By Promise Eze
In November 2022, the National Assembly passed the Students Loan Bill. The bill aims to enable Nigerian students in higher institutions of learning to have access to financial assistance.
Once it is signed into law, Nigerian students would begin accessing the loans to further their education through the creation of a Nigerian Education Bank.
But there are stringent conditions to be met. They include being a Nigerian student who has gained admission into a public university, polytechnic, or college of education, and coming from a family that earns less than ₦500,000 per year; qualified beneficiaries would start repaying the loan two years after the completion of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme; and the the government will deduct 10% of their salary every month and remit it to the Student Loan account.
The punishment for not repaying the loan as and when due will send cold shivers down your spine. Only recently the National Assembly proposed that defaulters shall be sentenced to two years imprisonment or pay N500,000 fine or both.
While the loan can be gotten from the government with zero interest, there are reasons why we think that it may not work out.
It’s a burden to students
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has accused the Nigerian government of attempts to abandon the funding of public universities with the introduction of a student loan bill.
ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke said the move is just an attempt to make university education beyond the reach of poor Nigerians.
But the government’s position is that several countries of the world have used the instrumentality of a federally administered loan scheme to address the subject of university funding.
However, one needs only to scratch the surface of the aforementioned claim to find out the contrary.
In the United States of America (US), a country Nigeria where Nigeria probably got the loan idea from, there’s currently a student loan crisis rocking the breadth and length of the country.
According to a report by CNBC, college graduates in America are already drowning in so much debt due to their inability to repay their loans.
The report says that around 44 million Americans owe a combined $1.7 trillion for their education.
Recall that the national minimum wage in the United States is $4,164 per month which when converted to naira is N1,867,762.20, and the unemployment rate is as low as 3.70%. Contrast this figure to Nigeria where the average monthly wage is just a paltry sum of N30,000 and the unemployment rate is as high as 33%.
If a country where the citizens fare much better find it difficult to repay loans, what will be the fate of Nigerians that earn peanuts as salaries?
Also, the students loan bill failed to put into consideration the obvious fact that so many Nigerian graduates are unable to find jobs years after leaving school. And those poised to start small businesses do not enable an environment for a thriving business.
This then implies that beneficiaries of such loans, just like in developed countries, would spend their entire adult life repaying the loan! This is indeed a recipe for depression and an endless circle of debts.
Students Loan Bill is a symptom of government inefficiency
The real problem is not giving out loans to students or establishing an education bank. The fact is that the Nigerian government since time immemorial is known for its lack of political will to address pressing issues.
A cursory glance at the case of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will clear ones doubts. Universities remain underfunded and for decades varsity teachers have been employing strike actions to drive home their agitations. But their cries always fall on deaf ears.
The terrible condition of public owned tertiary institutions in the country is very visible for even the blind to see.
One ASUU strike gives way to another. Committees have round table discussions for years but only very little problem is solved.
Would a government who has failed to meet up with simple obligations like keeping to its own promises made to ASUU be trusted to oversee the students loan affairs efficiently? Your guess is as good as mine.
And how are we sure that these funds would not even be siphoned? In July last year Nigeria’s accountant-general Ahmed Idris was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over alleged N80 billion fraud. He was nabbed for deducted salaries of workers which included workers in tertiary institutions.
On a final note, the Students Loan Bill passed by the National Assembly is not a solution to the problems wrecking Nigeria’s tertiary education system. It is rather an attempt to shy away from bringing solutions to the problems the sector currently grapples with.