Education Cannot Wait – Capt Elechi Amadi (rtd)

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This is the part II of The Tide Roundtable encounter with Chairman Rivers State Scholarship Board, Captain Elechi Amadi (rtd) first published last Wednesday.
Here is the excerpts. Read On.
Don’t you think that his writing style is too complex for WAEC level?
It is, Is too complex that is the truth of the matter and that’s what a lot of people complained about, he is writing for the elites and he makes no boast about it he is quiet about it he is quite clear about it, he is not apologizing to any body.
You are the chairman of the Rivers State scholarship board, and there are so many problems, what would you consider as your greatest challenges as the manager of that body?
We have almost finished the bursary for the year, but a few cases is still out standing, we are doing our best, we pay through the banks you know about 50,000 students,then you are paying through the banks students have accounts and then these accounts are in various banks, so the collection, you know bank account numbers sometimes run upto fourteen digits so when you are now computerizing it, you have to be careful when once you miss a digit, you made a mistake and that student cannot be paid.
So we had to employ extra hands, especially computer boys to make sure we computerized the thing, we now send cheques to the various banks to pay students. Some banks have e-mail, e-banking or something like that. We have to devise direct payment by cheques and then, where that didn’t work, we have the system where you load with certain amount of money and the students just go and get their money, I can say we have almost cleared the bursary, for the year.
Any impersonation?
Yes fraud is widespread in Nigeri is a very big problem. I had to send my 23 board members across the nation. Now go to every institution, so that we can know what they are doing, they toured the whole country, every tertiary institution, that took us a lot of time, when they went there, they went with forms for students to fill and then they brought back the completed forms, when they came back, they still had problem, because, you give a student leader forms said ok give to your members, let them fill and bring to us, some of them will give to their friends who are not students, they are also part of the blame for the delay but some will give to their relations and some to their friends who are not students to fill, thinking that when they get the money they will now share with them. So to sort out the students is another problem.
The 23 LGAs are represented on the board, so every member had to now look at the students from his own LGA: Fraud in this country is so widespread that it bedevils everything you want to do.
So we had to do all these eventually we were able to sort out the genuine students from the fake students and then we corrected the thing in computers, then, we have to look at the disable students many of them infact were suffering, crippled students in wheel chairs and so on we thought we should do something for them, I think we paid, atleast a hundred disable students, we paid each one N500,000 a year so that they can cope.
Then we looked at the law students, after your LLB you go to the Law School, so we had looked at the law students and then we got the list of those in the Law Schools and paid. Is an on-going thing, we paid the one of last year, we are set now to pay for the current year.
Then we looked at another vital areas, doctors in training you know after your normal degree as a doctor you do what they call House Manship, so during that training, they need money, so again we paid them for this year we paid them. We had to go to the various schools where they are trained all around the country, collect the names authenticate them, get their bank whatever and pay so all that is bursary.
The scholarship aspect of it we have undergraduate scholarships.
How much have you spent on bursary for students so far?
Well I think, I didn’t come with the figure but, we paid each student N20,000 and when you multiply that by 30 or 40 students, you can work out how much it is, lets say 40,000 students.
Post graduate?
We paid N40,000.
The scholarship thing, we have the undergraduate scholarship, the masters and the doctorate. So for the undergraduate scholarships, each of these categories, we have both local and overseas.
So to do this, scholarship means excellence and that means somehow you have to devise a method of determining who should deserve scholarships. So we had to get some consultants from the universities to set up exam for them, marked and then just send us the list of successful students and that is what we’ve done, we’ve done that and we are now in the process of awarding these scholarships to the locals and I think, about N200,000 a year, something like that for each of them.
Then for the masters, we have the overseas again we had an exam, and we have short listed students for that, ofcourse we have 23 LGAs we have to make sure that all the LGAs are catered for.
So first of all, there is a quota where every LGA has the same number, then beyond that you now think of excellence, so on and so forth.
Now the overseas trainings we are paying about N3 million per student per year.
What we got from the British Council infact is N3.7 million but from my own research we just feel that a student with N3 million should be able to manage.
When once you paid the fees, what is left, you should be able to manage. Live frugally and then you should be able to manage, so we are paying N3 million per student.
Like I said this is very expensive, and you are paying N3 million per student, then that means you get about 33 or so scholarships out of your hundred million.
Now divide this 33 among the LGAs, the 23 LGAs you find you have between one and two per LGA.
You spent a hundred million, you are going to have one or two, so if you have two hundred million, you are going to have about three per LGA so is like a drop in the ocean so when these people are awarded, it looks as if nothing has happened so what we are doing is a very expensive business, is very expensive and we want to concentrate more on our own local universities, then for the scholarships aboard we concentrate on vital areas like engineering I.T. medicine and so on, and then we try to go at the higher level more, masters and Phds who will acquire special skills and come back hopefully to impact on our system, So that is what I can tell you about scholarship, but is on-going now, infact in the next few days we will be sending students to Abuja, you know the UK embassy thing, visa problem, is rigorous so we have their additional problem of sending these boys to Abuja for their visa interview.
