Last Thursday, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee, (NWC) inaugurated a committee led by theKaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, with the objective of explaining to Nigerians the party’s position on the issue of restructuring of the polity. Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, examines the task before the committee against the backdrop of initial indifference to the agitation for restructuring by the Odigie-Oyegun led leadership of the party and spokespersons of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Individuals with cynical mindsets to politics have often dismissed politicians as those in a hurry to offer the gullible electorate with promises of what they are anxious to observe in the breach. A timeless remark to denounce government infidelity to the electorate and the antics of politicians had been attributed to late Soviet statesman, Nikita Khrushcev: ‘’Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river!’’
In recent times, the ruling party, the APC, has spent more times explaining to Nigerians why it has become increasingly difficult for it to fulfil its manifesto than actually redeeming such promises.
If the APC leadership is not busy blaming the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) for its inability to turn around the economy, the governors and the Federal Government are busy engaging each other in buck passing over who should pay the monthly stipend promised unemployed Nigerians before the 2015 general elections.
One of such unfulfilled pledges which has courted the anger of Nigerians and even created disaffection within the ranks of its chieftains and ordinary faithful is the restructuring of the country, which the party captured as devolution of power to federating states in its manifesto. Chief Odigie Oyegun and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, National Chairman of the APC, and Minister for Information, respectively jolted Nigerians recently when they declared that restructuring was not the priority of the present administration.
Speaking when he featured on a current affairs programme, ‘Focus Nigeria’, aired by the Africa Independent Television (AIT), Alhaji Mohammed had said that given what the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari inherited, restructuring could not have been its priority.
Alhaji Mohammed explained that with the high level of corruption, downturn in the economy, insecurity, particularly with the activities of Boko Haram in the North-East, the government could not have contemplated restructuring. Odigie was to make similar submission on a live television programme.
Speaking on Sun Rise Daily of Channels Television, the former Edo State governor declared that the focus of the present administration was how to revamp the distressed economy and provide jobs for unemployed youth in the country.
He said, “What is more important, to fix the economy or to embark on this political issue with all the contentious and different interpretations that the public give to it? It is very specific on the manifesto and we are not going to renege on it, no question about that”.
But checks by Nigerian Tribune revealed that the first item on the APC manifesto which was formally unveiled in Abuja on March 6, 2014 was the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution to ensure that the central government is decentralised through devolution of powers to 36 states in the federation and the 774 local councils.
The first item on the ruling party manifesto reads: “Initiate action to amend our constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.”
Still on constitution amendment, the party further promised to “strengthen INEC to reduce/ eliminate electoral malpractices; amend the constitution to remove immunity from prosecution for elected officers in criminal cases; restructure government for a leaner, more efficient and adequately compensated public service,” amongst others.
Voices of dissent within, not comfortable with the party leadership and government spokesperson stance on the controversial issue and certain chieftains of the party have continued to call for the party fidelity to its promise.
In the vanguard are former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and National Vice Chairman, South-South of the party, Hillary Eta.
Short of accusing Oyegun and Mohammed of naivety, Eta argued that the distressed state of the economy and the political and social backwardness facing the country could be attributed to the awkward political structure, which he noted was not sustainable.
“If you have restructuring in the manifesto of the party it is settled that the APC is for restructuring. Not only is the APC for restructuring, the governors elected on the platform of our party have come out to tell the nation that they are also for restructuring.
“I prefer that the restructuring that Nigeria must have, the process should start immediately. The reason is that our economic backwardness, our political backwardness, our social backwardness can be traced largely to the awkward and unsustainable super structure of the country and not the sub- structure of the country.
“So, it is important that we restructure now so that we will not have the unnecessary duty of having to force ourselves to the table.” The APC chieftain said all the documents that would help the National Assembly to kick start the process of enduring constitutional amendments should be made available to the federal lawmakers, “whether it is in 2014 or in 2010 conferences.
“Nigeria has never been short of ideas. These ideas are found at the shores of government and that is a good place to start; and Nigerians who may not have had an opportunity to contribute to those that we have in the shores of government should also be given an opportunity to do so.”
The former vice-president , who was a guest speaker at a public lecture held last July at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in a lecture series organised by the university’s senior staff club, argued that devolution of power from central to states government would ensure return to normative fiscal federalism, which he further noted was the dream of the nation founding fathers.
