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April 10, 2024
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On the newly repealed students’ loan law: what needs to be done – by Tao Bakare

Since the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu Administration has successfully established a new law, on Wednesday, April 3,2024, which is the recently Akpabio and Abbass led National Assembly passed, Gbajabiamila proposed, Students’ Loan Bill, it is important to observe that this new law is only a trend which has always or for so many decades existed in advanced countries like the United Kingdom, United States’ of America, Russia, and a bit of others alike.

Also, we might want to accept the fact that this new law is a great idea, but it is not safe to conclude that this new law is without lapses and loopholes. These loopholes will here forward be the navigation of this piece, as these will be carefully deduced from the contents of the law and subsequently attached with suggestive solutions or amendments.

Interestingly, Tinubu might have decided to check up some amendments that has been prior to this period suggested on social media platforms, conferences, and television media opinion and news analysis programs, but it is a fact to be duly noted that went he to do his own biddings. At least it is perhaps pertinent that Ajuri Ngelale would have observed one of his key roles by reporting to the President what has been said and what has not been said.

Brethren, it is likewise trite to note that there has been no seriousness in the attitude of Nigerian Presidents since the dawn of the fourth republic in 1999, aside, late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration which distinguished itself to a reasonable extent to pride itself above the benchmark of administration that preceded his and of those who came subsequently, up till the present brunt we are been made to bear by this present government.

Of course, some Nigerians will agree with me that, late President Musa Yar’Adua showed quite some commendable seriousness when he then introduced and inaugurated urated the Amnesty Program for surrendering Niger Delta militants, even Jonathan was to some degree serious about sending the Almajiri children and orphans to school.

Quite true that unseriousness of government lies not as the sole problem with our country, because there are other issues like overconcentration of power on the central government, numerous powers foisted on the central through separation of legislative lists as exclusive and residual, many will agree that, if at any point the problem of a sector like power viz a viz improvement of electricity availability to ease the lives and livelihood of citizens is to be considered, then the first step at achieving true improvement in that sector will include; removing electricity from the exclusive legislative list and making it part of the residual list, whereon the state governments headed by their executive governors could quit the idleness, engage experts in the field and in law related to the field so that they could independently legislate, implement, and definitely sustain that sector. This said, certainly will apply to some other sectors like education, health and labor related matters.

Following from the above, it is therefore important at this point to properly define what a law actually mean and to try as much as possible to make reference to what is available in some countries that has already, the kind of law in contemplation, that is, the Students’ Loan Act in place and running, although, a bit of them also have experiences like bad debts and some other negative effects, which is as a result of the inadequacies that are potential in those laws. For instance, the situation in a country like America is that there are about 20% of borrowers that are in default.

Also, they operate two enactments which regulates the students’ loan in the country, they also have separate categories of the loan, and these two are the private and government awarded loans to students who wishes to pursue higher education, meanwhile, President Joe Biden has forgiven the student loan that was allotted to about 150,000 students to the tune of $1.2 Billion(dollars) and then recently Biden tried to forgive the loans of about 40 million American students but the Supreme Court foiled his plan. Believably, Biden’s approach was based on the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, which provides government-backed student loans and grants the U.S. Education Department the ability to “compromise, waive or release loans”.

The situation in America is such that certain statutes of limitation has been enacted to see to powers and default concerning the students’ loan in the country, such of these statutes is the limitation on power of the loan creditor to sue debtors who actually defaulted in the payment of the loan by acts which are definitely beyond them. Now, it is crystal clear that the afore mentioned is just similar to the Nigerian situation.

Law, according to Merriam Webster, is defined as a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority, the whole body of such customs, practices, or rules.

The courts exist to uphold, interpret, and apply the law. Looking carefully at this definition it is perceived in the last paragraph that it is the duty of the courts to “uphold, interpret, and apply the law”, hence, there is a need to bring the Attorney General of the Federation on board, on the fore front, on “upholding, interpreting, and applying” any law. Taking a swift ride to look at the contents of the repealed and re-enacted law, first of all, the Bill removed some offices, functions, criteria, and established new ones, stringently modifying some other provisions in the 2023 Act.

