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Student loan scheme not forgotten, says Presidency

The Presidency, on Wednesday, said it will announce a later date for the commencement of the student loan scheme.

The Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, disclosed this when he briefed State House correspondents after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council meeting at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

“There will be a new date to launch the student loan scheme. It’s not forgotten,” Onanuga said.

Onanuga was responding to the postponement of the planned launch of the Fund, which was initially scheduled for Thursday, March 14, explaining that the programme had not been forgotten.

Giving reasons for the delay, he said, “There are some things that need to be rearranged so that it can be launched properly. That’s what’s happening.

“So the President is committed to it. You know it’s one of his flagship programmes and he wants to get it done as quickly as possible.”

Speaking on TVC’s Politics on Sunday, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, announced that Tinubu will launch the Student Loan Scheme on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Villa Sources also confirmed that the President had been scheduled to launch the programme on Thursday.

However, Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund, Dr Akintunde Sawyerr, announced in an Arise News interview that the Thursday launch is no longer feasible.

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 “fulfilment 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.

The government initially said the scheme would kick off in September, but it did not.

Afterwards, Tinubu insisted on January 2024. Declaring the 29th session of the annual Nigeria Economic Summit in Abuja open on October 23, 2023, the President said, “By January 2024, the new Students Loan Programme must commence. To the future of our children and students, we’re saying no more strikes!”

He proposed N50bn for its take-off in the 2024 budget he presented to the National Assembly last November.

On February 7, Sawyerr exclusively confirmed to our correspondent that the much-awaited scheme would go live on February 21, when President Tinubu launched it at the State House, Abuja.

However, the launch was delayed, with Sawyerr, alongside Presidency sources, explaining that the lag time is to enable the Fund to expand its mandate to include students seeking loans for skills development, as directed by the President.

After receiving a briefing from the NELFUND team led by the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, on January 22, the President 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 said.

On Saturday, March 9, Sawyerr also told our correspondent that the delay is “basically to enable the agency to put all necessary measures in place as the scheme is entirely technologically driven.”

Providing additional insight, Minister of Information and National Orientation Mohammed Idris asserted that President Tinubu had planned out other welfare initiatives, such as the introduction of social security and consumer credit programmes, all waiting to be launched.

He explained that the various programmes “are being taken together,” adding that “Mr President is not stopping or suspending the students’ loan. Indeed, he’s ensuring that it comes about strongly so that Nigerians and especially the families of the less privileged take advantage of it so that they can get an education.”

Meanwhile, Sawyerr has since clarified that the postponement is not indefinite.

A statement signed by his media aide, Nasir Ayitogo, read, “While there has been a postponement, we wish to state that it is not indefinite, as alluded to in the reports.

“For the avoidance of doubt, NELFUND is 100 per cent set for the launch. The loan application portal is ready, and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has since approved the funds for the smooth take-off.

“Students are advised to seize the opportunity and apply for the loans as soon as it is launched at a date to be determined by the President.”

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