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By Efetobore Ruth-anaborhi

I was overjoyed to hear that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has directed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to resume the suspended scholarship programme. The NDDC scholarship scheme is an integral part of the Commission’s core mandate to equip Niger Deltan youths with relevant training and skills for effective participation in developing the oil and gas industry domiciled in the region as well as compete globally in various professional fields.

The scholarship offers great assistance to Niger Deltan undergraduates who can not afford to pay for their education as such reviving the programme is a thoughtful decision that show this government is responsive to fundamental yearnings of youths in the region. As an NNPC/SPDC scholar, I quite understand the impact the scholarship will have on young people in the region seeking educational aid within the country or abroad. Back in the day, we lived for such wonderful opportunities although it was highly competitive.

Unfortunately, the Commission became notorious for poor handling of its scholars among all national scholarship boards. There were reports of delayed tuitions which caused setback to students and outright abandonment of its scholars in the middle of their academic pursuit. The stories we heard of how these young men and women survived abroad were quite horrific. There is a report I read on Premium Times years back about the mental torture NDDC scholars were put through when the Commission allegedly abandoned them.

The affected beneficiaries, according to report, were Masters and PhD students of Niger Delta origin who won the scholarship awards in 2014 and 2015 to study courses considered to be of developmental benefit to the region in Engineering, Law, Environmental Sciences, Public Health, ICT among others. They alleged that their ordeal started when the then leadership of NDDC board assumed office in November 2016.

In a heart wrenching account, the affected scholars disclosed that they were entitled to 30,000 USD per annum for 3 years totalling 90,000 USD, for PhD students and 30,000 USD for just one year for Masters students, these monies were often enmeshed in unnecessary bureaucracy causing delays in their academic programme. Personally, I have a relative – a PhD student, who was frustrated into taking up menial jobs to support himself while waiting for NDDC to remit her tuition.

Hopefully, this time there will be measures put in place to mitigate corruption and make it sustainable. I understand that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, who insisted that the scholarship be revived, has directed that the scheme be home driven with a special focus on Nigerian universities. I think this is the way to go because deemphasizing travelling overseas has removed a key incentive for corruption in the scheme and made it less attractive to people who merely wished to use it as a platform to leave the country. Now, only those who genuinely desire support for their education will have the opportunity.

Without doubt, the review of NDDC scholarship to make it home-based presents another great benefit for Nigerian tertiary institutions as it will spur the Commission to invest more on developing infrastructure and sponsoring researches there. Come to think of it, funds meant for overseas studies could be channelled into setting up faculties and research centers in tertiary institutions within the country. This is a realizable goal that will bequeath a lasting legacy in the education sector.

Efetobore Ruth-anaborhi writes from Agbor, Delta State.

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