The suffering of stranded Nigerian students on overseas scholarship of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has continued 12 days after President Muhammadu Buhari directed the agency to pay the students’ outstanding dues immediately.
Although the NDDC Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Odili, had given assurances that the outstanding fees would be settled within a week of the president’s directive, The Nation gathered yesterday that the agency was yet to comply.
While Odili had said at the time that the non-settlement of the foreign scholarship fees arose mainly as a result of the death of the former Executive Director Finance and Administration, Ibanga Bassey Etang, investigation revealed that there may be more to the issue than Etang’s demise.
A source cited alleged astronomical rise in the scholarship sum from $1.9m in 2018 to over $7m in 2019.
The source said there are no records of new scholarship awards to justify the sharp rise.
On discovering the huge rise, the management suspected that the figure was padded, hence it decided to suspend payment until the identities of the ‘ghost’ names are unmasked through the various bank details attached to the names.
Sources also said it is not true that the death of the former Director of Finance was responsible for the inability of the NDDC to pay the scholarship beneficiaries.
“The IMC (Interim Management Committee) is worried that the number of scholarship students appears to increase with a new management, giving the impression that the students don’t ever graduate from the scheme,” one source said.
He added: “A situation where the figures rose from $1.9m in 2018 to over $7m in 2019 is indeed worrisome and scary, indicating the padding of the records with ghost names.
“The present management under the Interim Management Committee has not awarded any scholarships. As such, it is worrisome that the figures for the students are on the increase in spite of payments of about $1.9m and $3.4m paid by the two previous boards.
“An increase from $1.9m to $7m is almost 400%, and such bleeding of the commonwealth should not be allowed to continue under any guise.
“This is why despite the presidential directive to pay, and with available funds at the CBN, the IMC is yet constrained to endorse the continued rape of the region through such approval for payments that end up in private pockets.
“The IMC had, sequel to the presidential directive, gone to the CBN to make a payment of $5m to clear all outstanding entitlements of the students, only to discover that the figure had risen to a whopping $7 million.
“It is sad that the innocent students on scholarship have to endure hardship, occasioned by corruption in the system, but it is in the overall interest of the country that the scholarship scheme be sanitised to weed out ghost names from the payroll and pave way for a hitch-free payment of the verified students.”
Buhari on August 4 ordered the NDDC management to offset fees and stipends of its foreign scholarship beneficiaries.
This followed a protest by some of the scholarship beneficiaries at the Nigerian High Commission in London.
The students said they were exposed to hunger and embarrassment in their institutions by the non-payment of their dues.
Students blast NDDC IMC for failing to heed Buhari’s directive
Some of the affected students writing on the official Twitter handle of the NDDC Scholars 2019 lambasted the NDDC management for flouting the presidential directive on their plight.
“Do we have to pray for God to rain down his judgment on you guys before you do the needful? It is a pity you can’t obey the order of a whole President,” one of the scholars said.
The students however dismissed suggestions that the NDDC could not pay because the money was inflated and there was need to remove ghost names from the list.
The students, in an open letter, faulted the claims, saying the group failed to do due diligence on current and outstanding fees and allowances owed previous students under the scheme.
They said: “For clarity, the scholarship sum is $30,000, which covers tuition and maintenance fees. Generally, the number of scholars each year revolves around 200. There are also outstanding PHD students from previous years, 2016 to 2018.
“A simple arithmetic will show that the 2019 scholarship sum itself will amount to figures around $6 million and adding outstanding PhD scholars from previous years will definitely push the figures higher in a situation where all 2019 scholars had utilized their scholarship. We wonder where the Citizens Quest got their $1.9 million from.”
The students lamented that the process of vetting the list has been ongoing for almost one year, adding that besides the scholarship awards, each school verified the award letters from the NDDC before accepting the students.
“Each embassy and high commission also verifies the scholarship letters and details before granting study visas. On the resumption in schools, scholars were mandated by the NDDC to upload tuition invoices and their new foreign bank accounts, foreign house address, foreign telephone numbers on a portal managed by the NDDC. Our schools always contact the NDDC requesting for our funds.”
Reacting on the development, the Ijaw Forward Movement (IFM) wondered why the IMC appointed by the President would not comply with the President’s directive.
The National Coordinator, IFM, Alfred Kemepado, said in sane countries, disobedience of presidential order is the highest level of insubordination and attracts immediate punishment.
Kemepado said it was unbelievable that the IMC members were quiet despite their flagrant disregard to Buhari’s orders.
“The office of the President must be respected, especially by his appointees. We will be doomed if the country degenerates to the level where the words of Mr. President are no longer respected. I call on the IMC of NDDC to immediately carry out the order of the President,” he said.
Kemepado wondered why scholarship students sponsored by the NDDC, an agency created to develop the Niger Delta region, would be abandoned for over one year describing the condition of the students as embarrassing.