Restructuring: Stop this needless war

The verbal war between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his predecessor, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, over the nation’s administrative structure has come under the radar of prominent Nigerians who advised that the two parties should sheathe their swords.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF); frontline Igbo leader and politician, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; constitutional lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun and former president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Chief Ledum Mitee, among other prominent Nigerians who spoke in different interviews with our correspondents, were of the opinion that the two statesmen were saying the same thing in different ways, hence there is no need for the media war they have engaged themselves in in recent times.

The verbal exchange between Osinbajo and Atiku had begun with an article Atiku published, criticising Osinbajo over the latter’s stance on the restructuring of the country. At a town hall meeting in Minnesota, United States last week, Osinbajo had said: “The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographical restructuring. It is about managing resources properly and providing for the people properly.

“I served for eight years as Attorney General in Lagos State and one of the chief issues that we fought for was what you call fiscal federalism. We felt that there was a need for the states to be

“Stronger; for states to more or less determine their fortunes. All that we have been able to deal with is grand corruption. When we started the TSA, the whole point was to aggregate all of the funds of government that were in private banks.”

Few days after Osinbajo made the remark, Atiku, an aspirant for the presidential ticket on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), published in Premium Times, an online news medium, an article titled ‘Osinbajo got it wrong on restructuring’, criticising Osinbajo for arguing that Nigeria’s problem is not restructuring.

Atiku had said: “It is a surprise that the Vice President would take such a position and, in particular, fail to appreciate the connection between Nigeria’s defective structure and its underperformance. “It is unhelpful to reduce the construct of “Restructuring” to a geographical concept as VP Osinbajo does, which in itself demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the core tenets of the concept.”

Atiku’s criticism of Osinbajo’s remark sparked off intense debate between the duo as the Vice President swiftly reacted to his predecessor’s criticism of his comment.

The Vice President in his unsparing reaction said: “First, let me say that I really would have expected Alhaji Abubakar to at least get the full text of my comments before his public refutal of my views. But I understand; we are in that season where everything is seen as fair game!

“He quoted me as saying that ‘the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring… and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic re-structuring.’ Yes, I said so.

“As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems. Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation.

“As we all may recall, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of 18 more states. And I argued that, with several states struggling or unable to pay salaries, any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us. We should rather ask ourselves why the states are underperforming, revenue and development wise.”

While many thought that the Vice President’s explanation of his stance on restructuring would mark the end of the brickbats, Atiku published another article titled: ‘Restructuring Is a Necessity, Not an Option’ to counter Osinbajo’s reaction to the former Vice President’s earlier comment.

Atiku in the article said: “Faced with an avalanche of public condemnation for his 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring, it is understandable that the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has written to Premium Times to douse the tension his comments created. However, in doing so, the Vice President should not attempt to revise history by saying that he spoke against ‘geographic restructuring’.

“I have been in the forefront of the discourse on restructuring since the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference, and to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any term like ‘geographic restructuring’. It is a strange concept, not only because it is not what the restructuring debate is all about, but also because the words of the Vice President, which prompted my response, were clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.

“Mr. Osinbajo said: ‘The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring.’ That I disagree with and so do many other Nigerians. If the Vice President has changed his stance, I welcome it. But we should not use one finger to hide behind semantics.

“For the Vice President to say ‘Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition,’ is most unfortunate.”

Prominent Nigerians react Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), backed the positions of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his predecessor, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on restructuring. Olanipekun, along with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Ahmed Raji, and constitutional lawyer, Ike Ofuokwu, said Osinbajo’s and Atiku’s views both contain elements of the restructuring Nigeria needs.

While Osinbajo advocated restructuring through the deepening of fiscal federalism, Atiku, a presidential aspirant on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform, called for power devolution, among others.

Olanipekun said: “The restructuring we need comprises the suggestions of both the former and serving vice presidents and more if we are to make any tangible progress as a nation operating a federal system of government.

“The fundamental and true meaning of federalism is the coming together of a group of people agreeing to form a bigger state or nation, donating a fraction of each of their respective powers or authorities to the common union, and retaining the residual powers to themselves.

“In the other words, the federating peoples or unions give birth to the new state or federation, and not the other way round.”

