INTERVIEW: We get calls everyday on school fees – Rep. Terseer Ugbor 

Elizabeth AtimeJanuary 10, 2024213 min
Rating Summary
If we do not get the institutional framework of the Students Loans Act right, it might just be another jamboree. Most importantly, the institutional framework because this is really, really important, if we don’t get it right, then this just becomes another jamboree.

Rep Terseer Ugbor, in this 2-part series exclusive interview with OrderPaper, reveals that each member of the House of Representatives gets calls every day for support on the payment of school fees, which strongly supports the need for loans for indigent students

Students Loan

After several years of unsuccessful attempts by successive administrations to introduce student loans for the payment of school fees, scholarships, and other educational credit schemes, the 9th National Assembly passed the Students Loans Bill. However, what lies ahead is the implementation of the Act as will be monitored by the extant 10th National Assembly.

However, on 7th July 2023, the House of Representatives considered and passed a motion warning public tertiary institutions in Nigeria not to take advantage of the Students Loans and Access to Higher Education in Nigeria Act as a basis to increase their tuition fees.

The motion, which was sponsored by Rep. Terseer Ugbor (APC) representing Kwande/Ushungo federal constituency of Benue State,  also proposed the convening of a legislative summit on student loans and access to higher education with the involvement of all stakeholders in the education sector. The summit was eventually convened a few weeks later and school fees payment was discussed.

In this first part of the interview, Rep. Ugbor, who is the ad-hoc committee chairman on student loans and access to higher education, gives insights on plans by parliament to ensure a robust implementation of the law.

Excerpts:

“Every single representative in this chamber gets calls every day on the issue of school fees, it is one of the biggest requests I receive every single day when I wake up from sleep, school fees, school fees, school fees.

Q: What is the status of your committee (access to higher education and student loans) and how about the report of the summit?

A: Thank you very much. The committee was set up in July (2023) to organise a legislative summit on student loans, school fees and access to higher education in Nigeria. The whole idea in the wisdom of the House was to look at the Student Loans Act that was signed into law and to see where the loopholes were and where we could come up with some amendments and some recommendations to improve the Act and quality of the implementation of this Student Loan Act. When we looked at this Act as a committee, we decided to invite all stakeholders in the education sector. ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Nigeria) was invited, CONUA (Congress of Nigerian University Academics) was invited that is the new academic union, the Association of Vice Chancellors was there, the Central Bank was there, the Ministry of Education was there, NANS (National Association of Nigerian Students) was there, in fact over 35 groups and stakeholders in the education sector were here; NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations), civil societies, were all present and we had a very interesting discussion on how we can implement student loan in the country. We finished this event and put together our recommendations in a report that has been laid before the House of Representatives.

The major outcome of our engagement was that the current Student Loan Act as it is currently drafted and passed needs to be repealed and replaced or repealed and re-enacted with a completely new law because the number of changes that needed to be done in the current Act was such that just making amendment will not do justice. There were recommendations and even the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria), who are currently on the frontline of implementing the Student Loan Act, also recommended that the current Act needs to be repealed and re-enacted so that we can have a more efficient Act and we can have a progressive student loan scheme in the country that takes into cognizance the challenges we face in the country, that takes into cognizance the situation of students in this country, the repayment issues, the funding for this Act, and then the institutional framework of how this student loan scheme will be run.

Should it be run by a committee as recommended by the current Act or is there a need for a board, a student loan board, a stand-alone institution that will be fully responsible for onboarding students into the student loan scheme, disbursement of loans and tracking the student’s progress as they go to school under the scheme and then the repayment. How do we make the repayment as seamless as possible, as smooth as possible, and easy so that we don’t have a burden on our graduates after graduation? This is what we tried to do in our report when we held the summit with stakeholders in the sector.

So far, we have done a comprehensive job and we are waiting for the Executive arm of government, who are the implementers of this student loan scheme, to work with us so that we can propose a set of amendments as I said earlier, to possibly repeal or replace the law so that every Nigerian student who wants to attend tertiary education in Nigeria has an equal opportunity to do so.

Q: What do you mean by equal opportunity for all? Also, could you share with us some bullet points as regards the recommendations that were made by your committee?

A: Equal opportunities means that the discriminations that were found in the Act, areas of the Act that discriminated against certain categories of Nigerian students from benefiting from the Act need to be removed.

For example, the Act talks about indigent students participating and goes ahead to recommend N500,000 maximum wage, income of the family, this means that a family or a father who earns over N35,000 or N40,000 only his children cannot participate in the scheme.

So the logic here is that if a man has four children and these four children are all of the age of going to university but he is a security guard somewhere or he is a farmer and he earns just N50,000 every month, then his children cannot be qualified for a student loan. I think this is very unfair for these types of parents who earn above the minimum. Because he earns slightly above the minimum wage his children cannot participate in the student loan, this is highly discriminatory.

And then the issue of public sector and private sector- so public universities are carried along but not private universities. We believe that private universities also serve a purpose in this country (as) they have helped to bridge the gap in higher education in Nigeria. Why shouldn’t students of private schools whose parents want to apply for student loans for their children or children who want to apply for student loans, why shouldn’t they be able to participate, after all, they are also taxpayers, and they are also Nigerians.

