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2019 Polls Rev Up Restructuring Debate Gets Messier

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The political space in the nation has lately been energised by calls for restructuring of the polity with political and non-political actors speaking in dissonance on the issue. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the renewed calls as political heavyweights bicker on the issue.

The renewed call for restructuring has become one of the most discussed subjects in public discourse. While some prominent voices in the nation uphold that Nigeria can perform better when it is restructured, others have described such call as a tool for blackmail to gain political relevance ahead of the 2019 general elections.

As this call gathers momentum, there is a corollary; the gnawing fear that equates restructuring with the breakup of Nigeria. The truth is technically, Nigeria has been restructured several times. Hence, true federalism should be pivotal as the present demand is to make the Nigerian entity and its integral parts, more efficient, more acceptable, more productive, more functional and above all, more equitable. Nigeria arrived at the present juncture, first, because of entrenched distrust of the political leadership and second, because Nigerian leaders pathologically loath political and academic analysis pointing them to vexatious national questions.

Indeed, a clear understanding of the term has remained wholly in the imaginations, a development that has further fuelled agitations.

Basically, restructuring is just a euphemism. Some people had earlier called it fiscal federalism; some people call it the federal system of government. However, this analysis is going to look at it from the angle of the federal system of government. We have borrowed the presidential system from a country that runs a federal system of government, United States of America.

As a nation, there is nothing we want to do that other people have not done before. So all we need to do is to embark on a comparative analysis and appreciate what other people have done and see to the extent it can deviate from personal gains, our culture and peculiar circumstances.

Hitherto, the advent of the military in politics made gobbledygook of the nation’s federalism since 1966 through the Unification Decree by the late Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi-led government. Based on its hierarchical command structure, the central military government became so powerful while the states are relegated and subordinated, like the Soviet Federalism of old to mere administrative units of the central government. The federal system of government is the direct opposite, the coming together of different entities for the good of all but not the loss of their respective independence.

Let us not get it mixed up, “restructuring” and “federalism” have become the most misrepresented words even by those who should understand and work for their actualisation of the system in the interest of peace and progress of Nigeria. Mischief makers have chosen to see the call for restructuring to gain political relevance and as a weapon to break up the country to garner support ahead of the next presidential elections and also so that others would not have access to the oil and gas resources.

First, according to Merriam-Webster, one of my favourite dictionaries, “restructure” means “to change the makeup, organisation, or pattern” of something to make it work better. One of the example sentences given by the dictionary is very instructive: “You should restructure this sentence to make its meaning clearer”. There is nothing more to restructuring a nation than rearrangement, usually for greater efficiency. Those who read something else into it, such as the disintegration of the country, are either being misled or are simply mischievous.

Second, it should be stressed that the call for restructuring is not merely a Nigerian craze; rather, it is central to the global expression of nativist, nationalist, or self-determination craving we have come to know as the New Nationalism. Although expressed differently in different countries and for different reasons, restructuring or its variant has been the central theme of the New Nationalism spreading across the globe, including those countries associated with robotics engineering and nanotechnology.

If properly harnessed true federalism will help curb corruption at all level of government. For instance, with greatly reduced income at the national level profligacy is bound to fall. At the state and local levels also once everyone realise that the resources are gotten from their local capitals, which are accessible, rather than just the national level.

But the ruling All Progressives Congress lashed out at politicians promising to restructure the country, describing them as latter-day converts.

The acting national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, who was reacting to a former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and an ex-President of the Senate, Senator David Mark specifically berated the duo that the two of them were silent on restructuring when they had the opportunity to canvass the reform.

Nabena explained that some of those who were vocal about restructuring hitherto occupied public offices and had the opportunity to implement their ideas, adding that they failed to do so but had regrouped and tried to latch on the issue to pursue political ends.

Nabena said the renewed restructuring debate particularly between the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo and Atiku, which had gained traction on social media, needed to be put in context.

He said “Osinbajo, in his well-articulated response to Atiku, submitted that what Nigeria requires now is not geographic restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism and a clear vision for development.

