New Telegraph

Restructuring: Awaiting Tinubu’s Action Plan

FELIX NWANERI reports on calls for restructuring of Nigeria and expectations that the Bola Tinubu administration will tinker with the nation’s present governance structure in order to set it on the path of progress

The clamour for restructuring Nigeria has been a recurring decimal predicated on the dangers of ethnicity, religious bigotry and economic deprivation, starring the country on the face. Its advocates are of the view that Nigeria is likely to disintegrate if urgent steps are not taken to address pertinent questions of autonomy for the states; fiscal federalism to pave the way for resource control by the component units; state police and indigeneship question, among others given the growing discontentment in the polity.

The argument is that the unitary system of government presently in place under the guise of a federal system has only succeeded in creating a powerful Federal Government at the expense of the states and local governments, while some stakeholders have continued to query whether Nigeria should continue to operate the presidential system of government and a full-time legislature, among others, in the face dwindling resources.

It was also observed that high cost of governance at the various levels is partly responsible for the country’s stunted development despite abundant human and natural resources. The belief is that after deduction of running cost by the federal state and local governments, little or nothing is left for capital projects. There is a political school, whose members are of the view that a return to regionalism as the present 36-state structure is no longer sustainable.

Proponents of this arrangement are of the view that proliferation of states has continued to impede the country’s development and they made reference to India with a population of about 1.2 billion people with only 28 states, while Nigeria, with a population of about 200 million, has 36 states that are mostly unviable as evident from their inability to even pay salaries of workers.

The failure of most of the states to live up to their responsibilities, notwithstanding, some individuals and groups are still clamouring for the creation new states. Some of the demands, however, seem genuine given that they are inspired by the same concerns that preceded state creations – minority fears, inequality and skewed development. There are also calls for a re-tooling of the Nigerian federalism by tinkering with items on the Exclusive and Concurrent legislative lists as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The consensus among stakeholders is that the powers of the Federal Government should be whittled down as it seems that it is the only government in place with the 65 items it has powers on in the Exclusive Legislative List. It is against these backdrops that most stakeholders are of the view that restructuring of Nigeria cannot be more urgent than now that the nation is faced with existential threats.

For instance, the scary security situation has not only prompted some geopolitical zones to opt for self-help by establishing security outfits as the nation has failed to perform its core function of protecting its citizens, but has seen some state governors proposing that citizens should take up arms and defend themselves against bandits, insurgents and other criminal elements.

However, despite the inherent gains of restructuring, there are some stakeholders, who believe that the call is ill-motivated. While members of this political school predicated their position on the fear of disintegration, calls for restructuring keep resonating across the country.

Botched moves to restructure Nigeria

There is no doubt that Nigeria’s fragmentation predates independence given her over 300 ethnic groups. However, there have been efforts by successive administrations to cement the crack by bringing Nigerians together to discuss on national issues but such talks failed to meet the peoples’ expectations and as a result, their reports/recommendations ended up in the archives. Such discourse include the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference (CC) by the regime of late General Sani Abacha and the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), convoked by then President Olusegun Obasanjo and the 2014 National Conference convoked by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

The 2014 National Conference was packaged by a 13-member Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu and the 492 delegates selected from across the country for the confab were inaugurated on March 17, 2014. Headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Idris Kutigi, the conference was originally billed to last three months but was granted one month extension.

It concluded commit- tee sittings and plenary sessions in mid-July after which delegates went on a short break to enable the conference’s secretariat compile the report. The delegates returned to approve the draft report after which it finally wound up following a motion by Second Republic Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Richard Akinjide, and seconded by Yadoma Mandara, who was the youngest delegate.

Consequently, its report was submitted to then President Jonathan on August 21, 2014. The conference was tested by some thorny national issues such as resource control, derivation principle, Land Use Act, national security among others, but at the end of deliberations, the delegates were able to reach common grounds on most of the issues by consensus and they made some far-reaching recommendations.

The 22-volume report of the confab, totaling 10,335 pages contained about 600 resolutions. Top among the recommendations were the creation of 18 new states; three per geo-polit- ical zone and an additional state for the South-East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North-West which has seven. It also recommended that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.

On resource control/ derivation principle/fiscal federalism, the conference recommended that the Federal Government should set up a technical committee to determine the appropriate percentage on issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development.

