EXCLUSIVE: Ordinary Nigerians lose, Buhari’s ministers win as CCECC ‘concludes’ railway scholarship

A group photo of President Buhari and Ministers
A group photo of President Buhari and Ministers

The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) has concluded the selection of successful applicants for its controversial railway scholarship, sources have told PREMIUM TIMES.

The scholarship would involve sponsoring over two score Nigerian undergraduate students in Chinese universities to study railway engineering. It is part of the CCECC’s corporate social responsibility having benefitted from major railway and other construction projects across Nigeria.

However, only the candidates nominated by ministers and other top officials of the Buhari administration, and who were allowed to take part in the selection interview, made the final list, officials of the construction firm told the anti-graft agency, ICPC.

The CCECC also told the investigators that the names of students finally selected had been submitted to the Chinese Embassy for processing, sources in the ICPC told PREMIUM TIMES.

CONTROVERSY

PREMIUM TIMES reported how, rather than make the scholarship available for all eligible Nigerian youth, the scholarship slots were simply shared among select government ministers and other top public officials.

On June 20, at the ministry of transport which coordinated the application process, scores of young Nigerians, who travelled long distances from all over the country, besieged the ministry complex to submit applications for the scholarships.

To their amazement, authorities at the transport ministry rejected their applications, saying no such opportunities exist. The youth then protested, and at a point blocked the ministry’s entrance.

To douse escalating tension by the restless youth, the permanent secretary of the ministry, Sabiu Zakari, issued a press statement the same day suggesting that any claim that the Chinese firm was offering “railway engineering scholarships” is a scam.

What Mr Zakari did not state in his press release was that his office had shared the available scholarship slots among top government officials.

Regardless of the claim that the scholarship was false, the youth stormed the CCECC headquarters the following day, which was the scheduled date for the commencement of the interviews.

The Chinese firm was conducting interviews for about 42 shortlisted applicants in the scholarship scheme that would see successful candidates train as railway engineers in China.

On getting there, the applicants found out that without a signed letter by a minister or permanent secretary, they were not be allowed to participate in the interview.

Only candidates who had been nominated by top officials at Mr Zakari’s prompting were allowed for the interview.

The top officials, who benefitted were identified in a document used by the construction firm, CCECC, to permit selected candidates to participate in the scholarship interview.

Some of the officials who sponsored candidates include the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Minster of Communication Technology, Adebayo Shittu; Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Suleiman Hassan; and the Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru.

The day after the interview, at the CCECC headquarters, there was a signboard at the gate which indicated that the scholarship had been suspended till further notice. That board was promptly removed when this reporter introduced herself.

Attempts to speak with officials at the CCECC headquarters have been unsuccessful. Each time our reporter visited the corporation’s headquarters, the security officials were uncooperative.

Two days after the controversial interview date, our reporter visited the CCECC headquarters again to make enquiries on the reason for the suspension, but was told the officials who would speak concerning the issue were not around.

Last week, our reporter revisited the corporation hoping the officials would be around. To her amazement, she was told by the same security officer who called out the names on the controversial list, that there was no such scholarship programme.

On Thursday, the reporter visited the corporation with a letter addressed to the Managing Director. After a taking a look at the letter, consulting with a fellow security official, and making her wait a while, she was told the secretary who ought to receive her letter just delivered a baby so there was no one to attend to her. The officials also refused to accept the letter.

ICPC INVESTIGATION

Earlier this month, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that ICPC commenced investigations into the allegations.

According to sources, the CCECC, which is providing the scholarship, was invited on Thursday, July 5. It sent its representatives and they “cooperated with the investigators,” the source said.

“They confirmed everything you people wrote. It was exactly as you reported,” a source at the agency told PREMIUM TIMES.

The CCECC officials also told the investigators they had concluded the selection process from the list which they claimed they got from the transport ministry.

“They also said the names and details of the selected applicants have been sent to the Chinese Embassy to further processing,” the source said.

Another official who has appeared before the investigators is Mr Zakari, the permanent secretary in the transportation ministry who wrote the letters asking top government officials to nominate candidates for the scholarship.

Mr Zakari was questioned last week and “provided relevant information” to investigators.

The anti-graft agency has also questioned some of the students, and their parents. who protested at the transport ministry when they were denied the opportunity to be part of the scholarship process.

OTHER CCECC SCHOLARSHIPS

The controversial railway scholarship is, however, not the only one being provided by the CCECC, which is apparently focusing on education as its corporate social responsibility.

Last Tuesday, the Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Ibrahim Garba, paid a courtesy visit to the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Zhon Pingjim, to appreciate the government of China for its support to Nigeria and growth of his university.

The don told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview after the visit that the CCECC had given 30 ABU students full scholarships. He however did not comment on the controversy surrounding the railway scholarship.

“This one is actually to come and say thank you to the ambassador who has been of tremendous support to the University in a number of ways.

“We started long ago, well about a year and a half ago, by requesting that he provide us a teacher to teach Chinese language which he has provided.

“The CCECC company has now reconstructed a new language lab to teach the Chinese language and then of course through the support of the ambassador, the CCECC with collaboration with another university in China, they joined hands to have a joint degree programme which we have gone to China and perfected the Memorandum of Understanding.”

The ABU vice-chancellor also disclosed that his university signed an MoU with the Central South University in China. He said the university also offered scholarships to 15 students and to 13 lecturers to obtain doctorate degrees.

While explaining the terms of the scholarship, he said “so 45 students of our own are going to China for a joint degree programme.

“They spend three years in ABU, they go to China and spend two years, they earn their degree there and they earn our degree, joint degree so that we would have a very good international approach,” he said.


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