By Juwe Oluwafemi
The spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed has warned that the proposed education loan scheme of the federal government would discourage more Nigerians from accessing university education.
As a result, Baba-Ahmed advised that “the Tinubu government should be very careful about its reforms in the education sector,” stressing, “I think that the education loan scheme policy needs to be looked at very carefully.”
The NEF spokesman also urged President Bola Tinubu to evaluate the policy, as he noted that it would have an “enormous impact” especially on the North.
Baba-Ahmed said this in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH in Abuja on Monday.
He stressed that the north is “very worried about the Tinubu-led government’s policy on the education loan scheme, as we fear it is going to radically increase the cost of university education, and lead a large number of students from the Northern parts of the country out of school.”
Continuing, he asserted, “That is the simple, honest truth. I am hoping that, first, the policy will be studied thoroughly in the context of how people live now. Where are we going to get these loans from? The banks that would disburse the student loans – how much authority and power are you going to devolve to them, or are you going to leave them to go and charge what they want?
“Or are you going to provide the parameters? Have we looked at the possibility that students might take loans and not be able to pay for them, three, four, or five years after graduation? Have you created enough employment opportunities?
“But above all, if you raise the entire fees, yesterday I saw an advert of something supposedly from BUK in Kano, which is one of the largest universities, and I saw that they are now going to be charged for various services the university renders.
“I say this is unbelievable. I know for a fact that if it is true, then a large number of students would not be able to cope.
“We are behind now, as it is in the North. If you now introduce policies where the removal of subsidies is already making life difficult for poor people, electricity tariffs are going to go up, now our children can’t go to school, you must worry about the cumulative effect of these policies,” he added.
The Northern elder insisted, “Policies after policies are just making life more difficult, and people have a short patience threshold. If they don’t see a difference between the pre-Tinubu government and the Tinubu administration, they will walk away from this administration.”
The NEF leader further noted that “The last thing President Tinubu needs is Nigerians saying this man just came to make our lives difficult. In simple terms, that is basically where it boils down.
“Now, if their lives are going to be made difficult, at least find ways of explaining to them. I am very sorry- your leg is broken, if it has to be fixed, it will pain you. But we can fix it. The government’s communication strategy has to be perfect, and the way you design your policies and their impacts – don’t create too many burdens and place them on the citizenry,” he remarked.
Baba-Ahmed tasked the administration to end corruption as a way of restoring Nigeria to the path of growth, security, and national unity.
According to him, “Corruption is at the root of our insecurity; societal corruption, the corruption of our values as a people, and the corruption of all the agencies that are supposed to be fighting insecurity.
“If you drastically remove corruption from the processes and operations of government, and from the lives of Nigerians, you can solve the problem of insecurity in a year or two,” the NEF spokesman stated.
He maintained that the government must address poverty, as well as prioritise the inclusion of the different parts of the country in governance, noting that this will give every group a stake in Nigeria.
“Addressing poverty is a very serious problem, finding ways to improve inclusion – the elections have polarised the country very dangerously, and anybody who does not tell you that we are in a very terrible situation because our elections tend to polarise the nation more and more,” Baba-Ahmed pointed out, adding, “So, inclusiveness should be prioritised. The administration must find a way to make all parts of the country have a stake in the government, just as this new government must by all means, inject fresh and new ideas in the management of the economy. The administration should pay very close attention to the impact of the liberal economic policies.
“Poverty levels are very high, and sometimes we tend to think that ideas alone can solve problems, no! You need to pay very close attention to the state in which people live.
“Not all people are beneficiaries of liberal economies. The poor are already really under a lot of poverty. Insecurity has compounded it. The last thing you want to do is to create a hostile citizenry.
“The president needs to be very careful, and to take very informed policies in the management of the economy so that even if he doesn’t radically liberate the poor, he also doesn’t radically impoverish them,” Baba-Ahmed advised further.
However, while commending Tinubu for taking the bold decision to suspend from office, the leadership of both the CBN and the EFCC, as well as the removal of subsidy on Petrol Motor Spirit, Baba-Ahmed cautioned against policies that may alienate the masses.
He warned, “The government needs to understand that policies that would have a profound impact on people, it needs to be very careful about it.
“Don’t be afraid to put policies that would affect people, but also don’t condemn and disregard sentiments.
“Everybody knew the fuel subsidy would go, whether it was designed or not, and it was because President Buhari only budgeted for it till June. It wasn’t Tinubu that removed the subsidy; it was Buhari that removed the subsidy.
“Tinubu just found a convenient entry point and said, there’s no kobo for subsidy. It is gone. But what you do is immediately tell people who are working with you. Listen, this may not be our decision, but it will be our decision to deal with the consequences, so how do we do it in such a way that we both get the benefit of the removal of subsidy, as well as alleviate some of the really negative things that would come with its removal,” he said.