Olanipekun said the raging debate on how Nigeria should be restructured is a reminder that the country is not running a federal system of government but “a hydra headed unitary one”.

“It is only in such a warped federalism that the federal government could pounce on and confiscate Lagos State council funds on the lame ground that the state, through its legislature, established area councils for ease of administration.

“It is only under such a strange federalism that the same Lagos State would queue for years to seek approval from the Abuja powers before constructing a connecting bridge between Ikoyi and Lekki for ease of transportation. Ditto for the Marina rail as well,” Olanipekun said.

According to him, the present system, apart from the fact that it is “a deceitful federalism,” retards progress, stagnates the country and cannot provide a better tomorrow for the next generation. “Let’s remind ourselves that at a point in time in this coun try, the three regions we had operated their governments at their respective paces, independent of federal government hindrances, inhibitions and injunctions.

“The western region, for example, established radio and television stations before the Federal Government ever thought of doing so! This will sound as a moonlight tale to many.

“The restructuring we need encompasses geographical, fiscal, structural, institutional, governmental, etc.

“Indeed, the restructuring to usher in a workable federalism for Nigeria has to take a honest and holistic assessment of our previous constitutions and republics, both horizontally and vertically, and also bring out, for critical consideration and application, the recommendations of the last national conference instituted by the Jonathan administration.

“On the institutional angle, which I believe is very urgent and immediate, successive governments in Nigeria, and this time around, since 1999, have been personalising key national institutions, treating and using them as personal estates of transient powers. This is very unfortunate.

“We must not allow things to degenerate further. To my mind, the only independent institution we have in Nigeria today, apart from the executive, is the judiciary. Even at that, the judiciary is much freer at the centre. All other vital institutions of good government and governance are substantially in the hands and pockets of the various executives.

“History won’t be kind to this generation if we fail to face the reality and inevitability of restructuring, which we can conveniently do now, across the table.

“We should not pass the difficult buck to our children as by then, the knots might not be that easy to loosen. They will then look back and condemn our indecision and aimless soph istry. History will also be harsh on us,” Olanipekun said.

Raji said Osinbajo’s and Atiku’s views on restructuring complement each other such that if both are married and implemented, the country will benefit greatly.

“They are seasoned and they both know their onions. I only wish to add that for the restructure to be meaningful, we need to do away with the current presidential system which has proved most unsuitable for us.

“It breeds dictatorship such that our governors have become despots who can do as they wish to the detriment of the society.

“Most governors now crave to install their successors without any regard for party structure or seniority in the party, which is not possible in a parliamentary system.

“This is affecting governance very negatively with attendant huge costs and arbitrariness unknown in the history of our country,” Raji said.

He believes that parliamentary system promotes moderate and inclusive leadership with great checks and balances such that no leader can think of planting his in-law as a successor.

“This will also remove the humongous costs of election with its attendant negative consequences on governance. We will just be having only parliamentary elections; no governorship or presidential election any longer.

“Whether in its modified or original form, the parliamentary system holds a better and greater prospect for our environment,” he said.

For Ofuokwu, irrespective of the nomenclature, be it geographical or fiscal restructuring, one thing that is agreed upon by both Osinbajo and Atiku is that there is an urgent need to restructure now more than ever before.

“The present system in operation is fast heading for a doom and a total collapse.

“Nigerian nation as it is today is standing on not only a false foundation but a fundamentally faulty one,” Ofuokwu said.

According to him, “It is in the interest of all the regions and federating units that this geographical entity called Nigeria be quickly and urgently subjected to a very radical political surgery.

“There must be proper devolution of power to the federating units and each unit must be allowed to develop at its own pace and resources.

“For crying out loud, too much power and absolute power indeed is concentrated at the centre in Abuja where they produce nothing, do nothing but just share our common patrimony.”

Ofuokwu wondered what value is a state chief executive who has no authority over the security apparatus of his state.

“Do we need the National Assembly as it is today? The answer is simply no, as most of these characters have to a very large extent become economic and political parasites that this country cannot sustain their insatiable appetite for greed and lust. They spend more time on vacation and dancing than making laws.

“We must go back to what we have before the unfortunate incursion of the military into politics. If this is done, each federating unit would be better for it.

“In order to save time and resources organising another jamboree, we must look into, and if need be, adopt the report of the last constitutional confab.

