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Overseas scholarship: Stranded Ebonyi students cry out to govt

By Samson Ezea
21 May 2016   |   3:06 am
Just like the fate that befell several Nigerians who got some state government overseas scholarship before the 2015 polls, but appeared to have been abandoned by the successive state governments.
Stranded Ebonyi State Scholarship students protesting at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) headquarters in Manchester, UK on Thursday PHOTO ENYITA CLIFFORD ITESHI

Stranded Ebonyi State Scholarship students protesting at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) headquarters in Manchester, UK on Thursday PHOTO ENYITA CLIFFORD ITESHI

Just like the fate that befell several Nigerians who got some state government overseas scholarship before the 2015 polls, but appeared to have been abandoned by the successive state governments, over 41 postgraduate students of Ebonyi State origin who are beneficiaries of the Ebonyi State Government Scholarship Scheme, have accused the state government of abandoning them overseas.

Speaking to The Guardian on their plight, one of the students, Mr. Enyita Clifford Iteshi, who is a PhD student at the University of Salford, Manchester said: “Precisely in January 2014, Governor Martin Elechi started the implementation of his government’s first scholarship scheme in which candidates were asked to obtain forms with N10,000.

“One hundred and names including those for MSc and PhD were shortlisted for oral and written interviews. This resulted in 32 candidates being selected to add to those who were already selected for being the best graduating students in their courses of study. Between 2014 and 2015, many scholars graduated and returned to the state and we are currently 42 in number undertaking PhDs in different parts of the world including China, South Africa, Canada, the US and the UK.

“The immediate past government had always paid our tuition fees and living expenses promptly and have paid for bench fees and research grant accordingly. When the present government came in, the first wrong step was that the office of the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Higher Education, instead of the scholarship board that already had details and procedures of operation, announced that we should ask our families to come and pick a N200,000 Cheque as intervention fund (in some quarters they called it research grant which were meant to be 5500 pounds each.

“When we asked for the reason, the Senior Special Adviser on Higher Education, Dr Adaeze Nwuzor told us that the N200,000 was to show commitment that the new government was continuing to fund the scholarship. We agreed and after some point, between September and December 2015, a committee was set up to verify the awards and we were asked to submit another documents to both office of the Secretary to the State Government and Dr. Nwuzor which we complied. Since then there has been no formal communication to us either from the governor or his aides. Neither our tuition fees nor our living expenses have been paid, thereby worsening our situation. The most annoying thing is that government has always captured our funding in their budget, even in the 2015 and 2016 budgets.”

Another student, Mr. Celestine Nwojiji, who is studying Climate Change/Environmental Sciences in the University of Liverpool, UK, said they signed a bond with the State government pledging to come back and serve the State at the end of their studies.

“We were made to provide two senior civil servants from level 15 and above, who will pay for all the money spent by the government if we did not come back. Before I got the scholarship, I was an assistant lecturer in the Department of Geology, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki.”

On how they have been surviving since government allegedly abandoned them, Nwojiji said: “We were abandoned since September last year when our tuition fees and living expenses were due. We have been surviving by engaging in casual jobs to pay our bills. Some of us have been thrown out by our landlords and the schools’ management. One of the women, Mrs Grace Ugochi, a PhD Biomedical Science student, University of the West of England, Bristol just put to bed last month through operation, but has no money to take care of herself and the baby.”

“Our schools sent invoice to the State scholarship board. We wrote severally to the government, but there was no reply. Sometime last year we heard that a committee was set up to verify us, we sent our documents, but have not got any reply from the government. At a time, we heard that the governor mentioned in a town hall meeting that he was not continuing with the former government scholarship scheme, but nothing was communicated to us.”

On whether they have made any attempt to get in touch with the State governor, Engr. David Umahi or his aides on the issue, Mr. Ogbonna Johnpaul Mbutor, a PhD student in Political Communication at the Cambridge School of Arts, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom said that they have made several attempts as individuals and as a group through phone calls, letter writing, emails and visits to the scholarship board, Special Adviser on Higher Education, Dr. Adaeze Nwuzor, SSG Ebonyi State Government, Prof. Bernard Odoh, Commissioner for Education Prof. John Ekeh and other government officials.

He continued: “The scholarship board said they lack information on the matter as office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Higher Education has hijacked the matter due to overriding interest. The office of the SA on Higher Education requested us to re-submit our credentials for further investigation and we did. After she refused picking our calls and accepting our visit. One of the government officials had revealed to us that the governor lacks interest in continuing with the programme. The Education Commissioner during our visit to his office told us that he has suggested that the State Government should write re-assurance letter to our schools.

The Deputy Chief of Staff directed us to the SSG office, but after waiting for hours we were unable to see him. The frustrations pushed us to exchange words with his aide who described us as beggars. The protocol officer refused to allow us see the governor after several attempts. Since then till date, we have not received reply to our letters, emails and text messages and they are no longer picking our calls.

“The Scholarship board said they were banned from replying our emails and letters even though they always sympathise with our situation and prays for God’s grace in our career pursuit. We are now confused as we have been shut behind the door and silently abandoned to perish in the foreign country like merciless criminals.”

He appealed to the State government to urgently pay their tuition fees, living expenses and bench fees to save them from further suffering and academic set back.

“We want the state government to openly communicate to us and commence the immediate payment of our tuition fees and stipends.

“We are already hugely indebted to our universities and banks that gave us credit cards. I have been evicted from my house and I am squatting with my Yoruba friend.

I have been logged out of the university and cannot even afford to book my flights. I have been threatened by the UK government. I may be arraigned in the court of law for being indebted to the University and landlords before facing deportation. This is if I didn’t clear my debts before the month ends,” he said.

Before being offered scholarship to do a Phd in Civil Engineering at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada by the Ebonyi State government, Mr. Igboke Chinecherem was a senior Civil Engineer with the Civil Engineering Department, Ministry of Works and Transport, Ebonyi State.

He told The Guardian that he is currently in the second year of his programme, but a hold has been placed on his status for failure to meet his financial requirements.

Investigations reveal that other affected students include Azubuike Franklin Onwe,  Akpoke Esther Esmeralda, Agwu George, Onwe John Obinna, Izogo Ernest Emeka, Nworie Obinna Elijah, Ogbodo Jude, Nwali Angela, Enyi Cyril, Okorie Azubuike Michael, Uche Elijah Oko, Allen Ude Akwu-Ude, Eze Ukpai Agwu, Williams Olughu and others.

Speaking to The Guardian on phone, the Special Adviser to the Ebonyi State governor on Higher Education, Dr. Adaeze Nwuzor, said that her boss had in August last year approved the payment of the 2013, 2014, 2015 arrears owed to indigenes of the State that are on State government’s scholarship scheme at home and abroad.

“After the payment, the governor ordered for the compilation of the beneficiaries’ academic status to know those who have finished and those that are about finishing their programme.

“It was at this point that we ordered them to submit their documents which included the Confirmation of Academic Studies and others. Some of them complied, but others did not. We have finished the compilation and submitted to the SSG’s office as directed by the governor. Generally, there is paucity of funds across the country and it is affecting a lot of things.

“The governor is quite determined to address their plight and has been working towards it. They should remain prayerful and steadfast. Their problems will be solved soonest. The state government understands that they are great assets to the state and the country in general,” Nwuzor said.