On a platter – The Nation

“Well, I could sustain my family because when I was in part three, I had my allowances which could take care of more than books and other things. I wasn’t the only one who was married while I was a student. In our time, with the allowances given, apart from your education, you could actually have a family and still be able to sustain them with the scholarship. But not today (emphasis ours), this allowance in some states is just pittance.” That was Senator Jonathan Zwingina reminiscing over his days in the university.

Zwingina is not alone. All those who went to the university in their days usually relieve those days with nostalgia. They had access to scholarships, bursary awards that virtually all the states then gave their students and even loans in the worst scenario. The worst scenario because, of the three options, it was only the loan that had to be repaid one way or the other, as agreed between the organisation offering it and the prospective student who applied for it. What all these means is that irrespective of whether your parents were rich or poor, a qualified student could not fail to get western education up to his desired level. If you could not obtain loan, at least you had access to scholarship. Where you got none of these, one way or the other, your state government would give you bursary to alleviate your pursuit of education. The advantage here was that poverty could not have been hereditary. Many students from poor homes scaled the poverty line and rewrote their families’ narrative.

That was how easy things were in the country in those days. As a matter of fact, many people who entered higher institutions even up till the 1980s had a taste of the remnant of the bursary awards that the earlier generations enjoyed as a matter of right. Even then, cracks had started to appear in the bursary schemes as far back as the 1980s, when some states began to reduce the amount paid, a precursor to the stopping of the awards, thus leaving many indigent students in the limbo.

Nigerian students of those days were so awash with cash that they did not know what to do with it. Hence, some of them, like Zwingina, got married from the money they were supposed to spend educating themselves. Or, what is bursary? Broadly speaking, bursary is to assist students that cannot afford to pay their fees so they do not become victims of poverty in their quest for western education. Simple. But when you had a surfeit of something, you don’t know what to do with it.

We would have had no grudge with those who led the country to the point where, today, bursary awards have evaporated into thin air and scholarships and loans have become anachronistic, but for their continued lamentation without any serious efforts to bring back those glorious days. It is the more annoying that it is the same people who had things on a platter that would be the first to tell us now that the country can no longer afford such laudable schemes. Zwingina, in an interview with The Punch even made it clear that but for the scholarship and allowances that he got (from which he was even able to marry), his parents could not have afforded his education. Meaning he would not have been whatever he is today. “If you passed to a university, you got an automatic scholarship which is what I got when I went to Kings College and even when I moved to the University of Ibadan. I didn’t have to pay a kobo from my pocket because in fact, I didn’t have the kobo nor did my parents have any.” Many of the country’s rulers passed through this same trajectory.

It is still not late for those of them in position to work out how such schemes could be revived and financed. It is difficult to convince anyone that the country is not rich enough to bring back the students’ loan scheme after all, that is a revolving loan. If corruption is tamed, the country will make a lot of savings to do projects that will touch many lives. No Nigerian should be deprived of the right to education simply on account of the parents’ inability to afford the school fees. We can only hope that those who can make this possible will do the needful; especially with the confession by many of them that without bursary awards and scholarships, they too would not have been able to go to higher institutions.

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