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NDDC scholars caught between suffering and debts

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When about 200 Nigerians were listed as beneficiaries of the Niger Delta Development Commission foreign scholarship scheme in 2019, they hoped the scholarship will not just be an avenue to alleviate their circumstances, but also serves as a lifeline to realise their educational dreams.

But the present situation of these beneficiaries is precarious.

“I was pretty comfortable where I was and I take a scholarship to better my life, I didn’t expect to be rolling in affluence when I get here but basic existence was what was promised but the story has been grim,” a scholar Essien Okon who was a medical doctor in Lagos said in a Zoom conversation with The Guardian.

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“Unfortunately my school having been linent for about twelve months, and understandable ran out patience, recently sent me two emails asking me to contact my sponsors since they have refused to respond to them,” Okon said, calling into question “who knows what the next email will say?”

He could simply get expelled or lose his admission.

This only means Okon’s effort to get himself to the school without the supposed five hundred thousand support for travelling cost and his struggles to stay focused in school without tuition and upkeep stipend may become wasted.

Okon is not alone. Over 200 other NDDC scholarship beneficiaries are abandoned at their universities in different parts of the world.

The NDDC foreign scholarship scheme started in 2010, with the objectives to bridge the gap in the management cadre of the oil and gas sector of the Niger Delta region; address the dearth of professional human capital and capacity among the youths and prepare them for leadership and management positions in the oil and gas sector.

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For the present beneficiaries, the scholarship was awarded in July 2019 and a sum of 30,000 US Dollars which was supposed to cover the tuition and the living costs of scholars have not been paid twelve months after.

A sum of N500,000 meant to assist with visa and ticket costs were not paid until April 2020. This means that most of the scholars had to fund themselves through personal savings and loans to put themselves through to their chosen universities while people who could not get the funds sit back in Nigeria.

“I am somebody that has been struggling from hand to mouth, all my life I have been sorting for myself and it was mostly with scholarships and grants with some odds jobs that I do I went through school,” a scholar who could not make it down to UK lamented.

“I have sold practically all my personal belongings just to meet up with this scholarship,” she said, adding that she “feels bad for herself and also for others.”

She further accused an NDDC official of telling her “scholarship is not for the poor.”

Some of the students resumed in September 2019 and are completing their dissertations while others resumed in January 2020 and are preparing to complete their studies in December 2020. But most of the scholars are not sure of what becomes of their one year of studying without tuition.

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“The way these people are acting as though they are going to be in this world forever, as if things can never change, its disappointing,” Okon said, adding “I am not proud of the type of government we have,” another scholar Andrew said.

Okon went further to accuse Executive Director (Project) of the NDDC Cairo Ojougboh of being lackadaisical about their plight during a live interview with Channels TV recently.

“Dr Cairo Ojougboh can not even understand,” he said adding that Ojougboh “flippantly dismissed” their plights.

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However, the NDDC while responding to the continued complaints about the scholarship, the commission said it “has no intention to abandon the scholars who are our ambassadors.”

“We are, therefore, doing everything possible to make sure that the beneficiaries of the scholarship programme are paid,” Charles Obi Odili, the commission Director Corporate Affairs, said in a statement on Monday.

He said the “COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown” as the cause of their inadequacies.

Odili also found fault in the current inquest by the National Assembly which he said: “has not given the Commission ample time to work.”

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The National Assembly panel is conducting an investigative hearing on the alleged financial malfeasance and other activities in the NDDC.

In March, a sum of N346.3 billion was approved by the senate as the 2019 budget for the commission, against the N409 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari. The 2019 budget expired in May.

The panel led by Peter Nwaoboshi ( PDP Delta North), queried the IMC over an alleged N143 billion ‘missing’ from the 2019 budget of the commission.

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