• Monday, April 22, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Student loan scheme: Timeline of unmet expectations

The travesty surrounding the student loan scheme in Nigeria has left many confused about what this piece of legislation stands to offer amid the uncertainties beclouding the project amid disturbing inconsistency of the launch date.

On Monday, June 12, 2023, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu signed the Student Loan Act into law with imprisonment, and/or N500,000 fines for defaulters.

The Act, which is a brainchild of Femi Gbajabiamila, the immediate past speaker of the House of Representatives, now the president’s chief of staff, was said to enable Nigerian students to have access to interest-free loans.

The presidency earlier assured Nigerians that by September to October of the 2023/2024 academic session, he will see that recipients get the loan.

So, according to the presidency, “It is a very serious march for us. Between now and then, we have phantom the process for people to get the loan.”

On October 23, President Bola Tinubu declared that the student loan scheme would officially commence in January 2024, after his government failed to meet the October deadline last year.

On Monday, January 22, 2024, President Bola Tinubu directed the management of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) to expand its focus area by extending interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skill-development programmes.

The President issued this directive at the State House after a briefing from Akintunde Sawyerr, executive secretary of NELFUND, on the build-up to the programme’s launch later in February.

President Tinubu said it is important for the scheme to accommodate those who may not want to pursue university education, noting that skill acquisition is as important as obtaining undergraduate and graduate academic qualifications.

“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. By 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,” he said.

Yusuf Sununu, the minister of state for education in January, also told Nigerians that preparations for the programme were finished.

This he said included making the loan scheme website and planning how to kick-start the programme.

On Monday, February 19, Olayemi Cardoso, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, held an inaugural meeting with the NELFUND charging members to work towards the smooth take-off of the scheme on Monday, February 26.

However, the launch did not see the light of the day as the federal government gave a new date for the launch.

The government once again assured Nigerians that it will open the portal for eligible students through the NELFund in March.

Akintunde Sawyerr, the executive secretary of NELFund disclosed this to journalists, as he urged eligible students to register to access the fund.

Sawyerr, speaking on the previous delay explained that the process is “technically driven” and necessary measures needed to be put in place for proper execution.

On Tuesday, March 12, the federal government announced that the student loan scheme billed to be launched on Thursday, March 14 is postponed indefinitely.

Akintunde Sawyerr, the executive secretary of NELFund disclosed this during an interview with Arise News Television.

“Thursday is not the day for the launch because there have been some corrections made around the launch itself,” Sawyerr said.

Furthermore, he 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 roll this out in a meaningful, comprehensive, wholesome and sustainable way.”

As Nigerians wait in confusion not knowing when the student loan scheme will be launched, Friday Erhabor, the director of media and strategies at Marklenez Limited said every new policy requires a thorough strategic input and fine-tuning of execution details.

“I want to believe that that is what is delaying it. I understand they want to take off in phases starting with students of federal government-owned tertiary institutions before they go down to state-owned institutions and then eventually to all Nigerian students. All of these require thorough planning,” he said.