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Osinbajo and the restructuring confusion

Ever since former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, lent his considerable weight to the call for the restructuring of the country, the agitation has advanced in leaps and bounds to the point where both President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice have weighed in. Buhari seems to think that the movement towards the nation’s restructuring is akin to edging towards nation’s disintegration and has consequently foreclosed any discussion on the matter.

Buhari is adamant that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable, drawing angry responses from people like Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and Afenifere, who see nothing wrong with discussing the manner of relationship the constituent units should share possibly within the context of an indissoluble entity.

On a number of occasions, Buhari had maintained this stance against the background of heightening secessionist agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and more recently, the disparate militant groups in the Nigeria Delta region with the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) as arguably the flagship.

Oftentimes, the president drives home his point against any form of talk of a review of the nation’s co-existence by conjuring up the gory images of the Nigerian Civil War, hammering on the fact that over two million people perished in it. He believes that if those currently campaigning for separation had witnessed the consequences of that war, they would not question their region’s continued stay within the Nigerian geographic expression. But beyond the issuance of veiled threats, not even once, as far as I can recall, has Buhari attempted to address the issues behind the rising decibel of separatism or restructuring. For instance, the South-Eeast complains of wanton neglect under his administration and every single government action so far tends to validate their suspicion. I will not bore readers with details but suffice it to say that the South-East has apparently been shut out in the scheme of things. This hurts.

As for the agitators in the South-South, the case of unbridled exploitation of their resources for the benefit of others whereas they themselves wallow in abject poverty, remains a sore point. They want the country to be restructured so that the presently over-centralised control of resources is out in the hands of the constituent regions with predetermined contributions made to the Federal Government. Even though the president has not specifically addressed this point, his numerous threats to Niger Delta militants suggest that he is in no mood to hear them out. It is reassuring though to see that lately, he has toned down his angry rhetoric in favour of pleas for understanding as he promises to ameliorate the perceived injustice.

Individuals in the South-West have been the leading lights in the restructuring campaign. No wonder some of the most important voices to tackle Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, when he appeared to put down the debate emanated from the region. The vice-president had been reported to kick against the calls for restructuring during a lecture at Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, over the weekend. In response to a question, he had said: “Even if states are given half of the resources of the federal government, the situation will not change.”

Afenifere, which alongside the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had earlier praised Atiku for openly backing restructuring, came after Osinbajo for appearing to walk the opposite direction. The group thought that Osinbajo missed the point and reminded him that the issue goes beyond more allocation from the federal government to the states.

Hear Yinka Odumakin, who spoke for the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group: “While we understand that the learned Professor, who is from the zone that has been loudest on this call may have come under pressure to lend his voice to the upholders of the status quo that has brought Nigeria to this sorry pass, we would like to respectfully admonish him to be sure footed on the subject before he speaks next time.”

Afenifere caused quite a rumpus in Osinbajo’s office where his spokesman, Laolu Akande, scrambled to do damage control by going to the unprecedented length of publishing the full transcript of the vice president’s remarks at the lecture just to keep the record straight. Without necessarily retracting his alleged opposition to restructuring, Osinbajo sought to clarify that all he advocated was the need for a deeper understanding of the debate issue, including regionalism, fiscal federalism, devolution of power and state police which, to him, are at the moment confusing.

For me, the whole essence of the restructuring debate is to clear up the confusion that the Nigerian state has been. Therefore, rather be seen to lampoon the calls, perhaps all Osinbajo needs to do is to encourage more discussion for the clearer understanding he craves.