Osinbajo: In The Eye Of The Restructuring Storm
Friedrich Nietzsche enjoys no honour of always being considered right. Of course, not in a world that cannot accommodate his muse, often dismissed as too hubristic. Again, he cannot be wholly accepted in a world that largely believes it cannot be safely anchored on the laissez-faire morality of the German thinker.
However, Nietzsche would resonate with many in some areas. Consider his view that people rediscover themselves after years, perhaps decades, of political immiseration. As he aptly puts it, “On a political sickbed a people is usually rejuvenated and rediscovers its spirit, after having gradually lost it in seeking and preserving power. Culture owes its peaks to politically weak ages.”
Nietzsche might not have had Nigeria in mind at that moment of seizure by the muse that sired those words. But now, they aptly speak to Nigeria’s condition. Indeed, Nigeria is sick. That all citizens have acknowledged this is no exaggeration. But for them, the point of divergence is the prescription for the cure. For former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and many other patriots, what is needed to cure the perennial national illness that has bred a seemingly intractable underdevelopment is the restructuring of Nigeria into a proper federal state. And they are right.
Atiku is a politician. He wants to be the next president. Therefore, his views on restructuring are easily sniggered at as a ruse to get power.
Yet, once again, those views not only ring true, they represent the desire of most Nigerians who want the country broken free of failed hegemonic tendencies. At the core of Atiku’s concept of restructuring is a devolution of powers and resources to the states. It includes matching grants from the Federal Government to the states to help them grow their internally generated revenue position, the privatisation of unviable Federal Government-owned assets and a truly free market economy.
Of course, Atiku has not been a lone voice on restructuring. There have been many others. From the south-west to the south-east, from the south-south to the north-east as well as north-central, the clamour for restructuring has been persistent. The people of these regions have canvassed restructuring under their different organisations such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze and PANDEF. Even in the north which is presumably the bastion of opposition to restructuring, what is found is more than a whimper of approval for the idea. There are some leaders of the region who are also canvassing restructuring as the beginning of the journey to Nigeria’s development.
Enter Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Yes, he accepts that Nigeria is ill. Yes, he accepts that it desperately needs a cure. Yes, he, in the past, fought and won many battles in the law courts in favour of restructuring. But today, he does not accept Atiku’s and other Nigerians’ prescriptions, especially the one called restructuring, well,’ he gives it a new name: ‘geographical restructuring.’ He thinks that restructuring is just a byzantine concept that has been appropriated into the polity as an escapist route from the nation’s developmental crisis. He warns that by Nigerians becoming besotted with the idea of restructuring, they, like Atiku, have left out the elephant in the room, that elephant being corruption. Once corruption is stymied, he argues, every other national ill would be defeated.
But not a few observers of political developments in the nation have been alarmed at what they call the duplicity of Osinbajo’s position. They are alerted to the tragedy that Osinbajo, a professor of law, seems to have lost his independent thought. For, in the vice president’s latter-day appearance of being opposed to restructuring, he has only demonstrated that he is a good student of body language. He has shown that he understands the position of his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been stridently opposed to restructuring. And he is only echoing it, ironically in contradistinction to the work for a truly federal Nigeria he has done all his life.
There is also the irony that in Osinbajo’s seeming disavowal of restructuring, which he now calls ‘geographical restructuring,’ he has unwittingly attacked a major block of his own political foundation.
Osinbajo himself often talks of an era in which he was not just a worshipper at the altar but a senior apostle of restructuring. That era was exemplified by his years in Lagos State where he was a roundly successful attorney-general in the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In his conviction then that a proper federal Nigeria was the path for the development of the country, Osinbajo was ever-ready to be on the warpath with the Federal Government. Those battles went as far as the Supreme Court and Osinbajo won them all.
In his response to Atiku on their argument on restructuring the other day, he said:“ At the Supreme Court, we won several landmark decisions on restructuring Nigeria through deeper fiscal federalism, some of which are late converts to the concept, now wish to score political points on.” He said further: “ I have been an advocate, both in court and outside, of fiscal federalism and stronger state governments. 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.”
Osinbajo’s advocacy for restructuring then was not surprising, those who see some prevarications now are quick to point out. Remember, he belonged to a political family that throbbed with a quest for restructuring. Indeed, Bola Tinubu in whose government Osinbajo served, was a strong advocate of restructuring, even if he is not so audible on the subject anymore.
Of course, this is not to talk of the fact, as many now say humorously, restructuring must naturally run in the vice president’s blood, being married to a granddaughter of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awo did not get the presidency he would have used to transform the lives of Nigerians. But his thoughts on restructuring Nigeria into a proper federation for its unstoppable development remain the stuff of which true patriotism and altruism are made. Indeed, Awo, as Premier of the old Western Region, demonstrated what could happen if the states enjoyed autonomy, with his landmark successes that time has not and can never darken.
Osinbajo himself often gives “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 1995, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up 50 per cent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.”
The puzzle is: why does Osinbajo not seem to think that the autonomy the then Western Nigeria enjoyed and which redounded to unequalled developmental strides can be replicated today through a return to that same federal structure? He is a professor of law of evidence. Does he still need to be provided with any evidence before supporting restructuring even when such is abundantly offered by the stellar performance of his immortal grandfather-in-law, whose deeds and thoughts he has studied so well?
Well, maybe, as he claims and backs up with truthful evidence of his life-long work as an attorney in government or in private practice, he is not really opposed to restructuring. He probably just does not know how to be vociferous about it again as he labours under the yoke of being surrounded by those opposed to it.
Certainly, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the Muhammadu Buhari-led government, which came to power on the promise of restructuring Nigeria into the kind of federal state it ought to be, have hardly made the job of their most articulate advocate an easy one.