Student Loan Controversy: Tinubu Writes Reps, Seeks Repeal, Re-Enactment Of Bill

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The controversies surrounding the implementation of the Student Loan Scheme has further taken another turn, as President Bola Tinubu has written to the House of Representatives seeking the repeal and reenactment of the Bill.

Recall InsideBusiness had reported how that the launch of the scheme was again postponed indefinitely after the set date elapsed, Thursday, 14th March, 2024.

The letter of the President, which was read during plenary by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, on Thursday, was titled, TRANSMISSION OF STUDENT LOANS (ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION) (REPEAL AND RE-ENACTMENT) BILL, 2024, and dated March 14, 2024.

The President, in the letter, said this seeks to enhance the implementation of the Higher Education Student Loan Scheme by addressing challenges related to the management structure of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELF).

The letter reads, “Pursuant to Section 58(2) of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). I forward, herewith, The Student Loan (Access to Higher Education) (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024 for the kind consideration of the House of Representatives.

“The Student Loan (Access to Higher Education) (Repeal and Re- Enactment) Bill, 2024, seeks to enhance the implementation of the Higher Education Student Loan Scheme by addressing challenges related to the management structure of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELF), applicant eligibility requirements, loan purpose, funding sources and disbursement and repayment procedures.

“Whilst hoping that this submission will receive the usual expeditious consideration of the House of Representatives, please accept, Rt. Honourable Speaker, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

Meanwhile, the Bill to repeal and reenact, which was presented during plenary on Thursday, received an expeditious hearing as it scaled first and second reading.

It was titled, “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023, and Enact the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2024 to Establish the Nigerian Education Loan Fund as a Body Corporate to Receive, Manage and Invest Funds to Provide Loans to Nigerians for Higher Education, Vocational Training and Skills Acquisition and for Related Matters (HB.1266).”

All the lawmakers who debated the matter on the floor spoke in favour of the bill, saying that it should be passed into law as quickly as possible for the benefit of Nigerian education.

Recall that the launch of the Students Loan Scheme had repeatedly been postponed, and was on Wednesday postponed indefinitely.

The postponement, InsideBusiness gathered, may not be unconnected with the controversies which surround the provisions of the loan which stakeholders have knocked to be unrealistic for access and repayment.

The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund, Akintunde Sawyer, in an interview with Arise News on Tuesday announced the decision to postpone the launch of the scheme.

The loan, which was originally scheduled to commence on Thursday, was postponed once more indefinitely.

Sawyer had explained that the delay is due to some corrections being made regarding the launch.

He had said, “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to commit to a specific date. We are sort of waiting to ensure that all the stakeholders are aligned to make sure that nobody is blindsided, then we can actually roll this out in a meaningful, comprehensive, wholesome, and sustainable way.”

In June 2023, President Bola Tinubu signed a bill to establish a Students Loan Fund that would provide interest-free loans to Nigerians for higher education.

The bill, sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was initially scheduled to commence between September and October 2023.

President Tinubu had announced that the scheme would commence in January 2024 after his government failed to meet the October deadline the previous year.

In January, the Minister of State for Education, Yusuf Sununu, announced during a meeting that preparations for the programme had been completed. This included the development of the Student Loan Scheme website and planning for the program’s commencement.

President Tinubu reassured the leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) during their visit to the State House in Abuja that the programme would start once its expansion to include additional features, such as vocational studies, was completed.

Among stakeholders who have knocked the policy, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had warned that the Student Loan Mandate is not feasible, considering the poverty levels in the country.

ASUU National President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke had in June last year when he appeared on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics programm said the scheme is “not sustainable”.

Osodeke had explained that the conditions for the loan are “not practicable”, adding that more than 90% of students won’t meet the “stringent requirements” to access and repay the loan.

“We, as a union also did research of countries all over the world, of people who have benefited from this loan, they were committing suicide. Recently, (President Joe) Biden is trying to pay back the bank loans of some who borrowed in the US,” he said.

He added, “It is better to look for alternative means of funding education than to encumbering students whose parents earn N30,000 a month with a loan.

“The idea of student loan came in 1972 and it was in a bank established. People who took loans never paid, you can go and investigate. In 1994, 1993, the military enacted Decree 50 also set up a Students’ Loan Board. The National Assembly domesticated it in 2004 and within a year, it went off. The money disappeared. We want to see how this one will be different.”

The ASUU President further implored Bola Tinubu to change the newly assented Students Loans Act to grant for indigent students.

“This would have been better if we are giving it to those set of students who are very poor, it should be called a grant, not a loan.

“It should be called a grant since it is coming from the Federation Account and not that (after) these people have access it and when they are graduating, they have heavy loads behind them and within two years, if they don’t pay, they go to jail. That’s why we’re talking about collective bargaining, you have views from all the sides,” he stated.

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