Few weeks ago, President Bola Tinubu put pen to paper and signed into law the Student Loan Bill that promises to pave the way for higher education for countless Nigerian students. Interest-free loans, it proposes, will be the panacea to the financial constraints that have long been a roadblock on the path to education. A noble intent, indeed, but it begs the question: At what cost?

The devil, as they say, is in the details. A closer look at the Act reveals a concerning eligibility criterion: only families with an annual income of less than N500,000 are considered deserving of the loan. It’s a number that, on the surface, might seem fair. But scratch that surface and we find a multitude of middle-income families, earning just above the threshold, yet struggling to make ends meet in the increasingly costly pursuit of education. Will their dreams be sacrificed on the altar of an arbitrary cut-off?

More Commission, More Corruption

The formation of a board tasked with disbursing the loans directly to educational institutions might seem like a step in the right direction, but one cannot help but remember that we’re treading on the slippery slope of corruption. In a country that ranks 150th out of 180 on the Corruption Perception Index 2022, it’s a slope we’ve slid down before. The ghosts of our past—mismanagement, embezzlement, and favoritism—haunt our public institutions, and without proper checks and balances, they threaten to overshadow our future.

Adding to the list of concerns is the guarantor requirement. The bill stipulates that a level 12 government worker or a judge should act as a guarantor—an addition that feels more like a hurdle, especially for students from marginalized backgrounds. The red tape of this requirement might just exclude deserving students who lack connections or have limited access to individuals in these positions, perpetuating the very inequality this bill aims to address.

The funding for these loans is touted to come from various sources—education bonds, taxes, and oil revenues. But are these sources sustainable and sufficient? In an economy marred by fluctuating oil prices and revenue generation woes, it’s a question that refuses to be brushed under the carpet. We run the risk of not having enough funds to meet the ever-increasing demand for student loans. Can we afford this potential failure?

Meanwhile, the Act does make a nod to accountability, with the mention of a committee to oversee loan disbursement. But here is the catch: its effectiveness in preventing corruption and ensuring timely loan repayments is uncertain. As we grapple with this uncertainty, we cannot help but recall past government programs that crumbled under the weight of mismanagement and defaults due to inadequate monitoring.

Take the case of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P), a program aimed at reinvesting savings from fuel subsidy removal into social programs and infrastructure development. Its downfall was largely due to inadequate monitoring, as funds meant for projects were misappropriated, ghost workers created, and fictitious contracts drawn up. Without robust oversight, will the Student Loan Bill suffer the same fate?

To ensure the integrity of this loan program, it is clear that rigorous monitoring, transparent processes, and regular evaluations are not just desirable, they are essential.

While the Student Loan Act may seem like a beacon of hope in the challenge of accessing higher education, it is important to remember that every beacon casts a shadow. The stringent eligibility criteria, potential for administrative chaos, risks of corruption, uncertain funding and questionable oversight mechanisms are shadows that need to be illuminated. 

These issues are not insurmountable. With comprehensive attention and committed reform, they can be addressed. The law is a promise of equitable and accessible higher education opportunities for all Nigerian students, we only need a slight reform to make it fulfilling.

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