Revisiting Nigeria’s Unreasonable and Wasteful Scholarship Systems, By ‘Tope Fasua

…if I am asked – and I know they won’t ask me – I will recommend a gradual and rapid winding down of most of Nigeria’s so-called scholarship schemes. They are now worse than scams. No nation should throw away money the way we do here.

Maybe I see it more clearly because I never enjoyed a scholarship. Those who did sometimes take these things for granted. And many have enjoyed scholarships in Nigeria not because they are exceptionally brilliant but because they happen to be in the right place at the right time, or they knew someone who was connected enough to make it happen. Many are still enjoying scholarships today because they come from regions of Nigeria that are deemed educationally ‘disadvantaged’.

The issues with scholarship schemes in Nigeria today include the fact that:

1. They are arbitrary: Really brilliant people are exempted, while average people or even non-scholars get them. And this is not about the usual suspects. Even in the educationally ‘advantaged’ states, the few scholarships they give don’t necessarily go to the brightest. They go to the connected.

2. Scholarships have been totally hijacked by politicians. Major scholarship schemes, such as that of PTDF (Petroleum Technology Development Fund), Tetfund, etc. probably started well but soon became infected with the usual Nigerian greed and jagajaganess. Today, most of the beneficiaries are children of governors, deputy governors and senators, or those closely connected with them. The democracy that we craved for 19 years ago soon became an avenue for ensuring that things never get done properly but only for political advantages.

3. When it all started in the 1950s and 1960s, many people got scholarships to study all sorts of subjects, including Latin and English language. Some of the old men complaining about Nigeria today enjoyed expensive foreign education abroad and never thought of how sustainable the programmes were. There came a time when Nigeria tried to ensure that only courses in the sciences and a few in the social sciences were sponsored but I think we are back to the era of anything goes. Even at a time when our economy is struggling.

4. The focus on foreign universities is another major issue. Or let us call it a bias for foreign universities. By now, most of the courses we sponsor students abroad for can be studied locally. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. If we say our local universities are rubbish – and many times they are – how will they stop being rubbish if we give up and send our depleting resources abroad by sending students abroad? Will the local universities get better? Nigeria is just a country where the worst decisions are taken and we destroy our own future daily.

I believe the nation is better off with millions of youth with average intellect than with millions with no education at all, and a few over-trained superstars. All over Nigeria, the number and percentage of little out-of-school children is increasing.

5. Closely related to the above point is the status thing. The administrators of our scholarship schemes have the mindset that foreign universities confer a higher status, and since many of those who benefit from such schemes are related to them, they send these young folks abroad to acquire this education. Many Nigerians don’t usually take scholarships to local universities serious. It is when it is to foreign universities that their eyes light up. Yet we can ill-afford these at this time.

6. In a country where more than 30 million children are roaming around without basic education, some states (especially the educationally disadvantaged ones), use their little resources to sponsor a handful of highly-privileged or lucky beneficiaries to acquire foreign bachelors, masters and even doctoral degrees! This is mind-boggling. Why not limit your scholarships to BScs and then focus greatly on basic education? How can you sleep well in the awareness that children between the ages of 4 and 13 years are roaming the streets, while you are proud and think that you have done well by having 10 people in Harvard? Even those students in Harvard should sometimes feel ashamed that they are usurping the future of these millions of little children. I’m not sure the investment is worth it, even if the few select students are exceptionally brilliant. I believe the nation is better off with millions of youth with average intellect than with millions with no education at all, and a few over-trained superstars. All over Nigeria, the number and percentage of little out-of-school children is increasing. We have one of the highest numbers in the world. In my view, the millions of vulnerable children are the ones deserving of scholarships. This problem feeds into Nigeria’s current craze for degrees, when what we actually need is basic education and vocational skills.

