At a one-day legislative summit on Nigeria’s Students’ Loans, Act (2023) held on August 25, 2023, CAPPA took centre stage alongside other stakeholders in Nigeria’s education sector such as representatives from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) amongst others to present its memorandum urging policymakers to repeal the students’ loans policy due to its many contentious provisions. The summit was organized by Nigeria’s House of Representatives’ Ad-hoc Committee on Student’s Loans and Access to Higher Education.
In the presentation delivered by its Policy and Research Officer, Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA noted that its observations were based on an in-depth analysis of the legislation and the collective feedback of several stakeholders, including students, members of the academia, parents, CSOs, and media practitioners who participated in an earlier symposium organized by CAPPA to discuss the potential of the students’ loans policy to vitalize tertiary education in the country.
Highlighting specific contentious elements of the Act, Ibeh pointed to governance concerns in Sections 5 and 11. These sections grant extraordinary powers to the CBN governor, such as the authority to form and chair a Special Committee to manage the loan fund and to determine the allowances of Committee members as he sees fit. Furthermore, the Act empowers the Nigerian President to modify the Committee’s decisions if he believes they serve the public interest. Ibeh expressed concerns that such expansive powers might be easily abused, especially in a context that lacks the checks and balances typically provided by the legislature. Notably, this legislative oversight is conspicuously missing from the governance structure of the loan.
Other concerns raised included the eligibility criteria for accessing the loan. These criteria feature a stringent income cap of less than N500,000 per annum and require beneficiaries to provide two guarantors. These guarantors must be either a lawyer with over 10 years of experience, a civil servant of at least Level 12, a judicial officer, or a Justice of Peace. Most importantly, CAPPA emphasized historical challenges in Nigeria’s higher education sector such as inadequate educational and sanitary infrastructure, lack of research facilities, insufficient budgetary allocations, unsatisfactory staff remuneration, and frequent strikes. These are fundamental issues that plague public universities in the country that the loan scheme cannot solve. Consequently, these core problems must be prioritized over the loan fund. Otherwise, loan beneficiaries risk repaying loans without having benefitted from an enriching and holistic educational experience.
CAPPA concluded its presentation by asking the Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee, Hon. Terseer Ugbor, to work together with other legislative members to repeal the Act based on legitimate concerns expressed by members of the public. CAPPA proposed converting the loan fund into grant schemes tailored for high-performing yet financially disadvantaged students in tertiary institutions nationwide. Furthermore, such grant schemes could be directed towards revitalizing select departments, fields, and professions, including education, medicine, information technology, agriculture, and engineering, among others that are pivotal for spurring development and industrialization in Nigeria. Above all, CAPPA underscored the need for Nigeria to enhance its budgetary allocation to education, aligning with global recommendations of at least 20-25%. Only with such dedication can Nigeria improve educational access for its citizens.
Responding to the issues raised by CAPPA and other stakeholders at the meeting, Hon. Teerseer Ugbor, expressed that the Ad-hoc Committee would not only relay stakeholders’ concerns to the National Assembly but also use the feedback to effect necessary amendments in the Students Loans Act to improve access to higher education. Also speaking at the meeting, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tajudeen Abass, represented by his Deputy Speaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, assured the stakeholders present of the legislature’s commitment to allocating resources and prioritizing decisions that enhance access to education, upholding it as a fundamental right of all citizens.