By Teingo Inko-Tariah
It is not news that Nigerian citizens have long benefited from Government sponsored overseas scholarship schemes for several decades. What is new is the number of beneficiaries of this once laudable project. I belong to the school of thought that thinks this project has not only lost its bearing but has become a huge drain on the resources of the country. How the commonwealth of the nation will be appropriated in the manner it has been done recently calls for serious concern from any well-meaning stakeholder and patriotic citizen of this nation. Today, various Government sponsored overseas scholarship schemes exist, some of which are the Amnesty pilot training scheme in Germany, Petroleum Development Trust Fund scholarship, Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) scholarship, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) scholarship etc.
The first question to ask is the question of purpose. Decades ago, the educational system was in good stead to compete favourably with that of many other countries globally. Yet, it was still deemed fit that a few deserving persons be sent abroad to study and undertake exchange programs for exposure and capacity building. Citizens of other countries were also enrolled in Nigerian universities in considerable numbers to study and carry out exchange programs. The few deserving Nigerians who went abroad to study mostly came back to make meaningful impact on the development of the country. At the time, meritocracy still had a place in the system. Thus it can be implied that the purpose of sending people abroad was for a good cause to enable Nigerians gain some external exposure and build capacity especially in areas where Nigerian universities could not provide the courses or relevant training.
Today, things seem to have flipped over. Many more people are jostling to study abroad because the educational system is in a disgracefully dismal state. Funding is poor, strikes are incessant, some lecturers are grossly undisciplined and incompetent, libraries are full of outdated materials, technology is far from universities that ought to be at the forefront of research, and the list goes on. These are issues that can actually be addressed by any serious minded government that appreciates the critical role of education in the life of a nation. Unfortunately, rather than deal with these issues, Government at all levels in Nigeria has resorted to setting up multiple schemes aimed at sponsoring citizens to study abroad. It is really disheartening to see the amount of money spent on a yearly basis on this and one is really entitled to ask: can these funds not be invested to improve the educational system in Nigeria? Why have successive governments failed in this task?
As a resident of Rivers State, I am more familiar with the RSSDA scheme and I would like to use that as a parameter for the analysis of my conclusion about the need for an urgent overhaul of overseas scholarship scheme. Recently, Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had to bail out stranded overseas students under the RSSDA overseas scholarship scheme with a total of N712 Million Naira barely two months after assumption of office. From the RSSDA 2013 annual report, a total sum of N23.7 billion naira has been spent on overseas scholarship scheme between 2008 & 2013, a period of 6 years. This is RSSDA alone. While the Government was busy with this project, state-owned Universities suffered neglect leading to strikes by lecturers of the institutions. More worrisome is the fact that most of the beneficiaries of the RSSDA scholarship scheme are not children from poor backgrounds. In fact, it was shocking to find that contrary to the policy of the agency, children of staff of RSSDA are also beneficiaries of the scheme. This shows the level of decadence and abuse the whole overseas scholarship scheme has been subjected to. The question is how many of those who benefitted from the scheme are back in the country? What have they contributed so far if they have successfully completed their programs and returned? A list of students sponsored by RSSDA between 2008 & 2013 is shown below.
*Page 13 RSSDA 2013 Annual report.
Scholarship schemes are not meant for a large number of people. Scholarships are given in other countries but with judicious discretion and serious scrutiny. It is usually targeted at a certain category for a certain purpose, for e.g. to promote research in a specific area, to help indigent citizens who are unable to fund their education etc. This whole scale approach to overseas scholarship scheme which Government at various levels have adopted is not only dangerous for the future of the educational system in the country but also portends danger for the development of the country. Considering the fact that it is public funds that are applied towards this overseas scholarship scheme, the time to have a review and overhaul the system is now. Meritocracy, accountability and circumspection need to be infused into the entire process if it must be retained.
About Teingo Inko-Tariah:
She is a lawyer, blogger and editor. She is a Partner at Accord Legal, a law firm based in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria. She is passionate about advocacy generally and consumer protection in particular. She blogs to highlight and discuss topical issues relating to business and investments and follow up on trends in the Nigerian corporate and commercial landscape. Outside of legal practice, Teingo is involved in volunteering, table and lawn tennis. She also enjoys watching soccer. Teingo can be reached onTwitter via @iamtennygee, Linkedin and Google+.
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