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A window of opportunity to grab


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: Reuters

There we go again. When we had the 2014 National Conference Report, there was this unrelenting clamour to throw it out of the window. It must not see the light of day, a great many chorused. It was a vote catching device, the APC with its well-oiled campaign machine led the crowd in saying so. Why did Jonathan have to wait until the tail end of his Administration? The conference and the report derived therefrom could not have come from a pure, patriotic heart, so went the argument. It was in the APC manifestoes, we were made to understand. Vote us in and we will hit the ground running, they said.

So, in the end motive was read into a great document put together by our leading lights, leaders of thought, radicals, progressives and the conservatives, old and young, painstakingly drawn and empanelled from all over the country and from different fields of endeavour, to think out how to move Nigeria forward. The antagonists were not prepared to look at the substance of the report and they misled Nigerians into believing there was nothing in it. The greatest shock came when President Buhari said he had not read the report and he was not likely going to read it. The report in several volumes was part of the handover note delivered to him. In the end, a strenuous attempt was made to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is no way this could be successfully done. However, in the meantime, the debate on restructuring was re-opened, an issue exhaustively tackled and resolved by the Conference Report.

The argument of this column has been even if we did not want President Jonathan, government is a continuum. Jonathan was too tentative and there was this nauseating bazaar under his watch which has come to diminish him considerably. His careless statement that stealing is not corruption did not help matters. Even then restructuring remains the answer. A classical case study of the unfolding of abilities restructuring can engender is what Senator Ben Bruce has thoughtfully brought to our attention: Go to Anambra and learn, and be wise. Willie Obiano has concentrated his mind and efforts on education, human capital development, infrastructural development and turning Nnewi into a manufacturing and an industrial hub. Just give him a little more elbow room, and Anambra, through restructuring, will become a Dubai of our dream within the Nigerian frontiers. From my own observatory, as Allah-De would say, he is single-mindedly building on the solid foundation laid by Peter Obi. Senator Bruce draws special attention to Obiano’s achievement in education particularly to the fact that today Anambra is enviably leading every year in WASCE examinations. As Chief Ayo Adebanjo was never tired of saying in 2015, he and his group pushing the report were not members of PDP. They were only gazing at a treasure beckoning to beleaguered Nigeria in the Jonathan document. It should be grabbed. Nigeria stood to benefit from it immeasurably. I believe the Conference Report was a master stroke, a great legacy by Jonathan, the tone of which will ring out loud and clear for many years to come.

Yes, like Jonathan, John Oyegun and Nasir el-Rufai are today throwing open to us a new window of opportunity, waving to us their thoughts on restructuring. Theirs, too, is coming on the eve of our national elections and so PDP is determined to pay them back in their own coin. An unrelenting effort is afoot if it has not already started to discredit the APC document on restructuring. Their own sing song too is that it is an effort to hoodwink Nigerians; it is a vote-catching device, coming as it were, at a time a wave of disappointment in APC is sweeping across the country. What with the brazen provincialism of President Buhari. What with the unkind words of the Defence Minister General Mansur Dan-Ali who, rising from the Security Council now proven as unrepresentative of our diversities, speaking to the problem of herdsmen, had blamed the horrendous killings in Benue and Taraba on blocking of cattle route as the remote cause and the enactment of anti-grazing law as the immediate cause. Here was a law properly passed by a state and its government recognized by the constitution. A law is a state instrument to engender order and peace. If you do not agree with a law, you mount pressure on the government to reconsider it. If the entreaty falls on deaf ears, you organize a protest march, carrying placards with all kinds of inscriptions. You can picket; you can camp in front of the governor’s office.

The purpose of a protest march or a series of them is to draw attention to your complaint and your plight. If all these fail, you challenge the law in court. You don’t take laws into your own hands. The beauty of a democratic dispensation is that there is ample room for peaceful protests, camping and protest marches. It is, therefore, unbecoming of a minister to give the impression of backing a party involved in mindless destruction of lives and property instead of being a disinterested high-ranking government functionary. The posture has given the spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, Jimoh Moshood, the temerity to take on a state governor, describing him as a drowning man! It is unbelievable . Fortunately, the establishment of state police is one of the features the APC committee has agreed to press , among other very important issues such as fiscal federalism.

The PDP itself is saying, why now? APC has had close to three years; they spent it knocking the idea of restructuring. They denied its being in their manifestoes. John Oyegun said on 29 June, last year that the priority of APC-led government was not the restructuring of the country but how to address the economic challenges facing the country and how to put food on the table of the ordinary Nigerians and create job for the teaming youths. After all, said he, “APC never promised to restructure the country but to ensure true federalism.” As for Governor el-Rufai, “When you talk about restructuring it is political opportunism. Most of what you see in the media, most of the people that talk about restructuring or give long lectures about restructuring are unable to give you concrete ideas about what it really means. As I said, a lot of the talk on restructuring is political opportunism and irresponsibility in my opinion. It is popular and people that have presidential aspiration think it is a platform on which they can exploit this.”

