While the presidency has kept mum on the controversial railway scholarship awarded relations of senior government officials by the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), President Muhammadu Buhari met with Nigerian students undergoing training on railway transportation in China.
The meeting held while Mr Buhari was in China for the 7th Summit of the Forum on China — Africa Cooperation (FOCAC 2018).
In a post on Twitter by the Presidency, Sunday, the training on railway transport was one of the key elements of the infrastructure partnership between both nations.
The tweet read, “President @MBuhari today met with Nigerian students undergoing training on railway transportation in China. One of the key elements of the infrastructure partnership with the Chinese Govt is training / capacity-building for Nigerian professionals”.
President @MBuhari today met with Nigerian students undergoing training on railway transportation in China. One of the key elements of the infrastructure partnership with the Chinese Govt is training / capacity-building for Nigerian professionals. #PMBinChina2018 #PMBAtFOCAC7 pic.twitter.com/J506qjzgdi
— Presidency Nigeria (@NGRPresident) September 2, 2018
On July 30, this newspaper reported how the CCECC had concluded the selection of successful applicants for its controversial railway scholarship.
The scholarship, which involved sponsorship of over 40 Nigerian undergraduate students in Chinese universities to study railway engineering is part of the CCECC’s corporate social responsibility, having benefitted from a major railway and other construction projects across Nigeria.
Rather than make the scholarship available for all eligible Nigerian youth, the scholarship slots were simply shared among wards of select government ministers and other top public officials.
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.
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 dismissing claims that the Chinese firm was offering “railway engineering scholarships”.
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 were allowed for the interview.
In July, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Independent Corruption Practices Commission (ICPC) commenced investigations into the allegations.
Although PREMIUM TIMES cannot establish that the students visited by Mr. Buhari are the same ‘connected youth’ who got their scholarships to China through the controversial process, the ICPC was told by CCECC officials that only the candidates nominated by ministers and other top officials of the Buhari administration were allowed to take part in the selection interview and made the final list.
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.
According to sources, the CCECC 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 reportedly told the investigators they had concluded the selection process from the list which they claimed they got from the transport ministry.
The controversial railway scholarship is, however, not the only one being provided by the CCECC, which is apparently focusing on education as its CSR.
Shortly after the scandal, the CCECC and Chinese government offered more scholarships on railway transportation to university students in the country.
One of such was the award of scholarships to 30 students from the Ahmadu Bello University.