By Jerry Daks
The Federal Ministry of Education While trying to justify the recent increase in charges by federal universities in the country despite Students Loans Act, on Tuesday told members of the House of Representatives Committee that they bail out Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with about N1 billion to pay it’s electricity bill.
The Ministry equally disclosed that, the implementation of the Students Loans scheme is expected to commence in the 2023/2024 academic session.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, David Adejo who revealed this before the House Committee on Students Loans equally dismissed speculations that the signing of the Students Loan Act spurred several federal universities in the country to increase their charges.
According to him, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has given directive that all necessary works best completed on the modalities for the implementation of the students loan to enable it commence by September, 2023.
He said a Coordinating Committee has been set up by the President with the Chief of Staff as Chairman, made up of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Budget Office of the Federal, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance among others.
The committee, he said has also set up a technical committee that is working to put in place a proper structure for the take off of the scheme as well as remove all impediments in the law that may deny Nigerians access to the loan.
Adejovwho said the recent increase in charges by federal universities in the country was unfortunate, explained that no federal University in the country was allowed to collect tuition fees from students.
“What they collect is charges to cover cost of accommodation, ICT, power, among others. It is the Governing Councils of the Universities that has the power to approve such charges for them.
“The only university that increased charges after the signing of the student loans act is the university of Lagos. They came to the Ministry with a proposal to Increase their charges because all Governing Councils were dissolved and we gave them approval.
“Immediately that was done, there was a resolution from the House stopping increase in fees and the President also gave a directive stopping any increase in fees and that is where it is, even though several others have brought their proposal.
He said further that the charges collected by the institutions are used by them to pay for some of their services, including electricity bills.
While trying to justify why the universities are demanding for increase in the charges they collect, he said that in spite of the charges, the universities have not been able to meet up with some of their expenses.
He said “for example, we had to bail out Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with about N1 billion to pay it’s electricity bill. The school just resume academic session because they were in darkness.
“They were supposed to build theatres and we told them, you cannot build theatre when you are in the dark because you need power to operate”.
Director, Legal Services of the Central Bank or Nigeria who represented the Acting Governor of the Central Bank, Kofo Salami Alada said the students loan was being designed to be technology driven.
He said it was being designed in such a way that will eliminate physical contact and movement of papers, while the students will be expected to apply for the loan from the comfort of their homes.
He said they will work with the various tertiary institutions who will be assigned unique code, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board and other bodies involved in tertiary education in the country to make the process much easier.
He said the CBN will not be responsible for the funding of the exercise, adding that it’s responsibility will be the bankers to the fund as the funds will be provided solely by the government.
He however said that the technical committee was working on how to avoid a constitutional crisis later when states will go to court to challenge funds being drawn from the federations account to implement the scheme.
According to him, while the current law provide for 1 percent of internally generated revenue, they are working on having an acceptable source either from the Federations Account or from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
He said since all government activities run on a budget, the National Assembly may have to put in place a budget for the take off of the scheme
Alada said the technical design for accessing the loan has been completed, adding that vendors are being invited to commence work on th design.
Chairman of the committee, Teseer Ugbor said the students loan was part of the palliatives by the federal government to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians and ensure access to higher education by interested Nigerians.
He however expressed concern about the disbursement process, the recovery of the funds from beneficiaries as well as the possibility of some students not been able to access the loan.
Referring to the issue of a possible constitutional crisis raised by the CBN, he said “there is the possibility that students from state owned tertiary institutions will not be able to access the loan because if the states will not contribute to the funds, it would mean that students from state universities will not be able to participate in the scheme.”
He call for dialogue in the process of trying to amend the law to ensure that all Nigerian students interested in the loan benefit from it.