The Barbados Community College (BCC) will be ready by month end to accommodate the group of Nigerian students whose stay here has been embroiled in controversy.
Minister of Education Ronald Jones gave the assurance today as he disclosed that Government had appointed the Commission for Pan-African Affairs to act as a liaison between the Ministry of Education and the students.
He also revealed that he would be speaking with representatives from the Nigerian Embassy and, over the next two months, Government would put a policy framework in place to guide the process of similar initiatives in the future.
The Nigerians, who arrived in Barbados two weeks ago, will be pursuing studies in hospitality and horticulture at the BCC over the next nine months.
“By the end of this month those students will be fully in their special project . . . . BCC has been moving rapidly to be in a state of readiness,” said Jones, explaining that while the programme should have been in place since last September, the “on again and off again” situation of the Nigerians’ arrival contributed to recent developments including “the accommodation environment”.
The group has complained about unsatisfactory conditions at the Casa Grande Hotel where they are staying.
“Once we are able to get that aspect regarding accommodation properly settled, while anything could happen in life, we do not see any further [fallout]. Most of the conversation has been around ‘where I am staying’. Barbados is in the heart of its tourist season and therefore we would have to find, if necessary, accommodation . . . that will settle their concerns. That is 90 per cent of the issue, not the Barbados Community College,” Jones said.
The Minister described what had happened with the Nigerians as “a bit unfortunate”.
“And we as a Government will continue to work with all the parties involved to ensure that whatever difficulties were at the root of some of what you saw expressed would dissipate so what the students came for would be reached,” he said.
He said the fact students were going through orientation this week was a positive sign that there was “some settling in some of the issues which presented themselves”.
“We expect that this will continue. The Government has appointed Dr Deryck Murray [director of the Commission for Pan-African Affairs] as its liaison between students and the principal private entrepreneur to essentially keep us abreast of the progress of the matter . . . and be able to deal with some of the cultural issues which present themselves and basically as a go-between [for] the Government and the students here in Barbados,” he added.
The students came to Barbados under the Delta State Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) of Nigeria and Jones said while Government supported such initiatives, the only involvement it had in this particular case was at the level of immigration to process student visas, the Ministry of Health, and through the BCC.
“We were not engaged or involved at the level of accommodation or things of that ilk. I think that is where we have had some breakdown,” he said.
He said some officials from the Nigerian Embassy in Trinidad should be on their way to Barbados to further explore and help to resolve any outstanding issues.
“This was an unfortunate scenario that spilled out as a result of a combination of factors, some human made and some not human made. That is the reality. But you can rest assured that the agencies of Government will work individually or cooperatively to ensure that not only the needs of those Nigerians are satisfied here, but any other group or individual student,” said Jones.
Meantime, the Minister noted that while there has been much focus on this group of students, many Nigerians have already been studying here, at the American University of Barbados (AUB).
In fact, he said, the AUB was expecting to increase the number of students from Africa to about 200 by September and 1,000 over the next four years, through its Africa Outreach Programme.