23 January 2005

Nigeria: Once More, the Borno Students


Lagos — Since we ran an editorial mid last year on the unpaid state scholarships for some 20 Borno students in universities in the United Kingdom, their plight has worsened considerably. From being threatened at that time with eviction from their programmes, they have now abandoned their courses altogether. Among the stranded students are seven doctoral candidates who were due to complete their programmes by September.

Since the Borno government has refused to speak up, it has been difficult to understand what the problem really is. The money in question is some £540,000 or roughly N135 million. For a state government, this is peanuts. It is thus baffling that the government has not considered it a worthwhile expenditure, if for no other thing, at least for the fact that it would be an investment in its human capital.

As we noted in our earlier editorial, it is hard to resist the thought that Governor Ali Modu Sheriff is indifferent to the plight of the students because the scholarships were made in 2002 under the administration of his political opponent, former Governor Mala Kachallah. While we are unable to ascribe such pettiness to the person of a governor of a state, there are nonetheless, serious implications to his seeming nonchalance.

The first is a grave violation of the concept of government as a continuum that must carry on with its inherited obligations. The scholarships don't have to terminate with the exit of the government that awarded them. The second is that Governor Sheriff himself is mutilating his mandate. Properly interpreted, his mandate is for the promotion of the welfare and happiness of all the people of Borno State, irrespective of their creed or partisan status, and regardless of whether they are saints or sinners. Whether Governor Sheriff was in power or not at the time, it was the state government that took the students abroad and it is, therefore, the duty of the same government, irrespective of who is in power, to ensure that they do not become destitutes in a foreign land.

Yet, these are persons that can easily be turned into priceless human assets, especially for a state like Borno with its educational inadequacies. Rather than this, they are being turned into a nuisance abroad. Some, in their desperate bid to complete their programmes, borrowed from banks and credit card companies in the now forlorn hope that their home government would remit the money with time. Now, they are being harassed by debt collectors, with the collateral risk of prosecution and conviction. Others are reportedly offering themselves up for deportation.

As it is, the Borno scholarship saga has moved from the scandalous to the ridiculous. It is disquieting to see a governor apparently unmoved by this level of suffering of his own people through what ought to be a well-meaning act of government.

But if Governor Sheriff must discount the suffering of others, he ought not to close his eyes to the opprobrious image he is drawing to Borno State in particular and the country in general. Things like these may look routine to us here at home but they raise fundamental disharmonies in the minds of outsiders. We doubt whether there is any other country, besides Nigeria, where a government will give scholarships to its own citizens and turn around to abandon them in a foreign land without as much as offering a word of explanation.

All told, we are scandalised that the Borno State House of Assembly has not done anything concrete to compel the state government to fulfill its obligations. We wonder what sort of representation the lawmakers think they are offering when their own constituents are being subjected to dehumanising treatment outside the country by their own government.

We believe it is time the presidency, perhaps, in collaboration with the National Assembly, did something about state governments that engage in acts that besmear the foreign image of Nigeria.

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