Saskatchewan

U of M students fear deportation after Nigerian government fails to pay tuition

A Nigerian government scholarship program that brought 250 students to 14 Canadian universities owes more than $2.5 million in tuition to schools across the country. More than $250,000 of that is owed to the University of Manitoba, administrators there say.

Nigerian students say they are struggling to pay rent, eat without allowances from government agency

About $250,000 is owed to the University of Manitoba in tuition fees for students sponsored by a Nigerian government-funded scholarship program, according to the school administration. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

Gift Amadi says his education and his future are in doubt because he's been abandoned by the Nigerian government agency that brought him to study at the University of Manitoba. 

The political science student is one of almost 250 Nigerian students studying at 14 Canadian universities on a scholarship from a government-funded agency in Nigeria called the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency.

Gift Amadi is a political science student at the University of Manitoba who says the Nigerian scholarship agency that sent him to Canada is failing to keep its promises. (Facebook)
The agency promised to pay their tuition and provide a $1,100 monthly living allowance.

They haven't received that allowance for 11 months, and much of their tuition fee payment has been delayed too, Amadi said.

The agency and the government that funds the program have left the students to fend for themselves, he said.

"It's not just a delay," said Amadi. "It's more like they don't care. It's not of value to them."

Amadi, who is in his third year at the U of M, said he's behind on his rent and is struggling to feed himself.

"Right now I'm taking classes and I'm thinking of feeding," Amadi said during an evening interview. "I haven't eaten since morning and I'm in class."

About 50 students sponsored by the agency are currently enrolled at the U of M, said Leah Janzen, U of M's vice-president of outreach and engagement. She said she's aware of their situation. 

"I know some of them have accessed our student food bank," Janzen said. "It's a very difficult situation."

The RSSDA owes $2.5 million to Canadian universities, with the majority owed to the U of M, the University of Regina and Simon Fraser University. The agency owes more than $250,000 to the U of M, Janzen said. 

Godwin Poi, acting executive director of the RSSDA, said the fall in the price of oil is to blame for failures to meet tuition and living allowance payments for students. (Courtesy of Rivers State Sustainability Development Agency )
"We remain in contact with this organization, and they're asking us to be patient," she said. "But at this point, we're not sure what to expect from them with regards to those arrears."

Godwin Poi, the acting executive director of the RSSDA, said the Nigerian government is experiencing a revenue shortfall due to plunging oil prices and fluctuations in currency. As a result, the government has not been giving his agency money regularly, he said.

"I can only tell you what the government tells me which is that the funds are not available," said Poi. "Allocations from central government and state government have dwindled and the state government relies predominantly on the central government for funding."

The RSSDA and the government have every intention of paying the universities and the students when the money becomes available, he said.

Students given 30 days to pay tuition

Leah Janzen, associate vice-president of outreach and engagement at the University of Manitoba, said the RSSDA students are in a "very difficult situation." (Linkedin)
The U of M has asked students to pay their own tuition and many have, Janzen said. 

On average, international students pay $7,000 to $11,000 tuition per term for a full load of classes, much more than Canadian students pay. 

Amadi said he wouldn't be studying at the U of M right now if not for the generosity of his church. 

"I have to take a loan from friends in church. They were able to help me generate some money that I used to pay," Amadi said. "If not, I wouldn't have been able to start classes."

A few weeks ago, after the term began, the RSSDA made a partial payment, but Janzen said the accounts of a dozen students are still two terms in arrears. 

"Our policy is you can't go into a third term having not been able to pay for the previous two terms in their entirety. So we don't want to get to that position with these students," Janzen said. 

Amadi said the university has made it clear to him that the clock is still ticking.

"The school is saying you have just about 30 days left to pay what's left for this term," Amadi told CBC. "If not, I won't be able to register for the winter term."

Amadi said he and other RSSDA students have formed committees aimed at negotiating more lenient treatment from the university. The students are also encouraging family and friends back in Nigeria to pressure on the government and agency to keep their promises, he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

With files from CBC's Roxanna Woloshyn

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