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Fresh vista for establishment of education bank

By ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and ADAMU ABUH
12 May 2016   |   2:58 am
Calls for the establishment of Nigerian Education Bank has been on for nearly a decade.
President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

Calls for the establishment of Nigerian Education Bank has been on for nearly a decade. But not much has happened in this direction despite groups and influential individuals joining the fray. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and ADAMU ABUH write on the latest effort on the project.

In June 2014, civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), accused the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan of “letting down millions of poor Nigerians by failing to implement court judgments on the right to education, the latest of which ordered the president to establish the Nigerian Education Bank that would enhance access of millions of disadvantaged children to education.”

According to the outfit, “Nigeria has the resources and capacity to establish the bank if the government is able to exercise the required political will. If President Jonathan seriously wants to end the phenomenon of Boko Haram, he should move swiftly to establish the Nigerian Education Bank.”

That statement, which was signed by the group’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, in the wake of a Federal High Court judgement added,

“The judgment just delivered by the Hon. Justice M.B. Idris, of the Federal High Court, Lagos ordering President Goodluck Jonathan to establish a Nigerian Education Bank is an important development in the efforts to achieve access to quality education for all Nigerian children. But we fear that the government will ignore this judgment just as it did regarding the ECOWAS Court right to education judgment.”

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1122/11 dated 22 November 2011, and filed by the Falana and Falana Chambers, Justice Idris, held that, “The duty to establish the bank is mandatory and President Goodluck Jonathan cannot elect not to establish it.”

The judge had added that, “The failure by the president to do this is nothing but an act of arbitrariness,” stressing that, “It is apostasy for the government to ignore the provision of the law. Everyone, high or low must be prepared to justify his act by reference to some law, which authorises him to act precisely in the way in which he has acted.”

According to SERAP, “Without access to quality education, our children cannot have the chance to end the cycle of poverty, disease, abuse, manipulation, victimisation, and violence. But education is more than an escape; it is a legally enforceable fundamental human right.

The non-governmental organization said it agrees with the court when it said that ‘the establishment of the bank will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of poor Nigerians who cannot afford the services of our conventional banking system’. Now, millions of Nigerian children are waiting to see if President Jonathan will swiftly implement this judgment and show them that he is truly committed to alleviate their suffering.”

The court also held that, “The failure to establish the Nigerian Education Bank amounts to a gross violation of existing laws in Nigeria. The refusal by President Goodluck Jonathan to reply to the plaintiff’s letter is a violation of the Oath of Office contained in Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.”

Mr. Muhammadu Buhari beat President Jonathan in his re-election bid, about a year ago. Until he (Jonathan) left office, he did not establish the all-important bank.

Before leaving office however, many prominent groups and individuals also spoke in support of the establishment of the bank, which they said would help in facilitating the education of many youths and in the process drive down crime and criminality.

One of those who spoke in favour of the bank was former Niger State Governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, who said establishing it would lead to an improvement in the standard of education and give more impetus to educational infrastructure.

Aliyu, who spoke in Minna when he granted audience to the President and members of the National Association of Education Executive Secretaries, said the bank, which has long been given legal backing by the Supreme Court, but the legal pronouncement was never implemented, will also contribute to the establishment of private schools and assist indigent students to get financial assistance to get education up to any level they so wish.

According to him: “I believe that the establishment of the education bank will to a large extent provide educational institutions, including state governments, as well as proprietors of private schools, the avenues for them to get fund for the purchase of equipment needed for teaching in the schools.”

Aliyu decried the present situation where most infrastructures in schools have become dilapidated as a result of lack of funds because of other contending issues.

On Monday, the issue of the establishment of education bank again came to the fore, as the House of Representatives expressed its readiness to work towards that.

Leader of the house, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, made this known during an interactive session with 161 students of Nigerian universities held at the National Assembly, just as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, canvassed a reform of the educational sector to improve the quality and skills of manpower available for the public and private sectors and for self-employment.

Gbajabiamila who spoke while responding to a question from one of the students at the event disclosed that a bill aimed at achieving the objective would soon be reintroduced on the floor of the lower legislative chamber for deliberation.

Recalling that the bill was at the second reading stage before the termination of the 7th Assembly, he noted that the entire members of the National Assembly would surely be predisposed to the passage of the legislation since it would relieve them of the burden of picking up the bills of indigent students yearning for tertiary education in their respective constituencies across the country.

At the event, which was at the behest of the National Institute of legislative studies (NILS), Gbajabiamila who is the brain behind the bill remarked that the loans to be accessed by the students would be interest free and can only be repaid piecemeal when they are duly employed.

“The bill captures the need to establish an education Bank. What motivated us to push for the passage of the bill is that we all get inundated with several requests for payment of school fees by students who cannot afford it.  There is a limit to what we can do on the issue,” the lawmaker said.

“We realise that so many students out there lose their admissions because they don’t have the wherewithal to pay their school fees. We felt the state should be able to assist these students. Education is a right and not a privilege. It is our duty to make it available to everybody. When we set up the education bank, it would give loans to keep these students in school.  The loan would attract zero interest,” Gbajabiamila.

He continued, “The students would only repay the principal interest when they get jobs. We are not happy because there are young men and women out there who are gifted, but are unable to pay school fees.  Every lawmaker understands this and we would make sure the bill is passed into law.”

Speaker, House of Representatives, Dogara who chaired the interactive session decried the fallen standard of education in the polity, and canvassed the need for a redesign of the education curriculum to meet the demands of the labour market as a means of curbing the high level of graduates unemployment in the polity.

He pledged that the house would continue to support key youth policy initiatives targeted at young people such as boosting entrepreneurship, increasing investment in infrastructure in public schools, and supporting reform of higher education in the country Nigeria.

“The hard truth is that an ineffective public education system is incapable of servicing in any quantitative, much less qualitative manner, the driving levers of an economy that urgently need to improve productivity, generate wealth, and increase competitiveness. This has resulted in the inability of the economy to absorb more people due to skills deficit, which has contributed to rising poverty levels, increasing levels and incidences of crime, criminality and other forms of disruptive violence and insecurity.