Nigerian students under the Bilateral Education Agreement (BAE) scholarship scheme in Russia, have slammed Nigeria’s federal government for abandoning them in the European country.
The Punch gathered that Nigeria has this scholarship agreement for undergraduate and postgraduate studies with Russia, Cuba, Morocco, Algeria, Romania, Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, Japan, Serbia, Macedonia, China and Mexico, under which scheme, the Nigerian government takes care of the students’s upkeep, while the country where the scholarship award is tenable, provides the tuition.
According to Samuel Adewale, a Don State Technical University, Rostov on Don, Russia, the federal government seems to have abandoned him and 371 other students on the BEA scholarship, as they have been left to face untold hardship.
The special report by The Punch revealed further that the students, who went through series of tests vis-a-vis other rigorous processes to emerge beneficiaries of the programme, are not sure if the federal government cares about their welfare or their plights in Russia.
Adewale narrates his story thus: “This unpaid stipend has affected my studies and that of many of my colleagues badly. During the holidays, many of us would sleep late at night (sometimes not until 4am or 5am) just to make sure we skip breakfast and lunch.
“For me particularly, when I wake up at about 3pm, I will brush my teeth and drink water. Then, I wait till 7 or 8pm before I start hustling for what to eat. Normally, I do not eat breakfast before going to school. I do that after all my lectures and I make sure I eat two times at night because I know that I am not going to take anything for breakfast. But eating twice is not even possible anymore because there is no money to buy foodstuff.
“Nowadays we go to bed and to classes on empty stomachs. Besides, many of us have not been able to pay our hostel fees. Soon, we will have to renew our visas and health insurance schemes. These problems affect us greatly.
“Often, when I get to class, instead of concentrating on lectures, I would be thinking of how to deal with these problems.”
Tosin, a first-year student of the Tver State Technical University, Russia, who reportedly sent a picture of himself and his colleague eating Manka (Russian semovita) without soup, lamented the life they face in the former Soviet Union Republic, stating that it was better imagined than told.
“This picture literally explains most of the things I could not write in my mail. This is how bad it is now. We are currently facing hard times and unfortunately, people in Nigeria do not seem to take us seriously because they feel that even without money – we are enjoying here,” the youngster revealed.
Another student, Otokhagua Imhoisili, who is studying Software Engineering at the St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, offered that the Nigerian government have not paid them any allowance in the last nine months.
The 22-year-old also explained that their monthly feeding allowance of $500 as well as $450 annual medical and clothing allowances, were yet to be paid and that they were being owed $4,000 each by the Nigerian government.
Imhoisili said: “From January till date, none of these allowances have been paid by the government, despite repeated appeals and representations to the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow and the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja. St. Petersburg happens to be the second largest city in Russia.
“The standard of living is very high. As a result, studying has become difficult lately. The recent crisis that hit Russia also contributes to this, especially as prices of goods in the country have skyrocketed.”
On his own part, Daniel Romooluwa, a second-year Design and Technological Support for Machinery Productions student at the Belgorod State Technological University, gave a rather damming verdict, noting that the issue had become a norm with the Nigerian students.
“I would not be exaggerating if I say that it is only my dear Nigeria that treats her best brains in such a terrible manner. The issue of these unpaid stipends has really affected me.
“This non-payment or late payment of stipends is an annual problem. Every year, we go through the same process of agitation and reaching out to media houses to tell our pitiable plight. We are keeping our end of the bargain by striving and succeeding in our studies.
“This is quite evident in the number of Nigerians who have graduated with first class honours in Russia. If we are keeping our end of the deal, I believe it is not too much to ask the Nigerian government to keep its own part too,” Romooluwa lamented.
And while the students would have preferred to work and sort themselves out legally, it was gathered that securing a work permit for a foreign student is often very difficult and that it is illegal for a foreign student to work in the country.
This was corroborated by Oluwafemi John, a Master’s degree student at the Kazan Federal University, Kazan, who stated that the no-work permit for foreign students has been a huge blow to them, as they have had to settle for odd jobs instead.
“There are difficulties in finding good jobs. First is the lack of suitable jobs for foreigners in many Russian cities. For the few available international jobs, consideration is given to students from European countries, America and even South Africa before Nigerians. Again, the language barrier is another obstacle.
“Lack of work permit that allows you to work and study in various cities in Russia is probably the greatest challenge,” he enthused.
For Bode Ngochindo, a postgraduate student at the Don State Technical University, cooking for his friends from other countries seems to be the best way out of the ordeal as he has to survive at all costs.
Explaining his strategy, the vice-president of the Association of Nigerian Scholarship Students in Russia said: “I am a good cook. Sometimes, I cook for my friends from other countries so I can get a share from their food. That is one of my means of surviving.
“One day, I visited my friend from Angola in another school and when I wanted to leave, he offered me a pack that contained six eggs, two packs of rice, chicken, cooking oil, onions and tea. He said, ‘I understand what you guys are passing through, please just manage this.’ That day, I cried for my colleagues and myself.”
He has now called on President Muhammadu Buhari to help them to secure the payment of their eight months’ allowances, stating: “The All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government was elected on the promise of change. We want change in the way we are treated.
“We, the association of Nigerian Students in Russia, are pleading with our President to come to our aid. Things are getting difficult day by day. We are begging Mr. President to have mercy on us. He should please solve this hydra-headed problem.”
The Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Olu Lipede, when contacted, informed that government had just released part of 2015 capital allocation.
“The Federal Ministry of Education is working on processing the remittance to scholars abroad,” he added.