Again, 43 young Nigerians whose awarded scholarships were ‘withdrawn’ under controversial circumstances by the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA Post-Graduate Scholarship Scheme have cried out against perceived moves to deprive them of the opportunity. PREMIUM TIMES had in September reported how the young Nigerians were left in the lurch after scholarships they won under the scheme were reportedly withdrawn without any explanation. The scholarship scheme is aimed at promoting competency and proficiency amongst Nigerians in Information Technology at Doctorate and Masters Levels. It is a form of support towards assisting such Nigerians with funding to achieve their educational aspirations. The scheme usually selects two persons per state, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT at masters’ level and one person per geopolitical zone of the country at doctorate level. The agency on its website claims to have “successfully sponsored 247 Nigerian Graduates in Information Technology fields at post graduate level and 24 for doctorate” adding that it is “continually monitoring skill gaps in the field with a view to help create a capable workforce that can face the challenges of the Agency’s vision of Nigeria becoming an Information Technology driven economy.” Shock The applicants, who applied in the 2016/2017 exercise had their dreams truncated as the offers given to them after successfully getting through selection process were withdrawn by NITDA under circumstances the applicants told PREMIUM TIMES were unfair. This newspaper learnt that the successful candidates were 37 M.Sc. awardees representing each state and the nation’s Federal Capacity Territory, and an additional 6 Ph.D. candidates for the six geopolitical zones. A cross section of the affected applicants, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES then under condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised, said they were unhappy about the manner the scholarships were withdrawn after they had spent their resources and energy going through the process. Compromise A few days after PREMIUM TIMES published the report, the agency indicated its willingness to integrate the awardees in the subsequent 2017/2018 screening exercise. A statement signed by Hadiza Umar, Head, Corporate Affairs and External Relations, NITDA, said its earlier decision to withdraw the awards was “necessitated due to serious budget deficit experienced in the Agency’s 2016 budget year which the scheme was appropriated for but no money was released to fund it.” The statement added that the agency had made the appropriation for the scheme in its 2017 budget year, consequently, a new selection process will be announced ‘soon’. It also said the aggrieved awardees would be given some ‘concession.’ “Management urged all affected to participate in the 2017/2018 NITDEF selection process, also assures all 2016 candidates of not having to go through the regular registration and shortlisting processes,” the statement said. To push home their demands, the affected persons formed an online group wherein they regularly canvass their demands. Apprehension The spokespersons of the group, who contacted PREMIUM TIMES, said though they were invited to be part of the new selection process late last year, and indeed took part, they are skeptical that they would be re-awarded the scholarship. The candidates, whose identities are not published to avoid possible victimisation also accused the agency’s director general, Isa Ali Pantami of deliberately planning to remove them from the list of awardees for the just concluded 2017/2018 selection process. The group claims Mr. Pantami is against integrating them in the final list of successful candidates because, ‘‘their selection was done before he assumed office as head of the agency.’’ Several calls placed to Mr. Pantami’s known phone line did not connect as it was switched off. Also a text message requesting comments was not answered. A similar attempt to get the official through the front desk officer, Christie Izi’s line was also unsuccessful. One of the group’s spokespersons said while some of the new applicants for the new 2017/18 set have been invited for aptitude test, the 43 are yet to get such invites. He however said they were called over for a brief chat a few days after the PREMIUM TIMES report. ‘‘We were invited for interview on 17th October, 2017 after PREMIUM TIMES publication. On the day interview, we were ‘tested’ for about 45 mins. They said the test will be used to determine our character and for better placement. ‘’Normal interview questions were asked. And lastly, we had an interactive session. We were briefed of their plans and we asked questions and answers were given. ’’In their briefing we were made to understand that we have to choose among three institutions: UNN, Unilag and BUK which violates their initial offer that we could study in any Nigerian university. We were briefed that we will be contacted before the end of the year. ‘‘This was only for us to see NITDA invite the 2017/2018 (set) for aptitude last week which made most of us skeptical and we started to inquire from them. All response most of us got was, ‘’we will get back to you soon’,’’ he said. He said the concern of the group was the failure of the agency to reach out to them before the end of the year, as promised and its unwillingness to assure them that budgetary provision, which they had cited as a challenge had been made to ensure they get the awards. ‘‘One would begin to wonder that 15 months after the commencement of a selection process, an IT agency couldn’t conclude the process. What example are they giving to other non- I T agencies. They don’t seem to bother about the trauma and psychological effects keeping us waiting for 15 months has caused. Many of us have been diagnosed with acute high blood pressure as young as we are. ‘‘Many of us have lost better offers because of this. NITDA’s post-graduate scholarship used to be to UK universities, worth pegged at £30000 but in our last briefing, at the interview they said the scholarship would be to only three Nigerian universities. Even at that, it’s taking forever to award. two years to get the scholarship, two years to study with the unknown years of ASUU. That means four years plus to get a local scholarship and they claim to want to change the way things are being done. Is this the change they are talking about?,’’ a candidate voiced the feeling of the group. Process 99 per cent completed: NITDA official However, a NITDA official in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said the process for the awards to the affected 43 is 99 percent completed. Ayo Eniola, Acting Head, Human Resources and Administration Department of NITDA and the chairman of the selection committee of scholarship scheme, said the affected 43 should be patient for a few more days.