Restructuring: An idea that refuses to die

Saraki, Akinrinade and Nwabueze

Against the backdrop of the renewed clamour for restructuring of the country as part of the solutions to its problems of instability and weak statehood, Associate Editor, KUNLE ODEREMI, examines the issues and the proffered ways out in this report.

 

HITHERTO, post-1999 general election years had provided the veritable opportunity for Nigeria to have a systemic restructuring. The groundswell of opposition against further military rule that culminated in the return to civil governance created an ample room for main stakeholders in the Nigerian project to review the quasi-federalism imposed on the country.

Of the four main parties constitutionally empowered to field candidates for the elections, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was in good stead to champion and lead and possibly actualise the restructuring agenda. Having been founded on the issue of national question, the euphemism for critical issues constituting a stumbling block for Nigeria’s attainment of a nation-state, the party regarded as a child of circumstance, moved briskly to put the restructuring Nigeria in the front-burner towards giving it legal and constitutional teeth.

The AD won all the major elections to the National Assembly, governorship seats and the state Houses of Assembly in the six states making up the South-West. Therefore, the issue of restructuring became a cardinal aim and objective of all the major political actors from the zone with even the state legislative arms in the zone passing motions to that effect, which was carried to the National Assembly by representatives of the zone in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Though the lawmakers vigorously utilised the instrument of lobbying to push the idea in the National Assembly, the hawks from the other five zones of the country conspired to shoot down the idea even before it arrived. The conspiracy was made more possibly because of the treachery of the executive arm of government at the federal level under the behemoth called the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which controlled majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as had the entire South-South and the South-East under its firm grip.

The setback suffered by the aggressive Movement for Restructuring was most painful to the acolytes of the AD because the cabal at the centre famous for Machiavellian antics capitalised on the political naivety and inordinate ambition of the few uncanny and less perceptible in the top echelon of the party to weaken the AD machinery and rising profile as the bastion of change in the architecture of the weird federal system.

Thereafter, the enemies of AD stepped up the holistic implementation of a script designed by the vicious clique in the corridors of power, in concert with a few collaborators from the South-West to castrate the party. Having orphaned the AD by first, decapitating it by conquering the political space in the region, the restructuring agenda became a matter put in abeyance. But like that cynical advert on Volkswagen beetle car, the idea has refused to die, as the wind of restructuring has voraciously resonated over the years, gaining a geometric ascendance within in the subconscious of even the greatest hitherto anti-restructuring forces in the North, South-South, South-East, no thanks to the tenacity of purpose by pro-democracy and human rights groups and individuals.

Blinded-folded by the aura of power, coupled with pecuniary interest and pecks of office, virtually all the governors of the other zones in the South in the past attached no relevance to the demand for restructuring. Even when the concept of quarterly meetings among Southern governors, which was primarily designed to forge a common front on critical issues of national importance began, party affiliation obscured the demand for restructuring, as the governors from the few oil-rich states played down the idea, even though it encompassed majorly fiscal federalism and devolution of power. The apathy and indifference among the Southern governors, especially of the PDP stock between 1999 and 2005 to be precise, denied the country of yet another chance to form a formidable bloc that could have crystallised into a national lobby group on the restructuring agenda.

Whereas pro-democracy bodies like NADECO, PRONACO, The Patriots,  Afenifere, OPC, National Reformation Movement (MNR), as well as individuals as Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, to name a fought for and pushed the restructure agenda, the ruling PDP and its allies in power unequivocally spoke against the subject matter. After all, the overall mission of the party is “to qualitatively transform the Nigerian economy and society,” without reference to the contraption called federalism foisted on Nigeria by the military oligarchy.  Diametrically, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which rose on the crest of populism to oust PDP has restructuring as part of its cardinal objectives, going by the party’s manifesto, it became secondary in the overall change agenda of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.  The countenance of the APC is a sharp contrast to the mission statement of the governing party as contained in its manifesto. It states: “Our mission is to construct and institute a progressive state anchored on social democracy, where the welfare and security of the citizenry is paramount.

As progressives, we believe that Nigeria is greater than any individual or the sum of her Federating Units, therefore the country can only succeed when all of us have equal rights, where no one is above the law, where the culture of impunity is abolished and where there is level playing field.

“Those compatriots who have lost faith in our dear country because of insufficient and corrupt leadership; count on us for we represent an Agent of change for committed, transparent and focused leadership.

“As a change Agent, APC intends to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan for post-oil-economy in Nigeria.

“To achieve this laudable programme APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the center.

