A total of 137 scholars who were sponsored by Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) to study abroad have reportedly absconded.
The scholars were sponsored for “higher education” abroad, but they refused to return to Nigeria after completing their programmes.
TETFund Executive Secretary Sonny Echono confirmed the development while appearing before the house of representatives ad hoc committee investigating the alleged “abuse” of N2.3 trillion tertiary education tax by TETFund.
Echono further revealed that TETFund is working with stakeholders for “stringent and effective measures” to be taken against those who refuse to return to the country for Nigerians to benefit from their expertise.
The TETFund added that such persons will be forced to repay the money expended on their programmes or they will be declared persona non grata.
Echono said, “Some of the scholars that have been sponsored, unpatriotically when they go, they enjoy our scholarship, acquire a higher degree, then refuse to come back. It has become a major crisis.
“The scholarship requires that you will come back. It is required that you have a guarantor and in many cases, the guarantor has suffered undue hardship because when you disappear, we hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf but that has not been effective.
“We believe that in a system where we work with our embassies and the institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back.
“We will write to the embassies and they will make it available to those countries and they will not be able to get jobs. They will be seen as fugitives of law from their countries.
“We may have to take that hard stand because the numbers are alarming. We just checked about 40 institutions and over 137 absconders and the review is ongoing.
“It is a huge number that we cannot afford and so we will be seeking your support to strengthen some of the existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from this programme must come back.
“We are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not through our scholarship or our sponsorship.”
Echono also said they might suspend foreign scholarships due to the exchange rate crisis. He hinted that training will now be done locally through “our experienced, first-generation universities and other specialised universities” in the country.
Echono said, “We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at an official rate and we apply like anybody else to get it, sometimes it leads to additional cost.
“Currently as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend foreign training for a year or two. This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments. We are unable to continue based on our disbursement guidelines.
“The money we allocated in naira cannot cover the dollar requirement for training. For those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees. We are trying to put a hold.”
Also denying allegations of TETFund mismanaging funds to the tune of N2.3 trillion, Echono disclosed that the federal government is owing TETFund N371.3 billion out of which it has repaid N46 billion so far.
Meanwhile, the absconding of the scholars has raised concerns about the problem of brain drain in Nigeria and a major setback for Nigeria’s efforts to develop its human capital.
Brain drain is the emigration of highly skilled individuals from a country, typically due to a lack of opportunities or poor working conditions.
It is important to take steps to prevent scholars from absconding in the future. These steps could include providing better working conditions for academics, increasing the salaries of lecturers, and offering more opportunities for research and development.
It is also important to ensure that taxpayer money is used effectively. The money that was expended on the scholars’ programmes was taxpayer money, and it is important to ensure that this money was used to benefit the Nigerian people. The absconding of the TETFund-sponsored scholars is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.