President Bola Tinubu is set to introduce the Student Loan Scheme at the State House in Abuja on February 21, barring any unforeseen circumstances. The journalist is now aware.
Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund, Dr. Akintunde Sawyerr, told one of our correspondents on Wednesday that the formal launch will take place at the same time as applications from qualified candidates throughout the country open.
That is verified, yes. According to Sawyerr, it will debut on February 21.
The Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, which allows impoverished students to obtain interest-free loans for their academic endeavors at any Nigerian postsecondary institution, was signed into law by President Tinubu on June 12, 2023.
The move was in “fulfilment of one of his campaign promises to liberalise funding of education,” a member of the then Presidential Strategy Team, Dele Alake, said.
The Act, popularly known as the Students Loan Law, also established the Nigerian Education Loan Fund, which is expected to handle all loan requests, grants, disbursement, and recovery.
Corroborating the new launch date, a Presidency official, who spoke anonymously, affirmed that, “The Student Loan Scheme will be launched on February 21 by the President, if all goes according to plan.
“It would likely be held at the banquet hall (State House Conference Centre) at the Villa.
“He (President Tinubu) will be unveiling the website and mobile app on the launch date. After that, those who want the loan can apply because the website will start receiving applications that day.”
The government initially said it was to take effect in September but it did not.
But Tinubu had insisted that the scheme would commence in January 2024.
Declaring the 29th session of the annual Nigeria Economic Summit in Abuja open on October 23, 2023, the President said, “By January 2024, the new Students Loan Programme must commence. To the future of our children and students, we’re saying no more strikes!”
Tinubu proposed N50bn for its take-off in the 2024 budget he presented to the National Assembly last November.
Addressing State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting on January 17, the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, said students who apply through its soon-to-be-completed website would be able to access the facility within 30 days.
“January is a reality. Already the website is almost done. Application for beneficiaries is going to be online…and you can access your loan within 30 days,” said Sununu.
However, with January already elapsed, concerns continue to grow over the implementation of the policy.
Giving reasons for the delay, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, told The PUNCH that the lag time allowed the fund to expand its mandate to include students seeking loans for skills development, as directed by the President.
Onanuga said, “The App will be the interface between the loans board and the students. Don’t forget that the last time they met, the President asked them to go and expand their mandate to include those who want to learn vocational skills. That could be the reason the whole thing was delayed because they had to increase the scope.”
After receiving a briefing from a team led by the Minister of State for Education, Sununu, on January 22, the President had directed the fund to extend interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skill-development programmes.
He said, “This is not an exclusive programme. It is catering to all of our young people. Young Nigerians are gifted in different areas.
“This is not only for those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants. It is also for those who aspire to use their skilled and trained hands to build our nation.
“In accordance with this, I have instructed NELFUND to explore all opportunities to inculcate skill-development programmes because not everybody wants to go through a full university education.”
Meanwhile, the Academic Staff Union of Universities has reiterated its stance on the student loan scheme.
The national president of the union, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said,
“Our stand remains the same. The scheme didn’t work in the past. However we are looking forward to see how they plan to implement the scheme,” Osodeke said.
ASUU had earlier alleged that the student loan was just a plan to enrich a few individuals who owned private universities in the country.
Instead of loans, the union advised the government to issue grants to indigent students.