“In sum, we subscribe to and shall preserve the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as enshrined in chapter two of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”

Similarly, the attitude of the National assembly has also been passive on restructuring until last week when the Senate passed a motion asking the Presidency to forward a copy of the final report of the 2014 National Conference (Confab) to the apex law-making organ of government. The request for the 2014 confab reports followed submissions made to that effect by senators mostly of the APC extraction during the debate on the motion, entitled: The need for National Unity and Peaceful Coexistence in Nigeria, sponsored by Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe), and co-sponsored by 106 others. Senator Lawan’s motion had four prayers which were all taken, but there was an additional prayer by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia North), that the Federal Government be urged to urgently forward the report of the 2014 Conference to the National Assembly for deliberation. According to him, “we must, as a nation, address those issues that gave rise to agitation, Nigeria must be a nation that is based on justice and equity.”

The dimension of the agitation by the promoters of Biafra, has thrust to the public domain the issue of plebiscite or referendum. But it has also forced some observers to fault initial approach and methodology adopted by the pro-Biafra groups. Various ethnic-based groups like the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), which have consistently expressed utter disgust with the present federal set up, had largely adopted passive resistance as opposed to extra judicial procedures. The clamour for restructuring, however, took the dimension of a hurricane, following the threat of relocation issued by a coalition of Arewa youths to persons of Igbo extraction resident in the 19 states in the Northern part of the country. one of the spiraling effects is the  preponderance of ethnic groups that have birthed from different directions professing diverse agenda along with restructuring.

Faced by these realities, APC governors have also keyed into the demand for restructuring as the resurgence is taking the shape of an impending conflagration, owing to official ambivalence. This against the background of the rash of such knotty national issues like over centralization of powers; creation of local government creation; fiscal federalism; immunity  clause; sharia law; state police; revenue generation and allocation; citizenship; lopsided appointments. These and many other contentious issues predicated the convening of the 2014 national conference. In a statement on the state of the nation, the governors urged ethnic agitators and militant groups to demand good governance and effective service delivery at all levels, as opposed to promoting a divisive agenda. In the statement entitled, There has to be a nation first, they said that the demands for restructuring and true federalism were achievable by adjusting the federal system. Their words: “It appears that demands framed by different groups in terms of political restructuring or true federalism can be met through adjustment in Nigeria’s federal system. Although such adjustment will not on its own address the root and branch of Nigeria’s challenges, it is worth pursuing in order to meet the demands of various Nigerian groups. The focus of this restructuring is to restore the principle of non centralisation of power in the country’s federal arrangement being the defining element of a federal polity. “Alongside the imperative of political and fiscal decentralization, contiguous states can pool resources to address common development challenges and embark on projects that can have maximum effect and efficiency through endevours. Where possible, and agreed upon, a regional approach to development issues that take cognisance of existing comparative advantages within the existing regions as the initiatives in the Southwest has demonstrated.” Alongside addressing the issues of structures in the Nigerian federalism and the mode of allocation of resources among the constituent elements, there is the need to address deficit in governance and politics accountability.”

 

2014 Confab recommendations

Some of the major resolutions of the 2014 National Conference, most of which were arrived at by consensus among the about 500 delegates included:

Resource Control/Derivation Principle/Fiscal Federalism

The Conference noted that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, require some technical details and consideration. It recommended that government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advise government accordingly.

Public Finance/Revenue Allocation

That the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5%. That the percentage given to population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced while that assigned to Social Development sector be increased to a much higher percentage so as to ensure accelerated development of all parts of the country.

Forms of Government

Recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. The president shall pick the vice president from the Legislature. The President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30% of his ministers from outside the Legislature. Reduce Cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary.

Legislature

2014 National Conference: Bi-cameral legislature, but all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on part-time basis

Power Sharing/Rotation

Recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

Local Government

Local Government will no longer be the third tier of government. The federal and states are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor. The Constitution should fix the tenure for Local Government Councils at three years. Conference recommends the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs.

Immunity Clause

2014: The immunity clause should be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.

Independent Candidacy

It recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate.

Governance

The creation of the office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation shall oversee the accruals of revenue into and disbursement from the Federation Account as and when due; and shall administer these funds as required by the Constitution, while the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government shall oversee the accounts of the Federal Government.

Anti-corruption:

A Special Courts to handle corruption cases should be established in the light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts. A non-conviction-based asset forfeiture law should be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all

Land Tenure Act

The Land Tenure Act should remain in the Constitution but be amended to take care of those concerns, particularly on compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read “land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value

Religion

The Conference recommended that there will be no government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands. It also resolved that churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.

