a director of the scholarship board.
Another scholar who was recently in a meeting with the director, Chinedu Ugwu, said that he was told funds had not been released for their programmes.
PRESSID was an initiative of former President Goodluck Jonathan to train some of the best brains in Nigeria in different development sectors, so that they would be better equipped to foster innovations across these sectors.
However, trouble began in 2016 when the Federal Government failed to pay both tuition and living stipends of the scholars.
“The problem started when the PMB administration gave a directive that the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB) should manage all Federal Government scholarships,” Shoneye investigative reporters.
The students wrote a letter to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in August 2017, saying since the beginning of the 2016/17 session, majority of the PRESSID scholars – part-sponsored by TETFund – had not received payment for their tuition fees and living allowances.
In the letter, signed by Oluwadamilola Oluwole, they said: “All our efforts to reach officials at the National Universities Commission (NUC) who have been our primary point of contact and scholarship administrators have been futile, as they have stopped replying our emails. Our various academic institutions have also reached out to them, all to no avail.”
Also, prior to their letter to the Vice President, the students had written to President Muhammadu Buhari; Senior Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora and Youth Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa and the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, but got no definite response.
A ray of hope was flashed on their predicament in November 2017 when Senate President Bukola Saraki held a meeting with representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) responsible for the welfare of Nigerians.
The Senate President directed FSB to immediately compile the list of all Nigerians on scholarships across the 25 best universities in the world with their due entitlements, so that the Senate could make appropriations for their payment.
Similarly, though there was provision for the payment in the 2018 budget, FSB has continuously informed the scholars that funds have not been made available for them, Shoneye disclosed. However, the desired outcome is yet to be seen.
“FSB included our outstanding and present living expenses in the 2018 Federal budget,” he said. “However, nothing is forthcoming and we are afraid as the election period draws near. At present, some of us do odd jobs to get bills paid and survive at least.”
Shoneye lamented that some of his colleagues have been resorting to menial labour to keep themselves in school, while some have been grounded in Nigeria, unable to proceed with the PhD programmes.
All attempts to reach the acting director of the scholarship board, Lateef Olagunju, were unsuccessful as calls and text messages sent to his phone number were not responded to.