Scholars of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, that fail to return to the university after ‘enjoying’ the scholarships offered to them by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund risk being sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for interrogations.
The person in charge of the grants in the university, Marcel Onyekachi, stated this in an exclusive interview with our correspondent recently. He expressed sadness that some of them, especially those who travelled overseas, deliberately refuse to return to the university after completing their courses.
Quoting him, “Some of them are supposed to have come back, but they didn’t. They are bringing flimsy excuses. Some get extension for one year, some two. There will come a time the school will stop their salaries. Very soon, we shall compile the list and forward to, maybe, EFCC for necessary action. They cannot collect funds and abscond. You have to come back and work for at least five years.”
On the allegations that ESUT failed to remit the approved grants to some scholars, Onyekachi said, “It is not true. What happened previously was caused by exchange rates. TETfund releases grants, and we convert them to foreign currencies to settle the fees directly to universities where the scholars are studying. Then the upkeep of the scholars is also paid.
“You cannot just pay naira to those universities. There must be conversations to dollars as the case may be.
“It is very difficult to settle all these at the same time to different universities. One had to write to the Central Bank of Nigeria. CBN settles these cases in batches. But the scholars collect their upkeeps directly.”
He said such reports informed the decision of TETfund to be directly paying the schools where the beneficiaries of such grants attend. According to him, “When universities started informing TETfund that they were unable to get the funds, the agency resorted to direct payments to receiving institutions. It currently pays to these institutions while upkeeps are paid to the mother schools to monitor them.
“Schools cannot stop paying their money because it is paid to their salary accounts. These scholars are on study leave with pay. Don’t mind those people that are saying these things. ESUT doesn’t owe them. There is a difference between delay and not paying. One can’t collect one naira from those funds because auditors come all the time to check. We have a separate account for it. If you tamper with TETfund accounts, you will be in trouble. Even for projects, funds are paid with pin numbers.”
One of the beneficiaries, who studied overseas and stayed back, had claimed on condition of anonymity that ESUT did not pay her grants in full to the university she attended, forcing her to seek external funding.
According to her, “I got the offer in 2016, and the duration of the course was supposed to be three years. It was a grant of N40m in total. The first approval was N30m, and this was reviewed upward by N10m at some point to accommodate the impact of exchange rates.
“The initial tranche was N10m per year, calculated based on the first approval. The final tranche is supposed to be released in 2020, which is a total of N30m initial approval plus N4m (living expenses component of the addition approval). This was released. The outstanding sum is N6m, which is the tuition component of the supplementary approval. This outstanding is overdue by two years. It should have been released in 2020.
“No reason has been given by my university for the non-release of the remainder after several applications. The funds are in the custody of TETfund, but my home institution is the sponsor of my application to TETfund, and their role is primarily to manage the disbursement of the funds.”
She said in her frustration, she got across to some other Nigerian scholars facing the same ordeal in the diaspora. In her words, “There is a group called Stranded Nigerian Scholars Forum, comprising Nigerian scholars whose grants were disrupted. I joined them, and it became a problem shared.
“From their clues, I had to source funds elsewhere. I migrated to Self-Sponsorship Status. That means entering new agreements to raise funds for the remaining tuition fees to settle the overseas institution.”
He advised TETfund on how to make the system more result-oriented. Quoting him, “If someone was asked to go out for study and halfway through, your funding stopped for some reasons, who takes responsibility? I blame the funding pattern of the grants. Some of the challenges I experienced have now been addressed. After the visit of TETfund to foreign scholars, funds are now paid directly to foreign institutions instead of mother institutions, which are where the benefitting scholars work. This removed some bottlenecks in the process.
“Can you believe that the second tranche of the grant was paid in the third year, and so on? And scholars were given two weeks to clear tuition unless you are self-sponsored. How do you explain to a foreign university that you have a sponsor, but cannot pay as agreed? Funds approved between 2015 and 2018, and paid to home institutions have not been properly managed, so it is good that some of these questions are now receiving attention.
“TETfund should also own the outcome of the research they sponsor. This means knowing what a person is studying and how that will fit into the Nigerian developmental framework. How do you explain that someone who went on study leave should not be appraised or promoted for as long as the study lasts? Assuming that is okay, is it also okay to stagnate such persons after completing their study for three years before considering them for promotion?
“I did not choose to stay back in the US after my studies. If funds were released as expected, there will be no reason to look for alternative funders. Although I am not happy with the development, I would like to return because there is no place like home.”