Monday, 25th January, 2010 was a special day for 51 students representing the first batch of 154 students of Rivers State origin who were awarded overseas scholarship by the Rivers State Scholarship Board to study in the United Kingdom.
As they boarded the Lufthansa aircraft LH4726 to London enroute Frankfurt, Germany at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers State that Monday night, smiles filled their faces as they waved to their parents who were there to witness the historic journey.
The next day at 10.50 am local time, the scholarship awardees arrived London Heathrow airport and proceeded to their institutions at the University of Cavendich and the University of Cambridge, both in United Kingdom.
Two days before the departure, the Chairman, Rivers State Scholarship Board, Dr. Elechi Amadi at a ceremony to mark the departure of the students in Port Harcourt, stated that the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi rightly considers education as the number one priority by inaugurating the Rivers State Scholarship Board, thereby bringing to an end a vacuum that had existed for several years.
Dr Amadi stated at that ceremony that the Scholarship Board is a powerful educational tool which should pursue its assignments with vigour and dispatch.
According to the chairman, the Board in its 17 months of existence has spent about N462 million as bursaries to undergraduates, doctors-in-training, students in Law Schools, disabled students and French students on their one-year abroad programme.
Also, the Scholarship Board had committed over 85% of its scholarships awards to 1053 Rivers Students in Nigerian universities at the cost of N209 million.
Currently, the Board has awarded 154 overseas scholarships at the undergraduate, masters and doctorate levels to Rivers indigenes after undergoing rigorous examinations and interviews conducted by an independent professional examining body drawn from universities, which is in accordance with the very concept of scholarship.
Explaining the Board’s foray into overseas scholarship the chairman said, “our foray into foreign institutions is informed partly by the regrettably low educational standards in Nigeria today and partly by the need for a healthy exposure for our children given the fact that the world is now a global village.”
He however warned the overseas scholarship awardees to copy only what is good and cast aside what is corrosive in their host countries, adding that “recent events have clearly demonstrated that pure academic excellence is not synonymous with high morals and desirable behaviour.
“We shall monitor our overseas students closely and will not hesitate to repatriate those who show signs of cultural and religious indoctrination and brain washing”.
To achieve the ultimate purpose of this exercise, Dr. Amadi enjoined parents of the awardees to help the board by making contacts with their children and wards at least once a week to advise them continually on the need to face their studies because the tenure of their scholarships depends on their performances. Dr. Amadi added that, with cheap phones which are now readily available, communication should not be a problem.
Meanwhile, in a brief speech for the departing awardees, the Centre Manager, British Council, Port Harcourt, Mrs Patience Ezinwoke stressed the need for the awardees to be armed with five important values which will help them achieve their goals in the United Kingdom.
The values which are honesty, integrity, compassion, self-discipline and respect will help the students to stand out and be respected by their host country.
She encouraged them to have dreams of coming back to Nigeria to build a better society with their acquired professional skills.
Promising to make their parents and the state government proud, an awardee, Mr. Barizula Tony on behalf of the others expressed satisfaction with the state government for giving it’s citizens sustainable quality education that would enhance better living in the future.
He promised that they would put in their best to pass all relevant examinations, come back to Nigeria at the end of their studies to help build the society, for healthy living.
In separate interviews with other awardees, Mr. Lasbrey Nsiegbe of Port Harcourt local government area who is going for a masters programme in computer science said he was full of gratitude to the government of Rivers State for it’s vision. Mr. Nsiegbe, a civil engineering graduate who had the highest scores in the selection examination stated that the selection is like the good old days where students out of merit go overseas to study under a government environment.
“To me, it is something everybody should sing and dance for. It is a commendable development in the state, I pray that other incoming administrations should maintain this tempo as far as education is concerned”.
Nsiegbe appealed to the state government to follow the steps of developed economies by focusing on specialization which is the key to sustainable development. He said the state government should institute a training programme for specialization of students after their first degrees because it is with that knowledge that they can compete globally.
According to Nsiegbe, “the world has become a sophisticated place to live in since education advancement has taken a great leap”.
“The level of education in Nigeria today does not support this global advancement in education, so government should ensure that these young men and women are given the quality of education that can make them compete with the best in the world”, he added.
Also, Mr. Eneotu Maclean Jacob, another awardee to study petroleum engineering at first degree level from Andoni local government area is very happy for the opportunity through the state government to study overseas. Jacob said, “this has been what I am praying for some years now. I promise by this singular gesture, I will not disappoint the state, my friends, the community where I came from and the society at large. I will come back from the United Kingdom as a well learned person and help contribute my quota to the state”.
Miss Boma Kiri who hails from Okrika local government area and enroute United Kingdom to study information communications and technology was too grateful to God for using this government to better her life.
“I promise to make the state proud where we are going to and will come back to put in my contribution to make the state a better place to live in”.
In her own words, another awardee, Miss Joyous Nemi of Port Harcourt Local Government Area who is going to study oil and gas engineering at first degree level is grateful to the governor of Rivers State for giving her this rare opportunity to study overseas. She promised to come back to Nigeria and Rrivers State in particular with professional skills to make the society a better environment.
Also, Mr Oteera Leton Precious from Tai Local Government Area enroute United Kingdom to study Civil and Structural Engineering at Masters level expressed the opportunity as a sign of democratic governance in the state. According to him, “Governor Amaechi is so transparent to everybody that is why I am one of the beneficiaries. During the screening examinations, I wrote and passed, I was not asked to bring money by any person, it was strictly on merit,” he declared.
Another awardee, Mr John Jaja Stanley of Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area also enroute United Kingdom to study Information communication and Technology at first degree level stated that this is the way government should help the people especially the youths so that they will be useful to the state.
Stanley promised to take his studies seriously and come back with a first class division and help develop Rivers State with his professional skills.
“I pray that government will help us financially so that we will not lack anything there”, he said.
A parent and a retired civil servant, Chief Ebenezer Ngekpe of Tai Local Government Area thanked the Governor of Rivers State for making it possible for his son to study in the United Kingdom.
Chief Ngekpe also thanked the Commissioner for Education and the Scholarship Board for the way the selection was conducted.
“This is the first time I see that government is taking care of its people. I thank God for everything and the gift He has given to us this 2010”, he said.