Open Letter To PTDF Nigeria (Petroleum Technology Development Fund)

Dec 13, 2012 – Open Letter To PTDF Nigeria (Petroleum Technology Development Fund)

Dear Executive Secretary,
I am writing this open letter to you as all other avenues explored to reach you have failed. I do believe that one way or the other your attention would be drawn to this letter either through your associates or well wishers – that is if you do not get to read it before them. I write to pour out my heart on the inhumane and nonchalant treatment your scholars are being subjected to by the actions of your subordinates who have woefully failed to properly carry out one of the core mandates of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund – managing and supporting overseas scholars. It is understandable that due to the amount of work your executive desk requires, you delegated some of the tasks to your subordinates and may not be privy or up-to-date with most of the day-to-day activities in the organisation you head. One of such is my assumption that you are largely unaware of how scholars under the Overseas Scholarship Scheme (OSS) are treated once they depart the country for the United Kingdom. They are literary abandoned by the Overseas Scholarship Scheme unit, whose main responsibility is to support the scholars with their needs throughout their study period. It is highly disappointing to note that for the past 4 years the contract with Univation of Robert Gordon University, to manage the Overseas Scholarship Scheme was revoked and handed over to the OSS unit in Nigeria, the efficiency with which the scheme was managed has tremendously reduced. It is difficult to believe that the OSS team is yet to come to terms on how to manage the OSS scheme since 2009 Univation was sent packing; and one can only assume that the apparent inefficiency and incompetence is a deliberate act to cover certain corrupt practices that may be going on between the OSS team and the Finance team. The issues I am raising in this letter are reoccurring, which gives credence to the notion that it is a deliberate attempt by some employees of the Fund to sabotage the scheme for personal financial aggrandizement or maybe some other sinister reasons.

Permit me sir, to point out some of the burning issues that have prompted me to write this letter, which have seriously been affecting scholars and inadvertently undermining their studies.
Non payment of Scholar’s Allowances
Sir, I do not know if you are aware that up till this moment (12th December, 2012) some of the 2012/13 scholars, are yet to receive their initial allowance (3months first quarter allowance + one-off payments for academic materials and warm clothing). This was an allowance that was due by October 2012. Some of the scholars in this category include especially PhD researchers who were already studying in the UK before the award of scholarships and others who were encouraged by your staff to travel to the UK in early October, with the promise that the allowance will be promptly lodged in their accounts in the UK, as soon as it is processed. The scholars believing the team, had travelled after making available their bank details. By the second week of October, the funds have been processed and scholars who were still in Nigeria were asked to come for their allowances.

However, the scholars in the UK were shocked when by the end of October no funds have been remitted to their accounts. Most of the scholars have made various financial commitments (rent + bills) with landlords and service providers with the hope that funds would have been remitted to their accounts. As you can imagine, these have caused a lot of embarrassments and problems for the scholars. Some of them have thus been evicted from their houses or threatened with legal actions, for non-payment of rent or bills. Some are squatting with friends to get by; others are reaching out to families back in Nigeria to get money to feed themselves. Being stranded in the UK is something no one wishes even to an enemy. Not to mention how badly their credit ratings have been tarnished. Living in the UK is all about good credit rating, without which getting another place to rent would be extremely difficult, to say the least.

This is also a serious dent on the credibility of PTDF in the UK, especially among landlords and service providers, which is not good for future scholars. Obviously, the scholars are so stressed that concentrating on their academic work is most difficult at this time. Efforts to reach the OSS team were always met with the same sparse and indifferent response “the funds are being processed”. This response has stretched from weeks to months that one is left to wonder how long it takes to raise a voucher and make a bank transfer. I have continued to ask myself if the OSS and Finance team are not aware of the total number scholars in the 2012/13 batch. Bearing in mind that the list of successful scholars have been known to the Fund as early as July, one wonders what the units involved with the payments of the allowances have been doing that they couldn’t process the funds before October.

Also is there any logic that funds are processed in batches for people whose scholarships run the same time? I have therefore come to the conclusion that there is a group of PTDF staff who are either using the money for some investment deals or lodging it in a fixed deposit. They cover their tracks by paying the allowance of some of the scholars and leaving off others for some time, while piling up interests from the funds. I also came to this conclusion as I find it difficult to believe that the non payments of allowance 3 months after the commencement the scholarship is due simply to staff incompetence, because this has been a reoccurring feature trailing the Fund since it took over from Univation in 2009.

It has to be noted that none of this was experienced under the management of Univation (information from ex scholars). It is therefore ironical that foreigners care more for the well being of Nigerian scholars than their fellow Nigerians now in charge, making the current situation a national disgrace.
It is also worth noting that some incumbent scholars are yet to receive the allowances for conferences they have attended months after the conferences; and some research field trips for data collection are being unnecessarily delayed (to the detriment of the research) as the necessarily funds for embarking on such trips are yet to get to the scholars months after the application was made to the Fund. Some are also currently experiencing underpayments of their allowances.

Communication Gap

Another burning issue seriously affecting scholars in the United Kingdom is the wide communication gap between them and the OSS team. It is hard to believe in this modern age with various means of communication, scholars find it difficult to reach the Fund when they need to. Emails, except for automatic acknowledgement response, are hardly responded to. The official telephone lines (098700060/098700061) scholars were given to call the team with, are mostly faulty, and when they do ring, nobody cares to pick. Thus, scholars’ inquiries via the official channels are largely ignored. Scholars only reach out to the fund through the mobile lines of some of the staff, which they managed to obtain via personal networking. As you can imagine these numbers are mostly switched off or unanswered.

This is not to mention the shabby way scholars inquiries are usually met with, in the occasions the phones get answered. It is therefore appalling and unimaginable that the Fund cannot get dedicated and functional telephone lines (landline and/or mobile) that scholars can reach the Fund with when there is need. Unless it is a deliberate attempt of the OSS unit not to discharge the core duties they are being paid to do. The welfare of the scholars in foreign land apparently is the least of their concern.

SOS
Sir, I have painstakingly laid all these out to you, to draw your attention to our plight and to urge you to personally investigate the issues raised here and take necessary actions. You will find that all the allegations laid out here are true. I most importantly, humbly appeal to you to order the immediate release of our overdue allowance.

Yours faithfully,
Aggrieved Scholar