Speaker of the 9th National Assembly, Femi Gbajabiamila, has pledged to accelerate the Education Bank Bill which has now passed the second reading. In a statement at the commemoration of the International Youth Day, the speaker emphasised the importance of education at all levels: “As we celebrate the International Youth Day, I intend to use the office of the Speaker and the instrumentality of the law to fast-track the passage of this and other bills that are capable of restoring hope to our youth to reposition them for the tasks of nation-building and global competitiveness.” Gbajabiamila added that education loans should be interest-free, adding, “Nigeria is blessed with abundant natural resources to tap from and encourage quality education for future generations’’.
The rhetoric and action of the speaker are in sync with the mood of the nation: finding effective methods to optimise access to tertiary education by ensuring that citizens capable of benefiting from higher education are not prevented from doing so because of lack of funds. The speaker and members of the House involved in speedy reading of the bill deserve commendation, given the fact that a similar bill failed to sail through the House in an earlier dispensation.
But establishing Education Bank is not novel in the country. During the Abacha dictatorship, there was an education bank act that failed to achieve its goals for various reasons. The bank was overstaffed, workers were recruited without due process of hiring and promoting staff in the civil service, and the N75 million used to capitalise the bank came to naught as payments on loans were not paid into the bank in compliance with the laws, to the extent that in 2010, the Federal Government chose to cancel the facility because it was of no value to needy citizens.
However, there is still a good reason to make provisions for children whose parents cannot afford to pay for their university education to be given assistance through scholarship or federal subsidised loan that can position such children favourably to contribute to personal and national development in a global economy. It is, therefore, commendable that the speaker has promised to make the loan interest-free. It is also important that the fees charged on the loan are moderate.
But if federal and state governments are to subsidise the education loans to reduce interest, the need to work on the economy becomes very urgent. The economy needs to be stabilised sufficiently to stimulate the private sector to create jobs for graduates and make it easy for them to commence and continue payment on their loans soon after completing their youth service.
Governments also need to put the necessary precaution in place, i.e. biometrics for easy identification of loan applicants and verifiable addresses for beneficiaries, to prevent loans from being paid to ghosts. In addition, all the problems that killed the Education Bank Act of the 1990s ought to be avoided so that this new experiment can achieve its goals to enable citizens access loans for higher education and pay back to enable others benefit as well.
Indeed, due diligence must be the watchword if the scheme is not to go the way of similar laudable schemes of the past. If the loans are to be means tested, the conditions need to be properly spelt out and loan beneficiaries are to be properly monitored, to prevent abuse or misuse of such funds.
Moreover, the higher institutions—public and private—to which the loans are to be used for tuition and other services must be of global standards that can make graduates competitive within and outside the country. As many cognitively capable citizens are likely to drop out at the pre-tertiary level for lack of funds, additional emphasis ought to be given to strengthening free public education at all levels across the country.
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