A first-class graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and current doctoral student of the University of Toronto, Chidozie Ojobor, has alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari short-changed merit for federal character upon his election.
Ojobor said he alongside several other first-class graduates of institutions across Nigeria had been shortlisted to take the Presidential Special Scholarship (PRESSID) designed by former President Goodluck Jonathan, exclusively for first- class Nigerian graduates who wanted to further their studies in any university across the world.
According to him, he had taken the examination with 16 of his colleagues who were also Graduate-Assistants at the UNN and being a computer-based test, each of them got to know their scores immediately.
He said in February 2015, the list of 101 successful candidates shortlisted for the scholarship programme was published in the national dailies.
Ojobor said he had already applied to Princeton University, Imperial College London and University of Toronto and had high hopes of clinching the $250, 000 (about N50,000,000 at the time at the rate of $1/N200) worth of scholarship.
He said there was however a twist in fate when Jonathan lost the presidential election to Buhari.
Ojobor said shortly after Buhari was sworn in, he recalled the list and complained that there was no single northerner on it.
He alleged that Buhari kicked against the list because he considered it as an agenda of the South, which made him and others to lose such a huge opportunity.
The scholarship was worth about $250,000 per person (tuition and living expenses inclusive across 5 years).
Ojobor said he got a fully-funded scholarship later that year at the University of Toronto, Canada, along with some of his colleagues affected by the incident but he noted that a country that sacrifices merit for anything else will fall.
He said, “In 2014, I and several other Nigerian university graduates had been shortlisted to take the Presidential Special Scholarship (PRESSID) designed exclusively for first-class Nigerian graduates who wanted to pursue both master's 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 took the examination 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 scored 94% in the exam. In fact, 15 of us from UNN scored between 80 and 97%.
“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 shortlisted candidates was published in the national dailies. 15 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 election to Mr. Buhari. That was where things started to take a new turn. Shortly after Mr Buhari was sworn in, he 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 short-changed 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 master's 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 and the rest. 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 shortgchanges merit for anything else will fall. Nigeria has the brightest people, yet, we are where we are.”