Scholarship: After months of protest, NITDA finally gives letters to awardees

DG NITDA, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami [Photo:]

About 92 persons have finally been given letters of awards under the 2017/2018 Postgraduate Scholarship programme of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

The head, Corporate Affairs and External Relations Unit of the agency, Hadiza Umar, said this in a statement on Monday in Abuja.

PREMIUM TIMES had late last year reported how 43 young Nigerians, whose post-graduate scholarship awards were cancelled by NITDA, were asked to undergo a new selection process.

PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported how the awardees had been left in a state of shock after the awards were withdrawn by the agency which had cited the paucity of funds for the development.

The applicants who applied in 2016/2017 exercise had their dreams cut short as the offers awarded to them after successfully navigating the months-long intensive selection process were withdrawn by NITDA under circumstances the applicants claimed were unclear and unsettling.

But in an apparent move to calm frayed nerves, the agency after the report by PREMIUM TIMES sent letters by email to the applicants inviting them to take part in the 2017/2018 exercise. It said they will be added to those who would be offered scholarships in the 2017/18 set.

The letter obtained by PREMIUM TIMES said that a committee had been set up to handle their matter and that they (43 awardees) would not be expected to take part in processes for the award such as verification of credentials, supplementary assessment, evaluation of character, etc.

The letter signed by Eniola A.A. on behalf of the Director-General, read: “I’m directed to inform you that the Director General/CEO has already constituted a committee to conduct interviews (which includes Verification of Credentials, Supplementary Assessment Test, Evaluation of Character etc) towards accommodating you as part of the 2017/2018 NITDEF Scholarship Scheme.

“Accordingly, you will be contacted next week for the date and time of the interview. However, please note that no award letter has been issued to anyone and none of the previous stages of exercise will be repeated.”

The letter did not however, explain how the 43 already successful candidates would be accommodated in a scheme that attracts thousands of applicants on a yearly basis.

Despite the assurances then, the applicants had expressed doubts that they would be captured. The applicants to push their demands also formed a WhatsApp group to pressurise the agency.

Mrs Umar, had said then that 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.”

But on Monday, via a release on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mrs Hadiza said, in a statement that the awards had finally been issued.

“NITDA has awarded 92 scholarships in the 2017/2018 session for Master’s and Doctorate degrees in relevant areas of ICT and ICT Law.

“This is in the efforts of the agency at assessing and addressing ICT skills requirements to support President Buhari’s sustainable economic growth and development strides. The scholarship scheme was expanded to cover diverse areas including Masters in ICT Law through the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the agency.”

Mrs Umar said that a total of 5,504 candidates applied out of which 2,188 sat for the computer-based aptitude test.

She said that the final selection was based on academic merit, exceptional character traits that would enable them maintain the highest level of values and be worthy ambassadors of the country.

She disclosed that each scholar studying abroad received an average package of over N17 million per annum comprising tuition fees, personal allowance to cover accommodation, living expenses and other allowances.

She said that in-country scholars received an average of over N3 million, while about N752 million was spent annually on the scheme.

Mrs Umar said that since inception of the scheme to date, the agency has successfully sponsored 341 Nigerian Graduates in various ICT fields at universities in the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Australia.

“The scholarship scheme is highly competitive and candidates are selected based on academic excellence and leadership qualities after going through a fair rigorous process.

“Beneficiaries of the scheme are fully employed, while others have set up viable IT businesses that are providing employment opportunities contributing to the country’s economy,’’ she said.

One of the 43 initially aggrieved candidates confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that they had indeed received their letters (alongside the new set) but said they would finally lay the matter to rest when the disbursement of funds for the scheme commences in earnest.

”We are grateful that PREMIUM TIMES stood by us through the struggle. We appreciate your reports. However they are yet to disburse funds. We are grateful. We will wait until they pay,” the applicant whose identity is protected said.

The scholarship scheme which was established in 2010 is aimed at bridging the digital gap through human capital development with emphasis on creating and supporting a knowledge-based economy.

The scheme usually selects two persons per state, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT at masters’ level and 1 person per geopolitical zone of the country at the doctorate level.

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