Delta State officials have reported a “near resolution” in the saga of disgruntled Nigerian students and plan to expand the programme under which they are studying even though it has been shrouded in controversy.
Soon after meeting this morning with Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean, the visiting Deputy Governor of Delta State Professor Amos Agbe Utuama told Barbados TODAY that both nations had expressed an interest in strengthening ties and building on the Delta State Empowerment Programme, under which about 90 Nigerians are pursuing nine-month courses in agriculture, hospitality and tourism at the Barbados Community College.
Utuama arrived in Barbados with the Assistant Director in Nigeria’s Ministry of Health Dr Henry Ojefia over the weekend to get a first-hand look at issues students complained about – including “unsatisfactory” accommodation and “bad food” at Casa Grande in Oldbury, St Philip.
The students had originally been booked to stay at Infinity On The Beach in St Lawrence, Christ Church but they lost their rooms after their arrival was delayed and they have demanded they be relocated.
“My visit to Barbados first is to see the students who were brought here for skill acquisition training, see how they are settling in, to see how we can deal with the challenges that are arising from their programme,” he said.
“We are resolving [the issues] . . . for the mutual benefit of the programme,” he added, noting that it was now just a matter of implementing the agreement for resolution.
While he did not give details, consultant facilitator on the project Donna St Hill disclosed to Barbados TODAY last week that the Nigerians would be relocated to Infinity On The Beach by May.
Questioned about the dispute between St Hill and project manager for the Barbados leg of the Delta State Empowerment Programme Sharon Brathwaite, Utuama shied away from commenting.
He said his government never dealt directly with Brathwaite who was recently suspended by St Hill “for not functioning in the interest of the programme”.
“There was never ever negotiations with any other person at all. Whoever was assisting Donna St Hill was an employee of her and, of course, as an employer you can hire and fire. So that is not available for us for conversation at all,” he said, noting that St Hill was in charge and was the one privy to the contract with the Delta State.
Utuama said the controversy aside, it was the intention of the Barbados Government and the Delta State administration to expand their educational and agricultural exchanges.
He said in his visit to Senator McClean at her office, he had expressed the gratitude of the Government and people of Delta State to Barbados and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, whom he said had shown “much interest” and support for the programme.
“It is the wish of the people and Government of Barbados as well as the wish of the people and Government of Delta State to strengthen this initial step, make it a success and build upon it and scale up our lines of cooperation,” added Utuama, stressing that the partnership would benefit the people of both countries.
The Delta State Empowerment Programme also has a Trinidad and Tobago leg. Students in the twin-island republic are pursuing oil-related courses.
Utuama said the project there was going well.
“The problem in Barbados is that this is the initial step. The administrative framework for handling this type of initiative is not quite present. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been running the programme before and the framework is there and the one there is doing very well; and the programme there is seamless,” he explained.
The Nigerian official who leaves the island tomorrow said his government was ready and willing to invest more money into the Barbados programme if necessary.
The Delta State allocated US$4.5 million for Barbados and US$5.5 million for Trinidad.