Some beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme put in place by the Nigerian government through the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, have alleged that the commission has abandoned them.
In several chats with PREMIUM TIMES, the scholars who craved anonymity, said they had been subjected to unfair and inhuman treatment by the commission since 2016.
The affected beneficiaries are Masters and PhD students of Niger Delta origin who won the scholarship awards in 2014 and 2015. They alleged that their ordeals started when the leadership of the current NDDC board assumed office in November 2016.
The NDDC is an interventionist agency that was set up to improve the welfare of the people of the oil rich Niger Delta region. As part of its mandate, the NDDC scholarship scheme was set up to improve the manpower capacity of Niger Delta youth by sponsoring them for Masters and PhD programmes in universities abroad.
The beneficiaries were also carefully positioned to study courses considered to be of developmental benefit to the region; such as Engineering, Law, Environmental Sciences, public Health, ICT among others.
In January 2015, the NDDC advertised for scholarship vacancies in several national dailies and on its website. Successful candidates were consequently issued award letters, a copy of which was seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
The value of the scholarship, according to the aggrieved scholars, was put at $30,000. A successful scholar on arrival and registration at the foreign university is expected to ask the university to send an invoice for tuition fees to the NDDC via designated email addresses of officials in the education unit.
According to one of the scholars, “After settlement of tuition fees, the balance left (if any) out of the 30,000 USD is paid simultaneously to the scholar’s bank account in the local currency of the scholar’s country of study.
“This has been the standard practice since the inception of the scholarship; albeit there are always delays as the NDDC has become very notorious for shabby treatment of her scholars among all national scholarship bodies.”
But some of the affected scholars, in correspondence with PREMIUM TIMES, said the last payments were made in March and August 2016 under the interim management of Ibim Semenitari.
“Scholars were asked to provide invoices from their universities as far back as August 2016 to prevent the usual delays,” they said in the correspondence.
“Sadly, payment was not effected until she was removed and the substantive board led by Sen Victor Ndoma Egba and Mr Nsima Ekere came on board in Nov 2016. The scholarship funds have been set aside in the NDDC budget as stated in the 2015 and 2016 Appropriation Act.”
The aggrieved scholars, however, alleged that they have been labelled ‘ghost scholars’ and ‘PDP scholars.’
At some point in June 2016, they wrote in a jointly signed correspondence to PREMIUM TIMES, the Education Unit asked scholars to send in valid proof of current study status which most of them complied with.
“The MD has granted several press interviews alluding to the fact that he is investigating monumental corruption in the administration of the scholarship,” they wrote.
“Numerous committees have been set up and it seems that they have run out of excuses to pay us our monies. We wonder how long it takes to investigate cases of authentic scholars from fake ones in this time and age when any information is available at the click of an email.”
Our correspondent gathered that some of the PhD scholars have abandoned their programmes due to withdrawal of their student visas as a result of non-payment, while some of the Masters students who completed their studies without the scholarship payment have had their certificates withheld by the university.
The affected scholars also alleged that appeals made to the NDDC management, and the minister for Niger Delta Affairs have yielded no result as the respective foreign universities with students from the NDDC have made countless appeals for payment without success.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported the case of a Masters student, Maryleen Ndubuaku, who narrated her ordeal.
“I am expected to graduate with excellent grades to help me actualise the goal of this scheme which is to contribute to building our great nation.
“This is really difficult considering that I have to think of how to survive and pay my bills; the thought of which constantly distracts my focus from my daily academic duties,” the M.Sc. student of Embedded Microelectronics and Wireless Systems, at the Coventry University, UK said.
But when PREMIUM TIMES contacted Ojifo-Raphael Undiandeye, Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani, he debunked claims that the scholars had been abandoned.
“They wrote the honourable minister, he minuted on their letter and forwarded it to the MD of NDDC. At one other time, he (Mr. Usani) said he went to the NDDC commission itself in Port Harcourt and saw a list where the MD was making approvals for payment of scholars,” Mr. Undiandeye told PREMIUM TIMES.
“To the best of my knowledge, a good number of them have been paid but we are still surprised that some of them are still complaining that they have not been paid. The challenge we are having is that, the commission is saying some of them are not authentic scholars or that some of them actually transferred process of admission: that is to say, someone in the NDDC records for instance is being given scholarship in, say, UNIPORT and he is bringing the receipt of a school in Ibadan.
“They may be authentic scholars, but because they changed schools (and courses) without due information or without due recognition of the commission, the commission is lost as to whether they are authentic scholars or not. But for those ones who did not tamper with their admission processes, they don’t have issues.”
Commenting further, he said that the NDDC “feels that in this era of change, some people are defrauding the commission of funds.”
He, however, advised the affected scholars to table their concerns before the commission rather than resort to social media attacks.
“Rather than going to the social media to create the impression that the NDDC is corrupt and refusing to pay their fees, let them tackle the problems properly because the MD has said that those who the commission owed fees, he has paid.
“Definitely, there would be few skirmishes here and there; people who have not been paid as a result of one or two difficulties but they should actually address if they are attending the school approved by NDDC. That can be the issue.”
When told that the scholars, in a chat with PREMIUM TIMES, alleged that they are authentic scholars genuinely certified by the NDDC, he attributed further skirmishes to gaps in communication.
“I can’t authoritatively say that they have made all outstanding payments. All I can authoritatively say is that the commission has started paying to a good number of them; that was because my principal said that he saw when the MD (of NDDC) brought a list to approve payment for a good number of them. Whether that was all of them, I do not know.
“Let them cool down and write in details what the challenge is because the truth is that, people are defrauding the NDDC and NDDC is trying to stop it. I hear someone say that the commission claimed that several people were laying claims to scholarship funds over scholarship awards they did not receive. And that’s why the commission is being very careful, especially in this area of change.”
On allegations that some of the scholars were being treated badly because they are beneficiaries of the last administration, Mr. Undiandeye dismissed the claim as untrue.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with that. I think the major challenge is documentation skirmishes here and there, otherwise the commission in this era is responsible,” he explained.
PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to ascertain whether all outstanding payments being owed the scholars had been made by the NDDC was futile. When our correspondent contacted one of the commission’s media officers, Dayo Ibitoye, he declined to speak on telephone. When PREMIUM TIMES probed further, he requested a text message. Several days after the text messages were sent, he has not replied.