By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The country’s ruling party is running against time in a bid to reclaim the debate on power devolution after the agitation initially caused confused its top leadership.
If anything had embarrassed the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC since it came to power, it was unarguably the party’s dithering procrastination on restructuring. For a party parading some of the country’s most progressive and pro-democracy enthusiasts, the APC should have had no issues with restructuring.
Its national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. Frontline national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was also a NADECO chieftain as well as several of the leading lights in the party.
It was perhaps in line with the ideological inclination of many of its leaders that the APC put devolution of power among the first items in its 2015 General Election manifesto.
However, following the election, the party appeared to dither as the reality of governance took hold on the party.
Did the party that promised change sell a dummy to the electorate?
The confusion was, however, not too difficult to comprehend given the various tendencies that came together to form the APC.
However, after finally resolving the internal dynamics, the party has now plunged in head-on towards prosecuting the agenda on the devolution of powers. The first step was taken by the party last July was to constitute a committee to define a pathway for the party on the issue.
The ten-man committee headed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and with Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi as Secretary also has Governors Rauf Aregbesola, Osun; Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano; Simon Lalong, Plateau and Ibikunle Amosun, Ogun.
Other members of the committee are Former Governor Oserheimen Osunbor of Edo State, the APC’s National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi and Hajiya Fatima Balla.
Inaugurating the committee last August, Odigie-Oyegun affirmed that the APC was in the real sense the original owner of the crusade for devolution of power.
“If any group can claim ownership of the principle and the need for true federalism, that group is the APC. From our constituent units, that was one of the principal points, and when we sat down to negotiate the union, this great union called the APC, it was one of the principal issues that were almost like a no-go item.
“We negotiated and agreed, and as a result, the constitution of the party and the manifesto of the party were very elaborate in their references to true federalism and devolution of powers.
“It is therefore totally inconceivable for uninformed members of the public to jump on this bandwagon of restructuring of the federation to give the impression that the party was in any way against the principle of taking a fresh look at the basis of our federalism,” he said.
Following the inauguration, the APC it appears has now moved on to cover up for its initial tardiness on the issue.
The committee it was learnt has so far had four meetings, all of them in Abuja preparatory to a round of public hearings across the country during which the views of members of the party and the general public would be taken into consideration.
The committee it was learnt has also divided itself into four teams for the public hearings with one team led by Governor Ganduje conducting the hearings in the South-South and North-Central States.
A second team led by Prof. Osunbor is to go to the Southeast and Northeast States, a third team led by Governor Lalong is to go to the Northwest and Southwest while a fourth team comprising all members of the committee would hold a hearing in Abuja for the FCT, youths, National Assembly, and other professional groups.
Key issues and definitions to be articulated during the hearings according to sources in the committee are the Creation/Merger of States; Derivation Principle; Devolution of Powers; the nature of Nigeria’s federation; Fiscal Federalism cum Revenue Allocation; Form of Government; Independent Candidacy and Land Tenure System.
Other items on the prism of the committee Local Government Autonomy; Power Sharing and Rotation; Resource Control and Type of Legislature.
Speaking to newsmen on the activities of the committee at a media parley last week, Senator Adetunmbi elucidated on gray areas concerning the works of the committee.
Asked if the committee would open itself to suggestions from non-party members such as its political foes in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, he said:
“We have put up a public announcement calling for memorandum and calling for members of the public to meet us at designated venue without any discrimination. So, it’s an open invitation to all Nigerians to attend and make their views and their voices to count.
Given that the Northern Governors Forum has also set up a similar committee, Adetunmbi was quick to defend the work of the APC Committee, saying:
“The Northern Governors Forum as stakeholders in the development of Nigeria, they have every right to consult people on the future of Nigeria. I don’t think it’s a matter of monopoly and I think that is the attitude of the APC. Every opinion is welcome. The Committee will do its work. The challenge now is for all of us to be positive because what we are looking for is solution.”
A tricky one that was put to him was on the claim that the work of the committee was superfluous given that many of the issues being considered by the committee had been resolved in the work of the 2014 Political Conference which was established by the immediate past administration.
The APC boycotted that conference. He said “I don’t think there is anything called rejection of that conference. The report of the conference is in the public domain, and it is available as literature for the work we are doing. Not just that. You have the 2005 political reforms report. So, we are looking at all of this in order for the APC to understand what exactly its role should be in the way forward.
Remarkably, President Muhammadu Buhari who is believed to be the leader of the party does not seem to be on the same page with those discussing many of the issues being put to public debate by the party.
The president had in his broadcast following his return to the country last month, affirmed that many of the issues being brought up by people in public debate had long been settled.
So does that not mean that whatever report produced by the committee would end up in the president’s archives just as he said the 2014 Conference Report would do?
Responding the committee scribe said:
“On the issue of statement of Buhari foreclosing the debate, I don’t think that is the case. If he says the National Assembly has powers to take decision, I think he even opens the frontiers. We have representatives in the National Assembly. If today there is a position in the party, the party can call its members in the National Assembly and direct them to act accordingly. A constituent can also direct their representatives. So, there is nothing foreclosed. I will take the statement of President Buhari to mean an acknowledgment that the issue is open for debate.”
The speed with which the ruling party has delved into the restructuring debate is undoubtedly a reflection of the initial tactlessness with which it initially handled the matter.
But where and how the committee would repair the damage done by the initial procrastination would be seen in the output of the ten wise men.