Another unkept promise? Delay of loan scheme pains students

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Adebimpe Olorunyomi quoted this Bible passage that came to her mind after Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu announced on 23 October that a student loan scheme that ought to have kicked off in September had been rescheduled till January 2024.

“Currently, I and many students that I know are scouting for scholarships to ease the burden of tuition fees, which have increased by 150% since the last academic session. We have been banking on the student loan scheme and, clearly, its delayed implementation is frustrating,” Olorunyomi, a third-year medical student at the University of Ilorin in south-west Nigeria, told University World News.

“It’s very sad that the kickoff has been pushed [to January] and I hope it does not become another unkept promise by the government. If the loan scheme and scholarships don’t work, there are many students who will drop out of school and it will be unfair if this happens,” she said.

Olorunyomi was among many Nigerian students who had high hopes for the scheme’s implementation since June when Tinubu signed the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill into law – the goal being to increase access to higher education and ease the hardship faced by students from poor families.

After the law was passed, Andrew Adejoh, the permanent secretary at the Nigerian Ministry of Education, said the loans would be ready for disbursement in September, according to local media reports.

However, almost two months later, the scheme did not kick off and, on October 23, Tinubu pronounced that the scheme would start by next January. The president divulged the new implementation date at the National Economic Summit, an annual gathering of high-level public- and private-sector leaders for dialogue on the Nigerian economy.

Local network Channels Television reported that the president also said an end has come to incessant industrial action in tertiary institutions. “By January 2024, the new student loan [scheme] must commence. To the future of our children and students, we are saying no more strikes,” Tinubu said.

Distrust and doubt

The president’s words were expected to elicit the I-did-not-forget-my-promise feeling among students. Instead, they did the reverse. Nigerian students, just like the rest of the citizens, are grappling with a lot these days: high inflation, caused by the removal of the fuel subsidy and the floating of the country’s currency. To make matters worse, tuition fees have been significantly hiked across different universities, leading to a wave of protests by students.

Recently, University World News reported, federal institutions raised obligatory fees payable by students by as much as 700%, though some schools reviewed the fees after a barrage of online and offline protests by the students. Still, the current fees are beyond the reach of many students. Some banked on the student loan scheme to relieve the burden.

“At the University of Ilorin, tuition fees were increased from NGN40,000 (about US$52) to 100,000 naira, a 150% increase, at the last academic session. Now we are hearing rumours that it may be increased to NGN300,000. So, for many of us hoping for the loan scheme to start, its postponement is a huge disappointment,” Olorunyomi, the third-year Unilorin medical student, said.

Osayomore Promise Oravbiere, a third-year law student at the University of Benin, Edo State, expressed a similar feeling.

“I am disappointed. The delay in the loan scheme implementation has dashed the hopes of many students and the government has just created another avenue to lose faith in them through their action,” Oravbiere told University World News.

“There is a belief that the average Nigerian politician does not usually plan for the betterment of the people. They will make promises, but refuse to keep them. They do not do things that will benefit the people until they have fully satisfied themselves. The postponement of the loan scheme may cripple students’ expectations – and that is if it has not already crippled them,” he said.

Oghenetega Ajuariavwodo, who graduated as a law student from UNIBEN last month, stated: “Many students had been looking forward to the scheme’s kickoff. It may still work, but looking at how the economy has become worse under this government, there is just this bad feeling. For students, making the loan programme work will uplift their spirits. I think we should keep watching and see how it goes by January.”

Meanwhile, some students – like Michael Aladeduye, a fourth-year biochemistry student at Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology, Ondo State – hang on to the president’s promise.

“My thinking is perhaps the government wants to do it properly, so [that explains] the delay in kick-starting it. I think we can only keep hoping that it will eventually be implemented the right way,” Aladeduye told University World News.

Ajuri Ngelale, the presidential spokesman, did not respond to enquiries regarding reasons for the delay in the student loan scheme’s kickoff.