ERC LAUNCHES PAMPHLET ON TINUBU’S STUDENT LOAN
We Call on Nigerian Students to Organise Independent Actions to Reject the Policy and Demand Adequate Funding and Democratic Management of Public Education
Report by Sodiq Duroorike, ERC Coordinator, Lagos State
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), on Wednesday 13th December 2023, held a public launch of its pamphlet: “Ten Reasons Why the Tinubu Student Loan Act is A Scam”. This is an effort to consolidate its campaign against the Student Loan Policy which the Tinubu presidency enacted. The production of the pamphlet was supported by funding from ActionAid Nigeria.
Recall that on June 12 2023 President Bola Tinubu signed the Student Loan (Access to Higher Education) Bill into law, which is meant only to loan student their tuition fee, amidst a plethora of charges and expenses incurred by students in various institutions of higher learning. In this light it does not cover accommodation, living expenses and sundry charges. Besides, the policy is not sustainable and accessible to the poor and downtrodden who ought to be the genuine beneficiaries given the different onerous conditionalities attached to it.
In the pamphlet, the ERC itemizes areas that the government can get money to properly fund public education instead of burdening students with a debilitating loan. This includes the profligate salaries and allowances of President Tinubu and all political office holders which according to ERC’s finding will raise an additional 1.7 trillion on an annual basis that can be used to fund education. The ERC also argues in the pamphlet for the nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy under the ownership and democratic management of the working people in order to ensure that Nigeria’s wealth is available to meet not only education but also all the needs of its people instead of the greed of a few.
In kicking off the launch, National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign, comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto, gave a welcome remark. According to him, the aim of the pamphlet is to demonstrate how the student loan policy is a scam. It is a policy that says one thing but does the other. For instance, while the government claims that it shall make public education accessible for students but in real sense, the policy will shut the door firmly against the children of the poor and working people. Also, while the Student Loan is presented as the solution to the wave of fee hike raging across campuses right now, actually it is the policy that is enabling fee hike as university administrators jostle to ensure they have a cost-reflective fee regime before January 2024. The fact is that the students loan policy will force students into life-long indebtedness.
The deputy chairperson of Joint Action Front, comrade Achike Chude did the review of the pamphlet. He called on Nigerian working people and students to condemn and resist the student loan policy but rather demand the adequate funding of public education. The participants at the launch were students, academic workers, civil society organisations and the press. Amongst the discussants were Prof Emmanuel Osodeke – President Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) ably represented by Prof. Kayode Adebayo, Chairman ASUU UNILAG chapter, who came in the company of the ASUU-UNILAG Vice-chairman and the Welfare Director. Also in attendance were comrade Kemi representing Students Solidarity Group, University of Lagos. Comrade Barakat and Comrade Khan spoke on behalf of the ERC, Lagos State University branch.
There was a special recognition for the presence of Mrs. Kyauta Giwa, the Programme Coordinator, ActionAid Nigeria MOVE programme who helped to facilitate crucial financial support for pamphlet to be published in hard copies. The purpose of the publication, which is planned to be circulated to all campuses nationwide, is to build a national campaign that mobilises and organises students to take independent actions to resist the policy, because it doesn’t represent the interest of students from working class families, demand adequate funding and democratic management.
THE KEY FINDINGS OF THE PAMPHLET
(1) The Students Loan scheme is a smokescreen to take education out of the reach of the poor.
(2) It will transform public education into a business and students into customers.
(3) It has not worked anywhere else even in most capitalist states that have implemented this policy.
(4) It will only cater to a minority of the indigent students’ population.
(5) It will not resolve the problem of access even for the minority of students that are able to obtain the loan.
(6) It could lead to mass drop out and decline in enrolment.
(7) It could lead to job loss for public education workers.
(8) It is based on false assumptions that Nigeria is too poor to fund public education.
ALTERNATIVE FUNDING FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION
From our calculations, instead of the miserable and inadequate N50 billion being proposed for a students’ loan policy, Nigeria can raise an annual sum of N1, 767, 820, 800 trillion (One trillion, seven hundred and sixty-seven billion, eight hundred and twenty million, eight hundred thousand naira) as additional fund to inject into tertiary education. These monies can be saved if the following profligacies of political office holders and conduit pipe for corruption are curbed:
(1) EIGHT BILLION, FOUR HUNDRED MILLION NAIRA: The total amount we can save in one year if the government cancels the appropriation of N6.9 billion and N1.5 billion meant to buy vehicles for the Presidency and the illegal and unconstitutional office of the first lady in the 2023 supplementary budget. All that is needed for this to happen is for President Tinubu and his wife to agree to tighten their belt and make do with the vehicles their predecessors left which are still functioning and are in the Aso rock car pool.
(2) FOURTEEN BILLION, THREE HUNDRED MILLION NAIRA: The total amount that will saved in one year if the government cancels the renovation of the residences of President Tinubu and his Vice President. It is not as if their predecessors vandalized the residences or went away with the furniture and electronics and if they did, they should be prosecuted. The money earmarked for the renovations will be more useful to assist thousands of Nigerian students in public tertiary institutions across the country who are sleeping rough in bed bug infested mattresses in ramshackle hostels.
(3) TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILLION AND EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND NAIRA: The total amount that would be saved on an annual basis if President Tinubu and his Vice, Shettima can agree to forfeit their sitting allowance and honourarium.
(4) TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY BILLION, FOUR HUNDRED MILLION NAIRA ONLY: The total amount we can save on an annual basis if security votes which are a slush fund by governors to do whatever they like are scrapped. For our calculation, we used Osun state as a baseline. According to Ademola Adeleke, the Governor of Osun State, his monthly security vote is N600 million (Vanguard newspaper, 5 October 2023). If Osun, a tiny state, gives 600 million for security vote monthly, just imagine what Lagos or Rivers State security votes will amount to. Nevertheless, even assuming they all collect 600 million per month, cancelling this practice will generate over 200 billion annually.
(5) THIRTY-FOUR BILLION, FIVE HUNDRED MILLION NAIRA: The total amount which can be saved annually if members of the National Assembly take a 50 percent pay cut for instance. According to a think tank, Stears, the entire National Assembly of 109 Senators and 260 House of Representatives cost the country a total of N69 billion annually in salary and allowances – equal to the salaries 191, 954 civil servants earning N30, 000 minimum wage. Nigeria’s lawmakers are the highest paid in the world earning several times more than their counterparts in the US and Europe. Certainly, a cash-strapped country should not be able to fund that level of greed.
(6) ONE TRILLION, FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY BILLION NAIRA: The total amount of money which can be saved annually if the government cancels the fraudulent contract system which is a conduit pipe for corruption and instead begins to execute capital project through a democratically-controlled Public Works System. According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria lost at least 2.9 trillion within a period of two years (2018 – 2020) to contract and procurement fraud (Independent newspaper, 13 November 2023). Through the public works system, especially if it is subjected to democratic control and oversight of workers, it is possible to eliminate this contracting fraud while ensuring that all projects are carried out by the Public Works Department thereby blocking the leakage through which budget allocations are routinely stolen.
You will agree with us that injecting an annual sum of N1.7 trillion into public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education will make huge difference in the education sector. This kind of additional funding on an annual basis can help to gradually bring down the cost of higher education and begin to fix infrastructural gap while expanding access of quality learning and literacy. And if this kind of money is available, then why should Nigerian students be burdened with students’ loan and lifelong indebtedness?
This is unfair and Nigerian students should not accept that their own future should be sacrificed for the comfort and luxury of the ruling elites that have repeatedly indulged in reckless spending of public resources. As we have proven, there is no justification for the students’ loan and government’s argument that Nigeria is cash-strapped. It is all false. Simply by cutting down waste and blocking leakages, Nigeria can save money to begin to revamp public education. We hereby call on all Nigerian students and education workers (including the working people and parents) to reject the students’ loan policy and join ERC to fight for a cut in government profligacy in order to make this money available for public education.
However, it is not enough to demand and fight for adequate funding of public education. It has to be matched with the demand for democratic management of public finances in public schools that will involve elected representatives of academic and non-academic staffs and students who are subject to recall by their electors. It will help to check mismanagement and looting of allocations and revenues in public universities.
We have to say that there are even still other funding sources through which additional resources can be secured; not only for public education, but also for healthcare and other basic needs of the working people. For instance, by nationalizing the oil and gas sector, banks, industries and other key sectors of Nigeria’s economy under the ownership and democratic management of the working people, it is possible to rescue even more resources that is trapped in the hands of a few for funding all basic services required to make life decent for all.
With this measure, especially, if based on a Socialist planning, it would become possible to unlock plenty of resources to fund all other important basic amenities like public healthcare, building of decent homes, public infrastructures and to improve people’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, 80 percent of Nigeria’s wealth lies in the hands of 1% while 99% are meant to fight among each to survive on the 20%. This is the ugly nature of capitalism. This is why the struggle for education has to be linked with building a mass movement and political alternative to end capitalism and enthrone a Socialist Nigeria.
CARDINAL DEMANDS OF THE PAMPHLET
We urge Nigerian students and education workers to begin to organise and demand the following:
1) Conversion of the Students’ loan into a grant to support the living expenses of undergraduates.
2) Reversal of all hiked fees in all Nigeria universities.
3) Increase in allocation to public education in the 2024 appropriation bill from 7.9 percent to 15 percent of the total budget.
4) Slash in the profligate expenses, salaries, and allowances of political office holders and cancellation of fraudulent contract system in order to raise additional sum of 1.7 trillion annually to begin to revamp public Universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
5) Democratic management of our schools under education workers, students and working parents to determine and monitor the funding of public education.
6) End the attacks on democratic rights of freedom of association in all campuses. The reinstatement of all victimized students and staff activists and restoration of all banned unions.
7) Nationalisation of the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy under workers’ and the oppressed democratic control and management.