By Joshua Adekunle
LAST week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar were at each other’s jugular over ‘restructuring.’Atiku threw the first punch when he picked holes in Osinbajo’s speech at Minnesota, USA, Town Hall meeting, where he averred that Nigeria does not need ‘geographical restructuring’ but deep fiscal federalism that entails more powers for the states, good governance and checking of graft.
Alhaji Atiku dismissed Osinbajo’s position as amounting to a 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring.
In countering Atiku’s criticisms, Osinbajo described his concept of restructuring as vague and justified the need for a restructuring that will start with leaders shunning corruption and enthroning good governance.
Insisting that geographical restructuring is not a solution to Nigeria’s myriad of 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.’’
Now, with most of the 36 states struggling to pay salaries, Osinbajo argued that ‘’any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us.’’
Reason: Creation of more states will increase the cost of governance to the detriment of provision of amenities and infrastructure. Most of the 36 states are not viable economically, they generate pittance as Internally Generate Revenue, IGR. Without allocation from the Federal Allocation Committee, FAAC, most of the states will become bankrupt.
As we speak, a sizeable chunk of the states are owing several months of salary arrears. Cumulatively, one of the states is owing 34 months of salaries and this is in spite of getting bailouts from the Federal Government twice, tranches of Paris Club refund and money from the Excess Crude Account, ECA.
Faced with this scenario, Osinbajo contended that “we should rather ask ourselves why the states are under-performing, revenue and development wise.”
He cited 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.’’
Thus, Osinbajo argued that good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development were the secrets.
Clearly, Osinbajo is abreast of what restructuring means having, as the Attorney-General of Lagos State, during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, led the battle of Lagos for greater autonomy for states, devolution of power, and resource control in consonance with the littoral states of the Niger-Delta among other battles.
He believes that states have a right to create their own administrative units. He wants state police for the simple reason that policing is a local function. Recently, in a speech at the Anniversary of the Lagos State House of Assembly, he pointed out that stronger, more autonomous states would more efficiently eradicate poverty.
However, he argues that restructuring in the face of corruption without good governance will yield little or no results.
I agree with Osinbajo’s submissions that: ‘’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…
‘’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. “
Displaying the OPEC figures from oil revenues since 1990, the vice president showed what good governance could do, saying: “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 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 essence, “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 counselled while stressing the need for good governance.
“Good governance involves, inter alia, transparency and prudence in public finance. It involves social justice, investing in the poor, and jobs for young people; which explains our School Feeding Programme, providing a meal a day to over 9 million public school children in 25 States as of today. Our NPower is now employing 500,000 graduates; our TraderMoni that will be giving microcredit to 2 million petty traders; our Conditional Cash Transfers giving monthly grants to over 400,000 of the poorest in Nigeria. The plan is to cover a million households,” he said.