A total of 43 young Nigerians have been left in the lurch after scholarships they won under the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA Post-Graduate Scholarship Scheme was suddenly withdrawn under controversial circumstances.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the scholarship scheme is aimed at promoting competency and proficiency amongst Nigerians in Information Technology at Doctorate and Masters Levels. It is a form of support towards assisting such Nigerians with funding to achieve their educational aspirations.
The scheme usually selects two persons per state, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT at masters’ level and one person per geopolitical zone of the country at doctorate level.
The agency on its website claims to have “successfully sponsored 247 Nigerian Graduates in Information Technology fields at post graduate level and 24 for doctorate” adding that it is “continually monitoring skill gaps in the field with a view to help create a capable workforce that can face the challenges of the Agency’s vision of Nigeria becoming an Information Technology driven economy.”
However, the 43 applicants who applied in the 2016/2017 latest round of the exercise have had their dreams cut short as the offers given to them after successfully navigating the months-long intensive selection process were withdrawn by NITDA under circumstances the applicants tell PREMIUM TIMES are unfair and unsettling.
This newspaper learnt that 43 successful candidates emerged from the exercise – 37 M.Sc. awardees representing each state and the nation’s Federal Capacity Territory, and an additional 6 Ph.D. candidates for the six geopolitical zones.
A cross section of the affected applicants who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES under condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised said they are unhappy about the manner the scholarships were withdrawn after they had spent their resources and energy going through the process.
An applicant recounted his experiences in the selection process which he said was so intensive that when he was eventually selected, ‘he was exhilarated.’
‘‘It was on a bright Sunday afternoon (October 02, 2016) that I received a congratulatory email from NITDA confirming that I was successful in the rigorous scholarship aptitude test I wrote on Wednesday (9/28/2016), 9am at Public Service Institute, PSIN, Dutsen Alhaji, Abuja. I was elated by the great news and my hope for continuing my studies up to the postgraduate level was revived. That was my first time of visiting Abuja,” he said.
He said that afterwards, he joined the other successful applicants from different states to attend “a one-on-one interview” with NITDA officials.
‘‘The credentials sighting did not hold on the said day due to the change in the administration of the agency; so, we were told to go back home and they assured us that they will contact us,’’ he said.
But they were in for sporadic shocks.
“Days passed, weeks went by and months elapsed and none of us received any correspondence from NITDA. Some of us, the scholars, decided to follow up and inquire about the status quo by contacting notable staffs of NITDA.
“When we contacted them earlier this year, we were ‘sweet talked’ and they kept assuring us that they haven’t forgotten us that they are doing all that is necessary on our situation. We were once told that the reason for the delay was because they are negotiating with international institutions for our admission. This rekindled our spirits and we kept our hopes alive.
“Later on, they said they had to wait for the passage of the budget before we will be officially contacted.
We waited, and after the Nigerian budget was passed, we once again contacted NITDA, but this time around they said their fiscal year was different from that of the country that theirs would commence August. We continued contacting them but they resorted to complicated tactics in a bid to side-line us,’’ he said.
In one of the emails sent to some of the applicants after weeks of silence, they were asked to hold on.
A copy of the email response PREMIUM TIMES saw said tersely: ‘You will be contacted as soon as the Agency is done with necessary arrangements. We are sorry for any inconvenience this might or have cost you. Thank you.’
It was signed by one Ajayi Jide, Head, Servicom Unit, NITDA.
A subsequent visit to the agency by a select group of the applicants on July 12 also did not yield any result.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that NITDA eventually sent all the applicants individually, ‘letters of termination’ of the offers on September 6, 2017.
In the letters of terminations signed on behalf of the Director-General (Isa Pantami) by one Eniola A. A., copies of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained, NITDA linked the termination to ‘budget deficit’ adding that the affected candidates were urged to re-apply in the 2017/2018 exercise which kicks off soon. The agency noted that the candidates would not have to go through “the regular registration and shortlisting process.”
However, the decision appears not to have gone down well with the applicants who said they suspect foul play.
“It was stated in the advertisement we responded to that the scholarships to be offered would be for local (Nigerian) institutions of higher learning. It is strange that the government would latch on budget deficit to terminate our offers.
