El-Rufai committee and APC’s attempt at defining restructuring
Despite initially playing the ostrich in the demands by a cross section of Nigerians for true fiscal federalism and restructuring of the polity, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may have finally seen some merits in the agitations that have been spreading across the nation like wildfires.
The party which never hid its disdain for the agitation to change the status quo despite the arguments that a restructured federation would reduce ethnic tension and promote socio-economic and political growth, set up a nine-member committee last week to look into the issues raised in the debate that has assumed a global dimension.
With the fresh agitations that have been receiving contributions from eminent personalities and leaderships of geo-political zones and ethnic nationalities, with a preponderance of opinions in support, issues concerning the national question and the desirability or otherwise, of Nigeria’s continued existence as a political entity, are being tackled.
The discourse became more intense with direct threats to nationhood when the activities of separatists groups in the Southeast were challenged by some northern youth groups which served the Igbos a quit notice to leave all the states in the old northern region before October 1 Independence Day.
As the issues rage across the political terrain and requests were being made for the Federal Government to retrieve and act on the reports of the 2014 National Conference which the APC did not support ab initio, to provide answers to questions being raised in the agitations, the party, through the committee, has opened a window of contribution to the debate.
Headed by Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, the committee, according to the spokesman of the APC, Bolaji Abdullahi, has been mandated to clear the air on its position on the contentious issue of restructuring.
Although the APC stated in its manifesto while seeking election to secure political power in 2015 that it would correct all the lopsidedness in the Nigerian federation and address issues around true federalism, the party, then in opposition, neither supported nor participated in the 2014 Conference organised by the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
But while the APC played the deaf to the strident cries for restructuring, preferring not to remember or be reminded of its earlier manifesto, some of its foremost leaders joined other prominent Nigerians, in singing the song of restructuring and true federalism.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, have made strong statements where they supported restructuring as a panacea to many of the troubles bedeviling Nigeria as a nation.
Creating the picture of a party that does not know where it stands in this all-important subject because of discordant tunes from its fold as many of its members, particularly from the north have condemned the agitation, the El-Rufai committee was saddled with the task of harmonizing all opinions and come out with a definite position for the APC on the matter.
Other members of the committee are governors of Osun; Rauf Aregbesola, Kano; Umar Ganduje, Plateau; Simon Lalong, Ogun; Ibikunle Amosun, former governor of Edo; Oserheimen Osunbor, APC National Organising Secretary; Osita Izunaso, Abdullahi and Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi who will serve as the Secretary.
While justifying the initiative, Abdulahhi said, “I have repeatedly mentioned it that when we mentioned setting up a committee on restructuring, what we are talking about is a committee that will articulate what the APC meant by restructuring. We have realized for sometime now that when people talk about restructuring, we are no longer sure if they are talking about the same thing.
“People have said that the APC promised restructuring. So, we need to sit down as a party to develop a shared understanding of what we mean by restructuring in our manifesto. So this committee that is set up which will be chaired by the Governor of Kaduna is mainly to define exactly what APC mean by restructuring so that every member will know exactly what we mean. It is not a committee to set up modalities for restructuring.”
CRITICS have however argued against the rationale of setting up a “high-powered” committee of not less than five governors and senior members of the party leadership, to “only articulate what the APC meant by restructuring” and declared that the ruling party was only playing a game to present itself as doing something about the trending issue.
The argument is that it doesn’t take a committee to define what the party meant by what it stated in its manifesto and although President Muhammadu Buhari has expressly declared the 2014 Conference Reports as a no-go area for his administration, the party needed to make its position known on how to provide answers to the questions agitating the minds of Nigerian about their country.
Many analysts also believe that the Buhari administration should come out with a response to the positions of eminent Nigerians who have declared public support for restructuring and true federalism and do the needful by granting the request of the Senate, which also in its reaction to the agitation, demanded for the 2014 Conference reports or in the alternative, set up machineries of restructuring the country in its own way.
Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose in his criticism of the El-Rufai committee, said “it is a blatant attempt to draw the wool over the eyes of Nigerians.
In a statement by his spokesman, Idowu Adelusi, Fayose said, “The APC committee on restructuring is unnecessary since the position is that Nigerians in their large numbers, cutting across party, regional, ethnic, social and religious backgrounds have overwhelmingly voted for immediate restructuring of the polity. The APC distraction is meant to deceive Nigerians and we must reject it.”
The choice of El-Rufai to be the Chairman or even a member of the committee has also drawn flaks against the APC from Nigerians who saw the Kaduna governor as an unrepentant antagonist of restructuring and federalism.
He had declared at several public fora, his discomfort with the issues of restructuring and even described prominent Nigerians like former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and Atiku who recently supported the idea as people looking for political relevance.
In a statement by his spokesperson, Samuel Aruwan, at the peak of the national debate, El-Rufai, who like the leadership of the APC did not support the 2014 Conference, said his stance on restructuring has been consistent even before he emerged governor of Kaduna State.
According to Aruwan, El-Rufai “has been with the views on restructuring that he has articulated in the past, including in newspaper interviews and articles like “Federation without Federalism” syndicated in print and online media in 2012.
As he developed his arguments on the matter, he stressed how the balance between federal and state power is being redressed.”
“While appearing on national television last month, Malam Nasir El-Rufai clearly explained his position on restructuring. This is consistent with the position of the Buhari administration.”
“Supporting devolution of more powers to the states, the Kaduna governor pointed out that in areas like mining in collaboration with state governments, transfer of federal roads to states, coordinated land reforms and unprecedented participation of the state governments in the National Economic Council, there is already clear evidence of such recognition in practical terms beyond rhetoric by the APC Federal Government.”
“He cited the re-designation of two federal roads in Kaduna as state roads, at the request of the Kaduna State Government. He also mentioned instances the closer engagement between state and federal authorities on mining matters, a relationship that acknowledges state rights on the matter.
“On these matters, it is clear that the Buhari government has done more in practice to devolve powers to states than the latter-day converts who did not follow a similar direction when they had the power to do so.”
For a man that has made up his mind about what restructuring is all about who was even eulogising the Federal Government for having commenced the process of bringing Nigeria to the status of true federalism, it is doubtful whether El-Rufai will steer his committee to create new template apart from his fixed position.
But then, other members can infuse the national feelings about the contentious issues into their deliberations if they will not be hampered by their mandate, which is merely to define restructuring the APC way.
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