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Is Nigeria ready for student loan program?

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By Abraham Adekunle

President Tinubu signs the bill as varsities are granted autonomy.

Since the Fourth Republic started in Nigeria in 1999, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has gone on strike actions at least once more than half the number of years. In 2020, the union held a nine-month-long strike, which saw many universities in the country ground to a halt. Academic activities were halted and the year was essentially wasted and the progress of students that year is not being considered. The next year was not exempt of another strike as the union held another struggle during later waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2022, the union held an eight-month-long strike on the matter that they had been clamoring for with the Federal Government since 2009. The then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the organization committing to paying university lecturers robust salaries and allowances. However, the MoU has not been honoured even till now. The Federal Government had obtained a court idea restraining ASUU from going on another strike until they had resolved the matter at the negotiation table.

Student Loan Act to prevent ASUU from industrial action.

Nevertheless, university staff are not happy that their requests were not granted by the government. In turn, there arose another set of ideas around making universities autonomous and establishing a student loan scholarship program. It was the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Femi Gbajabiamila (who is now the Chief of Staff to President Tinubu), who delivered a lecture at a University of Lagos convocation ceremony and stated that the problem with funding of education could be solved through a student loan scheme.

He even sponsored the bill at the National Assembly and it was not surprising that the initiative was sold to the administration as a priority agenda. Prudently, ASUU had relaxed their demands from the government at the advent of the 2023 general elections. One of the reasons is that the administration would soon be changed and the Buhari administration had little in power to address the union’s concerns. ASUU was also looking forward to what the new administration had in store for them. Effectively, one could say that the Student Loan Act and the autonomy granted to varsities are to prevent ASUU from going on an industrial strike.

Eligibility requirements for the student loan program.

On June 12, 2023, Nigeria’s democracy day, just two weeks into his administration, President Bola Tinubu announced the “scholarship” scheme. Many have wondered if the scheme was well-thought out or if it will result in disaster, given the speed with which it was introduced and assented to by the president. The student loan initiative is not new, it was abused in 1972 and eventually failed. Also, in 1993/1994, the military enacted Decree 50, setting up a Students’ Loan Board, an initiative which the National Assembly in 2004 domesticated. It failed as well. However, the 2023 Student Loan Act has been described as cumbersome and set to enslave an already battered youth population. The Student Loan law provides interest-free loans to indigent Nigerian students, who must apply to the Chairman of the Education Bank through their respective institutions.

Summarily, an applicant’s income or family income must be less than N500,000 per annum—that is less than N42,000 per month. Applicants must provide at least two civil servants as guarantors of not less than 12 years in service; or a lawyer with at least ten years post-call experience, a judicial officer, or a Justice of Peace. Students who have defaulted on previous loans, or are found guilty of exam malpractices, felony, or drug offenses will not be considered. Students whose parents have defaulted in previous loans will also not be considered.

How many students will be able to qualify for the loan?

All applications will be submitted through the Students Affairs Office of each Institution via a list of all qualified applicants from the institution accompanied by a cover letter signed by the vice chancellor, rector or head of the institution and the student affairs. Most importantly, the Act stipulates that a beneficiary will begin repayment two years after completing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme by having ten percent of his or her monthly salary deducted into a designated bank account. This calls into question the number of students who will even qualify for the loan in the first place. A menial labourer who ends N2000 a day for six days a week earns N48,000 per month alone.

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