By Hakeem Yusuf
Yinka Odumakin’s piece in Vanguard of 6 February, 2018 makes little attempt to hide his mission: Strike a deadly blow on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s reputation. He smartly embarks on this by adopting a trick of raising the target high before striking it down; he highlights the VP’s glowing, untainted credentials as a lawyer and administrator, a champion of the rule of law, federalism and constitutionalism.
He mentions Osinbajo’s achievements in the transformation of the Lagos State judiciary during his eight years of service as Attorney-General. Odumakin further calls attention to some vivid testimonies of Osinbajo’s remarkable fidelity to justice, symbolised by his establishment of the Office of the Public Defender; the Citizens Mediation Centre, both of which quickly grew to become national phenomena.
I would like to deal only with one aspect of Odumakin’s allegations; the federalism question. This aspect of his allegations may be a product of ignorance, or sheer inability to comprehend the concepts of restructuring and the rudiments of federalism. Federalism simply refers to a mode of government in which governmental powers are shared between one central and sub-national units. In Nigeria, no one doubts the fact that we already have a federal constitution.
To be sure, federalism does not necessarily imply restructuring as restructuring can, and does take place, even within a non-federalist government as has happened over the last two and a half decades in the United Kingdom for instance. Indeed there is near unanimity among informed observers on the position that our federal union in Nigeria can be better operated if only we can keep to the spirit and letters of the Constitution. It is in this area that Osinbajo has established his federalist credential, which Odumakin’s lame side-wind did nothing to shift, let alone destroy.
When in 2001, the National Assembly passed an Electoral Act which sought, among other things, to alter the tenure of elected officers of local government councils across Nigeria and to impose qualifications which must be attained by anyone seeking election at the local level, Osinbajo, as Attorney General of Lagos State, spearheaded the defence of constitutional powers of state Houses of Assembly over their local councils. That was the case in which the Supreme Court held that everything relating to local governments should be under the jurisdiction of state governments (see A.G. Abia State & ors v. AG Federation (2002) 3 SC 1).
Contrary to Odumakin’s position, Osinbajo’s views on restructuring and true federalism remains unambiguous and consistent with contemporary thoughts about restructuring. He believes more in building systems that are complementary to federal structures as evident in his community policing concept. For the Vice President, some of the contentious issues. including views calling for a return to regionalism, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, state police among others, were taking different contradictory approaches and thus reducing the debate to a mere political rhetoric.
In light of the above and other recorded efforts of Osinbajo to ensure the smooth running of the Nigerian federation, only the uninformed can conclude, as Odumakin did, that because Osinbajo had not championed the fluid concept of restructuring, he had lost his federalist credential.
* Yusuf is a Reader in Global Legal Studies at the University of Birmingham.