NDDC POSTGRADUATE SCHOLARS STRANDED OVERSEAS

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Sometime in June 2019, the Niger Delta Development Commission called for applications from qualified indigenes of the Niger Delta region to apply for the Commission’s foreign post-graduate scholarship. In July 2019, applicants wrote tests, interviews and on 29thJuly 2019, about 210 successful applicants were presented letters of award. For clarity, the scholarship is to the tune of a take-off grant of ₦500,000.00 (for visa processing and flight costs) andUS$30,000.00 (for tuition and maintenance cost). Sir/Ma, the take-off grant that ought to have been paid immediately after the award in July 2019 to aid the processing of visa to respective countries was not paid until 19th April 2020. This delay in paying this sum resulted in some scholars not being able to raise the required funds and thus, could not leave Nigeria.

We are also aware that some scholars from 2018 have not been paid by the Commission. The plight of these scholars has not been addressed by the Commission. The tuition fee and maintenance cost of US$30,000.00 ought to have been paid immediately on resumption and arrival of students in respective countries of study. For clarity, scholars resumed in September 2019 while others resumed in January 2020. Till date, no one has received the payments. Not only are the universities tired of writing to the Commission without any form of acknowledgment, the universities have now locked out majority of students from their online portal, meaning students who resumed in September 2019 can no longer continue to work on their dissertation for Masters Students; students who resumed in January cannot register for their next semester courses and PhD students can no longer access university services for their research. In addition to this, universities have now transferred the tuition debt to scholars and have given scholars tight deadlines to make payments, otherwise they would be reported to the respective immigration offices for eventual deportation. This is nine months of the lives of some of the brightest Nigerian students about to be thrown in the refuse bin of history.

We are convinced that the National Association of Nigerian Students will not allow this to happen. While we had survived with working as bar attendants, warehouse assistants and even care workers during these nine months of being sent overseas without an upkeep, this assistive source of income has been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic, scholars are unable to meet up with their basic obligations like rent and feeding and are living on the constant threat of ejection by their landlords in different parts of the world. What is more, the universities have started to inform us that they are beginning to consider not recognizing the NDDC Scholarship as a bankable scholarship as this seems to be a norm even for previous beneficiaries of the scholarship. The implication of this is that students who rely on the scholarship may

· automatically be rejected during Visa applications and the Nigerian name and reputation further debased across the world. We hope that your office will intervene in this issue whilst urging the leadership of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Honourable Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the Central Bank of Nigeria to immediately release these funds to our respective institutions as well as our bank accounts. We have lived for nine months or five months without any support from the institution that sent us overseas. This action, if not addressed will lead to a further increase in the terrible brain-drain that the country is witnessing. We solicit your help to please Save Our Souls. We are in dire need of help. Whilst thanking you your for your kind consideration of this matter, please be assured of our kindest regards and esteemed considerations. Signed: For and on behalf of 2019 NDDC Scholars,

C. A. Ukwuegbu, Yale School of Management, USA; A.O Olugbemi, University of Aberdeen, UK