A sharp drop in oil revenue – Nigeria’s principal source of foreign exchange – coupled with the tight fiscal policies of the new government, have threatened the well-being of Nigerians studying abroad. Many are reportedly stranded and there are concerns that students might be among 29,000 Nigerians reportedly targeted for repatriation by the British government.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that there are some 52,000 Nigerian students abroad, including 17,300 in the top destination country the United Kingdom. The New York-based Institute of International Education reports nearly 8,000 Nigerians studying in the United States.
The number of Nigerian students abroad could be considerably higher, as their numbers in other African countries such as Ghana and South Africa appear to be under-reported.
The Nigerian government, with its strategy of developing a well-educated youth, encouraged students to study abroad and facilitated their easy and legal access to money while in foreign countries though the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Foreign universities also used the recent oil boom to organise annual exhibitions in Lagos, the capital Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan. Human resources experts were sent to encourage Nigerian students to enrol in foreign universities.
Parents in the upper and middle classes were able to gain admission for their children in universities in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and South Africa, to name just a few.
The crisis and its causes
During the recent oil boom in Nigeria, the country’s Bonny Light crude oil sold at over US$100 a barrel. The United States, however, has now begun producing its own shale oil and gas, which has resulted in a sharp decline in their gas imports.
The US has also become a major exporter of cheap oil and gas to countries such as India and China, thus robbing Nigeria of some of its most lucrative customers. This has led to a plummeting of the Nigerian crude oil price to approximately US$50.
During the last general elections, Nigeria was faced with rampant raiding of foreign reserves by its own political elite. In an attempt to arrest this haemorrhage of foreign reserves through money laundering and financial corruption, newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari clamped down on the use of foreign exchange.
He ordered the Central Bank governor to partially freeze all domiciliary accounts in foreign currencies, thereby preventing companies and individuals from depositing foreign currencies into their accounts. Credit cards of naira denomination issued by commercial banks were also de-activated.
Impact of austerity measures
The resultant oil glut has impacted negatively on social services in Nigeria. With the stringent foreign exchange rules, it has become almost impossible for parents or government agencies to assist students abroad.
For the first time in Nigeria’s recent history, several thousand citizens studying at various universities around the world are ‘stranded’. They have sent distress calls to the Nigerian government for assistance.
To make matters more complex, many host countries no longer allow foreign students to undertake part-time work to help fund their tuition and living expenses. This is as a result of many host countries facing their own economic challenges, leading to higher unemployment rates among university graduates.
Students from the Niger Delta are beneficiaries of an amnesty programme instituted by the federal government. This was done in the interests of a peaceful environment for oil production in the area.
These students have not received payment for many months and Pastor Reuben Wilson from the Leadership Peace and Cultural Development Initiative has urged Buhari to assist them. This has resulted in an instruction to the Amnesty Office to remit funds to those students.
In addition, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has arranged payment of US$3.6 million to settle the debts of the state’s final-year students abroad, enabling them to sit their final exams. However, the fate of other students remains unresolved.
The president of the Association of Federal Government Doctoral Candidates in Russia disclosed that “students from Nigeria on scholarship in Russia and other countries, namely Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Serbia, Turkey, China and Romania, are all stranded”.
He said their scholarship stipends had not been paid for the past six months, the excuse being that the “budget is yet to be signed”.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chair of the House of Representative’s committee on diaspora affairs, announced that the United Kingdom government was making plans to repatriate about 29,000 Nigerians who do not have the required resident papers.
According to reliable sources, stranded Nigerian students may be among those to be repatriated.
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