WE REJECT THE GBAJABIAMILA STUDENT LOAN BILL
IT IS A CAMOUFLAGED FEE INCREMENT BILL FOR TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS IN NIGERIA
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on Nigerian students, education workers’ unions, the labour movement, and the generality of Nigerians to reject the Students Loan (Access to Higher Education) Bill which was recently passed by the National Assembly.
Arguing in favor of the bill, the sponsor, Femi Gbajabiamila who is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, pointed out that higher education should be regarded as a public good benefiting the entire country rather than a commodity solely benefiting the individual recipients (ThisDay newspaper, 30 November 2022). Why we agree with this, the ERC nevertheless believes that the only reliable way to make education a public good benefitting the entire country is for government to make it a social responsibility and commits public resources to funding it through a policy of free education at all levels.
A students’ loan bill will not solve the problem, rather it would throw students from poor working-class and middle-class families into generational indebtedness that would adversely affect their quality of life after graduation. Additionally, this bill is nothing but a backdoor means to increase the fees payable in schools and make it hard for children of the poor masses to have access to higher education.
Free education has been proved to be the only way to guarantee access of citizens, regardless of background, to education all over the world, and the best way to guarantee the quality of education. Even though present policy documents claim that tuition is free in Nigerian higher institutions and government publicists claim that is the reason for the poor quality of education in the country, this is untrue. For example, in a country where the national minimum wage is frozen at a paltry N30, 000 per month, a second-year student at the University of Ibadan will have to pay a total of between ₦34,300 to ₦36,800 (for GES, Levy, accommodation, dues, etc.) while a first-year student will pay an additional N37,500 as acceptance fees. In OAU, a fresh student can pay a total fee of up to N110, 000. These fees obtain in most schools with different names like levy, dues, etc.; anything but tuition fees – this is to keep the tuition-free policy on paper. We ask that these fees be reversed and higher education be made totally free.
We make bold to assert that the poor quality of education obtainable in Nigerian public universities is a result of the inability of Nigerian capitalism to provide the necessary investment to provide good education let alone health care, water, power, roads etc. etc. These sorts of investments are essential to improve life. If through education a student goes on to have a financially successful career they can give back to society through taxation. In addition, education has been already hit by the creeping commercialization in the sector, something which this bill is meant to legitimize.
According to the bill, “the loan referred to in this Act shall be granted to students only for the payment of tuition fees.” This formal introduction of tuition fees will mean fee increments for most tertiary institutions in the midst of hardship biting harder on the citizenry. This is asides from the exorbitant supplementary fees that are already being paid in all schools, which will not be covered by the bill. The Federal Government is practically providing loans for the increments they are about to introduce, as a means to convince students and parents to accept such increments.
A caricature of this student debt plan was implemented at the University of Osun State (UNIOSUN) by the Rauf Aregbesola government which perpetuated half-salary policies and youth casual employment schemes in Osun state. In the case of that debt scheme which was used to justify exorbitant fees in UNIOSUN and which failed woefully, students were made to pay before writing exams and, as of January 2017, student debt was about two billion naira. The inability to pay back meant that the scheme failed. But this present bill is a bit different because it is recommended that students can pay once employed.
However here exactly is why the bill is a danger to students from poor working class and middle class background. At the moment, unemployment rate for university graduates in Nigeria is at 25%, according to the World Bank. Without any guarantee of employment after graduation, a majority of students that take the loan may find themselves burdened by a massive debt but without a good-paying job to easily pay back thereby leading to a situation where every little income that comes to them goes into servicing a usurious loan whose interest will continue to increase thereby locking people in a permanent debt-trap. This is not the kind of future Nigeria’s youth deserve!
Practical examples from all over the world show the failure of such students’ debt schemes. Presently, the USA which is popular for such schemes is in the middle of a student loan repayment freeze because a lot of people could not afford to get gainfully employed or pay their debts. This means that, for the Nigerian government, the only gain from this bill is the increment of school fees, while students and workers stand to gain nothing. As a matter of fact, we believe fee increment through the introduction of proper tuition is the only goal of the bill, disguised as a loan bill.
Earlier this month, the ASUU alleged that “What is obvious is the deliberate under-funding of the universities through the guise of no money to subsequently introduce exorbitant school fees beyond the reach of the children of the masses, and ultimately privatize these universities.” We agree with these conclusions and we call on students and workers to join forces to protest for proper funding of the education sector in order to guarantee access for students from the poor and working class background, decent pays and conditions for education workers and also improve the quality of education.
We call on ASUU to step up its recent protest efforts by organizing joint congresses with students and other staff unions to deliberate on the campaign for proper funding of public education. We urge ASUU to prioritize these deliberations and actions with their constituents and with students over negotiations presided by the same Gbajabiamila who is the sponsor of this insensitive bill that is only meant to increase fees in higher institutions. We also call on the NLC and TUC to work with education workers’ unions at all levels and students in order to organise a mass resistance against the bill and commercialisation of public higher education.
Rather than put the cart before the horse, we demand that the Federal government provide gainful employment for teeming Nigerian youths and fund public education effectively, to the point that there will be no need for tuition or supplementary fees let alone the need for loans. Funds meant to build such Education Bank should be directed at paying ASUU and the NEEDS Assessment funds meant to revitalize university education by providing all the infrastructures and facilities needed to make education in Nigeria of the best quality. Asides from that, we call on working people and youth to demand that country’s wealth should be directed at these social services that will improve the quality of social life of all citizens rather than at paying jumbo salaries for politicians and awarding excessively inflated budgets to their cronies.
Deputy National Coordinator
Adaramoye Michael Lenin
Acting National Mobilisation Officer