Last week came the cheering news that the federal government has released the sum of N9.5bn to clear the backlog of scholarship allowances of Nigerian students at home and overseas.
The payments covered arrears up to the end of last year. The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, who made the disclosure, said that the sum of N.8bn had already been expended in 2018, noting that with the current release, a total of N10bn would be expended to bring the payment of their allowances up to date.
The minister directed the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB) to undertake all due processes required to clear the backlog of allowances owed the students without any further delay. He further revealed that the FSB had inherited scholarship liabilities from the scheme operated by the National Universities Commission (NUC), noting that the number of scholarship applicants had risen from 12,000 to 30,000.
We commend the federal government for the reprieve it has brought to the beneficiaries of the scheme, particularly those studying abroad. Reports from some countries regarding the plight of our students had left a sour taste in the mouth. For instance, not quite long ago, Nigerian students in Morocco had turned to begging as a means of survival over unpaid scholarship allowances, thus exposing the country to international embarrassment.
The students who were in their hundreds were owed allowances running into 12 months. The eleemosynary students are pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate studies under the Bilateral Education Agreement of the FSB programme. Under the agreement, the host country is supposed to take care of the students’ tuitions and accommodation, while Nigeria takes full responsibility for students’ living allowances payable monthly.
Other countries with such agreement include Russia, Algeria, Serbia, Hungary, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Cuba, Romania, Ukraine, Japan, Macedonia, Mexico and South Korea. Courses being pursued in those countries include Engineering, Geology, Agriculture, Sciences, Mathematics, Languages, Environmental Sciences, Sports, Law, Social Sciences, Biotechnology, Architecture, Pharmacy, Medicine, among others.
The Morocco example painted a gloomy picture of the plight of Nigerian students on the federal government scholarship abroad. As at the last count, the federal government was indebted to each undergraduate student in arrears of $10,950, while PhD students are owed $11,950, besides additional $1,000 yearly as research grants. Those pursuing their medical and Master’s degree programmes are owed $11,450 each, aside from $500 as research grants.
In fact, the Morocco drama is second after a similar complaint emanating from Nigerian students pursuing various courses in Russia on the federal government scholarship. While those in Morocco were reported to have resorted to begging as a means of survival, their counterparts in Russia a year ago had taken to crimes and other forms of illegality to keep body and soul together.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who visited Russia at that time, said Nigerian students had turned criminals since they were no longer in school because their basic needs could no longer be met. Consequently, the Senate President initiated action on nonpayment of the scholarships of those affected students in Russia and other countries.
In our previous editorial on the plight of our students overseas, we had stated that the federal government must seriously look into these complaints in order to redeem our image, stressing: “It is pointless sending Nigerian students to pursue overseas studies if government at all levels is not solvent enough to foot the bills.
“The stories of many Nigerian students on various sponsorships have not been palatable for quite some time now. A large number of them are known to embrace despicable activities including prostitution, petty heist, drug trade, et cetera, as a means of survival when their remittances are no longer forthcoming from their sponsors that include their parents. Such students either end up as criminals or return home as liabilities to their parents and the society.
” We urge the federal government to sustain the new spirit of paying the entitlements of our students overseas as at when due. There should be no excuses for not doing what is worth doing well on time. A situation where our students overseas resort to begging or criminality to survive is not acceptable just as it constitutes an international embarrassment to the country