The Initiator and Trustee of the National Association of Nigerian Students in the United Kingdom, Shoyemi Peper-Hade, tells GODFREY GEORGE about the plight of some Nigerian students in the UK who have been unable to process international payments due to slow response from some banks at home
What are you studying in the UK?
I am a student of Law at the University of Law, London.
How long have you been in the UK?
I have been living in the UK for over 20 years.
In a recent press statement by NANS UK, you lamented that Nigerian students in the country were at risk of deportation. What really are the issues involved?
The issue is very straightforward. First, there is the inability of Nigerian banks to process Form A – a form used for foreign payments – on time. Also, the banks have refused to refund the affected students their money so that they can look for alternatives. We got a message that the university in question, the University of Hull, England, messaged one of the affected banks. They said they had given the bank one week to remit the money into the school’s account, but the bank has not responded to that mail to the best of my knowledge. Now, the affected students are saying, ‘Give us our money back!’ But the bank has refused to do so till date. We are talking about money that was dropped with the bank in September but they have yet to process the payment till now (November 23, 2022) as we speak.
The students are on the verge of being sent home. In fact, the school has told the 11 affected students since November 7 to go back to Nigeria and try again next year. This is very frustrating. We are talking of students who sold a lot of assets to be in the UK in search of education and a better life. It is depressing. They have done everything to make these banks comply, but all to no avail.
Why do you think there is an issue with processing the payments? Has this always been the case?
No, it has not always been like this. This is the first time it is happening since 2018 when we established NANS in the UK.
Can’t the students pay directly in pounds using their UK accounts?
They don’t have UK accounts yet because they are new in the country. Most of them came to the UK in September. So, they have yet to even process their personal accounts. They were given until October 30 to register to be eligible to access all the services in the UK, but the banks in Nigeria are frustrating these students. The deposits had to be made before they could even get visas. The way it works is that before leaving for the UK, you have to put some money in the Form A. The minimum is around £2,000. When this money is paid, one can then apply for a visa. So, the bank has an agreement with the university that once the students arrive in the UK, the money will be paid. But, this has not been the case.
For now, of all the universities, it is only the University of Hull that uses Form A. All other universities have stopped it because of similar issues like this.
What really is Form A?
It is an application form designed by the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay for service transactions (invisible trade). It allows customers to make payments for services such as school fees, technical fees, dividends, airline tickets, loan repayment, judgment debt, personal home remittance, etc.
What moves have the affected students make to facilitate the payment processes and what is the progress?
They have to source money from friends and families, including colleagues, and even foes. Some banks still owe our students. That is the only thing they can do, and this has not been easy on them. It is just like their money is hanging in a balance. And, since they are starting out in a new country, this can be very difficult for them.
The Nigerian banking system, according to some reports, is one of the fastest in this part of Africa. Why do you think they have not been able to crack this issue and solve it once and for all?
I beg to differ though. Selfish interest and the opportunity to make money off our students have overtaken whatever professionalism or speed they may possess. They know full well that over 90 per cent of our students sponsored themselves to the UK, and I don’t think these Nigerian banks are doing anything to make these processes seamless for these students. Even the Central Bank of Nigeria has ignored everyone to go through their problems alone.
Do students in other locations outside the UK experience these payment issues and how do they work?
The NANS Diaspora, where I was the pioneer public relations officer II never hinted me of any such matter. Every country has its peculiar issues. The UK has become home to a lot of Nigerian students who are trying to escape the failing system in Nigeria. We have a greater issue on our hands here in the UK because of the influx of these students. We have issues ranging from immigration to welfare to accommodation and now, Form A.
Have the students written to the university to explain exactly what the problems are to avoid being deported and instead given more time?
On several occasions, the students had written to the university explaining the issues to them. They have even emailed the MP of Hull East and they have got no response from him. The students’ union in the university has also talked to the management to explain the situation, but they said no. We are only getting to know that there may be more than 150 students across various countries affected by this. The respective embassies of these countries have been helping them to solve the issue.
You mentioned that there were also issues with accommodation in the UK. How exactly does this work?
Many students are going through accommodation issues, especially our members in South Wales. The letting agencies are asking for guarantors who must be British with mortgages. To us, this is out of order and tantamount to discrimination. One of our members got an email from her school that the school accommodation was full and that she needed to sort out her accommodation after paying a deposit to secure a place at the university. The lady just called us while she was already at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, saying that the school just emailed her. Now, we have to try to find accommodation for her. Why will this even happen to anyone? This is why our government has to stand tall for us and fight this discrimination meted on us in this foreign land.
