The establishment of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELF), by the President and Commander –in –Chief-of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, was a step in the right direction and signalled hope that young Nigerians whose parent could not afford to pay their fees at university level would henceforth do so with ease, the Acting Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Chris J. Maiyaki, has said.
He stated this recently when the pioneer NELF Executive Secretary, Mr. Akin Sawyer, paid a courtesy visit to the Commission to seek collaboration in order to ensure a smooth take-off of the Fund.
While receiving the NELF delegation, Mr. Maiyaki stated that the NUC was the arrow-head and regulatory body for all universities in Nigeria and was saddled with the responsibility to ensure the orderly development of universities in the country, provide guidelines for their operations, accredit degree programmes run in all degree awarding institutions and grant approval for the take-off of new academic programmes, amongst others.
He noted that every government establishment like the NELF had its own gestation period, citing the case of the NUC which started as an Advisory body in the Cabinet Office in 1962, and later transited into a full-fledged Commission in 1974 and initially, regulating the activities of only six public universities.
According to him, most people who bagged their first degree in Nigeria before 1962 at the University College Ibadan, were awarded the certificate of University of London and not until 1962 that the University College, Ibadan was up-graded to a University to meet the aspirations of the growing numbers of Nigerians seeking university education and the need to train man-power to fill vacant positions in the public service.
The Acting Executive Secretary explained that the increasing demand for university education made the Federal Government grant approval for the establishment of more universities in the regions, besides the University of Ibadan (UI) in Nigeria between 1960 and 1962.
He listed them to include: University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) (1960); Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; Obafermi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; University of Lagos (UNILAG) and later University of Benin (UNIBEN) in 1970, established to meet the aspiration of the mid-western region.
He informed the team that these six universities remained what was now referred today as the First Generation universities.
Mr Maiyaki also recalled that as the demand for university education continued to increase in the country, seven more universities were established in 1975 which cut across the regions namely; the University of Port-Harcourt (UNIPORT), University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), University of Jos (UNIJOS), Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto (UDUS), University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), University of Calabar (UNICAL), and Bayero University, Kano (BUK).
He stressed that, from 12 universities in 1975, the Commission now regulated about 270 universities, 52 Federal, 63 States, and 147 Private Universities, respectively.
The Acting Executive Secretary assured that the NUC was ready to be a strategic partner of the NELF by providing useful, relevant and reliable data on the Nigerian University System (NUS), to ensure a successful delivery of its mandate of providing timely and efficient education loans to less-privileged Nigerian students.
He added that such scholarship schemes were not strange to the NUC as the Commission had in the past initiated and implemented the Presidential Special Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), with over 100 First Class graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), from Nigerian universities were selected annually and sent to the best top 20 universities in the world for their second degree.
The scheme, he noted, was sponsored by the then Federal Government under Goodluck Jonathan administration way back in 2011, but was not sustained by successive Administration.
He, therefore, stressed that the NELF was a laudable initiative that must be allowed to exist infinitely, as the Nigeria Education System was long over-due for such education scheme that would bridge the gap between the privileged and less-privileged in the society.
He called on the leadership of the Fund to work with all relevant stakeholders to develop eligibility criteria, unit cost per student, as well as per programme in order to develop a sound strategic plan for the implementation of its programme.
In his response, the Executive Secretary, NELF, Mr. Akin Sawyer, affirmed that upon assuming office in December, 2023, his team had identified the NUC as one of its strategic partners with the capacity to provide adequate, reliable, relevant and useful information and data to aid the smooth take-off of the Fund.
He stated that the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led government had set up the loan fund to support indigent Nigerians in their higher education pursuit, while they pay back in instalments, two years, after completing their National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme.
Mr Sawyer added that the loan would be paid directly to the institutions where the applicant’s admission was domiciled to avoid diversion, while repayment of 10 per cent of the loan would also be done by the employer of any beneficiary at source.
He further said that repayment would be made as flexible as possible as the Fund was not willing to criminalise beneficiaries who defaulted.
The NELF Executive Secretary noted that the sources of NELF funding included; one per cent of all profits accruing to the Federal Government from oil and other minerals; one per cent of taxes, levies and duties accruing from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Custom Service (NCS); Education Bonds and Education Endowment Fund schemes.
He stated that the Education Loan would also be funded through donations, gifts, endowment and revenue accruing from any other source.
The NELF Scribe noted that all students seeking higher education in any public institution of higher learning in Nigeria had equal rights to access the loan without any discrimination arising from gender, religion, tribe, position or disability of any kind.
He lamented that despite government effort at subsidising public higher education in the Country, developed countries continue to benefit from the services of professionals trained in Nigeria through brain-drain, thereby depleting the number of professionals who would have contributed to nation building but had to seek better economic opportunities abroad.
He noted that Government must look for ways to curb or reduce the migration of trained professionals or ensure those benefiting countries were made to invest in the higher education system.
He promised to make formal request to the NUC on areas of collaborations and partnerships, as the Fund intends to work with all critical stakeholders in order to achieve its mandate.
In the NELF delegation were the Senior Adviser, Mr. Sadiq Ribadu; NELF Consultant, Mr. Daniel Kure and Project Manager, Mr. Iyal Mustapha.
Present at the event was the NUC Deputy Executive Secretary (Academics), Dr. Noel Biodun Saliu, Acting Directors of Public Affairs (DPA), Alh. Haruna Lawal Ajo; Finance and Account (DFA), Mrs. Hauwa Amos; Human Resources (DHR), Mrs. Victoria Chidimma Omorudion; (DA) Accreditation, Engr. Abraham Lucas Chundusu; as well as representatives of NUC Directors of Inspection and Monitoring (DIM), Mrs. Alisabatu Balogun, Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (DSDE), Mr. Obinna Nwachukwu, Research, Innovation and Information Technology (DRIIT), Dr. Bashir Dauda; Executive Secretary’s Office (DESO), Mr. Bakari B. Adewale, Establishment of Private Universities (DEPU), Barr. Samuel. S. Adejo, Academic Planning (DAP), Dr. Esther Mmeka, and Students (DoS), Mrs. Titilayo Akinrata.