BLOOD MONEY VI: Diamond in the rough

Last month, launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.

This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.

These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.

In June 2015, Fianka Diamond Tamarabra graduated from Benson Idahosa University with a first class degree in Computer & Information Systems and as the second best graduating student in the entire school that year. Keen to further his education, the 28-year old immediately began to apply to different universities abroad for postgraduate studies, during his service year under the National Youth Service Corps.

When the results came through, Tamarabra was indecisive. And this was partly because four different universities in Cyprus, Canada, Russia and the United Kingdom had offered him admission. Beyond that also, he was certain that his indigent parents could not afford his tuition and other associated costs of going to study abroad. So he began to seek scholarships, left, right and centre.

“I applied [for] Chevening scholarship but I wasn’t shortlisted”, he remembers. “I tried PTDF, NLNG and NNDC, but it was not successful. I always go online to check for available scholarships for First Class graduates in any country.”

It was not the first time Tamarabra would be having issues with his education. As a young boy attending primary school in Forcados – less than an hour by boat to Warri –  a renewed ethnic clash between his people the Ijaws and the Itsekiris sent his family packing back home to Okerenkoko, their hometown in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. He was not in school for an entire academic session because of the crisis and even after moving, he had to repeat a class.

By 2009, he was writing his West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) so he could cross the next hurdle in his academic journey. But he failed to secure the requisite five subject credits, getting a pass in English Language. His education stalled briefly.

“Unfortunately, I had D7 in English and I wrote GCE upon GCE to get a C in English but there was no C forthcoming, [so] it stopped me from going to the University because English was one of the core course that is required.”

It wasn’t until 2011 that he finally got admission to study at the Benson Idahosa University under the scholarship scheme of the amnesty programme introduced by then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua for ex-militants and other residents of many resident communities in the Niger Delta. Still he graduated at the top of his class.

“I know I did not go to Benson Idahosa University on my own and people are looking up to me”, he says. [Therefore], I put in my best right from 100 level till my final year.”

So for Tamarabra – who describes himself as a ‘churchboy’ and student Christian leader, even developing a desktop application to take attendance at church meetings in his sophomore year – obstacles in his career have become a familiar routine.

In June 2016 just when he was about giving up and preparing for another year at home, he got a message that he had been shortlisted for scholarship up to doctorate level in any university of his choice. The sponsorship was coming from the unlikeliest of organizations – the Tompolo Foundation. Its founder, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, who is also Tamarabra’s kinsman, was being generous to him and six other students from his domain who had graduated with first class honours.

And his joy knows no bounds. “I want to appreciate Chief Government Ekpemupolo popularly known as “Tompolo” and the management of the Tompolo Foundation for making my dream come true..

Later this year, Tamarabra will travel to Concordia University in Canada to begin studying for a Master of Engineering degree in Information Systems Security. He is aware that the man who made it possible is the second most wanted man in Nigeria at the moment, but he doesn’t care. “I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

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