“Beyond restructuring, we need to imbibe in our ‘leaders’ the right democratic norms that can properly elevate them from being rulers to leaders,” Ofuokwu said.

Speaking in the same vein, the Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Prof. Adeolu Durotoye, said the polity needs both good governance and restructuring to overcome the challenges bedevilling it.

The professor of Political Science, explained that the positions canvassed by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and one of his predecessors in office, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, were valid.

He argued that the nation needs a marriage of the two positions to move forward and overcome challenges of governance and make federalism stronger.

Durotoye said: “People talking about restructuring are indirectly talking about deeper federalism whereby regions should have enough control over their resources and enough power to operate as federatingunits.

“The first angle is about those who felt the states are not solvent as they are; that they will be better off if they are in a bigger unit. This is because in those days, states did not go cap in hand to the Federal Government as it is happening now.

“Another group is of the opinion that we must restructure the exclusive, residual and concurrent lists; that states should have more functions and control over their resources.

“The third angle is talking about the British model in which we have the federal government and counties and no states in between.

“As the Vice President was saying, my position is that we need both restructuring and good governance. We need a marriage of both because institutions will not run themselves; they will be run by human beings.

“A situation in which the President is stronger than the Police is not healthy for our democracy. You remember during the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua when he could not function due to his health status.

“You also remember the situation in which a man from Taraba became a vegetable because he could not perform the functions of his office due to accident. My take is that we need strong institutions. We must restructure and we need good governance as well.”

Durotoye’s position was also shared by former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee.

Mitee, a lawyer, said Nigerians need both geographical restructuring and good governance to achieve the needed development and equitable distribution of the wealth and power among the generating zones.

According to the former MOSOP leader, good governance cannot succeed in the country without good geographical structure. He stressed that both the former PDP government and the present APC-led government have at their electioneering campaign period promised restructuring to no avail, and that PDP even set up a committee led by El’Rufai on the subject matter that yielded no results.

Mitee said: “We need both restructuring and good governance. But my worry is that politicians speak from both sides of their mouths.

“Last time the APC came up with a committee led by El-Rufai and they were meant to file recommendation touching on the issue of restructuring. Recall also that there were campaign promises before the 2015 elections which made a lot of issues about restructuring and therefore, I don’t know what has changed to the extent that restructuring is no longer a question that we should be talking about. So I believe that we could try it.

“At the same time, I believe that we need good governance, and in good governance, we need a whole lot of indices. But if the structure is bad, it could also affect the level of governance that we are also having; and I think what the Vice President is saying is that we need good governance. Then let them give it. They are the people in power now.

“Good governance is not something we should hope for; it is something that needs to be done right away.” he said.

Asked the way forward ahead of 2019, he said: “No matter how and what people may think and say, ahead of the forthcoming elections, we need, if not anything, people that will bring about restructuring of power. We need people to tell us that some of the load the Federal Government is carrying are not supposed to rest with them.

“Why should the Federal Government be the one to handle something like railway? Why should the primary education department be with the FG that we now have the National Universal Basic Education, among others?

“There are whole lot of powers that the FG are carrying which are supposed to have nothing to do with it, including things that are supposed to go to the local government which it is arrogating to itself. These are things that we do not need to play politics with.”

For the Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony N. Z Sani, the argument should be a tool for political mobilization and campaign and not a mere media battle. He said both Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to sell their restructuring ideas to their political parties and use same to canvass for votes.

He however said that, the country has been restructured many times. Therefore the solutions to the myriad of challenges facing Nigeria do not lie with restructuring but patriotic leaders which are in short supply.

According to him, “You would note that this country has undergone many restructuring, be it geographic, political or economic, for the express purpose of improving good governance for the unity and stability of the nation needed for common good of the people.

“As a result, some of us do not see any further restructuring as a means of overcoming the myriad of challenges facing the nation. Rather, we believe improvement of manage practices of both human and material resources that come with patriotic attitudes of our leaders is what matters the most, and is in short supply.”

He added: “That may account for why there is no national consensus on what the term restructuring of the country means. Or whether restructuring of the country is needed at all. There are many people who see restructuring to mean “true federalism” while some others see it as ‘fiscal federalism.’ Yet we have some people who agitate for “resource control”, whatever that means.

