THE disturbing news doing the rounds is that high- ranking government officials have hijacked an undergraduate scholarship scheme instituted by a Chinese construction firm, China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), for young Nigerians. The scholarship is meant for qualified Nigerian youths but the ministers and senior officials in the Presidency have allegedly cornered it for their children and wards. Applicants who were not nominated by senior public officials were reportedly prevented from attending the interview for the scholarship. They were shut out of the opportunity to access the scholarship fund. The public officials allegedly brooked no competition, the excellence that may result from a competitive process notwithstanding.
The news is unsettling not because the alleged action of the top public officials is by any means strange but because they seem to have become dangerously incorrigible and insensitive. Ordinarily, the intensity of public outrage that greeted similar insensitive and selfish dispositions by public officials in the recent past ought to have swayed any thoughtful person. But apparently because this manner of corruption seldom attracts the appropriate official attention, there is a sense of impunity that tends to beget further illegalities and morally reprehensible actions.
The illegal recruitment carried out by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the early days of this administration is still fresh in the memories of concerned Nigerians. Children and wards of public officials and politicians were recruited to fill the unadvertised vacancies at CBN and some government agencies. Members of the public raised a flag but the illegality was sustained by government’s silence and inaction. And when the government went ahead to make its own skewed and nepotistic appointments and rigorously defended same, it became clear that the official definition of corruption is less than robust. And for an administration that is noted for its anti-corruption mantra, the non-inclusion of irregular recruitments/ appointments and favoritism in the corruption matrix speaks volumes. The CCECC scholarship scandal is simply a repeat of what has been the usual selfish behaviour of public officials towards citizens’ commonwealth. The big question is, when will it end and for how long will those who hold power in trust for the masses continue to carry on as if there are no rules?
As usual, a peek into the composition of the public officials who allegedly nominated candidates for the CCECC scholarship scheme to the exclusion of other qualified Nigerians reflects a spread across religion and ethnic backgrounds. This is typical of elite’s cooperation that often borders on conspiracy whenever the collective patrimony of the citizenry is to be plundered. Sometimes, even political affiliations are relegated to the background by the elite and privileged public officials in pursuit of their common but ignoble objective of cheating the masses out of what rightly belongs to them. The Chinese firm offering the scholarship at issue is a very prominent contractor executing many infrastructure projects for the Federal Government and some state governments. In essence, the scholarship scheme could be seen as the construction company’s way of giving back to the society part of what it has taken from it.
It is selfish and unconscionable for a few public officials to appropriate the proceeds of the construction company’s corporate social responsibilities for themselves. The truth is that these inconsiderate officials have the capacity to fund the education of their children, yet they would not allow the children of the poor to compete for, let alone win the scholarship. This is patently egocentric, thoughtless and unacceptable. To be sure, it is not being suggested that the children of the well-off public officials have no right to seek the CCECC scholarship; they are Nigerians and, as such, are eligible to avail themselves of any opportunities arising from government activities. If their nominators who could pay for their education did not deem it inappropriate to let them compete with those who evidently needed the education but could not pay for it, that is a moral question and there is nothing illegal about it.
The veritable issue and the point we make, however, is that other applicants, including the indigent ones, should have been accorded the same opportunity to compete. It is both immoral and illegal to prevent other applicants from accessing the scholarship fund just because they do not have ministers as fathers, uncles and aunties. This is a cardinal issue not only because unequal treatment of the haves and the have-nots puts a question mark on the official sense of fairness, but also because a society that denies people opportunities hardly advances.