By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It was remarkable that All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, on Friday, anchored his decision to again contest the country’s presidential election on the premise of securing a better future for younger Nigerians.
“This is not about me, it is about our young people. It is about Nigerians. It is their future, not the past,” the former vice-president said in a seeming signal of an altruistic venture. Indeed, that inclination may have influenced the decision to position education above six major campaign policies to be marshaled in his forthcoming campaign to win the presidential ticket of the APC, and subsequently, fight President Goodluck Jonathan, the presumptive nominee of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the main election.
At the core of the education reform proposals to be put forward by Atiku is the plan to institutionalise a league system for the country’s universities and higher institutions which will be part of an overall goal of reversing falling education standards.
The proposals on education reform are the boldest in policy proposals packaged by the former vice-president that also touch on security, infrastructure, health, Diaspora, governance system and economy/job creation. The plans are to be fully unfolded on September 24 when the former vice-president makes a formal declaration for the presidency.
It would be Atiku’s fourth contest and the third successive pursuit of the presidency following his engagements in 1993, 2007 and 2011.
The overarching inclination towards education was being thought in some quarters to be a reflection of Atiku’s own successful intervention in the education sector through his privately run American University of Nigeria, AUN.
The introduction of a league system for the country’s universities, it was learnt, aims to institutionalise a rank and reward system for educational institutions with the aim of boosting competitiveness among the schools which have over time fallen from their ranking among the best in the world.
Nigerian universities were in the sixties ranked among the best in the commonwealth and the world, but over time through lack of funding lost ranking and resources to compete among their peers.
Under the policy framework to reverse the decline in education, Atiku is also proposing to encourage private sector organizations such as banks to adopt schools who in return get exemption or mitigation in taxes and other levies. It is a proposal that may draw mixed reactions given subsisting commitments by companies to education through education tax which is besides the statutory income taxes paid by companies.
Atiku, however, promises to counter such concerns with what he advocates as more transparency in governance as a way of boosting the commitment of corporate and individual citizens to the country.
Other key elements of the proposal on revamping the education sector as capsulated in the Atiku plan include:
•Reintroducing School Inspection and Monitoring Agencies independent of the Ministry of Education.
•Tackling the disparities in academic and educational performances/achievement levels of different regions and geographic/geopolitical zones of the country.
•Reforming the national curriculum to reflect the evolving demands of current educational/teaching requirements.
• Free education for children from deprived homes.
•Promoting and incentivizing the development of more technical educational achievements and development of vocational skills and apprenticeship schemes.
•Advancing the work and standing of premiere economy research institutions in the development process;
•Reintroduction of comprehensive scholarship schemes and grants in tertiary institutions.
In his plans towards addressing the security challenges in the country, the former vice-president has proposed a reshaping of the security infrastructure with the creation of a national counter-terrorism body specially empowered to pursue government’s counter-terrorism agenda.
The body according to the blueprint would be funded outside the normal framework for defence bodies.
Even more revolutionary, is the proposal by Atiku for the commercialization of personal security by government officials.
There were indications that this policy could be aimed towards freeing thousands of security men presently deployed at free cost as guards to public officials and their spouses and sometimes to their friends and political associates.
Other elements in the security blueprint by Atiku are
•Establishing and implementing a ‘National Security Strategy’ tasked with countering and containing the security threats posed by Boko Haram and other forms of insurgency and terrorism.
•Creation of a dedicated ‘Counter Terrorism and Intelligence Division’ (i.e. Office of Counter Terrorism and Intelligence) independent of the armed forces, DSS and Police. This specialist division will be backed by law in the NASS and given a dedicated budget and powers to pursue the government’s counter terrorism agenda.
•Promoting Regional Cooperation on anti-terrorism, counter insurgency and containment.
•Conducting continuous and ongoing National Security Risk Assessments: This will enable security agencies to assess and prioritize the risk of terrorism facing different parts of the country.
•Establish concrete counter-terrorism partnerships with foreign allies in order to take advantage of information gathering and sharing technologies, training programmes on counter terrorism, insurgency and Terrorism Finance Tracking Programs.
•Overhaul of the entire security apparatus into a more professional outfit able to deal with modern challenges of counter terrorism and insurgency.
•Commercialization of personal security by public officials
The Atiku campaign is to be marshaled by Prof. Babalola Borisade, a long time associate of the former vice-president who has been involved in most of the successful presidential campaigns between 1993 and 2007.
Atiku is also building on legacy with his decision to use the Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua Centre as the venue for the September 24 declaration. The late Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua was a man who unified many political aspirations and largely contributed to the successful presidential bids of Chief Moshood Abiola, President Olusegun Obasanjo and the late President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua.