The passing of the Students Loan Bill by the Senate in November signals dangerous years ahead for working-class families and their wards who aspire to have tertiary education. It confirms our fears after the Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU) was made to end its strike, without government making any significant concession.
Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, played a central role in the multi-pronged strategy of the federal government to end the strike, which lasted for eight months. He stepped in at the last minute with sweet nothings to nudge ASUU whilst the executive arm of government wielded the stick of a court injunction. ‘
Many students and their parents who had become bothered by the long stay at home, hailed the Speaker. The fact that the House of Representatives was complicit in not mandating the provision of funds in annual budgets over the years, to honour the 2009 Collective Agreement of government with ASUU for improved funding of the universities and enhanced remuneration, tended to be overlooked.
Some of us, young and old in the struggle for democratisation of qualitative and accessible education and in solidarity with ASUU predicted the dangers associated with the intervention of this supposedly good Samaritan. This is because we are not far away from the recent past reports and recommendations of different committees set up by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent President, General Muhammadu Buhari.
The recommendations of these reports included proposals for increment in tuition fees in public varsities to the range of N400,000 to N500,000 and N550,000 to N1,000,000 for students in the disciplines of arts, humanities, social science and the physical sciences, respectively.
The government will gauge the range, based on the different specialities in the different fields, according to the reports. This was the basis of the campaign of the Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neoliberal Attacks (ANSA) and other left student groups in the 2017/2018 academic session.
Thus, the press statement issued by the office of the Speaker on 22 November, 2022, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, is a declaration of war against poor working people. The statement captures the bad news that the National Assembly has sent the Student Loans Bill to the President for his assent, after the two chambers of the National Assembly passed the Bill, which was sponsored by Mr Speaker. The bill essentially contains that;
- It will be in tandem with the act which seeks to establish the Nigerian Education Bank. And implicit in all these is a sharp spike in tuition fees to be paid in public tertiary institutions.
- Students seeking higher education will now have access to interest-free loans to pay for educational services.
- The government shall disburse the loan to worthy students subjects to the recommendations of heads of institutions who must have compiled a list from the Students Affairs.
- Upon graduation and start of work, students who took the loan shall pay on monthly basis 10% of their income to refund back the loan.
On the surface, these might look attractive and developmental if we must agree with the Speaker who claims they want to make quality education accessible to the poor and low-income earners. In the real context, what are the implications of the Bill? These include;
- The establishment of the Bank means the start of ‘loaning years’ to get educated.
- The vast majority of Nigerians are poor. Thus, the children or wards of an average Nigerian will have to get loans to access tertiary education.
- As stipulated in the Bill, the sponsor of an applicant must have an income which is below N500,000 per annum to qualify for the loan. According to a Vanguard newspaper survey a few years ago, only 2% of all Nigerians have above N500,000 in their account. A SERAP report published last year in the Premium Times also highlighted the fact that 27.4 million Nigerians earn less than N100,000 per annum. Another reported of the Vanguard newspaper issued on November 18, 2022, revealed that 63% of persons within Nigeria (133 million people) are living in poverty. Going by these data, more than 70% of Nigerian families would have no choice but to pursue this loan.
- The unemployment rate in Nigeria is 33%, and over 60% of the working-age population is younger than 34years. This is a nation projected to have over 300 million population by 2050 as the third most populous country in the world. In an article by Jerome-Mario Utomi available on March 24, 2022, of The Guardian Newspaper publication, it is stated that based on available data the unemployment rate will keep rising as population will outgrow working space. What then is the guarantee that the ‘loaning students’ will get jobs or even get decent ones if at all? What is the possible income of these ‘loaning students’ when they become workers? And what is their potential viability to repay the loan?
If we allow the increment of school fees and introduction of loans to pay this, we will end up with huge numbers of bankrupted individuals with no guaranteed future. Those who also applaud this ‘idea’ because ‘it is working’ in the global capital of capitalism, USA, would encourage it.
One need to point out to them that student loans in the USA have become unbearable for millions of people. About 45 million Americans are owing a combined sum of $1.7 trillion for their education. That’s what students’ loans do. President Biden announced a student loan relief in August, to deflect the mass anger arising from this terrible situation. Ex-President Obama didn’t pay off his debt until 2004. Working-class people in America are discussing how to jettison this blood-sucking policy scheme for greater options. But that is what the ruling class in Nigeria is planning to introduce in the impoverished neo-colonial capitalist system they operate.
It is imperative that the working-class resists the further commodification of education which this Bill heralds. The trade unions should mobilise Nigerians from all walks of life, young and old, to campaign against the Bill. We must take a collective stand together to say NO to the Bill, and stop it from becoming a law. This is a generational task that we must rise up to fulfill.