22 May 2013

Nigerian Students in Russia


The spectacle of Nigerian students in Russia going door to door in search of subsistence must be an embarrassing one for any country.

That was the grim picture painted last Wednesday when representatives of Nigerian students on federal government scholarship in Russia visited the National Assembly to highlight the plight of their colleagues abroad.

They told members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora that 160 Nigeria students currently on federal government scholarship in Russia have been forced to beg on campus due to failure to remit their stipends in the last six months. "Russia is a very hostile country in terms of weather and other things.

It is very embarrassing and difficult to cope as Nigerian students are now living at the mercy of other African students on scholarship from Ghana and Zimbabwe. They are facing eviction as they could neither renew their rents nor pay for health insurance in the last six months. ", they told the committee. They alleged that attempts to seek audience with the Nigeria ambassador to Russia bore no fruits because their request was turned down. In their desperation, they agreed to send a delegation to the National Assembly, they added. The committee has promised to intervene in the matter; the ministry of foreign affairs said the issue was being investigated.

This is an entirely avoidable development, which portrays Nigeria in bad light, although it is not the first time it would happen.

Over the years, the story has been the same with Nigerian students abroad, like their counterparts from other less economically endowed African countries. Those most affected are students on either state or federal scholarship who, as records have shown, engage in menial jobs to meet their financial needs. With these challenges at hand, the students hardly concentrate on their studies and in some cases veer into crime.

That this has become a recurring problem illustrates the tardiness with which it is being tackled. These days, hardly a year passes without reports of Nigerian students abroad staging protests at the nation's diplomatic missions over non-payment of bursaries. At home, the situation is the same with students who are 'privileged' to be on state scholarship; it is always a huge task navigating the convoluted bureaucracy (and the antics of corrupt officials) to access their due stipends from the scholarship secretariats. The nation's battered image abroad is farther compounded by this kind of conduct that has almost become part of the daily business activity of government over the years.

If these are bona fide Nigerian students on legitimate government scholarship, why are their due entitlements not being remitted?

Of course, it is also possible that there may be Nigerians who get stranded abroad after travelling there illegally, only to turn round to claim to be students on scholarship and demand payment from the missions. This can be sorted out by perusing every case and taking decisions accordingly.

Where it is discovered that they are not students, but are Nigerians, their status can be established and repatriated back to Nigeria to stop them from causing farther mischief.

The Moscow episode also calls into question the oversight capacity of the relevant committees of the National Assembly, because huge sums of money are budgeted every year for scholarship scheme by the ministry of education. If there was sufficient oversight, embarrassing episodes such as the one in Moscow would not arise.

The House Committee on the Diaspora and the ministry of foreign affairs should hasten their investigations on the matter and fish out whose conduct led to the problem, and to ensure that it does not recur. The immediate problem of normalising the subsistence of the students must be settled speedily.

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