He stressed that past administrations wasted billions of naira belonging to taxpayers and held national conferences which yielded no result in the end but rather served the narrow interests of a few.

“For instance, Atiku was Vice-President and Chairman of the National Economic Council throughout the eight years of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

“How did he use his office to correct the imbalance in our federation he expresses today?

“Senator David Mark was Senate President for eight years and never sponsored a motion on restructuring. Today, he is promising to restructure the country.

“We must be wary of latter-day converts to the matter of restructuring, exploiting the issue for populist political campaigns.”

Responding, Mark, a presidential aspirant on the platform of the PDP, insisted that restructuring of the country “is an idea whose time has come.”

He said, “It is understandable that the APC would accuse me of being a new convert to restructuring in view of their many failed promises to the Nigerian people. I will not make promises like them. My antecedents over the years, especially during my tenure as Senate President, are a testimony that I will always act in the nation’s best interest.

“My position is anchored on the feedback from Nigerians, and as a leader, in my own right, I have to act in consonance with the wishes of people. My experience in the Indeed, a clear understanding of the term has remained wholly in the imaginations, a development that has further fuelled agitations last few years shows that a leader is only effective if he listens to the people. The issues of insecurity and the dwindling economic fortune of Nigeria makes it imperative that something has to be done by way of restructuring.

“Rarely has our country been faced with such a state of uncertainty, despair, suspicion and division. If restructuring is the answer, why not now?”

The former Senate President pointed out that as a pan-Nigerian, he believed in the sanctity of Nigeria’s unity. “Anything that will unite and prosper Nigeria would be my interest and concern. I believe restructuring is the way to go,” he stated.

On his part, Atiku said he would not exchange words with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, which he said lacked life. He said it would be wrong for the APC to talk about restructuring after deceiving Nigerians with such promises in 2015, which he said were not fulfilled up till now.

This is even as the actual call for restructuring of the Nigerian polity became widespread in the wake of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola. The general belief then was that the military was able to perpetrate the injustice against Abiola because of the skewed nature of the Nigerian polity.

Ever since it took off with that campaign, the South-West has maintained a focused view of the idea, whether it was called restructuring, Sovereign National Conference or fiscal federalism.

In further terms, talks about devolution of powers, interplay of power systems, fiscal federalism, questions of resource control and relationships between the government structure and religion as well as the mode of occupying public office at the federal and state levels, these are some of the issues packed into the restructuring debate at every instance. Hence, pundits are of the view that without restructuring the polity as it currently stands and without a truly peoples’ constitution the nation is merely postponing the evil day.

Interestingly, the 2014 national conference, already seen as a veritable kickstart of the restructuring debate by the Senate, addressed a number of the components of the practical restructuring listed above. Its final report submitted to government contained recommendations on the need for political, economic and the social re-engineering of the polity.

Consequently, as a tool for aspirants to sell themselves to Nigerians, restructuring is now perceived as a major issue that will dominate the 2019 presidential election, just as it was recently pitched by two political heavyweights against each other as Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo responded to comments credited to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar regarding his argument on restructuring which he said is vague, ambiguous, unclear and mixed up with good governance and diversification of the economy.

Recently, Osinbajo took on his predecessor in a letter he personally authored and sent to Premium Times, where he said that Atiku was leveraging on the spur of the moment to score cheap political points by introducing the concept of restructuring even though he is not fully conversant with the subject matter.

Picking holes on Atiku’s position, Osinbajo insisted he does not believe that geographical restructuring was an answer to Nigeria’s socio economic circumstances. That would only result in greater administrative costs. Recalling events at a town hall meeting in Minnesota US, he said that the problem of Nigeria was not geographical restructuring but prudent management of national resources and providing for the people properly.

Osinbajo also said prudent management of the nation’s resources and the provision of essential needs of the people were better ways of addressing Nigeria’s development challenges.

According to him, “Problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographical restructuring.”

He maintained that Nigeria needs good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal Federalism, a clear vision for development and not geographical restructuring as postulated by Atiku. The VP said “Kindly permit me a response to a piece in your publication, titled “Osinbajo got it wrong on Restructuring,” written, we are told, by my illustrious predecessor in office, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

“First, let me say that I really would have expected Alhaji Abubakar to at least get the full text of my comments before his public refutal of my views. But I understand; we are in that season where everything is seen as fair game!

“He quoted me as saying that “the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic re-structuring.”

“Yes, I said so. As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems. Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of States that make up the Nigerian federation. As we all may recall, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of 18 more States. And I argued that, with several States struggling or unable to pay salaries, any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us. We should rather ask ourselves why the States are underperforming, revenue and development wise.

“I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South West Zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up fifty percent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.

“I then argued that what we required now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal Federalism, and a clear vision for development.

Osinbajo in his response also disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari on the creation of state police. While the president had rejected it saying creation of state police will inflict more financial burdens on the states who are still struggling to pay workers salaries, the Vice- President argued in favour of it.

He said “I have argued in favour of State Police, for the simple reason that policing is a local function. You simply cannot effectively police Nigeria from Abuja”.

“Only recently, in my speech at the anniversary of the Lagos State House of Assembly, I made the point that stronger, more autonomous States would more efficiently eradicate poverty. So I do not believe that geographical restructuring is an answer to Nigeria’s socio economic circumstances. That would only result in greater administrative costs.

“But there can be no doubt that we need deeper fiscal Federalism and good governance. Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition.

Few hours after Osinbajo’s response, Atiku fired back describing as unfortunate, Osinbajo’s claim that his position on restructuring was vague “because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition.”

Atiku in a statement titled: ‘Restructuring Is a Necessity, Not an Option’ Atiku said he had been at the forefront of the discourse on restructuring Nigeria since the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference, noting that to the best of his knowledge, there has not been any term like ‘geographic restructuring.’

Countering Osinbajo’s claim, Atiku said he was yet to see “how these clear and specific ideas can be described as ‘vague’.

“One would have thought that if anything is vague, it would be the idea of ‘geographic restructuring’ whose meaning is hanging in the air,” he added.

Atiku noted that Osinbajo in his letter, jumped from the topic restructuring to dovetail into the area of the economy, but stated the vice president failed to explain certain facts “such as the fact that the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2017 that Nigeria lost 7.9 million jobs in the 21 month period under review.”

He added that if the vice president could not see that losing 7.9 million jobs in 21 months while creating 500,000 jobs is a deficit, “then I do not know what to say to the honourable professor.”

He noted that Osinbajo harped on the administration’s prudence in public finance, but he failed to show the wisdom in sharing $322 million of Abacha funds to the poor only to take a loan of $328 million from the Chinese the very next month.

He also advised Osinbajo to choose whether he is for restructuring or against it and not stand in the middle on the issue.

“This continuous prevarication, this approbation and reprobation, helps no one, least of all true progressives who know that Nigeria needs to be restructured and restructured soon,” Atiku concluded.

Conversely, as the nation moves towards the 2019 general election, the new almighty formula for solving all the problems of Nigeria, according to some perennial noise makers, is what they call “restructuring.” The current noise makers about restructuring are insisting that the report of the 2014 national conference organised by the Jonathan administration is the basis of the current “restructuring” agenda. Apart from the fact that it was unrepresentative and inequitable it was composed of hand-picked delegates who were not elected by anyone. President Jonathan himself refused to do anything with the report, even the administrative aspects that he could implement without any legislative input, he did nothing. The current National Assembly is therefore very disingenuous to ask the Buhari administration to give them the 2014 report when it is not recognised by the government. It can only be the basis of confusion and not any solution.

Meanwhile, the heavy responsibility of ensuring prudent management of the nation’s resources and ensuring that the nation practices true federalism by providing for the need of the people, ensuring productivity, more functional and above all, more equitable Nigeria via practice of true federalism rests squarely on the shoulders of President Muhammadu Buhari. He should take the bull by the horn.



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