In 2014, I and several other Nigerian University graduates had been shortlisted to write the Presidential Special Scholarship (PRESSID) designed exclusively for First Class Nigerian graduates who wanted to pursue both Masters and PhD in any top 25 Universities in the world. President Goodluck Jonathan had set the scheme up and the idea was to build a strong team of brilliant Nigerians who will come back to serve the country years later.
There were a little above one thousand of us who wrote the exam at CHAMS, Abuja. At the time, I was already lecturing in UNN so most of my friends (who were also my colleagues) enrolled. 16 of us in total. It was a computer-based test so we knew our fate instantly. I had scored 94% in the exam. In fact, 15 of us from UNN scored between 80 and 97%. Man! We came out of the exam hall completely joyous. We were so sure we had got the scholarship. And we were right. Sometime in February 2015, the list of 101 successful candidates was shortlisted in the National Dailies. Fifteen of us were on that list. I had applied to Princeton University, Imperial College London and University of Toronto already. That phase of our lives was glorious.
Fast forward to March 2015, Goodluck lost the elections to Mr. Buhari. That was where things started to take a new turn. Shortly after Mr Buhari was sworn in, he had recalled the list and complained that there was no single northerner on it. He believed it was an agenda of the South. Right before our eyes, meritocracy was shortchanged for Federal character. It was first like a joke, but we all lost that huge scholarship. It was worth about $250,000 per person (tuition and living expenses inclusive across 5 years). Before then I had little faith in the country but when this happened, I became weary of the country.
Thankfully, later that year, I got a full scholarship from University of Toronto for my Masters and PhD (6 years in total). Of those other 14 friends of mine, 13 of them have also moved since then – US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Japan etc. Obviously we moved on but truth is, the life we have now was afforded to us by the Government of another country, many of which will seduce you with permanent residency and citizenship afterwards.
Any nation that shortchanges merit for anything else will fall. Nigeria has the brightest people, yet, we are where we are (in Osibanjo’s voice).
These people will corroborate my story as they were also winners of the PRESSID scholarship: Odoeze Jideofor Okagu Ogadimma Olikagu Sylvia Chisom Hyacinth Ali David Chukwuma Izuogu Samuel Olisa Chima Eke and others.
By Chidozie Ojobor
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK