Aderemi Paul*, 23, was at his lowest ebb when he got a Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) local scholarship for undergraduates two years ago. The then 200 level student of computer science, University of Ilorin, was on the verge of leaving school because he could no longer afford the tuition. He was sleeping in classrooms and could barely boast of three square meals a day.
Paul started paying his way through school after he lost his father in his final year in secondary school. When he gained admission, his aged mother, a smallholder farmer, was not financially buoyant to sponsor his tertiary education.
He relocated to Abuja, a year after secondary school and became a housekeeper. Paul earned N8000 per month while juggling other menial jobs until he got admission into university in the 2017/2018 academic year.
“My first year was not very rough. I had about enough to last me the year,” Paul told HumAngle.
In October 2018, the second year, he applied for the PTDF scholarship. A long silence followed until Wednesday afternoon of June, 12, 2019, when he got an email which said he had been offered the local scholarship to pursue his undergraduate degree.
This rekindled Paul’s hope of becoming a cybersecurity expert. “It was a dream come true. The award is one of the biggest in the country and used to be very coveted. I really needed the money as I almost dropped out because of accommodation and tuition. So, getting it was like a prayer answered,” he said.
But two years after the email, Paul, who is from Delta State, South-south Nigeria, finished his 300 level exams last month and is yet to receive any money in form of scholarship allowance or even an award letter.
Usually, a beneficiary gets N400,000 annually with an added laptop allowance of N200,000 when he is paid for the first year.
“Since 2019 till date, we are yet to get a kobo. It’s disturbing because we don’t know our fate and cannot take up another scholarship. This is the third year and some students will soon be done with their studies,” Paul said.
Paul is one of the over 700 undergraduates awarded scholarships by the PTDF. The federal government, through the PTDF, provides scholarships for students undertaking studies in oil and gas related fields. This covers tuition, feeding, accommodation, and other needs. But over the years, awardees have continued to bemoan the recurring delay.
The delay in conducting a documentation exercise for the past two years has had a ripple effect on the mental health of awardees which, inadvertently, could affect their academic performance.
The exercise is an integral part of the local scholarship award process to verify the credentials of awardees before giving them an award letter.
In a series of emails sent to the awardees and seen by HumAngle, the Fund blamed the closure of schools by the Nigerian government to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on the delay.
It says its officials will travel to individual institutions of the awardees to conduct the exercise once schools resume physical activities.
Jide Ojo, a Public Affairs analyst, said it’s ‘uncharitable’ of the Fund to continue using the closure of schools as excuse for the delay as most tertiary institutions in the country resumed physical activities in Jan. 2021.
HumAngle reached out to PTDF for an official comment but the body is yet to respond to text messages and emails as at the time this report was filed.
The students had written and visited its headquarters located in Abuja to express concerns over the delay but were urged to bear with the Fund as it was working on the award letters. The last of these visits was on April 27, 2021.
So far, Paul’s grades dropped from 4.3 to 4.01 at the end of his second year and the university is yet to release results for the just concluded academic year. Any drop below the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.5 on a scale of 5.0 means he would cease to benefit from the scholarship.
“I started using a friend’s laptop to work, learning programming because it is necessary in my department, and then I continued writing for people to sustain myself. But it’s exhausting, having to constantly move from one place to another to sleep for the night. This affected my studies,” Paul said.
It is an almost similar tale for Muhammad Ali*, a 300 level student of Engineering, Bayero University, Kano. Ali was filled with excitement when he got the scholarship. For him, “It was a blessing from Allah to win one of the most prestigious local undergraduates scholarships in the country.”
Two years down the lane, constant pressure from his landlord over his unpaid rent often reminds him of the pending scholarship as his parents had shelved his accommodation needs.
“I personally wasn’t facing much difficulties before I got the scholarship. But I was later sidelined at home due to the fact that they thought I won a prestigious scholarship and I shouldn’t have much financial problems,” Ali said.
The lack of money or time can lead one to make poorer decisions, possibly because poverty imposes a cognitive load that saps attention and reduces effort, a study led by Harvard, Princeton, and Warwick University researchers, on how financial hardship may directly influence a person’s cognitive ability, posits.
So, like Paul, Ali’s CGPA slipped from 4.94 to 4.86.
An unending culture of delay
The culture of delay that characterises scholarships awarded by the Nigerian government extends to foreign scholarships.
The Nigerian government through the Federal Scholarship Board offers three categories of scholarship – Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA), Commonwealth Scholarship, and the Nigeria Award Scholarship for Nigerians in public tertiary institutions across the country.
The BEA Scholarship is awarded to both undergraduates and postgraduates to study overseas. For this, the host countries pay the tuition fee while Nigeria covers their accommodation, feeding and other allowances.
According to a Daily Trust report, a BEA scholarship offers supplementation allowance of $500 per month for upkeep and books, postgraduate research grant of $1,000 per annum and warm clothing allowance of $250 per annum.
Others include a take-off grant of N100,000 and one-way ticket to the country of study. But in most cases recipients rarely get all allowances.
On June 10, Nigerian students sent to Romania under its bilateral agreement decried the failure of the federal government to settle their allowances since leaving the country.
It is a similar trend for scholarships offered by government agencies. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), like the PTDF, awards scholarships to nine NDDC states per year. The award provides a sum of $30,000 to cover tuition, living stipends, and other requisite expenses spent on books, research journal subscriptions, and other needs.
Late 2020, holding “Pay 2018 NDDC 94 scholars” placards, 2018 scholarship students of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) flooded the Nigeria High Commission in London to protest the refusal of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) to pay their tuition and other allowances.
Ojo said shrinking revenue and allocations to MDAs is responsible for the recurring inability of agencies to meet the financial obligations of its scholarship scheme.
He added that the scholarships are also arbitrarily padded with students who do not fit its criteria because “they know somebody in the system, and can take advantage of that.” This means the agency “will have to overstretch itself to accommodate more students with limited resources.”
*Name changed to protect identity
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