Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, has clarified the comment he made on Federal Government-owned universities at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference held at the Eko Hotels, Lagos State.
Atiku, who was one of the panelists at the event on Monday, had narrated his encounter with a professor in the Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State.
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He had said the Federal Government lacks resources for effective management of federal universities in the country.
“I had an argument with a university professor from Federal University, Lokoja. He said he read in my policy document that I intend to devolve, in other words, to return education to the states. How dare I do that? I said: ‘Mr professor, do you realise that the first set of our universities belongs to the regional governments?’ He said, ‘yes’. I said ‘who are the successors of the regional government?’ He said: ‘the states’.
“I said the children you send to America or England, who own those universities? Mostly the private sector. So, why is it that you think we cannot do it here? We don’t have the money.”
But in a statement, Paul Ibe, Media Adviser to the Presidential candidate said Atiku only referred to his plans for a phased devolution of power to the federating units.
Ibe stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, Atiku did not say that he will hand over Federal universities to state governments if he is elected president come February next year.
“The report is false, untrue, unfounded, and not a true reflection of what Atiku Abubakar said while responding to a question on devolution of powers, a key component of his policy framework.
“What the PDP presidential candidate referred to was his plans for a phased devolution of power to the federating units.
“The report in some sections of the media is therefore a misleading and false account of what transpired when the PDP Presidential candidate fielded questions as a panelist at the opening ceremony of the NBA conference.
“In answering the question posed to him, Atiku Abubakar merely recalled his engagement with a university professor where he argued that the United States of America shared similarities with the first set of universities in Nigeria which belonged to the regional governments and noted that with proper planning and phased devolution of power, federal universities that have now become unwieldy could be made to work better under the component federating units. He also maintained that education would remain in the concurrent list under his administration when elected.
“We wish to restate Atiku Abubakar’s avowed commitment to education as a game changer for socio-economic development and national security. He remains concerned about the prolonged strike by university teachers and restates his position that under his watch the ASUU-FG imbroglio will be better managed in the interest of both the students and academic staff.
“To underscore his commitment to address the structural deformities in our system, the former Vice President also disclosed that he had empanelled a committee of judiciary experts to draft a presidential position paper which will guide his administration, if elected, from day one, on the terms and conditions of transfer of power and resources to the other layers of government aimed at making the federal government leaner and more effective in its core functions.
“We implore media organisations to be wary of unfounded stories in the course of carrying out their constitutionally guaranteed responsibility of informing, educating, and entertaining the people,” the statement read.