The House of Representatives yesterday ordered a halt in the process of awarding foreign scholarship for the 2014 batch of candidates for the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID).
Chairman, House Committee on Education, Rep Aminu Suleiman, made the pronouncement after interacting with the PRESSID Chairman, Professor Julius Okojie, who also doubles as Executive Secretary of the National Universities’ Commission (NUC).
Based on widespread criticisms against lopsidedness in the list of the 2014 successful candidates released by PRESSID, the committee summoned the NUC executive secretary to answer questions on the matter.
The committee chairman, in his comments, noted that 17 northern states were sidelined in the exercise, with the region producing only seven out of 100 successful candidates qualified for the scholarship this year.
According to the analysis presented by Rep Suleiman, those seven qualified candidates were taken from the North-central while none was deemed to have qualified for the award from either the North-west or North-east regions of the country.
This, according to the chairman, portrays the President Goodluck Jonathan in bad light, and should be remedied before a greater harm was done.
According to the committee, the list of the qualified candidates for the scholarship scheme offended the Federal Character provisions in the nation’s Constitution.
The committee chairman ruled that since the list of the successful candidates billed to proceed on the scheme for 2014 in 25 top rated universities across the world did not comply with the constitutional provisions of Federal Character, it has become null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
The committee also ordered that the PRESSID should show proof that it obtained exception certificate from the Federal Character Commission (FCC) to support its claim that the programme was based solely on merit.
Okojie, in his defence, told the committee that the scheme was designed for candidates with First Class degree below the age of 30, in some specified areas including Medicine, specialized Engineering fields, amongst others.
He said due process were routinely followed and only those found qualified were short listed and screened.
But members of the committee were not convinced as they expressed disbelief that nobody from seventeen states of the North could make the list.
They also argued that no policy, no matter how well intended, should jettison the constitutional provision of Federal Character. The lawmakers maintained that there was the need to strike a balance between merit and geographical spread, in the interest of equity and unity in the country.
The leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), had in 2012 condemned the criteria being used for the PRESSID. The ACF’s spokesman in a statement then wrote: “It certainly enabled the NUC to ignore the national consensus on inclusiveness and balance of competing demands among groups and areas of the country.
“If the NUC had permitted itself to be guided by the need for balanced development of Nigeria, it would not have nominated a preponderance of candidates for this vital programme from Southern states to the near exclusion of the North”, it said, calling on the Commission to correct its mistake, if it was indeed a mistake.
“As presently implemented, it is a disservice to the very objective for which the scheme was set up and to our aspirations as a people”, the Forum said.