7. My key concern for writing this hinges on the fact that if we say scholarships are an investment in the nation’s human capital, we are treating the investment shoddily. We are not asking for returns. Many people get scholarships in Nigeria and remain abroad. In fact, most people do. We all then turn around and accuse the country of not doing well when we are part and parcel of its dysfunction. Many say they cannot come back and help the country because the country has no infrastructure, or no sophisticated facilities. Yet they went abroad on this country’s dime! It is absolutely insane for a country like Nigeria to sponsor people to expensive programmes abroad and not benchmark them on how they will put back the skills acquired into the country. And I am not talking about sponsoring people up to PhD level only for them to come back into the civil service as directors, oppressing the people they left behind and morphing into the corrupt system. That is a further plundering of the country! If we sponsor people to get skills – real skills that are relevant to our state of development and future needs – they MUST by all means be made to bring back value. There is nothing wrong in making them sign bonds, except we believe that the money we would be spending on them is as useless as confetti. Nigeria is an amazing place. The world watches and wonders, but not for much longer.

8. The fact is that as things stand, we just don’t have the money. Many Nigerian students are stranded abroad today because politicians were just spending money without thinking. Many times, it’s all about looking good to voters. It is totally incomprehensible. A clip was circulating online at some point about how Nigerian students were stranded in the US in the 1980s. Such experiences don’t teach us to slow down. At best, Nigerian scholarship schemes flow with the crude oil cycle. When crude oil sells high, we sponsor people like drunken sailors, and when it crashes, we leave the students abroad in the cold. Just last month, some Nigerian students complained of being neglected in some cold foreign countries. Nigeria is a country going through recession presently. Many states that cannot pay civil servant salaries are today still sponsoring students abroad; students who will graduate and remain abroad, or sometimes come back home and find a job in the private sector, or even become entrepreneurs. Where is the link? What is the point? Only Nigerian government invests without seeking returns, and pumps in money it doesn’t have into projects. As a matter of fact, some of the monies Nigeria intends to borrow will be thrown away in this same manner on ‘scholarships’, with no expected feedback.

Governor Kwankwanso gave a lot of scholarships in his time, because he enjoyed the crude oil boom. But he didn’t have plans for the scholars when they returned to Nigeria. Some who were trained as pilots with hard-earned dollars at expensive foreign schools are now teaching in primary schools.

I admit that I may be extra pained by this wasteful ‘scholarship’ squandermania, because I’ve never benefited, perhaps since I’m not ‘brilliant’ or connected enough. But one would expect scholarships to be run reasonably, since it’s all about intellectualism. Apparently, it is not. I understand that many connected Nigerians win these scholarships and pass them on for a profit to other beneficiaries. When government officials go abroad for inspection, nobody shows up. And these ‘inspections’ have now become avenues for amassing estacodes. The states are worse. Governor Kwankwanso gave a lot of scholarships in his time, because he enjoyed the crude oil boom. But he didn’t have plans for the scholars when they returned to Nigeria. Some who were trained as pilots with hard-earned dollars at expensive foreign schools are now teaching in primary schools. Others are roaming around. Surely, money could be better spent, dear Nigerians.

The fault is not only for governments. We the people have our share. I recall sitting next to one lady on a flight out of Nigeria. She is from Kogi State but has been enjoying scholarships from Niger State. She was sponsored through her BSc and was by then on her Masters degree programme, all on the dime of Niger State. All that may be okay, but when I asked whether she intends to come back and work for Niger State when done, she looked at me like I was insane. She vowed never to return to Nigeria when through with her Masters. I mean which country allows this kind of thing? Yet these are the type of Nigerians who will tell us wonderful stories about how foreign countries are great and how Nigeria is nonsense.

Another video is trending currently on WhatsApp. It’s about a professor being interviewed somewhere in the US. He goes on about how Nigeria is wack and how the US is the best in everything. When asked, he said he’s been in the US for 36 years. He went there on a Nigerian scholarship. The Nigerian system is so wasteful and unreasonable, even our own hypocrisy no longer reeks to us. Hypocrisy is a Nigerian.

In the meantime, if I am asked – and I know they won’t ask me – I will recommend a gradual and rapid winding down of most of Nigeria’s so-called scholarship schemes. They are now worse than scams. No nation should throw away money the way we do here.

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.

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