• Friday, May 24, 2024
businessday logo


Jim Ovia: Starting NELFUND with a track record of integrity

Educationists see Jim Ovia’s chairmanship as game-changer

The recent appointment of renowned banker Jim Ovia as the Chairman of the Board of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) was among the most astute political appointments made by the PBAT since the inception of this administration. Mr Jim Ovia, a highly accomplished banker and founder of Zenith Bank, a prominent commercial bank in Nigeria’s financial services sector, is renowned for his exceptional performance and impeccable track record of integrity and transparency.

Jim Ovia is regarded as a pioneering, fastidious, and inventive financial genius who brought about paradigm shifts in the Nigerian banking sector. Their cohort introduced groundbreaking concepts that solidified the banking sector and demonstrated Nigeria’s proficiency in overseeing its financial establishments. A considerable number of Nigerians and foreigners are impressed by the fact that Jim Ovia Zenith Bank excels in numerous facets of banking operations. Most western investors who reside in or visit Nigeria patronise Zenith Bank due to the amiable policies that Jim and his associates implemented, as well as the simplicity and scrupulousness with which they conducted business. Therefore, his emergence as the NELFUND chairperson gives one a tinge of hope that PBAT really meant business with this singular move described as a round peg in a round hole.

In the meantime, as he (Jim Ovia) is about to start the onerous task, I will suggest that he be allowed to recruit some of the best brains that will work with him in addition to the board of directors appointed by the Federal Government to oversee the performance of this corporate body, which came into existence via the act of parliament christened the NELFUND 2024 Students Loans Act. Importantly, the legislation grant’s interest-free loans to economically disadvantaged students to finance their tertiary education at any Nigerian institution.

For example, eligibility for student loans might entail maintaining a minimum grade point average (GPA) or passing certain standardised tests—like the West African Senior School Certificate Examination or the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Examination—commonly called WASSCE and JAMB exams (academic merit); based on financial need—student or family income and family size might be a parameter for (financial need); prescribed fields of study such as science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) or other fields of study deemed critical for national development (programme of study); limited to citizens of Nigeria or legal residents with citizenship or residency status.

As practised elsewhere, the pre-application process for the student loan starts with the information gathering stage, which might require proof of enrollment in the institution and citizenship or indigenous status verification through a national identification number (NIN). Then, students submit a well-known loan application form that can be done online (not in person, to avoid the Nigeria factor where middlemen will hijack and bastardise the application process), where they indicate their personal data, academic information, and financial records. Thereafter, credit officers determine the loan terms (expectedly, the NELFUND and credit officers must have lists of the courses and school’s fees of all institutions verifiable online at the tips of their fingers with each institution’s account number), including the payment schedules, rate of interest, and collateral amount. The credit officer examines the application, verifies information, assesses eligibility, and evaluates financial need. Once it is verified that the admission is genuine and the student is accepted to study at the institution, the money is released directly to the school (tuition and registration fees), as well as to the student, for their upkeep, lodging or accommodation, and transportation.

Similarly, a grant is another freebie that must be made available based on predetermined criteria by the loan board or the organisation or body that is giving out the grant to the NELFUND. While the educational loan is refundable, the grant is not; this is a gift given to students based on predetermined criteria. As I said earlier, not everyone will benefit from this, like students’ loans. It could be given to a student from a low- or middle-income family or a student with dependents as practice in Canada, or it could be attached to desirable courses like medicine, nursing, and space sciences, which include other disciplines like astrophysics, planetary science, meteorology, space travel, and exploration. Also, the interest rate and repayment plan must be affordable, transparent, and flexible to accommodate post-graduation income levels. The NELFUND should add a loan estimator to its website to help students who secure loans determine the amount they may likely start paying back immediately after they secure a job and to know the number of years the loan will be spread and repaid.

It is important to note that monitoring and evaluation are important aspects of the student loan scheme, which creates the need to develop strong systems to measure its effectiveness. These indicators include repayment rates and default rates, as well as the scheme’s impact on higher education access, among other factors. Based on the periodical monitoring of these indicators, administrators can assess the scheme’s performance and identify problems or inadequacies that should be adjusted to maintain its success. Thus, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are important to ensure that the student loan scheme is compliant with its purpose and beneficial for borrowers and broader education sustainability.

An important step forward for this initiative is the appointment of Jim Ovia as the founding chairman of NELFUND, the educational loan organisation. His charitable contributions and strong business expertise will be very beneficial to NELFUND. He will play a key role in this endeavour, which aims to provide loans intended specifically for that purpose to students from less fortunate backgrounds who are unable to meet their higher-level needs on their own. His vision for change and his strong commitment to education and people’s empowerment will be invaluable.

Rotimi S. Bello, a public commentator, peace and conflict expert, and HR practitioner, writes from Canada.