By Gideon Aremu
THE polity was astir, last week, with an interesting, intellectual debate between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a former vice president, over restructuring. The debate started with Alhaji Atiku’s critique of Osinbajo’s submissions at Minnesota, USA, Town Hall meeting, where the Vice President said ‘geographical restructuring’ was not what Nigeria needs. According to him, the country needs deep fiscal federalism that entails more powers for the states, good governance and checking of corruption.
In his critique, Alhaji Atiku dismissed what he deemed as Osinbajo’s 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring because he is now in government.
The Vice President responded gamely to Atiku’s criticisms and described the former vice president’s concept of restructuring as vague. Atiku countered and stressed that ‘’restructuring is a necessity, not an option’’.
Indeed, restructuring is on the front burner of discourse in Nigeria currently. There is a groundswell of unanimity among many stakeholders in the Nigeria project for the country to be restructured. A host of the over 60 presidential candidates/aspirants have made restructuring of the country one of their campaign promises.
Thus, Alhaji Atiku is right to say that “restructuring is a necessity, not an option’’ but he is wrong to say that Vice President Osinbajo has turned his back on restructuring.
There is nothing in Osinbajo’s submissions that justifies that posture. Semantics, perhaps, may be the culprit because Osinbajo’s postulations seek to empower the federating units, ensure fiscal federalism, good governance, and curb graft, which have been the bane of the country’s socio-economic development.
In rejecting the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to Nigeria’s multifarious problems because ‘’geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation’’, Osinbajo recalled that the 2014 National Conference recommended the creation of 18 more states.
At a time most of the 36 states are struggling to pay salaries, Osinbajo averred that ‘’any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us’’.
A sizeable chunk of the 36 states generate pittance as Internally Generate Revenue, IGR. Without allocation from the Federal Allocation Committee, FAAC, most of the states will go under.
Indeed, despite getting bailouts from the Federal Government twice, tranches of Paris Club refund and money from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, several states are owing several months of salary arrears.
‘’We should rather ask ourselves why the states are under-performing, revenue and development-wise. I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South West Zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up 50 percent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions,’’ he said.
With this scenario, Osinbajo stressed that creation of more states will not be a solution to the problem, arguing that what we require now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development.
As the Attorney-General of Lagos State during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Osinbajo led the battle of Lagos for greater autonomy for states and resource control in consonance with the littoral states of the Niger-Delta among other battles, hence he appreciates what restructuring is all about.
However, he argues that restructuring amid pervasive graft without good governance will yield little or no dividends.
‘’We must check grand corruption, fuelled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concessions to enrich themselves,’’ he said.
Arguing for good governance, Osinbajo fingered corruption as Nigeria’s greatest problem. ‘’Grand corruption, namely the unbelievable looting of the treasury by simply making huge cash withdrawals in local and foreign currency, was the first travesty that President Buhari stopped. I showed the OPEC figures from oil revenues since 1990. In four years from 2010 to 2014 the PDP government earned the highest oil revenues in Nigeria’s history, USD381.9billion. By contrast the Buhari Administration has earned USD121 billion from May 2015 to June 2018, less than 1/3 of what the Jonathan Administration earned at the same period in that administration’s life. Despite earning so much less, we are still able to invest more in infrastructure than any government in Nigeria’s history. The difference is good governance, and fiscal prudence.
“In the final analysis, restructuring in whatever shape or form, will not mean much if our political leaders see public resources as an extension of their bank accounts,’’ he asserted.
*Mr. Aremu, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.