A 24-year-old man identified as Samuel Ogbonna, is among 150 Nigerians studying in the United Kingdom on scholarships, who may be forced to return home before Christmas because their funding has been stopped by their sponsors.
A British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, first brought the plight of these students to the knowledge of the public in a publication that recently caused a stir in the education sector in Nigeria.
According to Punch Metro, Ogbonna, in an online interview, painted a disturbing picture of the condition in which he and his fellow compatriots have found themselves in the UK.
Saddled with debts of up to £20,000 each, most of them, especially those who completed their courses last academic session, have been informed by their respective universities that they will not receive their degree certification.
Ogbonna, like many others, has been evicted from his apartment on campus for failing to pay his rent and now lives with some of his friends outside the university.
“It is difficult for me here because I don’t receive any support from home. My mum, a single parent who works as a civil servant, barely has enough to assist me financially. I have had to depend on the friends and families that I met here for food and shelter,” he told our correspondent.
Narrating how he came to find himself in such a situation, he said, “Right from my first year of study at the university, the Rivers State Government through the agency, the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, delayed payment of my school fees and maintenance fee. It only got worse as time went on.
“At some point, my colleagues and I were owed maintenance/upkeep money for 15 months. As a result, we were in debt for several months. Most of us couldn’t afford to pay our rent as there was no money. Some students were kicked out of their residences, especially those living in private houses. Those of us who lived in the university were threatened several times with lawsuits for breaching our contracts.
“Several months after it failed to pay our upkeep money and tuition fees, the state government officially announced in 2016 that they were going to withdraw funding for our scholarships. By this time, some students had already been kicked out of their courses.
“Some institutions, such as the University of Huddersfield, even sent delegates to Nigeria to discuss with the government on how they could resolve this issue, maybe come up with a plan on how fees can be cleared, but nothing positive came out of that.”
Ogbonna also said the government did not pay his second year fees. As a result, he is unable to proceed to final year. In September, the management of the University of Leeds placed him on temporary leave. This means that he will not be allowed to attend classes until he clears his outstanding fees.
It got to a point that he was forced to open a gofundme account online to raise funds from charity and well meaning individuals.
“Although I have managed to find a paid job, as an international student I have limited permission to work. This means that I am restricted to only part time hours of employment. This continues to make it very difficult for me to gather enough money to clear my outstanding charges and financially plan for my final year.
“Apart from this, my fees cost so much that I can’t afford it. Now I have to raise two times the amount to pay my second year and final year fees, respectively,” he explained.
A few weeks ago, it looked as if fortune was about to smile on Ogbonna and his fellow students when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State visited London. But their hopes were dashed when the governor declined to address them.
Ogbonna said, “We felt it would be a good opportunity to speak with him directly about our condition and our struggles. But this did not go as we expected because the governor refused to grant us audience. I was there in London and I saw for myself how he treated us.
“My colleagues and I waited outside the Chatham House for him to give us an explanation and also tell us how and when the funds will be released to clear our fees but he refused to talk to us.
“However, inside the house, he did answer a question regarding the scholarship. According to him, the scholarship was cancelled because the previous administration had awarded the scholarships to children of their political aides. And also, that the courses we were studying were those like Economics, English, Philosophy that can be studied back home. But that is not true.”
Asked what he thought might be the state government’s real motive for withdrawing funding for those studying abroad, he replied, “I suspect that the political rift between the previous and the present administration is the real and main reason for the cancelation of the scholarship.”
However, Ogbonna has appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to assist him financially to complete his education. “My desire is to return to school, complete my degree and become a graduate so that I can apply the skills that I have acquired to the benefit of the society,” he said.