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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friday Discourse 116: Scholarship: N70,000.00 Minimum

Friday Discourse (116)

By Dr. Aliyu Tilde

Scholarship: N70,000.00 Minimum

Today, our discussion is on scholarship awards in northern states. Before looking at the figures, it is important to recall the status of such awards in the past. If we are able to cast a contrast between the past and the present, then our appeal for N70,000.00 minimum will be better understood because, as al-Motanabbi said, “things become clearer when contrasted with their opposites.”
All students of northern states, except those from the former Benue and Kwara States, enjoyed full sponsorship of their education up to the mid-1980s. By full we mean they were given adequate funds by their state governments to meet all the necessities of higher learning, including tuition fees, feeding, books, transport and project allowances. Those sponsored to undertake studies overseas enjoyed additional allowances commensurate with the condition of living in their host countries.
Also, in-service students, whether on regular or ‘sandwich’ courses, enjoyed their full salaries in addition to the allowances mentioned earlier. Postgraduate students, who might not have even joined the civil service, like architecture students, also enjoyed GL 8 salaries as well as other incentives, like car loan.
We excluded Benue and Kwara states because by 1980 their ‘bursary’ were not complete awards like the scholarships of the remaining northern states. Nevertheless, the ‘bursary’ was reasonable enough to foot a substantial portion of the scholarship bill of their students on campus then.
Thus, the poverty of a family did not stop a northern child from acquiring higher education once he was successful at the ordinary or higher certificate levels. We can confidently assert that almost all our past and present leaders benefited from this generosity of government during the former Northern region or after the creation of states. This was the system responsible for meeting the manpower demand of the North between 1950s and mid 1980s. It also assisted states in the region to fill, as much as possible, their quota in federal appointments.
Coming to figures, we may not need to recall what was paid in the 1950s or 60s using the West African pound which is unknown to most of us. The figures paid in the seventies would provide a good mean between the 1960s and the mid-1980s. For the purpose of easy computation, we will put the average scholarship awarded to northern students by 1979 at N1,000.00. This may sound ridiculous today; but then, when the dollar was simply 60k, it was a big sum: $1,666.67 or N250,000.00 today!
Fat textbooks of over 500 pages, like Biology’s Vines and Rees were only N6.00; Physic’s Nelkon and Parker, N5.00; Chemistry’s Seinko and Plaine, N4.50; etc. Buying the books was not necessary because there were many stocked in the library in addition to comprehensive lecture notes of teachers. A meal was 50k, i.e. N405.00 for three meals a day (‘1-1-1’) for the whole year. Accommodation, though available and furnished, was the most expensive – N90.00. Tuition was free. The student therefore had enough money to pursue his studies unhindered by financial constraints. He was only expected to cope with the rigour of studies.
Now the reader is in a better position to understand the frivolity of the scholarship awards that present governments in the North give to their students. Let us study the data in the box presented on this page.
The amounts ranged from the least N1,200 given to Bauchi state arts students to N36,000.00 given those of Zamfara (as monthly instalments of N3,000.00 each). Putting aside the bursary award from Zamfara which appears to be a special case, the average scholarship award from the other fourteen northern states sampled was N6,870.00 and N5,170.00 for science and art students respectively. This is only 2.75% and 2.07% of the amount enjoyed by students of the same states twenty years ago in 1979.
This shows that over the past 20 years, northern states have withdrawn their subsidy on higher education by an average of 97%. But before examining the reasons why governments took this measure, let us first look at the options and implications of their action on the students and the society at large.
Essentially, the states have implicitly told the students to make a choice between three options. One, they should abandon higher education, no matter their success at lower levels. Two, they should look for an alternative source of funding. Three, they should do the impossible of depending on these insufficient amounts.
The option of abandoning higher education is not something that a region already lagging behind in education should buy. Higher education is important in manpower development at both state and local government levels. The North is crying marginalization while at the same time, by figures like these, discouraging its indigenes from possessing the basic qualification required for employment. As President Obasanjo once observed, the future political crisis that our backwardness in education portends to the nation will be enormous. Without higher education how do we get the qualified personnel to man our hospitals, construct our roads, build our houses, teach our children or manage our economy? More importantly, can we make do with permanent secretaries, commissioners and governors who are illiterates? So higher education cannot be abandoned. This option, therefore, is not tenable.
