The plight of Nigerian scholars abroad — THISDAY Editorial

Posted by News Express | 6 May 2022 | 291 times

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The scramble for nominations into various offices, especially by serving political office holders has underscored the vulnerability of the system, as ministers, governors, and other office holders have practically abandoned their responsibilities. This perhaps explains the insensitivity to the plight of our scholars studying in various countries under the Bilateral Education Agreement. These children have practically been abandoned to their fate by the federal government.  

Nigeria has four categories of scholarship awards, namely the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA), 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 five. The Commonwealth has 23 slots while the Nigerian awards are 2,294 slots.   

The countries with the BEA which commenced in 2015 include Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The fields of study are Natural Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Information Technology, Medicine, and Medicine-related courses. The scholarship awards lead to first degrees, Master’s, and Ph.D. All the countries are non-English speaking, so the scholars are made to study in the language of the countries except Hungary.  

The award entitles each scholar to supplementation allowances of $6,000 per annum to augment feeding, local transport, maintenance, equipment/books; warm clothing allowances of $250 per annum and Health Insurance of $200 per annum. 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 only when the fund is made available to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in dollars for remittance to Nigerian embassies in host countries. This is a rather long process.  

Unfortunately, the current experience of Nigerian scholars in many of these countries is pathetic as the Nigerian authorities have withheld their allowances since August 2021. The situation is worse for those in Russia, who must contend with the rising cost of living in a nation facing severe economic sanctions over its war with Ukraine. The Nigerian Ambassador to Russia, Abdullahi Yibaikwal, disclosed last month that he had advised the government on the need to urgently pay the outstanding allowances to our students in Russia even before the commencement of their war with Ukraine.    

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, the federal government could have come up with a solution to this much earlier as suggested by the Nigerian Ambassador to Russia. It is particularly disturbing that the Minister of State for Education under whose purview the programme falls is busy pursuing a presidential ambition on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at a period the students are stranded outside the shores of the country. It is equally frustrating that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is keeping quiet while Nigerian scholars are languishing in foreign land.  

Perhaps more unfortunate is that most of those running the various ministries today were one-time beneficiaries of such scholarship arrangements. We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to step in and arrest this ugly trend to avoid a situation that might push the students into vices out of frustration.

Source: News Express

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