The Nigerian Education Loan Fund, on Wednesday, said it would begin a pilot phase of the student loan scheme with applicants from public tertiary institutions.

This includes students of federal and state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

It also expects President Bola Tinubu to soon appoint a chairperson, a Managing Director and two Executive Directors as part of its executive management team.

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The spokesperson for the Fund, Mr Nasir Ayitogo, affirmed this to our correspondent on Wednesday, citing the provisions of the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024, which Tinubu signed into law, on the same day.

Ayitogo noted that the President was expected to launch the scheme after appointing qualified persons into the offices provided by the new law.

The executive bill was titled “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023 and Enact the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2004 to Establish the Nigerian Education Loan Fund as a Body Corporate to Receive, Manage and Invest Funds to Provide Loans to Nigerians for Higher Education, Vocational Training and Skills Acquisition and for Related matters.”

It was signed in the presence of the leadership of the National Assembly, ministers and major stakeholders in the education sector.

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This followed separate considerations by both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the report of the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund.

The newly-signed piece of legislation allows for the appointment of a Chairperson of the fund, a Managing Director and two Executive Directors of Finance and Operations each to “assist the Managing Director in performing his duties.”

The appointees “shall hold office for five years,” the Act read.

The new Act also made the loan fund a corporate entity with the ability to enter contracts, including loan agreements with applicants, or to initiate enforcement actions to recover loans from beneficiaries; provisions it lacked hitherto.

“Right now, with the President’s assent to the new bill, it means there will be a new management. There will be a managing director, as against what we had in the previous law, an Executive Secretary. And there will be two executive directors too.

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“So, we await the President to make these fresh appointments before we can begin anything. Before the implementation, those appointments will have to be in place.

“There must be a Chairperson who will be appointed by the President,” said Ayitogo.

Asked if the new provision covers students in public and private institutions, he said, “For the pilot scheme, it is just for public institutions.”

On the number of public institutions to enjoy the pilot scheme, he explained, “The target for this phase of the loan are students of federal and state universities, federal and state polytechnics and federal and state colleges of education. Whoever desires the loan will apply.

“When you need the loan, apply and you will get it if you meet the requirements.”

However, no launch date has been set for the programme.

After assenting to the new law on Wednesday, Tinubu thanked the National Assembly for speedily considering it, affirming that his administration was committed to increasing the skill levels of working-age Nigerians.

He stated, “I have just signed a bill proclaiming the student loan effectively. First of all, I must thank members of the National Assembly for their expeditious handling of this bill considering the children of Nigeria, that education is the tool to fight against poverty effectively.

“We are determined to ensure that education is given the proper attention necessary for the country including skills development programmes.

“This is to ensure that no one, no matter how poor their background is, is excluded from quality education and the opportunity to build their future.”

Turning to those in the room, the President said, “We are here because we are all educated and were helped.

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“In the past, we have seen a lot of our children drop out of colleges and give up the opportunity.

“That is no more, the standard and the control is there for you to apply no matter who you are as long as you are a Nigerian citizen.”

On June 12, 2023, Tinubu signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023 into law to enable indigent students to access interest-free loans for their educational pursuits in any Nigerian tertiary institution.

The move was in “fulfillment of one of his campaign promises to liberalise funding of education,” a member of the then Presidential Strategy Team, Dele Alake, said.

The Act, popularly known as the Students Loan Law, also established the Nigerian Education Loan Fund to process all loan requests, grants, disbursement, and recovery.

Although the government initially announced that the scheme would be launched in September, it suffered several delays leading to an indefinite postponement in early March.

The Presidency had linked the delay to Tinubu’s directive to expand the scheme to include loans for vocational skills.

After receiving briefing from the NELFUND team led by the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, on January 22, the President had directed the Fund to extend interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skill-development programmes.

Tinubu based his decision on the need for the scheme to accommodate those who may not want to pursue a university education, noting that skill acquisition is as essential as obtaining undergraduate and graduate academic qualifications.

“This is not an exclusive programme. It is catering to all of our young people. Young Nigerians are gifted in different areas.

“This is not only for those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants. It is also for those who aspire to use their skilled and trained hands to build our nation.

“In accordance with this, I have instructed NELFUND to explore all opportunities to inculcate skill-development programmes because not everybody wants to go through a full university education,” he had said.

On his part, the Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, argued that the new law not only avails eligible candidates the opportunity to obtain an education but equips them with vocational skills for their economic sustenance.

“We want to thank Mr President for his compassion and passion for the downtrodden, who are the beneficiaries of this scheme.

“Now, the days when students will be struggling to sponsor themselves in their various educational endeavours are over, both at the tertiary and those who are seeking to be skilled, to be empowered and to move on with their lives. It’s a very great day for the country”, Mamman said.

Meanwhile, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Lucky Emonefe, thanked President Tinubu for fulfilling his promise of education opportunities for young Nigerians through the student loan scheme.

“This is commendable. As for Nigerian students that are represented here, we’re happy, we’ve seen Mr President’s commitment to the development of education and today the entire education system is happy; the Nigerian students, particularly, we’re happy, our parents are happy, that yes in Nigeria, even the children of the poor can have access to quality education.

“We’ve seen Mr President’s commitment at the signing of the bill today, it shows that Mr President is the father of modern education in Nigeria and the initiator of this bill.

“You will see that even Nigerian parents will be happy and we pray that those that will be given the responsibility will effectively carry it out to ensure that Mr President’s intention, vision and mission to ensure that no Nigerian student is out of school because of school fees”, Emonefe said.