NUC has just released the list of awardees for this year’s Presidential Special Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID). Again, it is mired in controversy. Most states are “excluded”, many from the north, but also from the south. According to reports, the House of Representatives has just suspended awards on the excuse that it breached Nigeria’s principle of federal character. The NUC has in turn explained that the PRESSID was never meant to reflect federal character as it is an innovation for the country to develop its best brains, creating a much-needed critical mass of professionals.
In 2012, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) issued a statement in which it alleged that the National Universities Commission (NUC) short-changed the northern states in that year’s award of the Presidential Special Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID). ACF, then, also alleged that the criteria had been designed to exclude the north thereby negating the principle of federal character and balance. Looking at the 2012 list dispassionately, while the north appeared to have largely been “marginalised” with most states having no candidates at all, on a state by state basis it is apparent that some states in the southern part of the country also either had a few candidates, or some like Cross River state, had none.
The PRESSID, supervised by the NUC, is designed to train and develop young Nigerian entrepreneurs with the objective of creating jobs and generating wealth.
Selection is done on the basis of merit, with one of the criteria being a first class undergraduate degree. Apart from that, PRESSID only focuses on specific disciplines in the sciences, medicine, economics and engineering. These include nuclear medicine, econometrics, nanotechnology and molecular biology. For some of the approved disciplines there are further stringent conditions. For example with medicine, a candidate must have had a minimum of two distinctions in his or her part 3 and part 4 MBBS examinations.
Indeed, our stand is that this year’s selection, which has already been concluded, should be allowed to pass once it has been ascertained that selection was based on merit. After all, the federal government scholarship reflects federal character.
However, while we also believe that merit should determine the selection for subsequent PRESSID openings, we understand the concerns of the ACF as well as the House of Representatives. In a country where there is so much corruption and nepotism, any activity that involves the selection of candidates for a benefit or reward is usually rightly greeted with suspicion. To ensure the credibility and integrity of the selection process, we suggest that henceforth, a number of things must be done: the selection committee must continue to be transparent and membership must represent diverse interests. Secondly, certain areas in the selection criteria should be reviewed. For example, the choice of a first class grade as one of the first points of elimination downplays the fact that in Nigeria today, students can “purchase” grades. After all, the computer based test will eliminate the not-so-brilliant ones. In the long run, we believe that all Nigerians want are high-performing young men and women irrespective of tribe or religion. (Leadership)