Over the years, scholars have advanced the idea that Human Capacity Building feeds the complex web where education, innovation, growth and employment are interlinked.
For an interventionist agency such as the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, there is a tendency to focus more on infrastructural development.
However, it is people that build infrastructure. So, while investing in infrastructure, development agencies are advised to also build the human resource to drive physical development and growth.
Against this background, the decision of NDDC to build human capacity through its Post-Graduate Foreign Scholarship Programme for indigenes of the Niger Delta region is one of the best things to happen to the people of the region.
According to a candidate who participated in the qualifying test for the NDDC scholarship programme, Mr. Wisdom Ephraim, the foreign scholarship is a boost not just for young graduates but for the entire Niger Delta, because it would give the youths the opportunity to further develop themselves and acquire technical expertise for the benefit of the people of the region.
Ephraim, who is looking forward to enrolling for a Masters Degree in Global Energy Leadership, affirmed that the NDDC made the right decision to build the capacity of the youths, rather than focusing only on infrastructure.
Another graduate who is eager to study Environmental Engineering at the Masters level, Mr. Firima Gbara, commended the NDDC for giving the Niger Delta youths the opportunity of having an enriching global experience through education.
He acknowledged: “The examination was very transparent; I hope I will be selected for the scholarship and I will come back to Nigeria and develop my area of discipline.
Gbara expressed confidence that the foreign scholarship will give the beneficiaries the opportunity to widen their horizon and expose them to international best practices.
Giving her own perspective, Miss Pamela Isikema, who wants to further her studies in law at the Swansea University, United Kingdom, said the NDDC was giving the youths an opportunity to advance their knowledge and improve themselves.
She observed that many young graduates find it difficult to start their lives after their first degrees, noting: “If I am fortunate to get the scholarship, it will be easier for me to access opportunities which I may not otherwise have been able to get on account of financial challenges. So, the NDDC is helping the youths to kick start their lives.”
Ephraim, Gbara and Isikema shared their thoughts after participating in the computer-based test, conducted by the NDDC for five thousand selected applicants for its Foreign Postgraduate Scholarship programme at the Information and Communication Technology Centre of the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Giving more insight into the scholarship programme, the NDDC Director for Education, Health and Social Services, Dr George Uzonwanne, said that the Foreign Post- Graduate Scholarship Scheme, which was started in 2010, was meant to provide advanced training in key areas for Niger Delta youths.
He said: “The Scholarship Programme will equip our young people with relevant training and skills for effective participation in the local content programme of the Federal Government, as well as enable them acquire specialisation in their fields of study to compete globally in various disciplines.
Uzonwanne noted that over 20,000 graduates registered on the Commission’s portal for this year’s Foreign Postgraduate Scholarship programme, out of which 5,000 applicants were selected for the computer-based test.
According to him, “the NDDC has sponsored 2,708 scholars at both Masters and Ph.D. levels since the inception of the programme in 2010. Due to funding constraints, this year’s foreign postgraduate scholarship will be limited to the Master’s Degree category.”
The Director remarked that the Commission initially focused on disciplines related to the activities of the oil and gas industries. This, he said, was modified in the light of current situations in the country and the world. “The challenge of climate change and pollution and the need to sustain our environment, made it necessary for us to add other disciplines that we believe have a sustainable market. For instance, the Niger delta has huge potentials for tourism and we want to prepare the crop of people that will run these industries,” he said.
Uzonwanne stated that development indices of any country depended on the level of education of its populace, adding that the NDDC had a duty to build human capacity in the Niger Delta region in those areas that hold the key to the future.
He explained that the initial focus on science disciplines was because of a noticeable deficiency in the oil industry, which made it difficult to employ young graduates from the region in that critical sector. He stressed: “You know we have a lot of gaps in our oil and gas sector, and that is what we desire in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large.”
Uzonwanne underlined the need to position young graduates from the region to compete globally in various professional fields, noting that before now, the oil and gas industry had discriminated against the fresh graduates whom they dismissed as not possessing requisite qualifications. “We also need to encourage our youths to show interest in engineering for the sake of our projects. We need qualified engineers that can manage our projects just as in agriculture, environmental science and other science related courses,” the director said.
He expressed optimism that the transparent process adopted in selecting beneficiaries of the foreign scholarship scheme would continue to produce first class performers.
Providing further information, the NDDC Deputy Director, Education, Mrs. Idara Akpabio, explained that the successful applicants for the Computer Based Test were drawn from all the nine Niger Delta states and they were put through several test sessions spread over three days.
She noted that to be eligible for the scholarship, a scholar must hail from the Niger Delta region and have achieved a First Class Degree, Second Class Upper, or Lower Division.
She stated that the scholarship programme covered disciplines in engineering; including Biomedical, Software, Marine, Mechanical, Electrical/Electronic and Robotic Engineering. “Others are Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Math/Sciences, Medical Sciences, Hospitality Management, Law, Architecture and Environmental Science.”
The Project Consultant, Mr. Godson Ideozu commended the management of the NDDC for sustaining its postgraduate scholarship scheme and giving hope to the youths of the Niger Delta through the programme,
Ideozu gave kudos to the Commission for making the process of selection open and transparent, stating that the essence of electronic testing was to ensure accountability in the process. He explained: “The whole idea of making it electronic is to ensure that the candidates can actually see their results immediately. There is no room for anybody to change your score since your picture and details are in the system, after writing the examination your score is reflected immediately before leaving the hall.”