PRESSID: Making a Case for the Educationally Less Developed States
The Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), is an initiative of Mr. President to minimize the dearth of scholars in Nigerian tertiary institutions when he learnt that less than 60% of University lecturers are PhD holders. Hence, the scheme was launched which will see Nigerian first class graduates study for their postgraduate studies, especially PhD, in the top 25 universities in the world. The President pointed out that the scheme will be based on merit and not on Federal Character.
The second batch of the PRESSID scheme has come and gone, but the controversy it generated, like its predecessor, is yet to die down. This is because the list of the successful candidates released by the Prof Okojie led PRESSID leaves a lot to be desired. There is accusation of favoritism and nepotism which is further fuelled by the manner of conduct of the aptitude test and inconsistency in the information from those asked to manage the scheme.
After the call for application for the 2013/14, 626 graduates were shortlisted for an aptitude test.
Of these 626, a careful perusal of the list would reveal on probability that about 33 candidates are from the Northern part of the country. This makes a little above 5% representation. Our surprise is that there are many first class graduates from the north who applied but were never called for the aptitude test. One of yours sincerely is one. What is the criterion for calling one for the test? Can Okojie kindly tell us?
Then few days before the test, emails were sent to applicants for the test venues. It was also stated that a parallel test would be conducted in London for reason best known to Prof. Okojie.
We could not understand why London was singled out as the only diaspora where the exam would hold. If Okojie and his team believes that Nigerians in diaspora should have a taste of the scholarship, why choosing London alone? After all, Nigerians living in diaspora other than
London had equally applied. We doubt even that extending the scholarship to Nigerians outside of Nigeria, some of whom have acquired citizenship of the foreign country, is part of the mandate given to him by Mr. President. Our conclusion is that there is no dint of fairness in the whole dealing of PRESSID.
Then came the so-called aptitude test on the 9th of December, 2013. A test that was supposedly to be an electronic one was so disorganized that same questions had to be taken in batches, because of the unpreparedness of Okojie and his team. Although scores of candidates appeared on the screen as soon as a candidate completed the test, yet it took Prof. Okojie and his team six months to come up with 104 candidates who they claimed made the final list. One may ask, what took them this long? This actually provides ground for claim that merit and fairness might not have been used for the selection process.
Why suspicion over the 104 finalists is even much rife is that during one convocation lecture where Prof. Okojie spoke, he mentioned that 200 candidates were successful, 19 among them from Covenant University. (See dailytrust column with the caption “Nigerian Graduates are employable” published Thursday, 26 December 2013). How the initial 200 candidates changed to 104 can only be explained by Okojie’s magic. It is not known either whether the 19 candidates from Covenant University, Ogun, still made the final 104 candidates. That is a whopping 18.3% of the final 104 candidates. Can this all be wholly on merit? Then what benefit is the scheme to government institutions where the need to train more manpower is most urgent.
More so, the distribution of the list showed that the ‘successful applicants’ were concentrated in only two states of the Federation-Ogun and Osun states, which shut out candidates from many states across the nation. For instance, candidates from seventeen out of nineteen northern states were not in the list. The bad blood, suspicion and acrimony generated by the list led the House of
Representative Committee on education to summon Prof. Okojie to explain on the seeming favoritism that dots the final list. His over repeated defense was that the scheme was based on merit and not on federal character. His effort to wish way pertinent questions asked him by the committee by repeating that the selection was not based on federal character, instead of presenting fact and figures, did not satisfy the curiosity of the committee, which then directed him to suspend the list.
The selection process that led to the final list is said to be based purely on merit, but a critical analysis will show that there are a number of factors that make the scheme favour some universities over the others. For instance, Ogun alone has ten universities, while Osun has seven.
States like Kano and Anambra have three and Kaduna, Benue, Kogi, Abia have two each.
Jigawa, Zamfara, Bayelsa, Kebbi and Ebonyi states have one fledgling university each. Whatever formula used, states with more universities have the highest probability of getting more slots since they have more number of qualified applicants. Hence, for the fact that some of the universities in the latter states are immature, putting them on the same pedestal with already matured universities is tantamount to technically edging them out. These universities even need more manpower than the already established universities, which requires that certain preference be given to their graduates for them to have the chance of benefiting from the scheme.
In all form of resources, Nigerians are not equally blessed which is why planners of National policies have always tried to give advantage to whoever is due for it. For instance, revenue is shared to states after allocating 13% derivation to oil-producing areas ahead of their non-oil producing states. This is an advantage the oil-producing states have as a form of compensation for the environmental degradation caused by oil exploration and drilling. Also, scholarship schemes by multi-national oil companies in Nigeria usually give certain preference to candidates from oil producing areas. These considerations are necessary in order to ensure that candidates from the oil-producing regions have advantage over the others. If the scholarship scheme were based purely on national merit, it is certain that candidates from states like Lagos, Ogun, Osun,
Ekiti and Oyo would take it all as they possess the highest number of qualified candidates in the Nigeria education demography.
In a discussion recently, a colleague informed me how he did not see the merit of catchment area in the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) admission process until he applied for admission through JAMB. He is from one of the educationally advantage states. That makes his state not a catchment area to a neighboring state to which he had applied. Then he was informed of his friend, who had a lesser score than himself, but from the host state was admitted. But on further careful examination of the list of admitted students, he found that most of those admitted were equally from his state with exceptional high scores. He realized that if the consideration of catchment area were not used, the University would end up not admitting from the host state as candidates from his state performed in JAMB better than those of the host state.
Looking at it the other way, assuming Lagos is made a catchment area for a university in Jigawa or Bayelsa states. That puts candidates from Lagos and Jigawa or Bayelsa state on equal platform for admission process. Statistics available shows that less than half of the candidates who apply yearly from Lagos state outnumbers those from the whole of Jigawa and Bayelsa states put together. So, if you are going to make selection purely on merit without giving consideration to people from Jigawa or Bayelsa sates, it is certain that only people from Lagos would be admitted into universities in Jigawa or Bayelsa state leaving candidates from the host states with nothing.
From the foregoing, while we believe that merit should remain the ground for consideration for the PRESSID scheme, nonetheless, certain concession must be given to educationally less developed state so that the scholarship can have a national spread and remove the air of suspicion, bad blood and acrimony that have continued to trail it. For example, we suggest that if one hundred scholarships are available, a national outlook formula like selecting 74 first class graduates based on state merit-all states including FCT producing two candidates each. Then 18 candidates across the geopolitical zones i.e. three from each of the zones. This makes a total of 92. The rest can be placed on a national merit base. With this formula, states like Ebonyi, Kebbi, Bayelsa, Zamfara, Taraba, etc would have the chance of making the list. It is also probable that they would still not make the list since most of the universities in these states are very immature.
Such slots would then be thrown open on a National merit list. It is pretty sure that candidates from the south of the country would still have the advantage as they have more number of qualified candidates.
Finally, for the misgivings that have trailed the scheme from the time of submission of application, through the aptitude test to the release of the final list, we demand that Prof. Okojie be bold enough to make open the number of applicants; those who were selected; the criteria for selecting them; the score of each candidate and the cut-off score for selection. Continuing to shroud these in secrecy would further provide the fertile ground that the Professor of Forestry has something to hide. In the event that he fails to do this, the confidence in him to run the scheme transparently would have waned and the notion that he has turned a noble scheme to scam would remain.
This piece is contributed by Abubakar Bala, Dahiru U. Lawal and Abba A. Abubakar.
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