Nigerian officials say they will not allow eight students to derail the Delta State Empowerment Programme.
And while pleading with the students to return to their homeland, Commissioner of Higher Education Charles Emetulu and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Charles Ajuyah today dismissed claims that if they did so, they would be punished.
Speaking to reporters at the Island Inn Hotel, the officials also gave the assurance that the Barbados study programme would continue, even though it had been dogged by controversy and there might be cost overruns.
To date nine of the 87 students, who arrived here last December, have returned to Nigeria.
“We will not allow a few persons to truncate a programme meant to advance the economy of Delta State,” declared Emetulu, following what were described as favourable discussions with Government officials here.
“In the course of waiting for the programme to start some of the students began to exhibit traits of becoming uncivilized people, acts of indiscipline among that, and we had to do something about it,” said Emetulu, noting that previously the deputy governor of Delta State was here and some of the students had to sign a code of conduct.
He explained that the students who “refused” to sign the code of conduct were the ones “deemed not fit or worthy in character” to be trained in the programme, and were therefore asked by the government of Delta State to leave the island.
“Recalling them home is not punitive in any way and it has no repercussion. Some have already come home . . . The ones who left Barbados on Sunday are home as we speak. They have called us and said they have arrived home. That is where we are,” explained Emetulu.
In response to a newspaper article in another section of the Press in which several of the students claimed that they would be subjected to punishment if they returned to Nigeria, Ajuyah said “there is no iota of truth in those allegations that were made”.
“These are children of the State and the State deemed it fit to send its children for studies,” said Ajuyah, adding that there were “more important things” to concentrate on than throwing them in jail or
Ajuyah said several meetings were held with the students in which they were asked to leave the island if they would not comply with the rules.
“They were all sent here to learn and if they do not want to learn they should go back home, because it is not the idea of the Delta State government to send students here on the basis of coming to learn skills and the students turn away from the skills and do other things. That was not the agenda,” he said.
Ajuyah could not say where the eight students were staying on the island, but made it clear that there was no contract with anyone other than Casa Grande to provide accommodation for the students.
Pledging continued support for the programme and the 70 who remain at the St Philip hotel, Ajuyah said: “We are prepared to spend our money for those students, but certainly we will not allow distractions like this. And we assure you we are not going to victimize any of them.”
Opting not to disclose where or exactly when the 70 remaining students would begin studies, Emetulu would only say “they will start school as soon as possible”.
“We are going back happy that we have found a very good school that the students will be proud of,” he said, adding that he had no regrets.
He noted that approximately $20 million had been set aside to facilitate the students in their studies here.
Sixty students were sent to Trinidad to take part in the oil and gas studies and training and initially 90 were due to be sent to Barbados for tourism and agriculture related training.
The officials dismissed any suggestion that funds for the programme went missing, adding that the programme had never and “will never suffer from lack of funding”.