ASUU, SSANU Officials, Others Fault Nigeria’s New Students Loan Scheme

Mixed reactions have trailed Nigeria’s Access to Tertiary Education Act, otherwise known as Student Loan Act, as recently assented to by President Bola Tinubu.

The Act, according to the Nigerian government, is aimed at providing interest-free loans to Nigerians seeking higher education.

But one of the conditions set in the Act limits beneficiaries to children or wards of parents whose annual income is not more than N500,000 (less than $1,000).

Another condition also limits the loan to payment of tuition fees which, as of now, is non-existent across many tertiary institutions owned by the federal government.

But speaking on PREMIUM TIMES’ Twitter Space on Wednesday, representatives of university workers’ unions and social rights campaign organisations condemned the law, describing it as a recipe for disaster.

The National Treasurer of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Olusiji Sowande, a professor, who clarified that no federal government-owned university currently charges tuition as part of their fees, hinted at the possibility of introducing tuition by the new administration.

Mr Sowande, who said his union’s opposition to the Act has not changed, however, noted that if the people welcomed it, ASUU would have no choice but to await the consequences of their action.

“We have continued to maintain our stance that the Act is discriminatory and that except the government wants to introduce tuition, students in public universities in Nigeria don’t pay tuition but sundry fees,” Mr Sowande said.

Also, the National Vice President of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Abdussobur Salaam, said the government only imposed the Act on Nigerians without “due consultations.”

Mr Salaam, a senior staffer at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, said the new Act will not only impose an additional burden on Nigerians but also open doors for corruption.

He said the requirements to access the loans, as highlighted in the Act, would make it difficult for Nigerians to benefit and that those who may benefit are also threatened to begin payment two years after graduation

“We need to review this Act before accepting it with open arms. But as far as I am concerned, it is a recipe for disaster,” Mr Salaam said.

Kunle Somoye, former Special Assistant to the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila (sponsor of the bill), explained the rationale behind the law.

Speaking on the space as a panellist, Mr Somoye said the law is a product of a rigorous process which he noted involved the convocation of an education summit by the parliament.

He said apart from the summit and the public hearing conducted ahead of the passage of the bill; the lawmaker also ensured that fees currently charged by various public tertiary institutions across the country were considered and the average measured before setting the rules.

He said: “We moved round the country and prepared memos on fees obtainable across the country in various schools. We didn’t stop at that; consultations were made. All these efforts were geared towards ending the perennial strikes by workers in our tertiary institutions.

“It is common knowledge that the former speaker and now the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu is a lover of education and has always been at the forefront of any efforts towards ameliorating the pains of students and their parents. So I strongly believe that the law can be improved, but you can agree with me that the intent and purpose behind it are noble.”

Other speakers on the panel including an executive committee member of the Campaign for Workers’ and Youths’ Alternative (CWA), Akinkunmi Olawoyin; National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto; a medical practitioner and human rights activist, Goke Akinrogunde, and another social rights campaigner, Isiaka Oyegbile, described the law as a precursor to increasing fees in the nation’s tertiary institutions.

According to Mr Olawoyin, 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.”

He listed the budgetary allocations to the nation’s parliament within the last few years, noting that the budget rose from an average of N130 billion in the past years to more than N200 billion in the current parliamentary calendar year.

If they are truly thinking of the masses, the huge resources allocated to only 469 members of the National Assembly would have been redirected to funding education and public health services in the country. The law is anti-poor, and it is aimed at scamming the people,” Mr Olawoyin said.

On his part, Mr Soweto said his organisation would convene a public briefing on the development in the coming days, even as he reiterated his opposition to the Act.

“Proponents of this law argue that Nigeria doesn’t have enough resources to fund education, so they introduced the loan. Nigeria has the resources to fund education; we only need to stop the waste by the political class,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Vice President, External Affairs of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Akinteye Babatunde, and a Social Change Campaigner, Amaka Osita, applauded the bill but opposed the likely increase in tuition fees.

Mr Babatunde, who admitted that the Act would benefit “many students in this country that are struggling because of fees,” noted that the students’ body would not accept any move by the government to increase existing fees in the universities.

He said: “Before it was signed into law, we had always advocated for a student loan programme, and now that the government has established it, we are interested in it, even though we still have some questions.

“The process of implementation is also looking good. We want them committed to making sure it succeeds. We have presented our queries and we are talking with the government to ensure they resolve our concerns.”

But Mr Soweto urged the students to study the law properly before rushing to embrace it.

“Students’ bodies must oppose this act, study it very well and make sure it is not one to put your members in danger in the next few years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government announced Wednesday that the implementation of the student loan will commence in September.

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