So we tried to remove that condition of discriminating against students in private universities. And then of course, the issue of repayment, we looked at it too, the guarantor system that the Act provides, that you must bring a lawyer who has been at the Bar for at least 10 years, you must bring a civil servant who is minimum of 12 years, I mean level 12 in the civil service and things like that.

In the course of our engagements with students in different universities, we found out that a lot of students will not be able to find guarantors, lawyers with over 10 years of experience, level 12 officers, and things like that; a lot of children will not be able to find especially the indigent children that you talked about. When you talk about indigent children then you now put conditions that are above their reach, then you know this is also a disincentive for the Student Loan Act. So we try to clear up some of those issues.

And then most importantly, the institutional framework because this is important, if we don’t get it right, this just becomes another jamboree. So, we thought there is a need for an independent board maybe the Student Loan Board or whatever you want to call it to be fully responsible for managing the scheme so that it can outlive this current administration, outlive the next administration, and become something that Nigerians are proud of several years down the line. We do not want a case where the scheme becomes an ad-hoc scheme where every government comes and decides to implement or decides to scrap it leading to issues in payment of school fees because of the current system and the way it is structured. And then the current system gives the CBN governor enormous powers to appoint the secretary of the committee, appoint board members of the committee, determine their wages and allowances, determine who gets the student loan, how it is disbursed and things like that. We thought that first of all, this is too much of a distraction for the CBN governor, there should be an independent organisation set up specifically for this purpose.

So we have done that and we hope that once we can be on one page with the executive arm of government we can propose an amendment or a new bill on this Student Loan Scheme and have it passed in a short period so that the implementation once it commences just as the President has said and has promised to do in 2024, there will be a seamless implementation of the scheme and Nigerians will see that this government means business in reforming the education sector and most importantly granting autonomy to the universities to be able to operate profitably as it is done in other parts of the world.

Q: How possible is it for an Act that is yet to be implemented to be repealed?

A: Well, once the Act was signed into law, there was an outcry by Nigerians, it was all over the media, you know there is already skepticism about the possibility and the success of the Act because of some of those clauses that were in the Act that we also thought were a little bit unnecessary.

Of course, I don’t know if a proper public hearing was done when the Act was passed in the last assembly but we called a public hearing in the name of the legislative summit and all the stakeholders were in the room so we got the views of all the stakeholders who have a role to play in the education sector including the CBN, the FIRS (Federal Inland Revenue Service) who are the financiers of this Act according to what the Act prescribes – 1% of every government revenues will go into the Act. So we also invited the CBN, the FIRS, Accountant General to throw more light on the possibilities of raising money for this scheme according to what the Act prescribes.

Currently, we are aware that the presidency has budgeted N50 billion to commence the student loan scheme, this is far less than the prescribed 1% that was put in the Act. We anticipate or expect that at the minimum we should be talking about N500billion to launch the student loan in the country. But we assume that this is like a start, so this is like a pilot stage of the scheme. We need to set up the infrastructure, and the software to run this scheme because it is expected that this will be technology-driven so that we reduce human interference as much as possible so that indigent children who have nobody to speak for them, who don’t have connections can apply for this student loan purely on merit and get it. This can only happen if the scheme is allowed to operate technologically, in a way with less human interference and it is purely on merit. So we try to clear some of those things in the proposed recommendations that we’ve made in our committee and we are hoping that once the government is ready even though they seem to be going ahead to implement the scheme without these amendments being done.

But we know that eventually, these amendments need to be done because we need to clarify to Nigerians how exactly this scheme will work, who are going to be the real beneficiaries, how the disbursement will take place, who is in charge of running the scheme in the country. After all, as of now, we don’t know who is in charge, we don’t know if there is a secretary or a secretariat involved right now.

But we know that the budget has been put aside for it and we are waiting to see what will finally be the template through which the student loan will be implemented.

Q: Since the committee has laid its report what could be holding the House from considering this report and approving it?

A: You know because this is a new assembly, when we came in there was so much on the table waiting for us, the President himself also hit the ground running with so many requests, appropriation you know supplementary budget, and then we had the appropriation bill for 2024 and so many things.

You know the learning process, the training and retraining we have been doing, engagement and so we’ve had to carry a lot of work, a lot of load at the same time and because a majority of the members are first-time members, everybody wants to be heard. There were so many committees I think over 80 ad hoc committees that were set up to investigate several issues; so I think this has been just the delay in considering this report, has just been the fact that we have been so busy with a lot of other activities.

But the report has been submitted, the recommendations have been submitted to the leadership on the floor and I believe that in a very short period, this report will be considered, and our recommendations will be sent to the government.

And we will come up collectively in partnership with the executive arm of government; we can come up with an executive bill or even a private member bill that proposes some of the recommendations that we have concluded in our report.

To be continued…

Elizabeth Atime

2 comments

  • Charles Uko Agwu

    January 11, 2024 at 10:13 am

    I’ve always known Terseer will make us proud. I will be looking forward to his contribution to renewable energy and waste management in Nigeria.

    To the Author: Kindly edit to Kwande/Ushongo

    Reply

    • admin

      January 11, 2024 at 1:51 pm

      Thank you, Charles

      Reply

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