An example of this amendments effected the removal of the role ought to be performed by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, who was to champion the course of the loan in the 2023 Act and then replacing his office in the course of the loan with a new committee ( NELFUND), as a body corporate to receive, manage and invest funds to provide loans…can sue and be sued in its name and has the power to acquire, hold, and dispose of movable and immovable property for the purpose of its functions. Hence, since NELFUND is going to work as a corporate organization, then with all due respect, either the Accountant General or Auditor General or Secretary General of the Federation, and maybe all of these aforementioned should outrightly be included in the NELFUND Committee which according to the law is to oversee the implementation, disbursement, and all-encompassing legal issues regarding the loan. Of which, these public officials may be made to work on part time basis in the affairs of the Committee, for example, the Auditor General, may be made to carry out the auditing of all monies and resources expended by the Committee at the end of each loan year or session, the Accountant General, of course, will be in charge of making sure the bonds are genuine, the grants and international funds are well distributed and applied to the loan, the monies coming directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria is channeled to the loan without having it pass through usurpers and corrupt maniacs like the embattled Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Dr. Betta Edu, and so on…

Likewise, the repealed law empowers the Fund to provide loans to qualified Nigerians for tuition, fees, charges and upkeep during their studies in approved tertiary education institutions and vocational and skills acquisition institutions in Nigeria, unlike the 2023 Act which only provides the fund be made available for strict payment of tuition fees alone.

Also, the repealed law also removed the eligibility criteria in the 2023 law which puts annual income of the applicant or family of the applicant at less than 500,000 naira. The 2023 Act also required that applicants present two guarantors that are either a lawyer of 10 years post call or civil servant of level 12, etc., however, the repealed law did set the new criteria as free for all student of tertiary institutions established by the federal or state governments, and vocational institutions approved by the government to apply for the student loan.

The 2023 Act also disqualified the children of parents who have defaulted on any loans previously from applying for the student loans, but under the repealed law, student applicants can no longer be disqualified based on their parent’s loan history.In addition, the repealed law mentions the fund shall not initiate loan recovery efforts until two years after the completion of the National Youth Service. Also, a person who has gotten the loan and graduated but has not a paying job may on that basis or any other relevant difficulties request an extension of enforcement action by the Fund by providing an affidavit indicating that he is not employed in any capacity and is not receiving any income. And finally, the repealed law provides that only a person who provides a false statement to the fund is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years, it also provides for loan forgiveness in the event of death or acts of God causing inability to repay.

Flowing from the above, it is clearly observed that, despite the fact that the new law criminalizes few things and subject certain privileges surrounding the student loan to legal processes like affidavit, the government still does not see the need to provide roles for the Attorney General of the Federation to perform in respect of the smooth administration and regularization of the students’ loan which will subsequently be disbursed. I equally suggest that the law should be revisited so as to make sure beneficiaries of the loan who are mostly entrepreneurial in spirit and wishes to set themselves up on a sole proprietorship arrangement after they must have graduated from their various institutions are also made to qualify for a medium scale loan which could successfully set them up for business, after they must have presented a detailed business plan to the ‘LABOUR WING’ of the NELFUND( which will be set up on further amendment of the Students’ Loan Act, 2024), so as to make sure that the unemployment rate is scaled down maximumly and that the youths are set up for the responsibilities they were born with, and that is, to be the future of any great or intending great economy/country anywhere in the world. In the process of this being done, the government will through this way be able to indirectly set more hand on deck, meanwhile, withdrawing the service of these youthful hands from the workshop of the devil.

Finally, we must learn to see good in others and avoid being the “not-see-good” in others kind of person, hence we should commend the Bola Tinubu administration for strengthening this scheme and making it more viable and realistic But, also, realistically, the President should still look into the repealed law, find the loopholes with the aid of the Attorney General of the Federation, making sure that the boat of the Nigerian students’ loan Act sails and do not sink on the consequences of inadequacies and harsh contents in the law.

Taofeek Bakare writes from Ogun state, Nigeria.09125954737, taofeekayomide501@gmail.com

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