Are you saying that some agents fleece some students off only to not process accommodation for them when they get to the UK from Nigeria?
Not at all, such a thing will surely never happen; registered UK housing agencies will never do that. This is because they have a lot of ways to watch this. For those who go through friends and families, they may have such issues. This is why we tell prospective students to make sure that they follow the official channels. But, saying they will only accept a British guarantor with a mortgage is completely out of order.
How is it that the students are unable to get decent accommodation due to failure to provide homeowners guarantors?
They can’t because the majority arrived with their families. I heard a story that a student with four kids and a wife sleep in a school’s accommodation provided for one person. That is a very huge problem. As the main applicant, you have to come in first and settle down before going to get dependents. This should take up to two or three months. But, most of them do not listen to advice.
Is the Nigerian High Commission in the UK aware of these issues?
They are 100 per cent aware, but they have not responded to our email and recorded mail. I went there this morning (November 23, 2022) to drop off a letter for the High Commissioner, Sarafa Tunji-Isola, but I met one of his attachés. We spoke at length. She is a good lady, but I told them that there was a need for them to respond to us really fast because this is a time-bound issue. If they don’t give us a meeting day, we will organise ourselves from Hull and go to their office to demonstrate peacefully.
You noted that about 11 students risked deportation. What is their status now?
It is getting worse on a daily basis.
Since all the students are from the University of Hull, has NANS UK written to the university to inform it about their plight?
Not as a body but the affected students had done so with the help of their students’ union. Again, there is a young man who emailed the Home Office, the school and other authorities, trying to get it done herself, but nothing has really been done. We are really thankful to Punch for giving us the voice we needed. We are grateful.
Do you feel that the Nigerian High Commission is doing enough on this matter?
They are not doing anything for now.
How do you mean?
They have not even responded to the email we sent. I don’t think they represent the interest of Nigerian students in the United Kingdom. Must we demonstrate before they will respond? Must activate the three Cs of student unionism – consultation, consolidation and confrontation – before they know how serious the situation is? That is not right. They are not helping matters. I am a call away; they can call me to see how we can tackle these issues together but nothing of the sort has been done.
With the influx of many Nigerians into the UK for studies, what do you think can be done to mitigate some of these issues and forge a better place where all Nigerian students can thrive?
The ‘japa’ phenomenon is real but before anyone leaves the shores of Nigeria, they should contact NANS UK and register with us. Also, they must research properly about the schools before applying. Furthermore, the main applicant should come in first and their dependent(s) can join them later. That is how things ought to work. You cannot just come into the UK and start living in the pub and roaming the streets because you did not properly prepare yourself. I have an issue with a man with two kids and a wife. After paying so much, the wife told him to leave the house. It doesn’t work that way. They must properly prepare.
How would you rate life in the UK as a student so far?
Self-sponsored students struggle, but students with dependents can make ends meet with determination. This is because their dependents can work for 40 or 60 hours, but as a student, they can only work for 20 hours and they have to pay their tuition fee. They will settle down well eventually but this will not be for the former, in whose case there will be a lot of bills to be paid. Hopefully, they will enjoy the benefits of staying in the UK in years to come.
Have there been any unpalatable experiences you have had because of your skin colour or country of origin?
Of course, yes. Surely there must be at least one, but one needs to grow a thick skin. If you call me a monkey, I will surely ask for a banana. I don’t really care what you call me. I know why I left Nigeria for the UK and that is my goal, and I make sure it is in front of anything I do. To be a student in a foreign land with no recourse to foreign funds and limited time on one’s hands is so difficult.
Many Nigerian students have come out on social media to beg for school fees, noting that they can no longer fund their studies. How is your organisation helping people like this?
NANS UK is self-sponsored and during our last meeting in 2019 with the Education and Welfare Consular at the Nigeria High Commission, London, the consular promised that the High Commission would surely assist us any time, any day. Also, we organise fundraising among ourselves to support one another. It has not been easy. We are all students. We have limited work to do, although some have changed their studentship to being citizens, it is the same thing. If you cannot sponsor yourself, you cannot just go on social media to beg for money. You should explore other lucrative outlets first before you do so.
How has the NANS UK strengthened solidarity with the universities for Nigerian students to make sure that issues like the current one are resolved without leading to withdrawal or deportation?
We engage with the Nigerian Students’ Society on a weekly basis to check on their welfare and what can be done to sort them out. Also, the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK has been supporting too. That is why we beg the students to register first in order to get advice. NANS exists in almost every country. Before leaving Nigeria, liaise with them to make sure that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.