We have to send them by air, and each one will cost us N40,000 to and fro, what of feeding, accommodation is a problem, we are still trying to work out the logistics.
So how many people have overseas scholarships this year?
I think we have about a hundred and fifty three, in various categories, undergraduate and masters.
There is rumour that you tend to favour children of politicians?
No, you can see the system we do an exam under it, you don’t pass, you don’t pass. We do our best, we go to universities get consultants, who are left in setting this kind of examination and then we tell them go ahread and give us result.
When they give the result, we scrutinize the result as such.
Do you have pressure from the politicians that you should favour their children?
We do.
How do you handle such things?
Well, I just tell them sorry, scholarship is scholarship, and if your child hasn’t passed, he has not passed.
What really happened was when we announced the examinations and so on, you know, yes we have pressure, people brought their list, I put them in the list, you have to do the exam so if you do the exam and you pass, then you are likely to get a scholarship, but if you don’t pass, as far as I am concerned, there is no back deal.
Because of the amount of money we have, we put a sealing to cut off point, so that we get the required number.
Because of N3 million per student, you can’t give to everybody who passed, you can’t get the money. So we have a sealing to get just the number we can pay for.
What of the controversial Malaysian students you inherited, what is the situation now?
No, we didn’t inherit any Malaysian students, what happened was, when we come on board, the then commissioner for Education, said they have a programme for Malyaysian students, and so on and so forth and he gave us a list.
Well since there was no board before us, we saw the list, said ok if it is an on-going thing, and it has the governor’s approval, we are bound to continue it. So we looked at the programme, then we conducted interviews, and so on and so forth.
In the end, we shortlisted students for Germany, Russia and Malaysia then we computed the amount of money needed so we had a consultant to deal with the whole thing, so, the figures he gave us, we computed the thing and it came to something like N2.8 billion, so when we now took this to the Governor, I told him, we did not inherit but when we came on board we were ordered to send the students to Malaysia, they were already there, so the bill is this, he said no, no, he gave no such authority to anybody and that was it.
I told the Honourable Commissioner you had what Oga is saying, he did not approve it, because there was no money made available for it many of them had come, so we are going to look at them and then see what we can do to help those of them who are already there.
But Sir, you’ve been talking about the amount of money, you budget for each student and every thing, that is why you are short listing persons who are qualified?
Yes.
How much has the state government provided for bursary and scholarship for this year?
This year, we have one point something billion Naira, last year we had N1.3 billion which we are now using for all these.
But you know how the civil service works, we are in October, not so, we have not yet got any allocation for 2009. I didn’t know where the hitch is, I had a meeting with the Commissioner this morning, I told them that education cannot wait.
We know there are compeling demands but you cannot tell your child, you can’t go to school this year, I don’t have money, wait until next year, it doesn’t work. So my point is let education go on, all the nitty gritty you can work it out later on but for God sake let the thing go on.
Give us money, lets operate, we can give you all the details later. So as I was saying, education cannot wait, but we are yet to have allocation for 2009.
And you know, all these students when we award them scholarships, you have to sustain them, so there can’t be a break, if there is a break, all the students will die of hunger in the place, you need the will to keep it on.
I just felt that there may come a time when the students cannot be paid as result of this problem on ground?
Well, is possible, is possible, but we will not let it happen. I will lead a personal demonstration to Government House to get that money if I can, because, the students will die. In aboard if you don’t have money to pay your house rent, pay your electricity bill, pay your gas bill and so on, you are a dead man and nobody gives you money. Here in Nigeria, you can go to a friend he can even give you some soup, or uncle I beg I can’t manage, your uncle will say ok, take one thousand or something but in the Uk or USA nobody gives you one dime dash, is impossible, so when you have no money, you have no money and you are in real trouble so whatever we are doing now, I’m emphasizing the fact that it must be sustained.
The Governor has so much confidence in you as somebody who can push the matter forward, from what you have said so far, do you not see bad situation arising, have you ever thought that somewhere along the line, you were disappointed?
Not the governor’s fault. Just the system. It has nothing to do with the governor. The Governor can say, yes give mandate, you take the mandate and go to the Ministry, they said fine, ok but we can only pay when cash is available and only them know when cash is available.
You said, you hated the civil service, why the hatred?
Because of agrueling job, you know I hate a job where you docked in at 8 0’clock or 7.30 and you stay there you clock out at 4 0’clock.
So I didn’t like it, I like teaching because, when once you finished for the day, you have a lot of work to do, you prepare your lesions, you mark scripts and so on. You can organize your work, weekend, you are free you can organize the whole thing. But the civil service, in those days, civil servants worked on Saturdays, you may not know, so they had only Sunday, whereas teachers had Saturday and Sunday and that was the attraction that teaching had for me, so I could organize my time and write.
Your board members, protest amongst themselves that, you appear to be like a saint may be they don’t have their way, their entitlements, you don’t oblige them, how do you react to that?
No, the entitlements are not paid by the board, it is paid by the office of the Secretary to the State Government. They determine the allowances, and so on and right now, we have operated for several months, before we had the first payment and the payment came from the SSG office, not the board.
To be continued