Nigerians studying in various countries under the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA), have said they are finding it increasingly difficult to survive due to unpaid allowances.
The BEA scheme is a joint programme run by the Nigerian government (through the Federal Ministry of Education) in collaboration with governments of other countries, such as Russia, China, Cuba, Morocco, Algeria, Ukraine, etc.
Under the scheme, outstanding students from all parts of the federation are nominated by the Nigerian government to the foreign governments.
The receiving-country places the scholars in universities and pays their tuition, while the Nigerian government pays the students’ visas, flight and a monthly allowance of US $500.
Under the BEA scholarship program, the Nigeria government, through the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB), is saddled with the responsibility of paying scholars a monthly stipend of $500 per month ($6000 per annum), warm clothing allowance of $250 per annum and medical allowance of $200 per annum.
In an exclusive chat with Persecond News News, some students who spoke under anonymity disclosed that students in nine countries; Russia, Algeria, Ukraine, Morocco, China, Egypt, Turkey, Serbia and Cuba, are presently being owed 21 months arrears.
According to them, for many years, the stipend which is supposed to be paid on monthly basis always comes in bits after several months of waiting, mainly after interventions from senior citizens who visit these countries.
“We are entitled to $500 monthly allowance, $200 yearly medical allowance, $250 warm clothing, an additional $500 yearly research grant for medical and Masters students and $1000 yearly research grant for Ph.D students. Concisely, $7450, $6950 and $6450 are due to be paid to the students in the respective categories per annum.
“In 2015, we were owed $1300; $50 from October, $1000 for November and December 2015, and lastly $250 warm clothing allowance for 2015. The FSB promised that we would be paid in full before the end of 2015. However, these stipends for 2015 were paid to us at the end of 2017.
“Likewise, in 2016, while still owing $1300 from the 2015 stipends, the FSB further underpaid us by $2706; Ph.D students, $2528 Medical and Masters students and $2350 other students. At the end of 2016, we were owed $4006; Ph.D Students, $3828; Medical and Masters students, and $3650; other students from 2015 and 2016 accrued allowances.
“In December 2017, while still owing the scholars stipends from 2015 and 2016, a sum of $3694 for six months and half; January to June and a part of July 2017, were Paid in December, together with $1300 owed stipends from 2015 were paid to the students for the year. Leaving an outstanding of $2756, owed to every student from the 2017 stipends, thereby clearing the stipends owed to the students from 2015.
“This is the last month of 2018 , and Nigerian students on BEA scholarship haven’t received a dime for the entire year. Till date we are still being owed $6450 from 2018, $2756 from 2017 and $1400 from 2016, giving a total of $10606,” they explained.
The students further stated that they have written several memos to various government parastatals, including the Senate President of Nigeria, Sen. Bukola Saraki, but are yet to receive a response.
In one of these memos made available to Persecond, the scholars expressed disappointment at the inhumane way they are being treated.It read in part: “Saying the FSB has underperformed over the years is quite an understatement. The scholarship that young students dream of and are always very joyful and grateful to receive, has become a nightmare. Students have been left to languish in tears and unbearable sufferings due to the ineptitude of the government.
“We have spent the whole length of 2018 without pay. The students are in debt, out of their classrooms and on the streets doing things that any parent would frown upon, all in the name of survival.
“We the scholars have to always resort to intervention from senior government citizens, media organizations, NGO’s and social media outlets before we get the attention of the body required to take care of us during our stay abroad. There is nothing that has not been done to try to solve this problem, but it still persists and the scholars are still suffering.
“Even worse, the scholars from the 2017/2018 promotion who have spent already a full year here in these foreign countries, and have finished all their money, are not included in the mandate of payment.
“The FSB’s actions show that they do not have our best interest at heart, even though they claim otherwise. If not; why do we always have to seek intervention to remind them before we are heard? Why do they seem not to care about our welfare? How long do we have to live like this? And for how long do we have to hold on? We are not exaggerating when we say the treatment we have received from the government these past three years has been nothing far from inhumane and brutal.”
“Students cannot fend for themselves, as the policy in China, like many other similar countries, prohibits any form of paid work by foreign students, especially those on scholarship,” the students wrote in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari narrating their plight.
The students said they were constrained to write the letter, having explored all available formal means of resolving the quagmire to no avail.
In 2016, it also emerged that over 300 Nigerian youths sponsored by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to study at Constanta Maritime University in Romania were facing threat of expulsion from the institution over their sponsor’s alleged failure/refusal to pay their school fees and sundry allowances.
The story of Nigeria’s federal scholarship scheme seems to have gloomed.
Reacting to the allegations, the Director, Federal Scholarship Board, Alhaja Asta Ndajiwo, denied that the scholars are being owed 21 months arrears.
She however said efforts were being put in place to pay the students their outstanding arrears.
She said: “As I speak to you right now, the process is ongoing to pay them all their allowances. We are not aware they are being owed 21 months.
“Saying we haven’t paid them for 2018 is not true. All their money was sent to central bank; January to March, for all the BEA countries. The only country that hasn’t gotten their money up till today is Russia, and they reported that it was due to an error in account number in Russia. Asides this country, all other countries don’t have this issue. January to March has been paid, April to December is being computed now. All their areas are also being computed and will be paid into their bank accounts.”