By Emeka Mamah & Chinenyeh Ozor
Nsukka—Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has said that Nigeria will never progress if the country is not restructured to make room for growth.
He expressed surprise that the current leaders in the country were opposed to restructuring when that was what they promised to do to bring changes in the people’s way of thinking.
He spoke at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, while delivering the Senior Staff Club Lecture Series on Restructuring Nigeria and his investiture as Life Member of the Senior Staff Club, of the institution, yesterday.
Atiku spoke as the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said the “fear that it would deny them their oil blocks or control of oil resources is a dangerous red-herring propagated by enemies of Nigeria.”
Also, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, and National Secretary of Afenifere, Dr Yinka Odumakin, also spoke in the same vein with Atiku, saying that the only thing that would save the present republic from imminent collapse was restructuring.
The former Vice President also, criticised quota system of admission, especially in Unity Schools where some students with lower marks are given chances against some others with higher marks, saying what the “Federal Government should do is to set national standards, which students must attain.”
Atiku said the Federal Government had no business taking over institutions like UNN, Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, or the Obafemi Awolowo University, which were established by the defunct regional governments, adding that the restructuring process should start with the handing over of such institutions back to their owners since such moves did not require constitution amendments.
He further said the only constitution which Nigerians sat down to produce was that of 1963, adding that subsequent constitutions were not what the various constitutional conferences produced but what the military imposed on them.
He said no section of the country should be afraid of restructuring, adding that it was ideas in the people’s brains that should rule the world and not the minerals located in certain parts of the country.
He said: “We have spent the last few years making the case for the restructuring of our federal system.This is in response to the cries of marginalisation by various segments of the country as well as the realisation that our federation, as presently constituted, impedes optimal development and the improvement of our people’s aspirations.
“As you all know, virtually every segment of this country has at one point or the other complained of marginalisation by one or more segments, and agitated for change.
“We have made tremendous progress in our advocacy as more and more of key stakeholders have come to realise the critical importance of restructuring for our country’s health, its unity, and its future.
“The proponents of what we now call restructuring do not necessarily mean the same thing, and do not necessarily have the same expectations in terms of outcome.”
“Those opposed to restructuring capitalise on the differences of opinion dismiss the agitations pointing to what they regard as the imprecise nature of the definition of restructuring or they claim that the proponents want to dismember the country.
“In this presentation I shall state my understanding of restructuring, and some of the steps we need to take to bring it about in a peaceful, democratic manner. I do not intend to dwell so much on why it is important as I can see an emerging consensus on that, even as disagreements remain on what it should look like and who gets what when actualized.
“Different ideas have been floated including resource control, fiscal federalism, true federalism, restructuring. I said a week ago at another forum in Abuja that it is normal for us to have different positions on restructuring.
“Eventually we shall sit down and discuss, negotiate and arrive at a model that will be suitable for our country and which will help ensure rapid development and mutual and respectful coexistence.
“Before I proceed, let me caution us all that restructuring, by whatever name, is not a magic bullet that would resolve all of Nigeria’s challenges or those of any section, region or zone of the country. Listening to some people, even those who seek to dismember the country, you would think that once their dream is achieved their part of the country or the country as a whole will become paradise. But as we all know, life is not that simple. We need restructuring in order to address the challenges that restructuring can help us address, and which will remain unaddressed unless we restructure. Period. This also answer the cynics who question whether restructuring is even important since it won’t solve all our problems. No system would.
“To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure so it comes closer to what our founding leaders established, in response to the very issues and challenges that led them to opt for a less centralized system. It means devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas.
“It would mean, by implication, the reduction of the powers and roles of the federal government so that it would concentrate only on those matters best handled by the centre such as defence, foreign policy, monetary and fiscal policies, immigration, customs and excise, aviation as well as setting and enforcing national standards on such matters as education, health and safety “Some of what my ideas of restructuring involve requires constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance. The federal government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them. In the future if the federal government identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads, and thereafter leave the maintenance to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for the purpose. The federal government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process.
“The same goes for education and health care. We must reverse the epidemic of federal take-over of state and voluntary organizations’ schools and hospitals which began in the 1970s, and also transfer those established by the federal government to the states. We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located. The UNN, the ABU, Zaria and the University of Ife (now OAU) were built by regional governments when we had a thriving federal system.
“We all know what then happened. The federal government, awash in oil revenues took them over, rapidly expanded them, and began to build more federal universities in response to the inevitable demand from states that did not have any located within their jurisdictions. The result is what we have today: universities, including the first generation ones that are no longer taken seriously anywhere in the world.
“Local control makes for quicker decision-making; makes for adaptation to local needs; makes the adoption of new technologies and methods of teaching and learning quicker. At the American University of Nigeria, which I founded in Yola, we are currently building the largest solar farm in the North East to provide power to the university and reduce our reliance on the national grid and also reduce our carbon footprint.
“We have since established an E-Library, which gives our students access to tens of millions of library materials from around the world. Can you imagine if we were part of the federal system of universities and were to wait on the federal government for these investments? Take another example. When the current security crisis in the
North East began to grow, we quickly decided to recruit a large number of security personnel, trained and equipped them to provide security within and around the AUN campus to complement the efforts of already over-stretched national security forces.