“We were also aware that the country was in recession, which was one of the reasons we received from NITDA. But it can’t be so bad that a nation won’t be able to provide scholarship to absorb its own citizens into its own institutions.
“After wasting about a year in our lives, our country decided to forsake us. They sent us a termination letter today (September 06, 2017) after we have waited for almost a year. Why planning for 2017/2018 exercise when you are yet to clear the 2016/2017 scholars? This is beyond logic. This is not the change we voted for. If the agency cannot fulfil its overseas promises, they should at least fulfil what we bargained for when we applied for the scholarship,’’ the irate applicant said.
A particularly irate female applicant said it was surprising that “after going through the rigours” of the screening process adjudged as free and fair, their dreams would be suddenly cut short.
“Coming at a time when the country’s unemployment statistics was skyrocketing, this move (awards) was welcomed with a loud round of applause. Quickly, doubts began to set in when on the 4th of Oct 2016, the excited folks who had considered themselves lucky after receiving the congratulatory mail travelled from 36 states to the NITDA headquarters in Abuja for a one-on-one interview, as invited. After several hours of being unattended to, they were greeted with the news that the whole process had been suspended due to the appointment of a new DG.
“Between then and now, as the incommunicado months prolonged, numerous visits were made to the agency’s headquarters, letters were sent to the agency requesting a meeting with the DG, some key staff involved in the scholarship process engaged some of the persistent awardees who were continually assured that the process is still on track.
‘‘At no point was the integrity of the selection process that led to the emergence of the awardees questioned. Barely a year after the aptitude test, it came as a shock when the supposed beneficiaries were served a “Termination of the 2016/2017 NITDEF Scholarship Selection Process” letter on Wednesday afternoon, September 6th, 2017,’’ she said.
To push home their demands that the termination be lifted, the affected persons have formed a group on Whatsapp platform to champion their cause.
A RIGOROUS PROCESS
The process of selection yearly is an intensive one. The agency usually places an advert in two national dailies, then subsequently opens its web-portal (scholarship.nitda.gov.ng) for application, which remain open for 6 weeks.
Qualified applicants are then shortlisted to write an aptitude test and contacted via email and SMS.
Successful applicants are thereafter notified through email and SMS. Verification of original certificates and an oral interview of successful applicants, usually an energy sapping venture is the final stage before the release of award letters to successful candidates.
The scholarship award is strictly based on merit and is equally distributed between the six geopolitical zones for PhD and the 36 states and FCT for MSc.
The Master’s programme runs for one year while the Doctorate programme is expected to run for three years.
For PhD, University/Polytechnic lecturers with MSc in any Information Technology related field are eligible to apply for the sponsorship while for MSc, all Nigerians with First Class or Second Class (Upper) Honours Bachelor’s degree, (B. Sc) in Information Technology related field and who have not previously benefited from the Agency’s largesse can apply.
A call put through to Ayo Femi, Acting head, administration, HR was not picked after attempts to get through.
However, a statement signed by Hadiza Umar, Head, Corporate Affairs and External Relations, NITDA, said the decision was “necessitated due to serious budget deficit experienced in the Agency’s 2016 budget year which the scheme was appropriated for but no money was released to fund it.”
The statement added that the agency has made the appropriation for the scheme in its 2017 budget year, consequently, a new selection process will be announced soon.
“Management urged all affected to participate in the 2017/2018 NITDEF selection process, also assures all 2016 candidates of not having to go through the regular registration and shortlisting processes,” the statement said.
“While regretting any inconveniences this may have caused the applicants, the Agency assures all candidates of justice, fairness and equity base on competitive merit.
“It is worthy of note that this is not the first time the Agency was not able to conclude the NITDEF scholarship process, the same happened in the Year 2012,” the statement added.
But for many of the candidates, this appears to be a blow too heavy to bear on their aspirations to further their education.
A male candidate said he has already been reduced to tears by the development.
”Where do they want me to start. I have heaped all my hopes on this scholarship. I have spent time, money and energy in the process. And of course, looking at the Nigerian factor, how are we sure that we would be considered in the next phase like they said. This is so unfair,” he said.