Public concern

The volte face being exhibited by the APC governors appears to underscore the views of some eminent persons and constitutional lawyers on the complexity of issues pulling the country apart. These issues necessitated some individuals advocating a total surgical operation of the Nigerian Constitution. One of those advocates is Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), a leading authority on constitutional issues. He believes that unless a particular fundamental problem in the super-structure of the country is squarely resolved, the country might be begging the matter in its quest to evolve a New Nigeria. He insists: “To build a house, you must redesign the super structure. If the super-structure is not right, the edifice must wobble continuously, as Nigeria has been wobbling since it was built by the British colonialists. The super-structure of a state, like Nigeria, is its constitution.”

The disinterest of the APC administration towards the Confab report irked a leader of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Lieutenant General Alani Akinrinade (retd). He could not reconcile the aversion of the leading light in the APC government for restructuring of the country.  He noted that the party came to power based on its promise to restructure Nigeria in line with the principle of federalism. “First, the APC must be told, in no uncertain terms that it is fraudulent. They led us down the garden part, lying to us about what is in the end of the tunnel. What was in the end of the tunnel was restructuring and each one of them, the party chairman, the president, his vice, and in that order, are all talking from the other side of their mouths now. In other words, they lied to us in 2015 before the election. My message to them is, they should embark on a very major exercise now to restructure the country, otherwise, how they propose to settle the crisis in the South-South because it is becoming embarrassing?”

A senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN), Mr Femi Falana has also chastised the administration for lack of sincere about its commitment to restructuring. He singled out the comment of the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed to the effect that restructuring was not a part of Buhari’s programme. “Last week, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said restructuring is not in the program of President Buhari. Let me refer Alhaji Mohammed and the government of President Buhari to the manifesto of the APC, the first paragraph of that manifesto. The APC manifesto says, ‘the government will 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.” The fiery lawyer also had harsh words for former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar for ignoring the demands for restructuring during their tenure. He said: “Alhaji Atiku Abubaker, who is now a front liner for this campaign [restructuring], please don’t be deceived; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former President Olusegun Obasanjo were in power for eight years. They let the status quo remain and the question of restructuring was not one of the bases of their quarrel. Political restructuring without economic restructuring is not a panacea to our problem.”

However, the pan-northern organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is vehemently opposed to restructuring of the country, accusing the proponents of harbouring a hidden agenda. It said the existing democratic structure provided the needed template for groups and individuals to present their agitations through their representatives at the National and state Houses of Assembly, just as it described the agitation for restructuring as “diversionary and misplaced priority.” According to the group, “Restructuring” means different things to many people, with some believing it to mean “true” federalism, while others call it “resource control.” It added that “restructuring a complex, big, and diverse country as Nigeria is a serious business that must take account of the views of all its citizens, and not just of those that shout the loudest, or issue threats, intimidation or blackmail.”

But pore poignant is the view of the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Professor Ango Abdullahi, on the confab report. The former vice chairman of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, said he rejected his nomination as a delegate to the 2014 National Conference the delegates did not emerged through a democratic process. “I have attended the 1986/87 Babangida’s constitutional conference; I also attended the 1994/95 Abacha conference. I also attended the political reform conference of Obasanjo.

“The only conference I refused to attend was the Jonathan conference. I call it Jonathan conference. I do not hide my feelings on that for obvious reasons. All the conferences I attended were conferences where delegates were elected from their various constituencies, and they gave the feeling that they were representing people from their various constituencies. And that was the different from Jonathan’s conference,” he said.

This semblance of resistance against the confab report has not vitiated what a number of delegates that conference regard as the panacea to the intermittent threat to the corporate existence of the country. They have formed a powerful lobby group involved in serious consultations nationwide to drum support for the demand for the implementation of the recommendations of the conference. In their opinion, “Many of the issues threatening our corporate existence today would have become a thing of the past if we had implemented the report of the conference. We therefore state unequivocally that implementing the report is the minimum irreducible to move Nigeria forward and build a country that works for all its citizens.” The list of such delegates include Chief Olu Falae  (Chairman, South-West Delegates );  Gen. Akinrinade; Dr. Kunle Olajide,  Chief Ayo Adebanjo;  Pastor Tunde Bakare; Dr. Amos Akingbade;  Senator Femi Okunrounmu;  Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu;  Chief Ajibola Ogunshola;  Senator Rasheed Ladoja; Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa; Gen. Raji Rasaki (retd.);  Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele;  Mr. Niyi Akintola (SAN); Honourable. Adegoke Salvador and  Mr. Lanre Ogundipe.

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