“We did not have to wait for a distant organ in Abuja to come around to a decision on what should be done to protect our students and staff. These kinds of decisions and investments are not just easier with private organizations. They are easier within a decentralized system where decisions are made by local authorities closer to the relevant organizations. If you at UNN have to deal with a government at Enugu that has a clearer understanding of the local conditions, needs and aspirations, you are likely to accomplish more and return the UNN to its past glory.
“These are possible first steps and would be easy wins for the federal government and the country. They will in part show the goodwill of the federal authorities in dealing with this very serious issue, and complement the important consultations which the Acting President has undertaken in recent times to douse tension in the country. Indeed the federal government can voluntarily withdraw from most of the items listed in the very thin Concurrent Legislative List of our Constitution. I believe that the benefits accruing from these first steps will help us as we move towards the changes that require amendments to our Constitution. Let me mention a few critical ones just to illustrate.
“Creation of and Funding of Local Governments by the Federal Government. Few things illustrate federal overreach into state matters than the creation of direct funding of local governments by the Federal Government. As I have said on numerous occasions, this makes a mockery of the word local. “No good evidence has been produced to show that our local governments are now doing better than they were prior to federal intrusion. That intrusion must stop. Local governments are not federating units. State governments should have the freedom to create as many local governments as they wish or not to have local governments at all. Citizens at every locality would then know that it is the responsibility of their states to provide services for their welfare.
“A possible compromise to help reduce opposition to this needed change is for the existing number of local governments to be maintained during the transition with the federal funds going the respective states as part of devolution of resources. Henceforth local government administration should be the responsibility of state governments. Period.
“A constitutional amendment allowing for the establishment of State Police is another critical element of the required restructuring. With that, the Federal and state governments should be able to decide on jurisdictions and which matters would fall under federal statutes and which under state statutes, and where there would be joint jurisdiction (in which case the federal government can take over in cases of conflict). One thing about federalism that we seem to have forgotten is that it is about freedom, autonomy and choice. State police would not be mandatory for every state. Those states which, for whatever reason, prefer federal police would work out arrangements with the federal police on cost-sharing and other matters related to policing their jurisdictions.
“Reduction in the Number of Federating Units. I strongly believe that we need to reduce the number of federating units. The decades of excessive reliance on oil revenues and the relative neglect of other revenue sources as well as our near addiction to states-creation mean that even the increase of the resources transferred to the states may not make many of the financially non-viable states to become viable.
“Those calling for new states seem oblivious of the fiscal crisis the existing states are in and how dependent they are on transfer payments from Abuja. If we are to maintain the current state structure, how do we ensure their financial viability?
“Obviously they would have to diversify their economies and revenue sources, but what happens to those unable to do so? One option that I have suggested is a means-test requiring states to generate a specified percentage of their share of federal allocations internally or be absolved into another state. Or we may revisit the former Vice President, Chief Alex Ekwueme’s suggestion that we use the existing geopolitical zones as federating units rather than the current states. Using the zones would ensure immediate financial viability and scale and also address the concerns of minorities about domination by our three major ethnic groups.
“The issue of Resource Control is perhaps the most contentious. It is the big elephant in the room but the one most proponents and opponents of restructuring prefer to dance around while often throwing insults at each other. Fear, greed, envy, and resentment are at the centre of our disagreements on resource control. On the one hand, those who feel they are better endowed with the currently important or exploited national resource, oil, express some level of greed and resentment and a desire to monopolize those resources.
“On the other hand, those who feel less well-endowed express some degree of fear, envy and resentment. We must start from the point of view that no country’s regions or localities are equally or uniformly endowed. Diversity is the norm, and often the strength. And there are also historical swings or changes in fortune: the well-endowed areas of today may become less so tomorrow. Sharing is part of human existence and part of what makes human societies possible.
“I have consistently advocated for local control of resources but with federal taxing powers to help redistribute resources and to help address national priorities. Local control will encourage our federating units to look inwards at untapped resources in their respective domains and promote healthy rivalry among them.
“I must point out that all of these do not have to be done in one fell swoop. Change is often difficult, especially for those who feel that they are beneficiaries of the status quo. We can start with the less contentious ones, including state police, and returning jurisdiction for local governments to states. “Discussions and negotiations among leaders from across the country can be speeded up to ensure timely resolution of these contentious issues. Our generation cannot afford to be the one that is unable to negotiate and bargain for a workable federal system that truly serves our peoples and enables them to live in peace and harmony with mutual respect.
“The Nigerian federation is a work in progress. We just have to continue that work, a truly serious work, to build bridges across our various divides. That’s what we need in order to create the kind of country where our young people can thrive and realize their full potentials, young people such as Ms Immaculata Onuigbo, the best graduating student and Valedictorian for the Class of 2017 at the American University Nigeria, Yola. We owe it to them and the generations to come. I thank the Senior Staff club of the UNN for inviting me to share these thoughts with you and for honouring me today.”