He said, “To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure, so it comes closer to what our founding leaders established in response to the very issues and challenges that led them to opt for a less centralised system. It means devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas.
“It would mean, by implication, the reduction of the powers and roles of the Federal Government so that it would concentrate only on those matters best handled by the centre such as defence, foreign policy, monetary and fiscal policies, immigration, customs and excise, aviation as well as setting and enforcing national standards on such matters as education, health and safety.
“Some of what my ideas of restructuring involve requires constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance, the Federal Government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them.
“In the future, if the Federal Government identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads, and thereafter leave the maintenance to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for the purpose. The Federal Government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process.
“The same goes for education and healthcare. We must reverse the epidemic of federal take-over of state and voluntary organisations’ schools and hospitals which began in the 1970s, and also transfer those established by the Federal Government to the states. We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located.’’
Response to wakeup call
The party last Thursday inaugurated a 24-member committee to examine restructuring with Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai as chairman while Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi will serve as secretary. To assist the Kaduna State governor in the task of explaining to Nigerians the party position on devolution of power are four of his colleagues: Rauf Aregbesola, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Simon Lalong and Ibikunle Amosun, governors of Osun, Kano, Plateau and Ogun states, respectively.
Addressing the committee and in apparent reference to scathing indictment of the party and government over its aversion to the issue, Chief Oyegun said the ruling party remained committed to its promise on devolution of power and would not renege on its promise to the electorate.
“If any group can claim ownership to the principle and the need for true federalism, that group is the APC. From our constituent units, that was one of the principal points and when we sat down to negotiate the union of this great union called the APC. It was one of the principal issues that was almost like a no go item.
“We negotiated and agreed and as a result, the constitution of the party, the manifesto of the party were very elaborate in their references to true federalism and devolution of power.
“It is therefore totally inconceivable for uninformed members of the public to jump on this bandwagon of reconstituting the federation to give the impression that the party was in any way against the principle of taking a fresh look at the basis of our federalism.
“For us, it is already a mantra. We know that there are things that need to be tinkered with without, in any way sacrificing, jeopardising the fundamental unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
He, however, cautioned the Governor el-Rufai team to restrict itself to the party constitution and manifesto as its guide in the course of its onerous assignment .
“Let me emphasise that your task is both critical and very sensitive, especially in the light of the clamour for restructuring , devolution of power, fiscal federalism, resource control and all others that describe the various forms of reforms that are being suggested for the reform of the current political architecture of our beloved nation. The APC constitution and manifesto vigorously canvassed these issues and they are very elaborately provided for. The party position has been eloquently stated in the terms of references of this committee.
“It is your duty, especially having regard to the emotive nature of the national discourse on ‘restructuring’ to distil from our party constitution and manifesto the various ideas being canvassed in the different constitutional conferences that has been held in this country, especially to the one that, as a principle, we refused to attend because it was a very political affair. That is the last constitutional gathering of the last administration.
“I implore you to take time out of your busy schedule to attend this issue speedily because we must take charge of this debate which is being used unfortunately by opponents of the party who have not, at any stage define what restructuring means to them. So, out there, there are so many definitions of restructuring. I ask you to generate a report which will truly reflect the desire of our people and a true reflection of what our party stands for so that at the end of the day, we will have a significant idea of what the people of this nation wants as their idea of true federalism.’’
el-Rufai: The crisis of confidence
For a committee without a time frame to submit its report, certain members of the party and members of the opposition parties are not bemused that the committee was meant to buy time ahead of the 2019 general elections. A member of the ruling party national working committee, Timi Frank has also squealed against the appointment of Kaduna State governor as chairman of the committee. Frank, in a recent press statement, claimed the Kaduna State governor was not the right person for such a critical assignment as he noted that Governor el-Rufai has consistently dismissed advocates of restructuring as opportunists.
Frank said, “Governor el-Rufai has not hidden his opposition to the issue of restructuring since Nigerians began to remind us of our promise which is boldly written in our party promise book, hence the need to remove him because he does not believe in it.
“The Kaduna State governor has also called some of our leaders and former heads of state different names because of this issue.
“I see no reason for setting up a committee for something that is not negotiable at this time.”
As the committee embarks on the task to define what restructuring means an assignment which governor el-Rufai has disclosed will take him and his team to 12 states, Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see the new definition that the ruling party will give to restructuring which it has smartly given a lucid and apt interpretation as devolution of power to states in its blueprint before the 2015 general elections.