By Ochereome Nnanna
ORDINARILY, exponents of restructuring and true federalism should be jubilating that the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has finally come round to embrace the idea, even if in a fairly watered-down form. But there is very little to cheer about the recommendations of the Governor Ahmed Nasir el-Rufai’s Committee set up by the party in August 2017 at the height of the calls for restructuring, which had been stoked to high temperature by the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led agitations for Biafra.
The reasons for this assertion are many. The most important of these is the fact that so far, there is absolutely no nexus between the ruling party’s “restructuring” gambit and the imprimatur of its supreme leader, President Muhammadu Buhari. Ordinarily, a political party designs policies, programmes and manifestos which all its elected and appointed functionaries are bound to implement. If matters in the APC followed normal democratic conventions, the decision by the National Chairman of the Party, Dr. John Odigie Oyegun to empanel the el-Rufai Committee to articulate a restructuring policy for it should have been a clear green light that the Party has now adopted a positive posture towards it.
But from the look of things, and going by the utterances of top party stakeholders such as First Lady Aisha Buhari, Engineer Buba Galadima, Governor el-Rufai himself who once wrote a scathing memo to the President, Buhari is not implementing the APC campaign promises. He is not working with the Party. He has merely allowed his kinsmen, clansmen and ethnic/regional acolytes whom he invited into his government to pursue agendas that have very little to do with the national interest.
A supreme party leader like Buhari who has shown a total lack of concern to his party’s supposed efforts to embrace the restructuring and true federalism idea cannot be trusted to turn around to implement the party’s proposal. Till his last speech to the nation just a month ago on the New Year’s Day, Buhari has been, at best, aloof to the idea and at worst, hostile to it. He merely said: “When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.” In other words, Buhari, like most Northerners who do not want to alter the unitary federalism system foisted on us by the military in order to cheat the South of its abundant economic resources, has not shifted ground one inch. And yet, here is the man that the APC says will implement their restructuring proposal if he is given a second term in office!
Take a closer look at what he said above. There is still that strong ring of military impunity; that irrespective of the aggregate opinions of Nigerians, he is firmly stuck to “process” represented by the status quo.
One way of identifying those who are serious and the jokers over restructuring and genuine federalism where powers are drastically devolved back to the people of Nigeria from Abuja is the method by which each prefers to approach it. Those who are genuine in their intentions are fully aware that the military-dictated 1999 Constitution cannot easily be amended to bring about restructuring and other changes that would give the nation a chance to grow. The parasites for whom the current structure was created will never willingly, peacefully or through due process, allow changes to take place. That will force them to start working for their daily bread instead of sitting back to collect rents from wealth grown in other people’s patrimonies.
Those who truly want restructuring prefer a national conference and possibly a new constitution. Nigerians from all parts will broadly agree through consensus and codify their agreement in a new constitutional document. History has shown that even when the traditional naysayers reluctantly attend a conference, they are always difficult, aggressive, and always orchestrating chaotic and disruptive atmospheres at plenary. In most cases, after the conference, they go back to their region and begin to denounce, demonise any agreement that could bring about change. Then, they would distance themselves from them, and the conference ends up a waste of time, efforts and resources. These guys rather prefer that those looking for change should table their “grievances” at the National Assembly where they know the military had imbued them with an unfair majority to shoot down anything they don’t like. Buhari in his various speeches on restructuring always makes this point.
To show that the el-Rufai APC panel is not serious, it intends to subject its recommendations to the National Assembly through the President. According to el-Rufai: “We believe if these amendments are passed by the National Assembly, they will significantly rebalance our federation.” It is a very big “if.” The same National Assembly had a great opportunity to prove its stand on restructuring and devolution of powers only in July 2017. The North, as usual, capitalised on its military-bequeathed majority to emasculate the move, one clause after the other in both chambers. Is it this same hostile President and uncooperative Northern majority in the National Assembly that will allow el-Rufai and APC’s red herring of a restructuring agenda to pass less than a year after rejecting it? Where did their “Damascus experience” (conversion from persecutor to evangelist) come from?
There is no doubt in my mind that the el-Rufai panel and its recommendation are nothing more than a very poorly-disguised attempt to deceive Nigerians whose “mumu never do” to fall for another “one chance” baiting. We all recall that in 2014-2015 during the campaigns, the APC published its 81 campaign promises on its website and vigorously campaigned on them. Item 61 read as follows: “Initiating action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.”
A political party that is serious and true to its campaign promises would, on assuming power, immediately set up processes towards the implementation of Item 61 and other programmes that would bring about the change it promised. But rather than do this, the APC Federal Government started denying its campaign promises. Presidential spokespersons said it was not Buhari that made those promises! The same thing applies in this APC and el-Rufai attempt to hoodwink Nigerians with this so-called restructuring issue. It is still the Party, not the President that is making the promise. It has nothing to do with Buhari. And from the total rejection of restructuring by APC and Northern Senators and Reps members, it still has nothing to do with them too.
el-Rufai himself has tended to blow hot and cold on restructuring depending where he finds himself. In April 2012 when he was in the opposition, he wrote a widely-circulated article calling for a restructuring and devolution that mirrors the 1963 Constitution. But when he gave a lecture at the Chatham House in London, shortly after he accepted the APC assignment to head its “restructuring” panel, he made a veiled reference to asking for it as “opportunists.” At this juncture, I will ask el-Rufai and his APC this question in his own very words: “How much of this (proposal) is propelled by a desire for national progress, and how much is mere politics, opportunism and the search for sectional entitlement?”
We are waiting to see what the ruling party will eventually make out of this effort. But for me, this is yet another sham, a sleight of hand political gambit. Swallow it at your own risk.