Despite assurances, FG owes two year scholarship arrears

Federal Ministry of Education headquarters in Abuja

The Federal Government of Nigeria is still owing beneficiaries of part of its various scholarship schemes in the Ministry of Education two years of scholarship arrears.

This is despite various assurances that it was clearing the backlogs of scholarship funds owed to beneficiaries months back. The development did not stop it from accepting new applications in 2019.

Run under the Federal Scholarship Board (FSB), the government annually admits new beneficiaries into the scholarship schemes despite this backlog of unpaid scholarship funds.

Records got from the Ministry show that there are currently 8,955 beneficiaries of scholarship programmes in various higher educational institutions within and outside Nigeria.

3,932 of them were FSB beneficiaries enrolled between 2015 and 2017. Another  3,700 FSB scholars were added in 2018. Also, there are 827 “old” scholars under the Bilateral Education Arrangement (BEA) Nigeria entered with twelve other countries aside the new 272 added in 2018. The Board also owes 224  scholars under the Presidential Special Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID). 

Following a report on the unpaid funds last December, the government later in January announced that it had started paying the monies especially to students under the Bilateral Education Arrangement (BEA) with the release of about N9 billion.

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FSB Director, Ms Asta Ndajiwo said back then that details of the scholars had been forwarded to the Central Bank of Nigeria for payment just as verification was being concluded for those in Nigeria too.

Over the subsequent months, followed-up with beneficiaries of these scholarship schemes and discovered that those schooling in Nigerian universities have never been paid their arrears unlike their counterparts abroad.

A letter one FSB scholar shared with our correspondent showed that students in the universities were meant to be paid at least, N150 thousand annually.

Aside that initial payment in 2017, the scholars have not been paid ever since. That 2017 payment started around August and ended in December 2017 depending on the students’ various schools.

In the 2018 budget, the ministry had allocated some N274 million to the verification of beneficiaries in Nigerian tertiary institutions and that would later be implemented around February 2019. The amount owed for the year was about N73 million.

In the 2019 budget, the sum of 6.8 billion naira was proposed as the total proposed spending on various scholarship schemes.

But with the non-payment, beneficiaries continue to grapple with various challenges while expectations are high that money would be paid “soon”.

“I was awarded two years scholarship during the fourth year of my five year course in the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 sessions,” one scholar who schools at a university in South Western Nigeria said.

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“I’ve only been paid once. I graduated a year ago and have even passed out from the NYSC scheme.

“Presently interning with a company, I borrowed a lot of money after verification of our documents in February this year to process my M.SC applications.

“I applied for M.SC programmes and four Universities offered me admissions. I need the money to pay my sch fees and pay off my other debts.”

Another scholar based in Owerri, Imo State noted that, “We were told the payment will commence immediately after the verification. The verification lasted a week.”

This was corroborated by a beneficiary who schools in Lagos State University.

“We submitted some required documents and an officer in charge verified the documents/information given and we were subsequently cleared. After then, we all went home expecting alert.”

The ministry’s spokesperson, Mr Ben Goong had in March told that the ministry was still conducting some documentation, which was delaying payments. He said that once that process, which he described as “gradual” was completed, the arrears would be paid.

However, attempts to get the latest situation of things were futile as he did not respond to enquiries on that.

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A Freedom of Information request sent on the subject is also yet to be replied by the ministry.

When this reporter posed as a beneficiary of the scholarship in May, an official within the FSB in a phone conversation assured us that the verification was not delaying the payment anymore but the approval of the Permanent Secretary of the education ministry, Sonny Echono was.

Another would later give counter information that Mr Echono had already granted approval but the delay was caused by some audit taking place. 

“It had been approved (by the Permanent Secretary) now. Audit would take over. They have to cross-check on what you have submitted to them. Immediately they finish audit, they would start payment.” the official claimed.

In other instances, the FSB officials would simply promise that the money would be paid “soon”.

This sort of responses continuously increases anxiety and hopes of beneficiaries each time officials answer the phone for follow-up on the arrears.

Till the moment of filing this report, it is not clear how soon the government would eventually pay the arrears.

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