Nigerian rights activists and groups have demanded an independent probe into the handling of the railway scholarship programme reportedly offered by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to young Nigerians.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how young Nigerians travelled long distances from all over the country to submit applications for foreign scholarships being reportedly offered by the firm.
But authorities at the Transport Ministry denied the existence of such a scheme.
The permanent secretary at the Ministry, Sabiu Zakari, issued a press statement Wednesday night saying the claim that the ministry was accepting applications from the public for “railway engineering scholarships” was a scam.
“The ministry is not receiving any application for such training from the general public. Therefore the general public is advised to disregard any information being circulated for submission of such applications to the Ministry or any other person,” Mr. Zakari said.
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 a.m.
The carefully worded ministry statement on Wednesday appeared to imply that while there was such an offer, it was not for the public.
On Thursday, PREMIUM TIMES visited the head office of the firm in Abuja.
Our reporter noticed security officials at the gate beating back an anxious crowd of interested applicants.
The security officials were at the gate to ensure that only those whose names were on a list they had with them were allowed into the premises.
PREMIUM TIMES also observed that each name on the list was marked against the government official that nominated the candidate.
The exercise was eventually suspended amid speculations those attempting to manipulate the process would simply continue with it secretly.
The Chinese firm, CCECC, has not commented on the matter.
The co-founder of BudgiT, Seun Onigbinde, a civic rights organisation, told PREMIUM TIMES that what transpired was “an act of corruption”.
”What the government is doing is an act of corruption because there is an opportunity to give our best minds and talent to revolutionise our trade industries and we are being offered this capacity by the Chinese. This process should have been marketed to our technical colleges, university, polytechnics. It should be given to our youth.”
Mr Onigbinde also said that the ICPC and the EFCC need to take up the issue so as to prosecute the officials involved in the ‘scam’.
”This issue has to be taken up to the level of the ICPC and the EFCC and whoever is involved in this needs to be prosecuted,” he said.
Mr Onigbinde explained that recruitment should be based on merit, not by selection.
“This has actually made Nigeria look very bad,” says Hamzat Lawal of Connected Development CODE.
”It is quite hard and unfortunate that our political elite and people that we have entrusted with the helm of affairs of our country are now shortchanging ordinary Nigerians. This has actually made Nigeria look very bad because I am sure that our partners who have actually requested names should be sent forward for the scholarship would now be looking at us asan unserious society,” he said.
He said those found wanting should be sanctioned.
“I am very certain that no head would roll meaning nothing would happen. It would only remain on the headlines of the papers,” he added.
He said Nigerians should be wiser in choosing their next set of political leaders in 2019.
The National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Taiwo also weighed in.
“Yes, the government itself is a scam. Remember the CBN recruitment, how it now ended, and even in the previous government of (president) Jonathan, we saw all kinds of recruitment exercises, which was marred by fraud.
”Even for the police recruitment, about a year or two ago, there were similar complaints of politicians intervening in the process by putting in their preferred candidates,” he said.
Mr Taiwo said “jobs with good pay are only given to government officials and top politicians but the ordinary Nigerians are provided with the N-power scheme”.
He also said the matter should be probed and culprits sanctioned.
”This is a government of fraud. It has no genuine programme for job provision and the only thing it has for ordinary Nigerians, for those who are not connected is the N power job scheme, which ensures payment of graduates of higher institutions without granting them any secured future.
”But when it comes to the jobs that can give good pay, you would see government officials and top politicians getting them for there own wards.
”It is something that reflects the character of the government we have in Nigeria today. President Buhari’s government is not a government that is prepared to lift the ordinary people out of this crises of mass unemployment and poverty,” he said.
”We demand that this should not be swept under the carpet and we demand an immediate independent and public probe to know how this scam occurred and know those involved.”
He argued that the matter should not be swept under the carpet like similar probes in the past.
“Those, who are involved are the untouchables and who are enriching themselves on the mass misery of the majority of this country. So our demand is an independent probe carried out by a panel composed by the trade unions, student groups, young people so as to unravel this scandal so that justice is done,” he added.