The option of alternative funding, as found in the south, is meaningful only in the context of self-sponsorship. It means that only children from materially advantaged families could attain higher education. Such children include the sons of businessmen, generals, top civil servants, etc. There is nothing wrong with such children becoming educated because they will return to serve their community and advance its cause. But there is every evil in allowing education to be solely a function of wealth. No modern society with egalitarian principles will support the condemnation of the greatest portion to its population to class exploitation, illiteracy, poverty, disease, and so on. Education is the greatest vehicle of social mobility and, as much as possible, it must be made accessible to everyone. With over 70% of northern families living under poverty, the option of self-sponsorship is simply not feasible.
The third option is for a student with the qualification and zeal to pursue higher education but who is not from a wealthy background to accept the insignificant offers of his state government and hope to struggle hard enough to manage life on campus. My findings show that such a student is only building a castle in the air. The meagre amounts quoted above have not reach the students of many states for years now. The money could be approved and released but it is often stolen by members and staff of the scholarship boards. Students from Bauchi and Gombe states, for example, have not received a dime from their N1,200.00 and N3,500.00 for the third consecutive session now! Sometimes only half of the amount is paid. For example, students of Taraba State last year had their award raised to N7,000.00 per annum. What the staff of the board did was to divide the vouchers into two (of N3,500.00 each) and ask the students to sign both. They gave them N3,500.00 and promised to return after submitting the other voucher to government for claim. They never returned. What happened to these monies in both cases is obvious. It was 419, until they are paid.
The effects of insufficient funding on the student are many. Such students often lead a malnourished life of only one meal a day on campus. Sometimes, they will only manage with groundnuts or soaked garri. As libraries are poorly stocked and such students cannot afford purchasing any textbook, they depend on borrowing handouts from their classmates in addition to the few lines of lecture notes they could scribble whenever they are opportune to attend a class. The result is delayed graduation of half-baked students with extremely weak grades. Because most of their time was spent on the struggle to survive, not to study, many have dropped out voluntarily or were withdrawn as a result of poor performance.
I doubt if this is what any of our governors would like to see. But what are their possible excuses?
The first excuse could be that their revenue now is not as good as in 1979 to warrant paying students N250,000.00 annually. I would argue that though the naira has lost its value, the present allocations, in dollar value, remains the same as in 1979. Then, the states were getting an average of N9million which is roughly the same with what they obtain today if you consider that most of the states have been further divided into two or three. Sokoto was divided into three states while Kaduna, Kano, Adamawa, Bauchi and Borno were each divided into two. Furthermore, if we realize that the federal government now funds education, ecology and a number of other sectors, we can easily make a case that there is less pressure on the states now than twenty years ago. The excuse of under-funding is therefore untenable.
The next excuse to debunk is the issue of population. We agree that our population has doubled between 1963 and today; so also enrolment and number of our schools. However, these do not signify, at least in the North that has been performing very poorly in national GCE examinations, increase in candidates eligible for higher education. This can easily be proven from the records of scholarship boards in the North. The peak was in the early eighties. In fact, bad performance of our students in GCE is the reason for, not against, restoration of full sponsorship of higher learning to the status it was twenty years ago.
The question is: what then is happening to the resources at the hands of these governments? It will not be fair to hold our present administrations as responsible for this situation. It is a something they inherited. We need to go back and find reasons lying in the negligence of military regimes that ruled this country between 1986 and 1999. They did not match the devaluation of the naira with a commensurate increase in the value of the awards and wages. Neither was it absolutely the fault of the then military governors. The fault lied in the corrupt centre that hoarded federal as well as state allocations. States were then given funds that could barely pay salaries. This led to the entire collapse of their infrastructure and essential services. Wages also became meaningless. Corruption heightened, and as we saw desperate governors carting away with state owned heavy equipment and truckloads of furniture and cattle to their villages!
Workers, through strikes, gradually fought for increase in their wages, especially from the early 1990s. But for students the situation remained the same to date. What fight could they put? They could only resort to persuasion, a language that does not appeal to governments in this country.
Present regimes can legitimately be blamed if after three years in office they failed to do anything or enough to alleviate the suffering of our students in institutions of higher learning. Some of the states have responded, though not substantially. Thus, while some have doubled the amounts to the figures we saw in the table, some are yet to add a kobo over what they inherited from their military predecessors.
