The recent report that Nigerian students in Morocco have turned to begging as a means of survival over unpaid scholarship allowances is not only a sad commentary on the nation but also an international embarrassment.
The students who are in their hundreds are owed allowances running into 12 months. The eleemosynary students are pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate studies under the Bilateral Education Agreement of the Federal Scholarship Board (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.
Even at that, the host countries provide accommodation for 10 to 15 students per space for the first year which is regarded as the language year after which the students are expected to look for an alternative place.
Countries with such agreement also 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 latest report from Morocco paints a gloomy picture of the plight of Nigerian students on the federal government scholarship abroad. According to the affected students, each undergraduate is supposed to be paid the sum of $500 per month with an annual bursary of $450 to take care of medical needs and warm clothing during the winter.
Those studying medicine get an additional $500 annually. As at the last count, the federal government is indebted to each undergraduate student 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 the $500 as research grants.
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 are 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 non-payment of the scholarships of those affected students in Russia and other countries.
However, one year down the road, there are indications that the situation has not changed. It is also obvious that Nigerian students in other countries listed above must be suffering the same fate and are doing so in silence.
The federal government must seriously look into these complaints in order to redeem our image. 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 are not quite 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. Poor funding is not peculiar to students on overseas scholarship alone. Our foreign missions were once at the receiving end of the cash strap.
About a year ago, the Senate raised an alarm about the inability of our diplomatic missions to meet their financial obligations to pay homebased officers’ allowances, staff salaries, rent for residences, chanceries and other staff official quarters.
According to the Senate, this myriad of issues revolving around financial woes had whittled down the collective and corporate image of Nigeria, resulting in the loss of prestige and influence in the comity of nations.
Consequently, the Upper Chamber passed a resolution to fix what it described as total embarrassment to the country. The senators, while poring over the gloomy picture of Nigerian diplomatic missions, noted that there were threats by host countries to revoke building permits of some properties belonging to Nigerian missions.
The threat of revocation of the permits was said to have been informed by the buildings’ poor structural conditions, which constituted hazard to the various neighbouring communities. Consequently, the senators resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to engage the Minister of Foreign Affairs, ambassadors, high commissioners, charge d’ affairs, other stakeholders and come up with possible ways of addressing the problems raised in the motion.
So far, no such complaints have emanated from our foreign missions again lately. This is an indication that something has been done to normalise the situation. The federal government should extend a similar gesture to its students on overseas scholarship.
Bilateral Education Agreement of the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB) is not a bad idea. But as it is said, what is what doing at all is worth doing well.