“It is against such situations that multiparty democracy seeks to address. This is because while there may be national consensus on the problems and challenges of any nation, there is often no similar national consensus on methods and strategy for solutions.

“Multiparty democracy provides opportunity for each political party to represent distinct methods of solving national concern with clear thought and morality as contained in the manifesto which the party uses to canvass for electoral mandate needed for execution.

“Fortunately for us, the present VP Osinbajo and the former VP Atiku are not of the same political party. They belong to different political parties which place in the order of things is to let Nigerians know how they hope to deliver on the promise of democracy.

“Now that the duo are seminal figures in their respective political parties, it behoves  them to sell their version of restructuring to their political parties for inclusion in the manifestoes. The ensuing debates in the course of electoral campaigns will help enlighten voters to know what each political parties means by restructuring and make informed decisions during elections.

“Effecting far reaching reforms of the polity is not a matter of individual preferences but a matter left for political parties which must seek electoral mandate from the electorate as the final authority. That is why ruling political parties are held to account for the performance of the government and not individual. This is odd thing to say, considering that electoral mandates are given to political parties and not to the individual”,ACF scribe said.

A chieftain of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) in Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazak and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, John Baiyeshea (SAN) also described the tango on restructuring between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as unnecessary. Mr. Baiyeshea, an Ilorin, Kwara State-based legal practitioner, specifically said: “Restructuring is a current debate in Nigeria. It has been a dominant public discuss particularly in the past two years.

“Alhaji Atiku as a presidential candidate now finds it important to make the issue a vote catching campaign. But until he decamped to PDP, he was a prominent member of APC. That being the case, Alhaji Atiku should know or expect that Nigerians, including the VP, will comment on his campaign or even criticise it.

“The observation by the VP that Alhaji Atiku’s restructuring mantra does not include the issue of corruption is a legitimate observation which Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation needs to take note of to include (if it is true) or if not, all they need do is to point out where the issue of corruption is in their mantra. It is as simple as that. I do not think that the VP Osinbajo’s observation is meant to undermine the Campaign of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

“On a final note, since Alhaji Atiku is an experienced and seasoned politician, as a former Vice President of this country, he is expected to show maturity more than any other politician and handle criticisms with candour, should not engage in political ‘street fight.”

Alhaji Abdulrazak, now a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said restructuring or fiscal federalism are mere semantics, depending on which angle the proponents or opponents view it from.

He added that “politicians are mouthing restructuring as a campaign strategy to canvass for votes, especially from the South-South and South-East geo-political zones.”

Frontline Igbo leader and politician, Chief Emmanuel Iwuayanwu, said there must be immediate devolution of power to reduce the power of the federal government.

He said: “More powers should be given to the state governors because when this is done, it makes development to be faster. It will reduce corruption because the bulk of the billions of money that is being stolen is not going to be easy at the state level.

“When we restructure, it will reduce the powers of the federal government. It will help to reduce corruption. It will help to fast-track development in various states. States should be allowed to develop at their own pace.

“I believe that the federal government has no business with education, with health, agriculture and even power. If all the billions of dollars we have spent on power since 1999 were shared to states, at least over 30 states today would have been completely reliant on electricity for 24 hours.

How can someone see all these things and think it is right for us to continue the way we are going?”

Iwuayanwu noted that the danger of “what we are doing today is that if we don’t restructure, it will create problems. Every part of this country has what can make them independent.

“This present structure cannot solve our problems. Since after the first republic, even when the military took over and since 1999, every government has been charged for corruption. That means something is wrong with the system.”

Also speaking, a constitutional lawyer and public affairs analyst, Leonard Anyogo, said: “My position is always in support of devolution of power. Something close to true federalism as envisaged globally, like we always make reference to United States. Abuja is over-burdened. In a federal system, we do not need an overlord but a working partnership that endears unity. Apart from currency, defence and foreign relations, I do not see any other item that should be exclusive to Abuja. On the argument that this may not be necessary if there was good governance, I would say it does not hold water. Good governance comes with good structure. You can even have ‘good governance’ in a military regime. Federalism means wide participation by components units.

“There are also arguments that such problems of mismanagement may persist even in such federal system, and to this I say, let us make our institutions work that is not subjected to the whims and caprices of the Executive.”

Credit: TheNation