Correcting the misperceptions regarding Atiku Abubakar’s Higher Education Policy

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By Abdulhakeem Ishaq Ringim

 

Prof Abdelghaffar Amoka earlier raised a concern over one of Atiku Abubakar’s proposed policy prescriptions that suggested the transfer of responsibilities of funding and control of tertiary education provided through federal-owned universities, COEs, Polytechnics and monotechnics to State Governments by 2024. Considering the proven inabilities of several states to manage public basic and secondary education, he feels such a policy might defer our higher education institutions to total destruction. And a lot of people followed suit to demonize the policy even while understanding little to nothing about it.

While I consider his concern absolutely valid, I feel Prof. [un]intentionally failed to take into cognizance the fundamental assumptions and premises that pillared the policy prescription. He also did not consider the policy propositions that are geared towards improving State Governments’ fiscal capacity and overall economy in such a manner that they’d be able to withstand such a huge burden.

First off, the policy prescription in question was contained in the “Atiku Plan” which is a policy document that communicated his plans for Nigeria on the hope that he wins the 2019 elections. And the fundamental assumption was that by 2024(5-years after assumption of office), the country would’ve been adequately RESTRUCTURED and the exclusive and concurrent list would’ve been decongested in such a way that “social and welfare issues like education, agriculture, health, etc. will be devolved to the states and local governments with the central government retaining the sole powers of quality assurance, policy standardization and implementation”. Of course this is in addition to devolving “issues bordering on minerals and mines, internal security including Police, law and order, railways, communications, transport, environment, land matters, etc” to the concurrent list in such a manner that states will be principally involved.

Secondly, succeeding points in the same section of the policy document prescribed that “States will be encouraged to set up Regional Common Services Agencies for the joint running of those institutions transferred to them by the federal government under the new arrangement”. This arrangement is similar to that which was ushered to fore by the “Interim Common Services Agency Degree 1968” of the Gowon Administration after the dissolution of the Northern Region and the creation of 6 states from it. The arrangement, as it were, saw to the creation of the “Interim Common Services Agency(ICSA)” which was responsible for the management and control of almost all Northern assets and institutions including the Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna Polytechnic, Advanced Teachers Training Colleges in Kano and Zaria, Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria [BCNN], among others. Hence, the higher education institutions that fall under this proposed arrangement will be jointly managed by the RESTRUCTURED STATES through the instrumentality of the regional common services agencies. “The central government shall also own and develop one university in each geo-political zone as Centres of Excellence. The universities shall be encouraged to charge user fees at market rates under a partnership between the federal, state and local governments”.

Thirdly, in its pursuit for a sustainable restructuring model, the policy document proposes the introduction of a matching grant of upto $250 million per state “for the purpose of making states lose their addiction to federal allocation, to make them look inwards, and return to the healthy competition of 1957-1966, when Nigeria practiced her unique brand of true federalism known as regionalism”. This of course is in addition to providing all necessary support to the states in terms of developing their revenue generating capacity, reforming economic management institutions, promoting fiscal efficiency etc as outlined in the “Supporting the Federating Unit in Economic Management” section of the policy document.

With all the above mentioned interventions, structures and institutions in place, why not let go of the higher education institutions for the states to take charge? Restructuring certainly must come with additional responsibilities for the states!

Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political,
/public affairs/policy analyst and an incurable supporter of Atiku Abubakar. He writes from Zaria and can be reached via haleemabdul1999@gmail.com

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