The University of Huddersfield, one of the schools in which scholars under a Rivers state government funded scholarship program were enrolled, have described the treatment of the scholars by the government as “disappointing”.
“It is very disappointing that they have let their students down,” the Director of International Development at the University of Huddersfield, Andrew Mandebura, told The Scoop in response to an inquiry on the status of students enrolled under the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) scholarship scheme.
The university which had 17 Rivers students enrolled said the Rivers government’s total indebtedness to it was over £170,000.
Two successive governments of Rivers state have failed young scholars on the program across several universities in Europe, North America and Asia. The administration of former Gov. Rotimi Amaechi which initiated the scheme started having funding challenges around 2013, owing tuition and the upkeep of the students for several months. Despite Amaechi’s repeated promises to pay up the debts, he became preoccupied with the 2015 elections and abandoned his promises.
Under Gov. Wike, the government discontinued the program altogether.
The position of the Wike administration has changed several times:
- Wike had said when he initially took office that his administration would allow those currently on the scheme to conclude their studies.
- In February 2016, the governor said only those in their final year of study ending in 2016 would be allowed to finish. He said “all others will need to return to Nigeria to continue their studies in Nigerian universities; 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.”
- Afterwards, he said those in science related fields would be catered for while those in the arts need to return.
The unanswered question: Dozens of the scholars have now graduated from their various schools but their certificates are being withheld by the institutions until the debts are paid. Gov. Wike has not said what will happen to those graduates in limbo.
The Scoop spoke to one of the stranded students who said, “I have been unable to take part in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program. In fact, I was mobilised to camp using an online statement of result from my school , but at the camp I was asked to go back and get my certificate.” She said she has been unable to get a job as a result or apply for a Masters program.
Another student said “our lives have been at a standstill. This is wickedness by both Governors Amaechi and Wike. Most of us are from less privileged families who excelled in the rigorous selection process. Now what used to be a source of joy has become the cause of untold sorrow and hardship.”
The Overseas scholarship program had been running since the 2008/2009 academic session and had a target of sending 300 students overseas annually. The state government shouldered the responsibility of the entire bill of the scholars including the airfare, tuition (school fees, laboratory, books), accommodation, feeding and monthly upkeep.
Mr. Mandebura of the University of Huddersfield decried the attitude of the Rivers officials. “Colleagues from the University have even visited the RSSDA office in Nigeria to try and resolve the situation and we have also contacted them on several occasions and received sporadic replies but no sign of payments, he said.
“The most worrying aspect in this situation is that the students have not been receiving living expenses which were due to be paid by the sponsor. Some students have also been evicted from their private rented accommodation after months of our Student Union lobbying on their behalf. I also wrote to the Nigerian High Commissioner in London to make him aware of these students and their plight and have not received a response,” Mandebura said.
Following an event at the Chatham House in the United Kingdom this week, Gov. Wike was confronted by some of the scholars. He accused them of being rude for daring to protest and threatened that “they won’t get what they want.”
See short exchange below:
An aide of the governor, Oraye St. Franklyn, took to social media to blast some of the protesting students, including one Jasper Jaja, who confronted the governor directly. He shared Jaja’s personal details on Facebook, leading to attacks and threats by supporters of the governor.
Franklyn told Jaja that “you have been travelling between the UK and across the world. Wouldn’t it have served you better to save up funds and help yourself?”