by Bestman Michael

The recent re-enactment of the Student Loan Scheme after the Tinubu regime announced to indefinitely postpone it serves as a stark reminder of the government’s ongoing deception. Rather than genuinely prioritising the welfare of students and funding education, the scheme appears to be a calculated strategy to secretly raise fees across federal higher institutions nationwide.

The Campaign for Student and Youth Rights (CSYR), a student and youth platform was not taken aback by this. In fact, it aligns with its continuous call for the condemnation of neoliberal policies that seek to exploit students, particularly those from working-class backgrounds. And, rather than fund public education and introduce student grants, scholarship, or allowances, we find a government’s disregard for the educational aspirations of the masses, prioritising profit over the welfare of students.

Education, a key aspect of economic development, has faced severe challenges in recent years. Despite its critical importance, successive governments have consistently failed to prioritise the education sector adequately. Budgetary allocations to education have stagnated, falling short of the benchmarks set by UNESCO and failing to meet the growing needs of the population. This chronic underfunding has led to deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, and a decline in the quality of education provided to students across levels, across the country.

The Tinubu regime, by its economic policies, has demonstrated that it is not ready to guarantee the right of children to access free public education at all levels, as the constitution stipulates. In fact, since the loan scheme was signed, most public universities have upshot fees as well as other school charges of more than 300 percent, under the guise of lack of funds. More recently, we have seen federal universities like the University of Ibadan, LASU, UniBen, and virtually most public universities increase school charges outrageously while justifying their action on the lack of funds to run the university.

In UI, for instance, fees hiked for student ranges between ₦230, 000 and ₦412, 000— over 750% hike as against ₦64,600 to ₦69,600. In Uniben, the hostel accommodation fee was increased to a point where even students themselves are calling for a proscription of the union for being inept and not directly providing the needed leadership for student to resist the increases.

At the University of Ilesa— a recent university—we hear reports of a private-public partnership scheme where there will be no SUG for the next ten years and school fees, as listed in their portal— say, Medical Laboratory Science, for instance— are already half a million. That is, a whopping ₦750, 000 to attend a public university. 

This insensitivity to the current economic hardships keeps contributing  to the adverse effect on the psychology as well as the emotional state of most students who may be forced either to work to meet both survival and learning or forced out of school for failing to meet these outrageous fees. And then, there are parents who by these economic realities may find it much difficult to sustain their children’s schooling.

The alarming rise in drop-out rates and illiteracy levels in recent years underscores the immense hardships endured by working individuals and students in pursuit of education. Furthermore, the inevitable rise in unemployment resulting from these circumstances worsens a country’s already dire economic situation where the cost of living continues to soar. At the same time, the minimum wage remains stagnant amid rampant inflation.

The Country Is Abundantly Rich to Fund Education Contrary to Government Claim

Contrary to the government’s claims of financial scarcity, the truth is that the nation possesses vast resources more than sufficient to adequately fund education. The Tinubu regime’s claim of financial constraints is a deliberate falsehood. In reality, the country is gifted with abundant resources; however, these resources are being systematically plundered by the ruling elites. Recent revelations from the Senate, as well as the current EFCC’s supposed purging of public office holders on money laundering, serve as damning evidence of this reality. The shocking revelation of senators padding the budget to allocate N500 million for personal gain underscores the extent of capitalist corruption and misappropriation of our nation’s scarce resources. It’s evident that while the government pretends to have a lack of funds for education, the real issue however is capitalism, in its neocolonial dependent of the West and China that make it possible for the ruling class and the tiny numbers of their cronies to go on unchecked with corruption and the looting of the wealth of the country for their selfish end thereby depriving millions of access to quality education.

To reiterate: here is a country where the cost of living is high, where the minimum wage is stagnant amidst inflation & hikes in the prices of commodities. Despite the re-enactment, we know the student loan scheme is not workable. The fate of most Nigerian students in tertiary institutions amidst this excruciating economic hardship is not far-fetched. Not to mention the deplorable state of their classrooms, hostel spaces, and the rest they pay heavily for. It is a disaster, as many reports have shown. And, more recently, are the cases of Ada Amazu and the incident at Nasarawa University, where two students died as a result of a stampede for palliatives shared on campus, and countless others going through hell to feed, survive, and even school. Yet, the government, as well as school authorities, are concerned with making more profits, commercialising education, and pricing it out of the reach of the poor. In fact, by such a loan scheme, more and more students— as demonstrated in the US— will end up in more debt crises. Why? What are the modalities or certainties put in place that even after graduation, these students will secure better paying jobs or even become employed— just as the current unemployment statistics have shown? 

Therefore, it is important to emphasise that the student loan scheme is not only deceptive but has conditionalities beyond what any student from a working class family could meet. And, the Tinubu regime is not ready to improve the education sector, even as the 2024 budget showed. In fact, it indicates clearly that the policies of the Tinubu regime are further implemented to serve big businesses and amass the resources of the country for the luxury of the few against the majority. 

It is within this backdrop that the Campaign for Student and Youth Rights (CSYR), call for the complete reversal of this policy to be replaced by student allowances and government-sponsored scholarship grants for undergraduates. We call for a complete reversal of the hike in fees across campuses and urge students, as well as student union leadership, to call and organise campaigns nationally to properly fund public education with the resources of the country. Free and functional education is possible. While at the same time urging the working class to rise up to its historical task of contending for power and accomplishing a socialist revolution. Hence, students must not be deceived into thinking it is their responsibility to fund public education. They must resist as well as mobilise themselves against these anti-student, anti-poor, neo-liberal attacks of the Tinubu regime and the capitalist system in general.