- 50 students stayed put in Nigeria
- Students given ‘gold’ classification, treated like kings
- Coventry University is starting point, payments to begin soon after
By Codratus Godson
The embattled Niger Delta Development Commission’s (NDDC) has waxed on with its avowed verification exercise targeting the foreign scholarship scheme which is suspected to be racket-infested.
The early peep has shown that 50 scholars did not care to go to the UK, yet the Commission is under pressure to pay the about $30,000 allowance. Now, the verification has got underway in the UK starting with a meeting in London and a visit to Coventry University.
It was gathered that three officials left Nigeria last week after months of obstacles put on the way as many interested persons were said to be eager to scuttle the verification exercise.
Eyebrows were raised when the NDDC said they released $5.9m but still harvested crisis of non-payment whereas the commission paid a mere $900,000 some years back to sort out the entire year’s bill. The bill later rose to $3m and now almost $9m. This prompted them to want to verify the scheme, but pressure and threats took over, the officials said.
It was gathered that at last, a team led by the irrepressible Executive Director (Projects), Cairo Ojougboh, including an Assistant Director in Education, Health and Social Services, Idara Akpabio; and the Managing Director of Marg Education International Limited, the Commission’s consultants, Godson Ideozu, zoomed off to London.
The team first invited all available scholars and claimants to the London office of Clearpoint Communications, the NDDC’s communications consulting firm, where a head count first took place and steps of the verifications made clear. This was after persons had daily protested at the Nigerian House in London, saying they were neglected and made destitute. All they wanted to hear was the sound of bank alerts for peace to reign.
The NDDC interim management committee led by the professor of virology, Daniel Pondei, and fired by the likes of Ojougboh, stuck to their guns, insisting on verification, suspecting that huge racket was going on.
Early check, it was gathered, indicated that at least 50 awardees from the last batch, 2019 alone, did not even bother to leave Nigeria, but may be staying back in Nigeria waiting for alert in foreign currency to do other things with their collaborators. That alone could account for over $1.5m.
Now, after the physical count at one place, the team has begun school by school visits to meet with each university’s authorities. The first so far is said to be Coventry University.
There, Dr Ojougboh said that the visit was necessary to verify the number of scholars, examine their performance and check on their wellbeing, especially in the light of the Corona Virus, Covid-19 pandemic.
He explained that the NDDC needed to verify the scholarship awards because of discrepancies in the number of students and the fact that some of those awarded the scholarships in 2019 did not leave Nigeria for studies in the UK. Ojoughoh, assured that the Commission would pay all outstanding fees and claims once the verification exercise was concluded.
He said he was impressed by the way the university had treated the NDDC scholars and their swift response in providing a list of the Commission’s scholarship beneficiaries at the institution for the verification process. He advised that in order to track progress in the future, there should be a more comprehensive reporting structure.
The Coventry University Regional Manager Africa, Amit Bhatnagar, confirmed that many NDDC scholars had passed through the institution over the years and that a good number of them were still with them.
According to him, “The NDDC scholars are regarded as ‘VIP’ (Gold tagged) scholars.” He stated that the students were usually given all necessary assistance on their arrival at the institution.
Speaking at a meeting with representatives of the university at the Coventry campus, the NDDC Acting Executive Director Projects, Dr Cairo