OPINION: Why You Don’t Need Godfather To Access Nigerian Students Loan

By Fred Olufemi Akinfala

I believe that by 2031, when President Bola Tinubu would be completing his entire constitutionally allowable tenures, the students’ loan initiative, being managed by the Nigerian Education Loan Fund, NELFUND, would be among his best celebrated achievements.
I am convinced that several decade from now the initiative will be the most revolutionary policy taken regarding tertiary education in Nigeria. This is because among its several benefits the initiative would help Nigerian students create a safe pathway from financial obstacles to attaining their educational pursuits. Also, the initiative will boost student retention and completion rates, and ultimately increase the number of graduates. The implication of this is that the number of skilled talents in the economy would also increase. It is for this reason, and in line with President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda, that the management of NELFUND is committed to creating an open, fair, and transparent application process. The openness in the scheme means that students can easily apply online, submit, and track a loan request through the same process. The digitised process has forestalled likely manipulation from within and outside of NELFUND, thereby further confirming the integrity of the scheme.

Already, NELFUND has gathered current students’ data, comprising the federal universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and technical colleges in Nigeria. The exact process applies to the state-owned tertiary institutions we started on Tuesday, the 28th of June,2024.

It must be stressed at this point that every eligible student is equal, and no one needs to have a ‘godfather’ or unique connections in society to access the loan.
Instead, what is essential is for an applicant to meet the laid-down criteria. These are ensuring, as an applicant, you are enrolled in a Federal or State tertiary institution, and possess a letter of admission from the statutory Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, a Biometric Verification Number (BVN) and a National Identification Number (NIN). The simplification of the loan process and its accessibility to the public are to clear ambiguity or a perception of bias in selecting successful applications.

As a fact, it is not for nothing that the NELFUND’s management has taken steps to foster public trust, inclusion, and sustainable reputational capital. It is also worth noting that the agency has instituted solid corporate governance, supported and overseen by its equally dedicated governing board led by respected banker and Zenith Bank Plc founder, Mr. Jim Ovia. In the same vein, the management, led by its Managing Director, Mr. Akintunde Sawyerr, has declared zero tolerance for corruption and corrupt practices within and outside the agency.

For Sawyerr, pilfering funds meant to empower students is egregious and an unpardonable sin. He once related an intriguing story to me about some burglars in the United Kingdom who seemed to make it a rule among them not to take anything belonging to children.
Despite their depravity, it was a creed among them (burglars). Mr Sawyerr told me, by the same token, that even the most depraved person, if appointed into a position of trust and to protect children’s welfare, must eschew committing such atrocious sin against them.

Turning to me, he said: “Dr, this programme (the student loan scheme) is for children; It is out of bounds to corruption and pilfering.” We must fight this battle together.
Such is the character of Mr. Sawyerr, a
Diasporan Nigerian is desirous of etching his footprints in the sands of history. Having lived overseas and seen the governmental and social systems work efficiently for the common good, Mr Sawyerr is determined to make a change in the lives of Nigerian higher education students.

Mr Sawyerr has demonstrated unusual courage; he is mission-focused and ready to make a fear-free kill of mysterious ‘snakes’ to protect the funds entrusted in his care. My allusion to snakes will remind us of the saga involving a clerk with the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, who in 2018 claimed a snake spiritually slithered to the vault and swallowed about ₦36million made from the sale of students’ scratch cards. Under Mr Sawyerr’s leadership, the management will ensure no such obnoxious thing occurs.

As a prolific cross-industry growth specialist, Mr Sawyerr’s experience in growing complex business set-ups and, now, the NELFUND comes in handy. He was at a time a consultant to various African and European governments and organisations, such as the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS; Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria on agricultural and Healthcare projects for Nigeria; Rwanda Development Board; Medtronic; DHL; British Trade International & DFID; and the Financial Times. Also, he had consulted for the Europe-Africa Business Heads Of Government Forum, among others.

The task before the NELFUND management is to ensure corrupt-free management of the interest-free loan scheme to millions of students from the 62 federal and 63 state universities in the country.

Dr. Fred Femi Akinfala, is Executive Director, Finance and Administration, NELFUND.

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