It was good with hindsight that Governor el-Rufai was not only a member of the committee to go round and collate the views of Nigerians on the issue, but indeed led the team. With the assignment he was able to see how deeply Nigerians felt about restructuring and how overwhelmingly they were pushing for it. The committee went as far as staging road shows to sensitize and gauge the pulse of Nigerians on it. APC chair John Oyegun now availed the opportunity of redeeming his hard-earned image and reputation on restructuring as a vocal leader of NADECO abroad was effusive in his joy over the report and fulsome in his commendation of the committee members. According to him the report represented the party’s true position, especially on issues of true federalism and restructuring. He believes that the report has given basic foundation for the building of a new way of doing business in this country. He is confident that once the report is approved and implemented, “States of the Federation will become important routes for economic activities and development.”

The report contains essentially the same features as the 2014 National Conference Report and Malam el-Rufai was gracious enough to state that the past reports of conferences on repositioning the country were studied, which must have included the 2014 Report. What is also praise-worthy in the report, as in the words of Oyegun, is the committee going “the extra mile to provide necessary details and the mechanism for implementation…especially in terms of law and necessary presidential action.” He promised that it would get expeditious consideration of the leadership.

Restructuring is, therefore, by far more fundamental than the issue of whether Buhari will be kept on or will be sent packing by the voters, come 2019. With the report of the APC, a great deal of consensus is being built on the all-important the subject.I cannot resist reminding us of why restructuring has become compelling and making copious reference to the paper by Atiku Abubakar. Speaking at the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University on 06 March, 2017, the Northern star, Atiku said, “It is a myth to say that we do not need restructuring, that all we need is good leadership. While leadership is critical, leaders also operate within structural and institutional constraints, which may impede or enhance their performance. Thus, if you have a federal structure that encourages dependency while discouraging hardwork, innovation, productivity and competition, your development as a nation will be less than optimal.”

Referring to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, which has 83 federal legislative items as against 15 for the states (‘which the Federal Government can also override”), Atiku said he did not know of any federal system that has that kind of lopsided central dominance. “Only our First Republic Constitution came close to the US Constitution in terms of process of Federal constitution making and allocation of powers between the federating units and the Federal Government.”

I find his thoughts on the Nigerian economy of the future fascinating, not because hints are not being dropped here and there but the way and courage he has mustered using developments in the world to marshal his points compel attention. He said the fight in the country is over oil but that we should “proceed from the assumption that oil economy which underwrote our unsustainable and unstable federal structure has reached its peak.” Saying that the US import of oil has declined from 50 per cent a few years ago to almost zero today, he pointed out that matters are not helped by massive investments in and rapid growth in alternative energy sources. It is therefore unrealistic to expect huge rises in prices of oil as in the past. He buttressed his point with examples of the developments. “In 2004, the world generated only 48 gigawatts of electricity from wind power, but by 2014 wind power accounted for 318 gigawatts. In 2004, only 2.6 gigawatts of power were generated worldwide from solar photovoltaic but by 2014 139 gigawatts came from that source exclusive of 326 gigawatts from thermal solar water heating capacity. Also annual biofuel production rose from 30.9 billion litres in 2004 to 113.5 litres by 2014. The same phenomenal increase is noticed in annual investments in renewable energy from a mere $39.5 billion to $214.4billion by 2014. In 2004, only 48 countries had policy targets regarding renewable energy, but by 2014, the number had reached 144. As we speak here today, cars using non-oil based energy either full or in part are being produced for the mass market. And in June last year, the US, Canada and Mexico pledged to drive 50% of their energy from clean sources by 2025.” He made reference to the new Apple headquarters with over 25,000 employees, the headquarters powered entirely by energy from renewable sources.

He said because of the irreversible trend and movement away from non-fossil and renewable energy, the fight over “resource control” is a fight of yesterday. He went on to then state that we “should embark on the badly needed restructuring of this country now even if we manage to strike oil in commercial quantity in another region of the country.”

What I am getting at is that we have more than enough literature on the issue of restructuring at the moment. There is the comprehensive template from the Yoruba submit of last year held in Ibadan under the chairmanship of prominent lawyer Aare Afe Babalola. The summit came up with 16 resolutions which were endorsed by Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The meeting was attended by South-South leaders as well. All of that and several other contributions, from the Middle Belt, for example, from Olu Falae and Professor Banji Akintoye spelling out the meaning of restructuring, can be used to enrich the national thought. Former President Ibrahim Babangida has thrown his weight behind restructuring.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is himself persuaded and he said it could not be swept under the carpet any longer. Now, that a broad consensus has been forged no political power contestation should be made to obfuscate the matter. We can all see what dithering; foot dragging on the altar of vested political interest in place of national interest has cost the nation—a river of blood, greater fear and uncertainty, and consequent hobbled development. And you begin to wonder why we were in such slumber that got us to this pass. We must grab the new opportunity with full hands regardless of APC’s double speak of the past. The nation must move forward.
Next week: The hidden causes of childlessness

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