The student loan bill was first proposed in 2016 by Femi Gbajabiamila, the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives and the current chief of staff. It passed the second reading on May 25, 2023, and was signed into law by President Bola Tinubu on June 12, 2023, as the Students’ Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023. This is under the President’s commitment to liberalise the funding of education in the country, which is a step that will price public tertiary education from the reach of most working people, or burden them with debt.
According to the government, the purpose of the student loan fund is to provide interest-free loans for higher education in order to address the funding gaps in the country’s tertiary education. But the ruling class are not telling the truth when they say there is lack of funds for public tertiary institutions. The problem is one of priority. They care more for themselves, allocating huge amounts as salaries and allowances to legislators and top members of the federal executive. These are monies that could be used to fund education.
Meanwhile, some of the key elements of the Act are:
1. Interest-free loans to students.
2. The loans will be for poor students whose families do not earn more than N500,000 naira annually.
3. All students who fall into this category are supposed to have equal rights to the loan regardless of background, gender, etc., without discrimination.
4. The loan can only be used to pay tuition fee.
The Nigerian government has established an “Education Bank” to handle issues related to education loans throughout the country. Commercial banks and the central bank of Nigeria will manage and maintain these loans.
But we need to ask why this turn to loans instead of public funding of free and qualitative education. Most of the country’s leaders enjoyed free education, and the provision of education is stated as one of the objectives of the Nigerian state in the country’s constitution.
ASUU has accused the government of trying to stop funding public tertiary institutions by introducing the Act. And we agree with them. The law could lead to higher tuition fees and other burdens for students.
Repaying the loans would be difficult for students from poor working-class families due to a lack of jobs and low wages. It is usually the children of rich people with connections, who do not need any loan to school in the most expensive universities in Nigeria and abroad that get the good jobs. The burden of debt on poor youths with the loan is unacceptable.
The Nigerian government has been unable to implement laws it claims will serve the poor without corruption. Perpetual primitive accumulation in the most self-serving manner is as natural to the ruling class as oxygen is to the body. During the COVID-19 pandemic for example, ordinary palliatives for the people were withheld by our government officials who turned these into their private properties.
The Act might seem cannot bring relief to Nigerian students from the poor backgrounds of working people that the government claims stand to benefit from it. Rather, it will make Nigeria students carry the burden of debt, which for many, will be for the rest of their lives.
by Aishat OGUNDIMU