I recently stumbled on a piece posted by a friend on Facebook about the of some ‘abandoned’ Rivers States students on government funded undergraduate scholarships at various Universities in Canada. At the moment, Canadian Universities are being owed tuition fees for about two terms, a sum amounting to about $2.5million. The scholarships were awarded by the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), under the office of the Executive Governor of Rivers State. There are currently about 240 students spread across 14 Canadian Universities on the RSSDA scholarships.
The RSSDA undertook to pay their tuition and provide a $1,100 monthly living allowance. Unfortunately, they haven’t received that allowance for 11 months, and much of their tuition fee payment has been delayed too.
According to Gift Amadi, a third year student at the University of Manitoba, his education and his future are in doubt because he’s been abandoned by the Nigerian government agency that brought him to study at the University of Manitoba. About 50 of the students are currently enrolled at the University of Manitoba. Leah Janzen is the University’s vice-president of outreach and engagement and according to her, the RSSDA made a partial payment some few weeks back, but the accounts of a dozen students are still two terms in arrears.
“Our policy is you can’t go into a third term having not been able to pay for the previous two terms in their entirety. So we don’t want to get to that position with these students. We remain in contact with this organization, and they’re asking us to be patient,” she said. “But at this point, we’re not sure what to expect from them with regards to those arrears.”
The students were given a 30-day ultimatum to pay up, some of the students were able to raise the funds on their own and have paid. However, many have been left hanging without any form of financial assistance capable of settling the debt. Many of them have had to resort to taking small loans from friends or church members to feed.
Godwin Poi, the CEO of RSSDA, said the government is experiencing a revenue shortfall due to plunging oil prices and fluctuations in currency. As a result, the government has not been giving his agency money regularly, he said.
“I can only tell you what the government tells me which is that the funds are not available. Allocations from central government and state government have dwindled and the state government relies predominantly on the central government for funding.”
This is not the first time the RSSDA will be under scrutiny. In 2012, the agency was accused of abandoning some undergraduate medical students who were supposed to undergo training in the United Kingdom. The parents of the students cried out and petitioned the Rivers State House of Assembly. The House investigated the matter and found that the RSSDA had in part mismanaged the whole situation with the students.
In all fairness, the scholarship program of the RSSDA is a commendable scheme which should be replicated in other states. According to the RSSDA website, more than 200 indigenes of Rivers state have successfully benefited from the program having graduated and returned home from various countries of study. However, it is important that schemes such as this do not in any way expose the students to ridicule in a foreign land. Adequate provisions should be made at all times for the students, a scenario where the Universities are being owed for more than two terms does not speak well of the Rivers state government. Really, nobody goes to war without planning how to execute same. The RSSDA is not adequately equipped to execute a project of such massive financial commitment.
At a send forth ceremony in his honour, Noble Pepple, who preceded Poi as the CEO of RSDA, noted that approved fund for the agency at the beginning of the 2014 was ten billion naira noting that six billion naira was the agency’s total receipt in 2014 where two billion was the carryover from the previous year and four billion was the actual amount released from the budgeted ten billion naira He further disclosed that between January and May 2015, the agency received 800 million naira part of 2014 budget out of which 600 million naira went into overseas scholarship. He also noted that more than five billion naira was dedicated to the scholarship scheme alone but that due to the fall in funding, it was difficult for the agency to maintain key programs, including the scholarship program. As at the time he handed over, the RSSDA had received zero amount of the ten billion naira approved budget for 2015.
This explains why the students have been left abandoned. Not a single sum of the 2015 budget has been released to the agency which still maintains a total of six hundred and seventy six (676) students studying in foreign countries. To make matters worse, workers and staff at the RSSDA are being owed seven months’ salary by the state government, and when they threatened to boycott work, the Governor Wike led administration which inherited many of these problems from the Rotimi Amaechi led government decided to suspend the operations of the Agency. The Government directed that all activities of the Agency should be carried out directly by the state ministry of agriculture pending the resolution of the issues. This is nothing short of a mess. The government is playing chess with the lives of next generation.
The students are in a precarious situation considering the fact that they are expected to sit for their Fall semester exams in a matter of weeks. They are currently in a dilemma that will definitely disturb their assimilation and concentration, this is a national disgrace and the government needs to take urgent measures to preserve the faith of these students in the Nigerian project.
The Nigerian media have largely ignored this story. I checked many of the news media and I didn’t see any report on the plight of these students. I believe however, that well-meaning citizens of Rivers State should have made attempts at getting the Governor to intervene. If you are reading this, kindly tweet about it, post it on your Facebook wall, lets help these students out of the precarious situation their own government have put them.
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