Young Nigerians who were not nominated by ministers and other top public officials were on Thursday denied the chance to take part in a scholarship interview.
This led to chaos at the head office of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in Abuja as scores of youth besieged the place over the controversial scholarship scheme the construction company is offering Nigerian students.
The company was conducting interviews for about 42 shortlisted applicants in the scholarship scheme that would see successful candidates train as railway engineers in China.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how rather than make the scholarship available for all eligible Nigerian youth, the available slots were simply shared among selected government ministers and other top public officials.
On Thursday, security officials at the CCECC gate beat back the anxious crowd of interested applicants as they ensured only those whose names were on a list were allowed into the premises of the company.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that each name on the list was marked against the government official that nominated the candidate.
On Wednesday, some youth had besieged the Federal Ministry of Transportation complex in Abuja to submit applications for the scholarship to train as railway engineers in China.
But authorities at the ministry rejected their applications, saying no such opportunities exist. The youth then protested, and at a point blocked the ministry's entrance.
Later on Wednesday, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Sabiu Zakari, issued a press statement suggesting that any claim the Chinese firm was offering "railway engineering scholarships" was a scam.
"The ministry is not receiving any application for such training from the general public," Mr. Zakari said. "Therefore the general public is advised to disregard any information being circulated for submission of such applications to the Ministry or any other person."
However, a stamped letter obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, which was addressed to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah and signed by Mr. Zakari, revealed an interview was scheduled to hold between June 21 and 23 at the CCECC headquarters at 9.00 a.m.
Some of the youth who persisted and went for the interview on Thursday told our reporter that they were not allowed into the CCECC premises because their names were not on the list with a security official at the entrance.
To have their names on the list, they said they were asked to obtain a letter with the signature of a minister or permanent secretary.
PREMIUM TIMES also witnessed the security official directing one of the youth back to the Ministry of Transportation in order to have his name on the list.
When asked if the signature of a permanent secretary or minister was needed to make the list, the security official said: "actually, that is how it is."
He added that the directive was given from the Ministry of Transportation.
A top official at the ministry, Wednesday, told PREMIUM TIMES, that rather than advertise the opportunities to request applications from interested Nigerian youth, the ministry simply contacted top government officials to nominate candidates for the slots.
Insiders at the ministry also said those asked to nominate candidates include ministers, permanent secretaries, presidency officials and select federal lawmakers. The officials were requested to make the nominations in their personal capacities.
Interested Nigerians without connections to ministers and other government officials were effectively blocked from competing for the scholarships, they said.
This newspaper was able to get a peek at the list of the candidates selected for the interview and the government officials who nominated them.
Some of the government officials involved were the Minister of State for Education (HMS Ed.), Minister of Youth and Sports Development (HM Y&SD), Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing (HMS PWH), Jigawa State Governor (Gov. Jigawa), Minister of Transportation (HMT), Deputy Chief of Staff at the Presidential Villa (DCOS Villa).
According to some of the youth, most of the people whose names were on the list were not present at the CCECC headquarters and some who later went there were not aware of the interview.
CCECC is the corporation contracted to build a double-track standard gauge railway from Lagos in Southern Nigeria to Kano in the North.
The Chinese firm has also secured several construction contracts from the federal government and many state governments.