Several Nigerian students studying in the UK universities under the sponsorship of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) said they are still stranded abroad, despite the commission’s claim that it has remitted money for their tuition and stipend.
The NDDC said in August that it has released over $5.9 million (about N2.28 billion) to 197 students who are of the 2019 batch on its scholarship programme.
The commission said it had also begun the processes for the payment of school fees owed 94 scholarship beneficiaries for the 2018 batch.
But some of the students – the 2018 batch – have come out to say that the NDDC deliberately excluded them from the payment.
“The NDDC selectively handpicked those it paid without any defined criteria and is refusing to pay fees, grants, and upkeep of 2018 scholars for no justifiable reason whatsoever,” the students said in a statement they forwarded on Saturday to PREMIUM TIMES.
“This came as a rude shock to us because historically, the NDDC had always paid the fees and upkeep of scholars in the order in which they were incurred, that is, from the earliest to the latest,” the statement added.
The students said their exclusion may have been to punish them for protesting against the delay in the release of funds for the scholarship.
The students refused to disclose their names for fear of further ‘victimisation’.
They said there were at least 316 of them whose tuition fees and stipends were unpaid before the latest release of funds by NDDC, and, therefore, there are over 100 of them who were yet to receive funding for the scholarship.
“The full names, local and foreign addresses, local and foreign phone numbers, school email addresses, local and foreign bank accounts, admission letters, and data page of the international passport of all these over 316 scholars are all available on the NDDC scholarship portal accessible by the NDDC and its management.
“It is not true that NDDC has paid all its scholars because as of date, the NDDC has not made payments to any of the outstanding scholars from the 2018 scholarship cohort (amongst which are masters and PhD Scholars),” the statement said.
“The claim by the NDDC that the IMC intends to travel to the United Kingdom to verify the scholars is manifestly untrue and is another attempt at hoodwinking the scholars and the general public.
“We wish to state that the 2018 scholars have been twice verified by the NDDC: firstly, under the administration of Professor Brambaifa-led management and then under the Interim Management.”
The students appealed to the NDDC management to remit the money for their scholarship in order to save them from further hardship and humiliation.
The NDDC management said on Friday, without substantiating it, that the students were “hirelings masquerading as the Commission’s scholars”.
A statement by the NDDC spokesperson, Charles Odili said the students were part of “powerful individuals who are part of the systemic corruption uncovered” by the commission’s interim management.
“In 2018, the Commission paid a total of $900,000.00 (Nine hundred Thousand Dollars) only to cover the Commission’s obligations to its scholars.
“In 2019, the amount paid rose to a total of $3.5million (Three million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) only. Recently, the IMC paid out a total of $5.99m (Five Million, Nine Hundred and Ninety Thousand Dollars) to cover all the verified obligations to our scholars.
“Now, there is a demand for an additional payment of $3million (Three Million Dollars), bringing the total to an alarming $9million (Nine Million Dollars),” Mr Odili said in the statement.
He added, “Some of the important questions everyone must ask are: why is the amount paid to cover our obligations to this foreign scholarship programme rising astronomically? Where are all these demands coming from? What do they cover?”
PREMIUM TIMES interviewed five of the affected students via zoom on Friday. They expressed shock over NDDC’s action.
“We have tried everything, we have reached out to the NDDC and the Nigerian authorities, we have protested. We don’t know what else to do,” one of the students told PREMIUM TIMES during the interview.
“It is more painful that NDDC could come out to disown us,” another student said. “We are here in a foreign land and we have the door shut against us by our own people, the very people who sent us here to study.”
NDDC was set up in 2000 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo to fast-track development in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
The region, 20 years after, still remains backwards in terms of infrastructure and standard of living, despite the huge amount of money made from oil-exploitation in the area.
The commission, with several of its abandoned projects littered around the region, has been involved in corruption scandals which led to its recent probe by the National Assembly.