By Douglas Anele
The debate concerning the most appropriate geopolitical architectonic that would accelerate development of the natural and human potentials in Nigeria, a fractious colonial amalgam comprising dozens of different ethnic nationalities and linguistic cum cultural groupings, has gained fresh momentum or impetus recently. It was triggered by the penultimate Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is among the negligible number of prominent members of the northern elite that support the reform of what some cynically and derogatorily refer to as “feeding bottle” federalism inherited from the military.
Expectedly, Atiku Abubakar’s concept of restructuring entails devolution of more fiscal powers and responsibilities to the states, which would allow them greater freedom to explore and exploit the resources within their respective domains for accelerated development without being tied to the restrictive apron strings of an oligarchic and overbearing central government. Abubakar’s submission was challenged by the incumbent Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while speaking at a town hall meeting in Minnesota, United States. According to Prof. Osinbajo, the fundamental problem of Nigeria is not geopolitical structure but lack of prudent management of available resources by previous administrations. In his view, geographical restructuring, “in whatever shape or form, will not mean much if our political leaders see public resources as an extension of their bank accounts.”
Now, while it might be partially true, as Osinbajo claims, that some aspects of Atiku Abubakar’s concept of restructuring are not well formulated to avoid possible misunderstandings because the latter has not yet provided a fine-grained articulation of restructuring and how it can be actualised based on existing political and legal realities, it is definitely unacceptable that chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) regularly use derogatory labels to dismiss non-APC politicians who support calls for geopolitical restructuring.
For example, in addition to Osinbajo’s dismissive and mostly irrelevant riposte to the position put forward by Abubakar, Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai spoke about restructuring at Chatham House in London last year and the subtexts of his presentation were some rhetorical questions he asked which tended to suggest that the restructuring conversation is probably propelled by politics, opportunism and search for sectional entitlement rather than by national interest. And given that President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders of the APC have formed the annoying habit of blaming the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members for everything wrong with Nigeria, el-Rufai’s insincere questions can justifiably be interpreted and understood as a veiled accusation against opposition politicians that support restructuring.
Dishonest cash-and-carry politicians who point to conceptual ambiguities surrounding the notion of restructuring are right to some extent, because from media reportage of the issue the word ‘restructuring’ means different things to different people. Again, logically speaking, virtually all the concepts that figure in socio-political discussion tend to be fuzzy: in the particular topic at hand one can say that any change or alteration in the structure of anything, no matter how tangential or small, is a kind of restructuring.
But despite differences in the idea of restructuring, some convergence of opinions or consensus can be distilled from the restructuring Tower of Babel, namely, that the items listed on the exclusive legislative list in the 1999 constitution concentrate too much powers and responsibilities on the federal government. Therefore, it is disingenuous for anyone to create the impression that different understandings of ‘restructuring’ would necessarily lead to an insurmountable problem in reaching agreement on how the key components of the country’s geopolitical infrastructure can be modified or reconfigured to promote justice and fairness, and accelerate sustainable development among the ethnic nationalities that make up the country. Open-minded dialogue and sincerity of purpose by well-informed Nigerians can narrow down arears of disagreement and engender reasonable convergence on the core issues at stake at the conceptual-theoretical level and at the level of practical implementation as well.
The nonchalant attitude of President Buhari, Prof. Osinbajo and other leading APC members to the issue of restructuring has a strong miasma of insincerity around it. First and foremost, restructuring is one of the items listed in the party’s manifesto for action if it wins the 2015 elections. Specifically, some prominent members of the APC, prior to those elections, championed the call for restructuring. For example, Nasir el-Rufai, in August 2010, proclaimed that “It’s time to restructure Nigeria.
The present situation of things where all the component units get monthly allocation from the federal government only makes the states lazy and unproductive.” Now, it seems that for reasons connected to certain powerful conservative elements in the northern power block benefitting handsomely from the current unfair status quo, the APC is vacillating on the issue, using subterfuge to deflect attention from its failure to fulfil one of its major campaign promises. But then, as if to prove doubting Thomases wrong, the party set up a committee headed by el-Rufai to look into the matter. The committee has finished its work and submitted a report about eight months ago. But nothing has been heard about it since then, which suggests that the federal government is not really serious about addressing the issue and bringing it to a logical conclusion.
Now, before I discuss the reasons why restructuring has been a leitmotif since Buhari became President, and present arguments to support a thorough-going geopolitical reconstruction of the country, it is pertinent to make a few remarks about the responses of Mr. President and his Vice on the matter at hand. President Buhari articulated his position on restructuring in his 2018 New Year address. In the speech, he dismisses calls for a comprehensive geopolitical reconstitution of the country, and states that it was not a priority of his government. According to him, “when all the aggregates of opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.”
The President believes that the current presidential system could in future evolve to a level that it would “become suitable enough to accommodate the country’s peculiarities.” What is required, in his view, is “a closer look at the cost of government and for public services long used to extravagance, waste and corruption to change for the better.” Buhari is not interested in any suggestion for restructuring; he prefers ideas that “will improve governance and contribute to the country’s peace and stability.” To really confirm his anti-restructuring stance, he told a delegation of Urhobo traditional rulers that visited him at the presidential mansion in June that “every group asking for restructuring [drawn mostly from the south] has got their own agenda and I hope it can be accommodated by the constitution.” From the foregoing, it is clear that those hoping that President Buhari will implement measures to address the lopsided geopolitical structure built by northern military dictators are simply wasting their time.
We have already alluded to some of Prof. Osinbajo’s thoughts on restructuring. But it seems that he is vacillating: on one hand, he claims that one of the major issues he was engaged in as Attorney-General of Lagos state, even to the extent of taking the case up to the Supreme Court, was fiscal federalism, that is, the ”need for the states to be stronger, for states to more or less determine their own fortunes.” On the other, he repeats essentially Buhari’s argument about corruption and prudent management of resources. Prof. Osinbajo points out that while he and his team were fighting for fiscal federalism, the states that have the resources want to take all of them while those that do not want to share from others. Overall, he agrees with President Buhari that the trouble with the country is not restructuring but with recurrent mismanagement of the country’s resources by previous administrations.
Now, what can we infer from the arguments of the President and his deputy on restructuring? To begin with, the President is wrong in claiming that processes rather than structure is the core of our problems, as if one can be completely separated from the other.
To be continued…