Rivers scholarship: Udochukwu, others’ fate hang in the balance
By next Friday May 13, 2016, Mr. Udochukwu Amadi, a final year medical student will be barred from continuing his clinical rotation at the St. Vincent University in Ireland, pending when the Rivers State government pays his outstanding tuition fees.
The fate of Udochukwu, who is among the students offered scholarship by the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, RSSDA, to study overseas in 2013, now hangs in the balance as his graduating in December now seems bleak than ever before.
A report presented to the Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, by his transition committee on paucity of funds, had sealed the fate of hundreds of students who benefited from the state government’s scholarship scheme. The report had revealed that the immediate past administration of Governor Chibuike Amaechi, had sidelined the State scholarship board and then appropriated its powers to award scholarship to the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency RSSDA, which relied on consultants to source schools for beneficiaries of the scheme.
“From the report I have gotten, it is a scam. Why do you do it through a consultant when you have scholarship board? From the report I received, if N2billion should be the fee, out of this N2billion, N900 million is paid as fee to the consultant, this is a scam. It is a scam. Any money for scholarship must pass through scholarship board. Why did you establish scholarship board? You abandoned government-established agency, the department of government to be dealing with a consultant. It is not acceptable. There is no way I can continue with that. That is not a good policy,” Wike said.
Udochukwu’s father, Mr. Gift Amadi, who is the chairman of parents association of students under the RSSDA overseas scholarship scheme, told The Guardian that the predicament of the stranded students started in December 2014, when the state government stopped paying their tuition, upkeep and accommodation allowances. He stated that the some of the foreign universities had been magnanimous to allow the students continue with their academics till date.
“Now, it has gotten to a critical situation, as my son and others are in their final year. They are doing their clinical rotation and most of them have lost their accommodation. The school authorities have stopped them from attending clinical rotation, which means if something urgent is not done, they will not be graduating this year. By the 13th of May, that is the day the school will stop my son, Udochukwu, from his clinical rotation pending when the government will respond to the payment of his tuition. The school has stopped some of his colleagues last week,” Amadi said.
He explained that his son was first awarded scholarship to study in the United Kingdom in 2008 by the Rivers State government. Upon completion of the programme, he and others returned to Nigeria due to their inability to gain admission to study medicine there. In 2013, he was offered fresh scholarship to study medicine at the St. Vincent University in Ireland. And barely a year into the programme, the state government reneged on its obligation to fund his academic endeavour.
Amadi who is annoyed over his son’s predicament, owing to the fact that he cannot afford the tuition fees, explained that some wealthy parents have resorted to paying their children’s fees in agreement with RSSDA, that once the state government makes funds available, they will be refunded.
“I don’t have that kind of money. I cannot pay. What I have been managing to do since November 2014 when they stopped giving them upkeep allowance, if I have any money I sent to him to feed, pay his accommodation and stay afloat. But things are very hard now. We are pleading with the government to have a rethink. To be very candid, many of the parents cannot afford to pay these fees. I can say that 99 percent of parents cannot afford to pay their children’s schools fees,” Amadi said.
It will be recalled that in January 2016, the state government invited all the parents whose children are beneficiaries of its overseas scholarship scheme for a meeting.
During the interactive session, the State Commissioner of Agriculture, Mrs. Onimim Jacks, disclosed that the government would be bringing all the students back to the country to continue their scholarship in local universities. However, final year students were allowed to complete their courses. But the parents objected because most of the courses the students were studying overseas are not obtainable in Nigerians universities.
“That day the parents pleaded with the government to have a rethink of its decision so that those who are already in school can finish their programmes. The state can negotiate with the schools. But the most worrisome aspect of this whole thing is that the state government has stopped communicating with schools. It seems like the schools are in limbo. They don’t know what to do, whether the state will be paying the outstanding fees or not. So, if the state can negotiate with the schools, they can agree on how to pay the backlog of fees. I think the schools will agree to that,” Amadi said.
Last year, Governor Wike, had approved the payment of N512million to offset the debts owed by the final year students on foreign scholarship to enable them sit for their final exams and eventually graduate.
Amadi explained that the students and their parents respectively have written letters to the government and the Speaker of the House of Assembly seeking their benevolent intervention in the plight of the students, yet, to no avail.
“We want the public to intervene so that government can see to the plight of these students, because, they are not our children alone. They are children of Rivers State. Many of us might not be around when the state would start reaping the benefits from these students. What they have gone there for will be beneficial to the state and the entire country and that is why we are begging. We are pleading with the government,” he said.
He expressed that his son and others stranded students may not be able to return to Nigeria because they are owing accommodation rents and tuition fees. He pointed out that the immigration of the respective countries where they are studying will not allow them to leave and even if they manage to sneak out, it will affect their future foreign travels, which will be a discredit to Nigeria.
The Rivers State Governor’s special overseas scholarships programme which has gulped about N23.7 billion since its inception in 2008, was set up with the sole motive to secure and strength the future of young men and women of Rivers State by empowering them through quality education.
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