Hundreds of Nigerians studying in Russia under a Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) scholarship on Monday held a protest at the Nigerian embassy in Moscow over failure of the Nigerian government in the last one year to remit their monthly stipends.
Under the BEA scholarship, the Russian government takes care of the students’ tuition and accommodation, while the Nigerian government is to pay each of them $500 monthly for their feeding, medical and other needs.
But the Nigerian government has failed to pay the stipends for 12 months now. Parents of the students planned a simultaneous protest at the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja on Monday, but only a handful of them turned up for the exercise.
The protest in Moscow was led by the President of the Association of Nigerian Scholarship Students in Russia, Faith Tosin, and featured hundreds of the students carrying placards.
Charge d’affairs of the Nigerian mission in Russia, Gafai Usman, later held a short meeting with the students. He advised them to write a petition through his office to the relevant authorities in Nigeria.
Mr. Usman explained to the protesters that it was not his responsibility to report their matter to the Federal Ministry of Education, but added “I have responsibility to report what has happened today to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
The diplomat said the meeting was the third he would hold with the students on the development. “I had earlier asked the students to put some of their grievances into writing.”
Chinyelu Ikeliani, a teacher, was one of the parents who turned up for the Abuja leg of the protest. She told PREMIUM TIMES that her son, who is studying Medicine under the scholarship in Russia, has not received his stipend for a year.
“I am really sad about the whole situation, because the government knows that the students cannot work with the visa given to them”, she said.
“What do they expect them to do? For one whole year, these students have not received anything from the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is so disheartening.”
Another parent, who identified herself only as Mrs. Gloria, said she is a petty trader and could not afford the support her son needs in Russia.
“For a year now, nothing. The boy has been calling, no feeding, nothing. To register for courses is a problem. In September, I had to gather the little I had and send to him. That was when the dollar was N200. Now, I don’t have anything to send”.
She appealed to the federal government to “do something, so that these children won’t do what they are not supposed to do in Russia”.
A Nigerian who simply identified himself as Kenneth told PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja that he just finished his study under the BEA scholarship in Russia. He confirmed that the Nigerian government had always defaulted on payment of stipends to the scholars.
“We were sent to Russia to study to Masters level, but Nigeria, which is supposed to pay our stipends, ended up not keeping her end of the bargain.
“When we started, we were promised to be given the stipend every month or quarterly until the end of the year. Thank God that it is Russia that is paying our tuition fee, if not, we would have been sent back”, he said of his own experience.
Abimbola Prize Arowolo, who said she was awarded scholarship under the scheme to study in Rostov, Russia in 2009, also told PREMIUM TIMES that the Nigerian government still owed her two months stipends.
“We were promised that we would be paid quarterly. But unfortunately for us, we got there and found out that it is a very different story altogether. We were never paid when we were supposed to be paid. There were always delays of four to six months, yet some of the best students in Nigeria are awarded this scholarship”, Ms. Arowolo said.
“For the past one year now, the students there now have not been paid. For example, I graduated July last year, but the Federal government is still owing me for two months. I really feel bad for the students who are there currently”, she said.
A spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES that the Ministry of Education was aware of the plight of the students. He said he would get back with details of what the government was doing to address it. But he was yet to do so at the time of filing this report.