APC and dilemma of restructuring
The All Progressives Congress (APC) seems to be at a crossroads on how to handle the popular agitations for restructuring of the Nigerian federation just as supportive voices are being heard from within the party , thereby putting a burden that may be too heavy to bear on the platform as election year approaches.
In the preparations for the 2019 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may have no choice than to heed the popular demand to restructure the country to true federalism or at least, take some decisions to devolve powers to the states.
Agitations for the restructuring of the federation have become so persistent in the last one year that the ruling party would be doing itself, and the country in general, more damages if it chooses to continue to play the Ostrich to the demands.
As a matter of fact, many political observers, including some members of the APC, are expressing the view that the issue is capable of creating great stumbling blocks to the ambition of the party to secure a second term unless it is carefully addressed. Already, the party is bearing a moral burden as far as the issue of restructuring is concerned.
Underscoring this burden in an interview with The Guardian last year, pro-democracy activist and former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (rtd) said, “The APC must be told in strong terms, that it is fraudulent if it says restructuring was not in its manifesto.”
The retired general also accused the ruling party of deceiving the electorate by leading them down a path of hope but lying about what is at the end of the tunnel.
According to him, “What was at the end of the tunnel was restructuring and each one of them, the party chairman, the president, his vice, in that order, are all talking from the other side of their mouths now. In other words, they lied to us in 2015 before the election.”
Although, there were conflicting views on whether the country should adopt the 2014 National Conference recommendations or the National Assembly should include the reports of various older conferences in its ongoing amendment to the 1999 Constitution, the ruling party again lost the opportunity to cash in on that when its majority-led Senate, last July 26, voted to reject a proposal to devolve more powers to the states.
The consequences of the Senate decision increased the agitation for restructuring such that separatist groups across the country that were already pushing for secession, got more emboldened.
To add to the burden of the ruling party, its government has not been able to move Nigeria out of the abject poverty level that it claimed the 16 years misrule of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) left the country, even after two years of being in a position to address the situation.
Another addition to the party’s burden is the fact that many of its founding fathers are speaking in discordant tunes over the power devolution subject giving an impression of the APC as a house divided against itself.
Only last Monday, all the APC governors in the southern part of Nigeria, except Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, along with their PDP counterparts, assembled in Lagos on the platform of Southern Governors Forum (SGF) and unanimously resolved to lend their weight to the national agitations for restructuring and devolution of powers.
This position contradicts the decision of the APC-led Senate even as the leadership of the party seems to be chasing shadows with the setting up of a committee to find a proper definition for the subject matter. Interestingly too, the issue of power devolution appears to have ostracized some founding members of the party, like the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former governor of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu among others, from the presidency, which allegedly does not believe or see the need to restructure or devolve power.
Not long ago, one of the appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari and Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay added his voice to those clamouring for restructuring by expressing the view that the current structure of government cannot take the country anywhere.
The professor said one of the reasons for the abysmal condition of the country is that the1999 Constitution was a mistake made by the military, which left the component units of the federation in a weak state.
He argued that unlike the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, which allowed each region to keep 50 percent of its natural resources, contribute 20 percent to the Federal Government and share the remaining 30 percent with other regions on the basis of need, the current constitution has turned the federating units to mere paupers that go cap in hands to Abuja to collect monthly allocations.
According to him, “This is what people are asking for. They are asking for increased political power, increased fiscal federalism while interacting with members of the same country in unity. That is why I think the 1999 constitution was mistakenly drafted and foisted on Nigeria; that is why there is so much tension.”
Atiku berated the APC-led Senate and accused it of betraying its pre-election promises by blocking the passage of a bill that would have granted devolution of powers to the states. The position of the former Vice-President corroborated the anger of those accusing the ruling party of reneging on its campaign promise to restructure Nigeria although he agreed that restructuring might not be the panacea to all the nation’s problems.
He said despite this, “Devolving resources and responsibilities from an overbearing, unresponsive, and ineffective Federal Government to the states is the first step we must make if we are serious about putting our nation back on track, and our people back to work.”
Tinubu had earlier expressed similar position even before the southern governors met on Monday, saying that devolving power to the states would relieve the centre of the numerous burdens it often places on itself.
The former Lagos governor who was one of the party’s major financiers during its formation, said contrary to its claim of practising federalism “what the nation currently practises is unitary federalism, which is a total violation of the principles of federalism.”
He said the 1999 Constitution falsely declares Nigeria a federation of 36 states but in principle, still grapples with the vestiges of military rule stressing, “in many ways, we still function like a unitary state despite the constitution.”
According to him, “More powers and resources need to devolve to the states. The Federal Government is taking on too much. We cannot flourish with over concentration of powers at the centre. Some of the 68 items on the Exclusive Federal List should be transferred to the Residual List, as it was in most federal constitutions.
“A notable feature of even our own 1963 Constitution was the extensive powers granted to the regions, which enabled them to carry out their immense responsibilities as they best saw fit. This was because the regions inherently had a better sense and feel for the needs of their populations simply by virtue of the fact that they were closer to the people than was the centre.”
He also argued that some items, which ordinarily should be state matters like Police, Prisons, stamp duties, taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, traffic on federal roads passing through states, trade, commerce and census among others, were transferred from the Concurrent to the Exclusive List.
He reiterated his opposition to a federalism operated as a “unitary monster,” saying, “As Lagos State governor, I challenged many Federal Government decisions for overreach and for violating the principles of federalism.”
With the demand for restructuring and devolution of powers dividing the ranks of the APC and its founding members, the party may be walking on a highway to nowhere in the nearest future and the 2019 elections may be an avenue to show that the party has lost track.
But some ardent supporters of Buhari insisted that Atiku, Tinubu and others within the party who believe in the gospel of restructuring were only reacting to the fact that they have lost out in the power equation and only taking cover under the guise of a popular demand to gain relevance.
An insider in the party who recalled when Tinubu arrived from medical trip abroad and vehemently spoke against the 2014 National Conference at its formation described his as a latter day convert of restructuring. The source also castigated Atiku, accusing him of desperation to use whatever means to achieve his political ambition.
But a lawmaker representing Kosofe Constituency 2 in the Lagos State House Assembly, Tunde Braimoh expressed contrary views, saying, “Devolution of power should be topical but the National Assembly removed it tactically in their agenda for restructuring because they (federal legislators) are feeding fat from the people’s revenue.”
Braimoh who is also a chieftain of the APC said, “When the founder of the Action Group (AG), Chief Obafemi Awolowo was managing the Western region and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was in charge of the Eastern region, there was development and it gave room for healthy competition.”
It may not however be too late for the APC, if the leadership acts fast in getting its acts together to do the needful by swimming along the current of national discourse or else, a price of second term may be demanded by many Nigerians who are already seeing the platform as one that is deaf to sound reasoning even from within its inner chambers.
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