An accusation that we cannot defend the present administrations in northern Nigeria against is that of misplacement of priorities. Their predecessors in the 1970s and early 1980s placed education as their first priority. On the contrary, looking at budgets of many states today, we find rural development, transport and even tourism given shares each in multiples of that of education. (Most of peanuts spent on education goes to rehabilitation of schools that serves other purposes than learning.) The money spent on sponsoring pilgrims alone from every northern state is many times more than what it spends on scholarships! This is wrong. We have spoken against this many times before, but to no avail. How can we justify the ugly situation?
Justice demands a quick redress. If we do not accord education the highest priority and sufficiently sponsor our students on higher education, we should rest assured that we are sowing the seeds of discord in our society. We already have enough trouble right now to contend with presently. We have benefited from the wisdom of our predecessors who made sacrifices to enable us get educated. Humanity demands that as leaders today we should rekindle the torch of that wisdom after military dictatorships have put it off. It is only then that the present students, who will come to occupy our seats in the next twenty years, whether we like it or not, would have mercy over the children we will leave behind. Otherwise, they have every reason to dismiss them, saying: “Look, your father was occupying this seat while I was starving on campus before I could pass out of the university. I was given N1,200.00 per annum. So get out.” Let us save our progenies from that painful consequence by acting appropriately NOW. The money we are busy piling will not be of any use to them.
Any state in the North which is ready to sponsor higher education must think of beginning with nothing below N70,000.00 annually for any student undertaking a degree or higher national diploma. This amount is not enough on its own but it will definitely be ameliorating. Here, we salute the foresight of Yeriman Bakura who pays his students a monthly bursary of N3,000.00. But if he can sacrifice the sponsorship of pilgrims he can still raise it to N100,000.00 per student annually. He can do it; in fact he should do it because of Shariah.
The matter is personally disturbing to me because my state, Bauchi, pays the least amount N1,200.00! But we are blessed with a generous governor who does not deserve to be second to any. I believe, on hearing about it, he will pick up the challenge immediately. In addition, we call on him to immediately rid the scholarship board of some wolves that have been preying on students’ allowances. They are more suitable living among other wolves in the jungle of Yankari.
Kano is the richest among northern states and its students had the highest scholarship awards in the early eighties under the governorship of Abubakar Rimi. Now, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, a PhD, will certainly prove his grasp of the importance of education and lead other states by following the precedence of Rimi and improving on it.
From Sokoto and Kebbi states, the scholastic legacy of Shehu Danfodio and Shehu Abdullahi – the most prolific writer of the Negro race in the 19th century – denies them the sadistic tradition of starving their students. If the Shehu were to return to Sokoto today, and Abdullahi to Gwandu, I have no doubt that they will approve the restoration of N250,000.00 for students of their states.
Borno and Yobe states have a history of warfare, generosity, scholarship and leadership that they inherited from Dhi Yadain, Dunama, Alooma and el-Kanemi – people that worked hard to build civilizations in the Chad Basin at Kukawa, Ngazargamu and Dikwa. Warfare and Civilizations are today built on education. Encouraging ignorance by paying their students N3,500.00 annually is therefore the least expected of leaders presently occupying the seats of such great ancestors. We hope they will hearken to our call and redress the injustice.
In Kaduna state, the governor has tried by offering N15,000.00 to his science students. But he is still far behind Usman Jibrin and Balarabe Musa in allocating the greatest share of his budget to education and scholarships in particular.
Katsina embraced western education earlier and better than most parts of the North. It recorded the highest number of influential civil servants. Their governor, who is reported to be honest, will undoubtedly lend his ear to our call and meet the minimum his students would need in institutions of higher learning so as to maintain that record in the future.
The Nubian (Nupe) governor of Niger State should remember that their ancestors built the famous pyramids in Egypt. Why should he fail today to build a pyramid of degrees and diplomas in Bida, tall enough to be seen by sailors on the Atlantic?
And so it is with every other state in the North. Each of them has something of pride or necessity that will strongly persuade it to wake up and realize that the future in Nigeria belongs to the educated. Why should they, therefore, condemn their indigenes to servitude by their inaction?
That is the call we are making on behalf of our present and future students in institutions of higher learning. But ours is to advise; the action is left to the administrators. May God bless those of them who are humble enough to listen to the advice and act promptly. Amen.

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