“In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the ongoing debate about ‘restructuring’. No human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments. We, Nigerians, can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.”
– President Muhammadu Buhari in his 2018 New Year Day address
Last Thursday, January 25, 2018, the Mallam Nasir el-Rufai-led 23-member committee on the All Progressives Congress idea of restructuring submitted its report to the APC chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. The APC had on August 10, 2017 set up the committee with the aim of determining the meaning and scope of restructuring for the party. It will be recalled that for a fairly long time now, there have been strident calls for reform of the country’s political economy structure. It was indeed a campaign issue ahead of the 2015 general elections so much so that the APC promised “true federalism” and “devolution of powers” in its constitution and manifesto. Unfortunately, despite the repeated demands for the party to walk the talk, there has been loud silence from the party leadership.
Ahead of the voting by National Assembly on the constitution amendment, there was high hope that the federal lawmakers would vote in support of the reform of the country. However, both chambers of the National Assembly voted against devolution of powers on July 26 and 27, 2017. This was at a point that the agitation for a referendum for self-determination by the Indigenous People of Biafra was at its peak. Shortly after the defeat of this bill came the three months’ notice to quit issued by a coalition of Arewa youth groups against Igbo living in the 19 Northern states. It was the tension generated by this face-off that made the APC, in a volte-face, to set up the el-Rufai committee.
At inauguration, the APC chairman said to the committee: “Let me emphasise that your task is both critical and very sensitive, especially in the light of the clamour for restructuring, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, resource control, and all other issues that describe the various forms of reforms that are being suggested for the restructuring of the current political architecture of our beloved nation. The APC constitution and manifesto vigorously canvass these issues and they are very elaborately provided for…It is your duty, especially having regard to the emotive nature of the national discourse on restructuring, to distil from our party’s constitution and manifesto the various ideas being canvassed in the different constitutional conferences that had been held in this country.”
It took almost six months for the party to define its position on the restructuring debate. According to el-Rufai, the committee engaged about 8,040 persons during 14 sittings throughout the federation; had 12 public consultations in all the six geopolitical zones in the country, while 409 memoranda were received from respondents. He stated further that in the process of their research, Nigerians indicated interest in 24 issues out of which the committee made recommendations on 13 in its four-volume report.
The 24 items identified by the committee and for which it carried out opinion surveys were creation of states, merger of states, state police, the derivation principle, fiscal federalism, local government autonomy, devolution of powers, type of government, independent candidacy, public holidays, the land tenure system, power sharing and rotation, type of legislature, affirmation for vulnerable groups like the physically challenged, women and youths, the minimum wage, border adjustment, secular statutes of the country, and the conduct of referendums.
Out of this lot, the committee recommended resource control, merger of states, state police and prison, State Judicial Council and State Court of Appeal, independent candidacy, public holidays, minimum wage, referendum, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, and local government autonomy. Of course, these recommendations are not devoid of their own controversies.
I applaud the effort of the APC but is it not too little too late? Why did the party wait for over two years, and for the lawmakers to vote against the party position, before embarking on this exercise? Are those recommendations already not contained in the 2014 National Conference report? Given the seeming opposition of the President and the National Assembly to devolution of powers, is the exercise not in futility? What are the next steps for the party on this report? Will the party be able to deliver on this campaign promise before the 2019 elections as being demanded by the Niger Delta Avengers?
To my own mind, this issue has become a bone in the throat of the ruling party. It can’t swallow or vomit it. The party pledged it and didn’t know or is unwilling to deliver on it. In bureaucracy, there is a phenomenon known as KIV. It means one of two things. It is either Keep in View or Kill in View. The way the APC has mishandled this restructuring request, the party either wants to keep the issue in view and re-enlist it as a campaign issue for the 2019 general elections or kill it in view by hoping that by “filibustering” (using delay tactics) the issue will die a natural death. There is no gainsaying that there is no sincerity of purpose and political will by either the APC as a party or government to do the needful before the next general elections.
The deliberate late decision of the party on this issue led to a situation where it is proposing independent candidacy and rejecting local government autonomy which had already been voted on by the National Assembly. I am of the opinion that the APC’s timing of the release of this report is to serve as a red herring. It is to distract Nigerians from what many perceive as its poor performance. The party had subtly found a way to generate a new round of controversies. What the APC has done on its purported true federalism and restructuring stance is similar to what President Buhari did when in October 2016 he set up the Senator Ken Nanmani presidential committee on electoral reform. Like the el-Rufai’s committee, that committee too sat for six months, submitted its report on May 2, 2017 to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who promised to present the report to the President. Till date, no one knows of any action or decision that has been taken on that report.
There is an adage that, “If a man deceives me once, shame on him; if he deceives me twice, shame on me.”
– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong