Joseph Ogundari is stranded and nearly penniless in Eugene, Ore., 10,000 miles from his home at Akure in Ondo, Nigeria. He is barred from classes at the University of Oregon because he hasn't paid his bills, and he is very worried about his wife and three children.
Ogundari is one of 20,000 Nigerian students who have been in real trouble here over the past few years because of the Nigerian government's slowness in sending them the money for tuition and living expenses. No matter how well off their families may be back home, or how large their scholarships are, the students routinely suffer financial difficulties and humiliation when the funds don't arrive on time.
The problem is Nigeria's rigid foreign exchanges laws, according to Ambassador Olujimi Jolosao. All money coming out of the country has to go through a tangled web cast by the Central Bank of Nigeria, and often through another net at the state level if a local scholarship is involved.
The problem is not unique to Nigerians. When foreign governments fall or suffer political and economic upheaval, their students here go into financial limbo, uncertain when money from home will arrive or even if it will arrive at all. Exchange rate fluctuations when foreign currency scholarships are fixed have crippled many an alien scholar, while others have had their funds cut off overnight for political reasons.
Finance is "the single greatest problem" for the students from 80 countries at Howard University, according to international services director Harry Bem. "Nigeria is the most difficult."
There was a near-crisis in January when schools opening up for the winter term found that most Nigerian students had not yet paid their fall bills and could not guarantee payment for the rest of the year. Ogundari was among those who had not yet received a scholarship renewal for his master's degree in physical education, even though he had requested it a full year earlier.
"It's just the slow process of pushing files from desk to desk," he said. He said he had begged the University of Oregon for loans to get through each quarter of 1978. But the school's patience had finally ran out.
At Texas Southern, dean Charles Walker said the school was lending money to Nigerians for food and rent. Other students moved in with friends; some managed to get back to Nigeria and collected their money personally. Immigration authorities tend to ask questions if a student is out of classes too long. At Howard, student association president Sami Ade said some f his countrymen were near suicide because of their financial worries.
"It's such a ball of wax," said Dixon Johnson, an official of the University of Tennessee. "There are students here without any money to live on." He was recently named special cooridinator for Nigerian student problems at the National Association of Foreign Studen Affairs (NAFSA), a private nonprofit organization that acts as a resource center and clearinghouse for those who work with foreign scholars.
Nigerian law also prevents the student's families from sending them money to tide them over because the government considers any student on a scholarship list to be fully provided for. Funds cannot be sent out of the country to them, Johnson said.
The heads of four major educational associations finally went to Nigerian Ambassador Joloaso to protest. He told them that the program was behind attacked "at the higest levels" and that outstanding bills would be paid shortly.
The educators have heard that song before. "Colleges can only go so far out on a limb," Johnson said.