Restructuring Nigeria: Discordant tunes in the presidency
About the time the President, Muhammadu Buhari, in far away France was querying and mocking the clamour for restructuring Nigeria, what it meant and attributing the strident call to laziness, his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was rooting for fiscal federalism and state police back home in Nigeria. Why the president has decided to play the ostrich beats the imagination. It is rather tragic that the men who have been entrusted with leadership of this great country do not seem to appreciate the significance of the mandate, which Nigerians gave them in 2015.
The president’s own political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), under his leadership had set up a committee on True Federalism in Nigeria. The committee, which was headed by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai submitted a detailed report in 2017 and made it clear that restructuring was the way to go. It provided details on the structure and content of restructuring Nigeria and recommended devolution of more powers to the states. To be specific, the committee recommended that 10 items should be removed from the ‘exclusive to the concurrent list.’ It then recommended resource control, state police, independent candidacy and notably that states should be allowed to legislate on local government.
After receiving the report, this same Buhari threw it into the waste bin. He has since then stubbornly swam against the tide of an idea which time has come. The big moral question is this: why did Buhari decide to grandstand and give the picture of a hypocritical leader in France? Furthermore, why has the president who anchored his pre-2015 campaign on morality and sound ethical behaviour suddenly become frugal with the truth and the realities of our time? Have the trappings of power got the better of him?
While in France for the Paris Peace Forum, Buhari addressed Nigerians in the Diaspora on several issues. On restructuring he pooh-poohed the restructuring call, asking whether it was a call to return to the three regions of the First Republic. But in contrast, while delivering the 40th Anniversary Lecture of the Association of Friends in Lagos, Osinbajo declared: ‘I have been an advocate of, both in court and outside, of fiscal federalism and stronger state governments.’ He went on: ‘I have argued in favour of state police, for the simple reason that policing is a local function.’ A few months ago, the same VP was quoted as saying that ‘Nigeria’s problem is not about restructuring.’ Has this otherwise erudite academic been speaking from both sides of his mouth? Why should our leaders speak in tongues about weightier matters such as restructuring a federation for efficiency and prosperity?
Nigeria’s current political structure is not working. Federalist principles, which ought to guide inter-regional and inter-governmental relations, have been subsumed under an unhealthy fiscal arrangement. States, which ought to be constituent parts of the federation travel to Abuja once every month to share revenues, which have accrued to the nation. As a result the states have become complacent and un-resourceful. The rich natural resources of the states have been left untapped because of limitations created by existing statutes. Under the current arrangement, only the Federal Government is invested with the power of exploring and exploiting the natural resources of the land.
So, restructuring means that the states should be constitutionally allowed and mandated to develop their resources and make contributions to the centre. This is fiscal federalism. This is what makes a federation in global context.
In the main, the President also needs to be told that policing a nation as his deputy has routinely asserted is a local issue. Nowhere in the federalist world is policing made a central command issue with the head sitting hundreds of kilometers away in the nation’s capital. The constituent parts should be allowed to have their police force. The current police structure and practice is an anachronism from our unfortunate years in military dictatorship. The command and control structure of military dictatorship is at fundamental odds with federalism. And any leader who does not appreciate this current reality about Nigeria is not a fit and proper person to lead the most populous black nation on earth at this moment.
In a restructured Nigeria, the Federal Government will have no business running secondary schools and universities. Its core mandate will be on defence, foreign affairs and the national currency. Divested of the mundane details of administration, the Federal Government will then focus on attracting direct foreign investments into the country. Security in the states will be essentially in the hands of the state governments. There will be a healthy competition among the states. The states will be more proactive and innovative in sourcing for and pursuing development options.
A restructured Nigeria means that each state will concentrate on its areas of relative advantage – agriculture, mineral resource development or trading. Nigeria lived and thrived on the approach in the First Republic. This model can be repeated because it still works for federations around the world. All politics is local. No state will be beggarly. No region will suffer. A restructured Nigeria is a win-win situation for all. To continue to do the same thing and expect a different result is foolhardy. The federal bureaucracy, which consumes an insufferable chunk of the national budget is not healthy to growth. Unemployment is dangerously high because of centralised planning that the nation practises.
The President needs to be reminded that the call for a restructured Nigeria is not new. In different forms, different governments, both military and civilian have attempted to conclude the debate. The pre-independence constitutional conferences, the civil war, the creation of states and the 2014 National Conference have all been geared towards having a harmonious polity based on equity, fairness and justice. These have all eluded the nation so far. Nigeria’s leader is thus placed in a situation to address a decades-long problem in order to etch his name in gold.
It is curiously tragic that some proponents, drivers and architects of a restructured Nigeria have become criminally silent now that they are in the corridors of power. Such politicians are a tragedy to themselves and the Nigerian state. This means they lack conviction, commitment to principles or they are outright opportunists. Some who had challenged the Federal Government on creation of local governments, paramilitary security arrangements as a prelude to creation of state police have become docile and intellectually dishonest.
As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, the common good should be the goal of the political class. Service to the nation and the people, placed far above individual interests, should be the overriding principle of public office holders.
The President needs to be told that his moral authority, which was pivotal to his monumental 2015 election victory has been deeply eroded by his current stance on restructuring the country. He is definitely at odds with his political party and his deputy. If he had got his act together and if he had listened to good advice the nation should have been reconfigured before the next election. His disdain for change has never been hidden. The president is absolutely wrong on this. The APC Committee on True Federalism put it succinctly: “We believe that if these amendments are passed by the National Assembly, they will significantly re-balance our federation, devolve more powers to the states, reduce the burden of the Federal Government and make our country work better.”
We subscribe to this definite statement in totality. If this is the opinion of the APC, the president’s own political platform, who then is talking loosely about the future of the federation? The President should have a re-think. He should not be seen nor should he present himself as leader that is out of sync with the followership. The time to renew his mind is now. That is the only way transformation can take place in his time in Nigeria.
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