There is no doubt that all is not well with recipients of the Rivers State Overseas Scholarship scheme. The beneficiaries are not just going through hard times and trying to make ends meet; they are finding it difficult to survive in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.
With several months of unpaid allowances, rents and tuitions, some of the students, whose parents could not foot the bills, have since returned home without completing their studies.
While some stayed back because their parents could pay their tuition and other expenses, others have taken up menial jobs to survive.
According to one of the recipients who is studying at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, the past 16 months have been hectic, as he had to clean students’ hostels in order to earn some money to feed himself.
The student, who simply gave his name as Julius for fear of victimisation, added that combining menial job with his studies had drastically affected his health.
Julius, who said he was in the first class grade before the state government stopped the scholarship initiative, noted that he stopped doing the menial job when it became obvious that it was affecting his health.
“Personally, I had to stop working because combining work with my studies affected my mental health. I suffered depression and my studies suffered greatly.
“I was a first class student, but because of the struggle to feed; having to work and go to school, my performance dropped to second class lower. I had to stop working because of my health and since then, my result has improved. I am now a second class upper student.
“I was cleaning the students’ hostels. The money was only for feeding and not for rent and tuition. What I was paid then was not enough to take care of such needs,” Julius, currently working as an ambassador for the university, told our correspondent on Sunday.
The young man, whose ambassadorial job entails persuading other Nigerian students to register with the university, also revealed that a Good Samaritan had been paying his rent.
Noting that the state government last paid their allowances in December 2014, he lamented that some of his colleagues had returned home.
Another beneficiary of the scheme at the University of Szeged in Hungary said, on the condition of anonymity, that since the state government’s withdrawal of the gesture, life had been difficult for her.
On her survival strategy, she said her parents had been taking care of her tuition and other allowances at a high cost.
“In Hungary, we are not allowed to work and since they (Rivers State Government) have not paid anybody for some time now, my parents are doing everything for me. But the truth is that it has been difficult. We are 17 in number from my state that came into the university in Hungary,” the student, who is in her third year, said.
The student, who appealed to the state government to review its decision and offset their bills, noted that more students would soon return home due to their inability to pay their tuition and rents.
She said, “We are aware that the economy is bad back home, but we are appealing to the governor to try his best to take care of our needs. Many of us are suffering here. Some of us, who have gone past second year, do not want to return home. If we return home without getting our certificates, it means the efforts made so far would amount to a waste.”
Zinah Barile, who studies at the University of Huddersfield, the UK, told our correspondent in a telephone interview that many of them on the scholarship list in the UK, had taken to babysitting and other menial jobs in order to feed and clothe themselves.
Barile said, “It has been very terrible for me and my friends. Academically and financially, we have had severe setbacks over the past few months. Tuition is unpaid and we have not received funds for accommodation for the past 16 months. Some universities have suspended their students. Some of us who would have been in final year in June are already in Nigeria.
“The suspension of the scheme is heartbreaking. There is news circulating that it is only children and relatives of politicians that are enjoying the scholarship. That is a lie. I am one of the beneficiaries that was selected on merit.
“Our parents now have to face the task of sending us money, despite the falling rate of naira. I will advise the state government to have a re-think and allow those of us already enjoying the offer to complete the programne.”
Apart from interviews with our correspondent, an online post on Facebook by three Rivers students at the University of Szeged, Hungary, named Osaki, Precious and Cynthia, also painted a pitiable picture of the challenges they were facing.
They said, “We are currently third year medical students at the University of Szeged, Hungary, and we need your assistance. In 2011, the Rivers State Government offered us scholarships after going through a series of screening. We got admitted to the university in 2013.
“Until about a year ago, things were going well for us and life at the university was great. Then we stopped getting funds from our sponsor. The state government has literally abandoned us to fend for ourselves in a foreign country. Because we did not pay our tuition in the first semester of our third year, the school has terminated our status as students. Right now, we are on the verge of going back to Nigeria without completing our studies (four years, including this present year).
“We have exhausted all available options. This is our last resort to raise money to finish our programme. We have come so far not to give up now. We believe that with your help, we can achieve our dreams.”
Even as the students cry out for help, the state government does not seem to be in a hurry to rescind its decision. Governor Nyesom Wike, for the umpteenth time, had described the scholarship scheme as a fraud. Last December, the governor said that the scheme was a conduit to swindle the state.
According to Wike, the past administration sidelined the state scholarship board and appropriated its powers to award scholarships through the state Sustainable Development Agency, which engaged the services of consultants to source beneficiaries of the scheme.
“From the report I have, it is a scam. Why carry out the scheme through consultants when you have the scholarship board? From the report I have, if N2bn were to be the fees, N900m was paid to the consultants. This is a scam. Any money for scholarship must pass through the scholarship board.
“Why did you establish a scholarship board only to hand over the selection exercise to consultants? It is not acceptable. There is no how I can continue with that. That is not a good policy. So, anything that has to do with scholarship will go to the scholarship board,” the governor said.
Despite taking this position, our correspondent learnt that the governor had released some funds to cater to the needs of some of the students, especially those in final year.
Meanwhile, attempts to get the response of the State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kainye Ebeku, on the matter failed, as a man, who identified himself as his personal assistant answered the call and advised that a text message be forwarded to his phone.
But the commissioner did not respond to the message sent to him by our correspondent as of 6pm on Monday.