The Students’ Loan Act was signed into law on Democracy Day (12 June) by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This law has met with mixed reactions from the public varying from total rebuke and mild acceptance to gleeful commendation.
The Act like any other government policy is not devoid of rhetoric or propaganda, with the President saying “poverty should not prevent anybody, any child, including the daughter or son of a wood seller, ‘boli’ (plantain) seller or yam seller from attaining their highest standard of education, to eliminate poverty. If we all believe that education is the greatest weapon against poverty, then we have to invest in it. If you eliminate poverty from one family, you can carry the rest of the weight”.
The President’s remark is an affirmation of the Act’s explanatory memorandum which states “The Act provides easy access to higher education for Nigerians through students’ loan with a view to providing education for all Nigerians”. If one is to go by the words of the President, it would appear that the programme provides much needed succour in the world’s poverty capital. Does this mean that negative reactions are unfounded? Well, let’s subject the programme to scrutiny by examining the Act to see if the President’s remark holds water as we attempt to unravel the class nature of the programme. Does the programme stand to benefit the ruling class or the working class?
The Act which seeks to ease access to higher education is embedded with a lot of bureaucratic processes and requirements that a discerning mind would interpret as bottlenecks, which are present in section 14 of the Act. For example, section 14(c) demands two guarantees from civil servants (of at least grade level 12 in the service), an experienced lawyer, judicial officer or justice of the peace. How many poor people on less than ₦42,000 monthly family income have such friends that will guarantee a loan? Indeed how many of such people can afford to send their children to secondary school?
According to section 14(b), an applicant does not meet eligibility if their annual family income is more than ₦500,000 which equates to less than ₦42,000 a month. This is a FAMILY income equating to less than ₦1,500 daily for an entire family! This means that an applicant relying on ₦275 daily income is ineligible to apply (Nigerian households constitute around 5 persons according to the 2020 NBS report). The people who are in most need of the loan are EXACTLY the ones who have been eliminated from accessing it, which necessitates the question who are the intended beneficiaries of this deceitful programme? My answer: The ruling class!
Now let us examine the next section (15): the disqualification section. A student is disqualified from accessing a loan if:
“(a) he is proven to have defaulted in respect of any previous loan granted by any organisation;
(b) he has been found guilty of exam malpractice by any school authority;
(c) he is convicted of a felony or any offence involving dishonesty or fraud;
(d) he has been convicted of drug offenses; or
(e) any of the parents has defaulted in respect of students loan or any loan granted to the person.”
We have to really question the intention of this scheme which discriminates against the most marginalised members of the society restricting them much needed access to the fund. So the fund is falsely purported to ease access to higher education. In the poverty capital of the world Nigeria, people have had to resort to crime in times of desperation just to survive. A good example was citizens breaking into warehouses just to get COVID palliatives hoarded by crooked politicians of the ruling class in 2020.
The scheme restricts the poor from attaining higher education as it widens the inequality gap between the ruling class and the working class further entrenching poverty and hardship on the working class. We have to interpret this students’ loan scheme for what it is which is a deliberate act of class violence orchestrated to oppress the working class populace contrary to the government’s many rhetorics to hide the class character of the scheme as some grand noble gesture.
This is a scheme that offers to the threat of prison for those defaulting on payment. The Act goes as far as imposing a two-year prison sentence and/or ₦500,000 fine. According to the former Interior Minister, Nigeria spends ₦1 million annually on each inmate at correction facilities in the country. This is a waste of resources that should be channelled into productive sectors. The fine is just another exploitative means for the dubious ruling class to extract value from the people. These are not practical solutions when the unemployment rate is predicted to rise to 41% meanwhile youth unemployment is at 53.40% .These are symptoms plaguing the Nigerian neocolonial underdeveloped capitalist economy, exposing the impracticability of the students’ loan Act.
The students’ loan Act is merely a scheme to divert attention from the Federal Government refusing to properly fund the education sector. This has remained one of ASUU’s core demands. It has also been pointed out that the scheme is a ploy to allow increased tuition fees in public universities. Students are required to pay obligatory dues which have keep increasing over the years and may skyrocket with the introduction of this deceitful students’ loan programme. It is a continuation of the commercialisation of public education. Education should not be a commodity but should be a fundamental human right. Even the current national budget hardly meets a third of the UNESCO recommendation for 15 to 20% allocation to Education.
We can conclude with the remarks from an executive committee member of Campaign for Workers’ and Youths’ Alternative (CWA), Akinkunmi Olawoyin. He says that the law has only “provided the government with a weapon to abdicate its responsibility of funding education and transfer the burden to the students and their parents.” The Students’ Loan Act is an abominable affront on public education with dastardly social implications on the society at large. It is a scam that must be rejected and opposed!
by Oluwakemi OYELUMADE