Scholarship scheme is promoting tertiary education in northern Nigeria
Mustapha Usman was in 200 level at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto State when he lost his father to a sudden accident in 2018. Since his father was his sole sponsor, he thought his death would be an end to his educational pursuit.
His mother, a petty trader, told him to forget about schooling. "Her worry was how she could raise five children after her husband's death," he said.
Usman was helpless. He was not ready to sacrifice his education for anything on earth because his dream was to become a chartered accountant.
He continued: "I didn't blame my mum. My father was the only one that catered for me when he was alive. My mum was more like a full housewife with a petty trade. She couldn't provide for what the family would eat, not to talk of sending us (the children) back to school.
"Then I resigned to fate. I believed that if it was meant to be that way, I got no choice. My only goal was to survive after my father's death and tried to help my mum put food on my family's table.” Usmanu later dropped out of school. As the firstborn, he engaged in menial jobs to support the family.
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As of the time he dropped out, Usman joined 18% of students in Nigerian tertiary institutions who dropped out of school for financial reasons, thereby truncating their dreams of acquiring higher education.
In September 2021, The Nigerian Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, disclosed that more than 76 million adults, representing 38 per cent of the estimated 200 million population of Nigeria, cannot read and write. This means that 1 out of 3 adults in Nigeria is illiterate.
The adult illiterate population is the total number of adults over age 15 who cannot read and write without understanding a short simple statement in their everyday life.
The high rate of illiteracy partly accounts for the low level of development in Nigeria, because the growth and development of any nation depend largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population.
The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC) considers it 'shameful' that in the 21st century, a country could have that large number of illiterates. More worrisome is that the authorities are not doing enough to address the situation.
Through a scholarship scheme, a nonprofit organisation, Abdulkabir Aliu Foundation (AAF) has found a way to address the menace.
The foundation’s scholarship scheme is the initiative of Alhaji (Engr.) Abdulkabir Aliu, the CEO of Matrix Energy Group. From a modest beginning of 70 brilliant students in six federal universities at inception in 2014, the foundation now accepts applications from students in 13 partner federal universities: University of Ibadan (UI), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU), University of Lagos, Akoka (UNILAG), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Federal University Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Federal University of Technology, Minna (FUTMINNA), Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), Federal University Dutsin-Ma, Katsina (FUDMA), University of Abuja (UofA) and University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), with over 300 present beneficiaries across the nation.
The scholarships cater for merit scholars as well as indigent and female students with all beneficiaries enjoying N150,000 per annum to cater for 100% tuition and additional cash benefit for personal upkeep.
To be a beneficiary, one must be a student of any of the 13 affiliated federal universities, apply online through the website whenever the application is opened, and pass the aptitude test which is normally conducted on each of these 13 campuses every year.
And once selected as a beneficiary, the student must maintain a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) that puts them in a minimum bracket of Second Class Upper Division to remain on their payroll throughout their studentship.
This means that any student who fails to maintain the required CGPA point would be de-enrolled from the scheme.
Usman is one of the beneficiaries shortlisted for the undergraduate scholarship from UDUS. The moment he got the email detailing the selection, his zeal for education was reignited.
"That very moment, I realised I must go back to school. And fortunately for me, we were in the middle of a semester. At first, my mum was not convinced, but then I told her this foundation would fill the gap my father's demise created if I work harder as a student to maintain a 3.5 or above CGPA," he said.
And truly, the scholarship scheme did. Usman was paid N150,000 every academic session to cater for his tuition fees and academic needs.
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Abdulrasheed Shomope, a graduate of law from the University of Ilorin, was also a beneficiary of this scheme when he was in school.
He said the scheme did not only help in paying his tuition fees but he also used part of it to get a laptop that aided his undergraduate research work.
"I got the scholarship when I was in 300-level and I enjoyed it for 2 years which made me entitled to N300,000. I took from the money to buy a system for my project.
"That system helped me a lot with my research. It made my work easier and less stressful. At least I saw what my colleagues that could not get a system went through.”
Shomope said the scheme saved him from the stress most of his mates experienced while researching their undergraduate thesis.
Another beneficiary of the scheme and a student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Ayoola Tajudeen, told this reporter that the scholarship was a huge relief for him during his time in school because he is an orphan.
He said, "From that N150,000, I would pay my school fee, hostel fee, buy books, buy foods that would help me for a semester and still get some change.
"If not for that scholarship, attending a university would have been difficult for me. I am now working and living fine."
Fighting the limitation
According to Mrs Arinola Bello, Administrator, Abdulkabir Aliu Scholarship Programme, the biggest challenge facing the scheme is how to track the career of most of the beneficiaries after their studies, considering the socio-economic problems in Nigeria.
Obtaining a first degree does not guarantee a good life in the country as 33% of the population is currently without jobs.
To solve this, the organisation developed a website to register all its beneficiaries for possible opportunities.
"Through that website, the organisation would be able to share available opportunities to their beneficiaries even after school," said one of the scholarship campus coordinators.
And for Mustapha Usman, living the life of one's dream is the greatest joy. He is now a graduate accountant working as an intern for a firm in Abuja, the Nigerian capital city.
"If not for that scholarship, I would not be here. I will forever be grateful to the organisation for that rare opportunity.
"My aim is also to give back to society anytime I have the opportunity. The greatest investment is in education," he declared.
Like the AAF, the Sokoto State government is also spearheading the enrollment of students who are from the state in tertiary institutions. In June, Governor Aminu Tambuwal approved the release of N1 billion for the payment of registration fees and upkeep allowances to the sponsored students both within and outside the country.
The fund, according to the permanent secretary of the state scholarship board, Alhaji Bello Isa, covers N188.5 million for the payment of registration fees of 5,643 fresh and returning students at Sokoto State University (SSU) and N312.9 million for 7,096 students at UDUS.
The governor further approved $89,100 and £15,000 for the payment of tuition and upkeep allowances for some regular students in various institutions in London, Canada and in other countries across the world. He equally released $570,000 (equivalent to N342,000 138) for the payment of tuition and upkeep allowances for both new and old students studying various medical courses in the Republic of Sudan.
While speaking with this reporter, Mr Olamide Jacob, a public affairs analyst, described this intervention as one of the best ways to promote youth literacy.
“The truth is that the best form of investment is education and in Nigeria, what is really stopping most of our young people is lack of funds. This is not unconnected to the rate of poverty and unemployment in the country.
“But with this scholarship scheme as spearheaded by the government and NGO, I believe many youths will have the chance to get tertiary education which would enhance their contribution to national growth and development,” he added.
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship