For the first time, in recent memories, Nigerians were treated to some issue-based intellectual arguments between two political gladiators occupying two different wavelengths in the political spectrum of the country. Thanks to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Law, for treating Nigerians to this tasteful menu on different shades of restructuring. And it was done with no direct name calling. Unusual. Thank goodness for little mercies. Without much ado about nothing, there have been several arguments calling for restructuring of the country by many political leaders, scholars and thought leaders of different and differing persuasions and hues for myriads of reasons, which are sometimes altruistic and most times, self-serving, especially when the call is made by former political office holders who could not implement whatever they understood by restructuring while they were in power. Well, that’s a matter for another day, God’s willing.
Till this moment, the argument about restructuring still lingers on.
It has gained more amplitude in recent times especially coming from some leading opposition figures as the country inches towards the 2019 general elections ostensibly to attract the sympathy of voters who are sold to the concept of restructuring as one silver bullet that would solve in one fell swoop, all the problems confronting the country.
Restructuring, for whatever it is, is yet to find a common ground among its various apostles- both the old and latter day- and advocates as it means different things to different people canvassing for its emplacement in the country’s socioeconomic and political structures.
In this context, it is safe to say that until it is generally agreed what restructuring stands for and what it is meant to achieve, it won’t be out of place to say it is a vague concept. In this regard, I will align with Professor Osinbajo’s position that the former VP’s understanding of restructuring remains vague.
With all due respect to the former VP, there is no doubt that he, in recent times, has consistently called for the restructuring of the country. To what intent and purpose, one cannot objectively situate his penchant for the concept. The resulting doubt is predicated on the fact that when you juxtapose this new found concept of his with what the government he served as VP between 1999 and 2007 did to frustrate fiscal federalism, the cornerstone of restructuring, under the guise of ‘stronger FG’, then one may be tempted to disbelieve what he dishes out to the public all in the name of restructuring.
In his own words, the former VP encapsulated his understanding of restructuring (administrative, political and economic restructuring) to mean, namely: devolution of power to the states; no state will receive less federal funds than today as a result of restructuring; matching grants from the FG to the states to help them grow their internally generated revenue position; the privatisation of un-viable FG-owned assets; a truly free market economy driven by the laws of demand and supply; replacing state of origin with state of state
residence and passing the PIGD so that our oil and gas sector will run as a business with minimal governmental interference.
If you asked me, I would say Atiku’s aforementioned points about his understanding of restructuring are not bad if they are actually what he means in the truest sense of the word. At the same time, anyone who read Professor Osinbajo’s response detailing how, as attorney general of Lagos State, he took the FG under which Atiku served as the number two person to court several times fighting for deeper fiscal federalism and more autonomy to the States of the federation, would agree with me that the incumbent vice president has actually done more in action to restructuring of the country than Atiku, who is still planning to do so when he becomes president someday.
As at the time- between 1999 and 2007- Atiku had a better opportunity to impose his restructuring agenda on FG than Osinbajo, who was just a state commissioner then!
The concept of a private-driven economy as envisaged by Atiku is already encapsulated in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of the FG in the Buhari administration. The idea of selling off unviable FG assets to reflate the economy, which is more or less the privatization of unviable assets as canvassed by Atiku, was roundly rejected by the opposition when the FG had brought up the idea in 2016. The Ease of Doing Business, an executive order by President Buhari, has significantly taken care of “a truly free market economy driven by the laws of demand and supply”. What else?
Perhaps the PIGB, which the President declined his assent for some obvious reasons is the only one Atiku might score a higher point in this debate. In this particular case, all hope is not lost as the president might still reconsider his views on the bill and possibly seek for certain amendments in it before appending his signature. All these can still happen.
Yes! The Obasanjo-led FG helped in writing off the debts the country owed the Paris and London Clubs then. It was a no mean feat. Yet, I dare say it is uncharitable to blame the Buhari administration for the
recent rise in external debts of the country. It would be recalled that the country slipped into a terrible economic recession leading to a stagnated economy. To get out of it, the FG needed to massively inject
funds into the economy in order to reflate it. With the sharp falls in crude oil revenue from the global oil market, one of the viable
options left for the FG was to go a borrowing to fund critical sectors
of the economy. Today, the nation’s economy is out of recession and
it’s gradually picking up momentum. Perhaps if the FG had not borrowed
then to reflate the economy, the country might have gone under. Where will the restructuring debate now happen? God forbid!
All the same, the most important thing on the external debt should be: is the debt sustainable? Yes, several key analysts have opined that the country can manage the debt without any detriment to the economy.
They did so with a caveat that the government must be judicious and
frugal in the management of funds accruable to the country while also ensuring that the non-oil sectors are deliberately nurtured to start generating alternative revenues for the country. Like the VP opined in his response that with good governance, honest management of public
resources (a rarity in the past), deeper fiscal federalism and a clear vision for development, there is no doubt that the country will move forward on the scale of inclusive growth and development, which
is all what restructuring is all about: good governance.
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