It also recommended 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 percent, state governments – 35 percent and local governments 22.5 percent, while the percentage given to population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula should be reduced. On forms of government, the confab recommended what it termed “Modified Presidential System,” a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government.

According to the recommendation, the president shall pick the vice president from the legislature; should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geopolitical zones and not more than 30 per cent of his ministers from outside the legislature. It also recommended for a reduction in the cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary; endorsed the bi-cameral legislature in place but recommended that all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on part-time basis and rotation of power between the North and South and among the six geopolitical zones, while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

On the contentious issue of local governments as the third tier of government, the confab recommended that the councils should no longer be the third tier of government rather the federal and states are to be the only tiers of government. It recommended that states can create as many local governments they want; the Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped, while the constitution should fix the tenure for local governments at three years.

The conference also recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs). The confab also recommended for the removal of immunity clause if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy; independent candidacy so that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections; special courts to handle corruption cases; amendment to the Land Tenure Act to take care of compensation and stoppage of governments sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands, among several others.

Jonathan not only assured that the report would be passed to the Council of State and the National Assembly for legislation, but added that the Federal Government will act on aspects of the report that require executive action. This negated initial belief that the confab recommendations would be subjected to a referendum. The then president, who also said the successful conclusion of the conference proved cynics wrong, allayed the fear that the confab report would not be implemented.

Despite the assurance on the report’s implementation and the belief among Nigerians that re- structuring will restore Nigeria to the path of progress, the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)- led government failed to commence implementation of the recommendations even those that required administrative fiat until it lost power in the 2015 general election.

The 7th National Assembly also never debated the report until it wound up, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) that boycotted the conference, confirmed the doubt of many Nigerians that the 2014 confab report will go the way of previous reports, when President Muhammadu Buhari described the conference as a misplacement of priority.

APC govt’s bid in 2017

Despite Buhari’s refusal to implement the confab report, clamour for restructuring of Nigeria not only persisted, but its advocates kept growing in numbers by the day. This, perhaps, explained why the APC set up a committee on restructuring in August 2017.

The committee initially had 10 members but its membership was later expanded to 23. The committee’s mandate was to distill the true intent and definition of true federalism as promised by the party during the campaigns for the 2015 elections, and to take a studied look on the report of the various national conferences, especially that of 2014 and come up with recommendations.

The committee headed by then governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, in the course of its duty, held town hall meetings in the six geopolitical zones and submitted its report on January 24, 2018 to the then APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Among its recommendations were re- source control, state police, control of local governments by states, constitutional amendment to allow merger of states, state court of appeal and independent candidacy.

El Rufai, who revealed that 8,014 people were engaged by the committee in the course of its research and that Nigerians indicated inter- est in 24 issues, announced that out of these 24 items, the committee made recommendation on 13 of them. As expected, doubts over the commitment of the then APC administration to restructuring were proved as nothing came out of the el-Rufai committee’s report till date.

Restructuring debate and 2023 polls

It was echoes of restructuring during the build-up for the 2023 elections as some leaders of the various ethnic nationalities insisted on not backing any candidate, whose position on restructuring was not in tandem with the stand of Nigerians even as some even insisted that restructuring should take place before the polls. Among those who expressed the position then was Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere. He said: “Any election before restructuring is an exercise in futility.”

While there is no doubt that it was time Nigeria is restructured, it was obvious then that there was no way it would be feasible to embark on such venture at the eve of a general election. However, the leading presidential candidates at that time – Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP) and Mr. Peter Obi (Labour Party) – shared their respective perspectives on restructuring with Nigerians during the campaigns.

For Tinubu, who won the election, devolution of power to the component units of the country will pave way for genuine development and growth as according to him, “the Federal Government is taking on too much. We can’t flourish with the over concentration of power in the centre. Some of the 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List should be transferred to a Residual List as it was in most of our several constitutions.”

The APC candidate (now President) premised his argument on the 1963 Constitution that conceded extensive powers to the regions because of their closeness to the people, a development, he said, enabled them to carry out im- mense responsibility as they deemed. He noted that items such the police, prisons, stamp duties, taxation, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of businesses, incorporation of business and companies, censors and traffic on federal trunk road passing through states, among others, that were transferred from the Concurrent to the Exclusive List, should be treated as state matters.

Tinubu also expressed the belief that the chronic problem of nationwide lack of electricity would be resolved if the states are allowed to generate, transmit and distribute electricity to areas not covered by the national grid, in addition to authority to issue certificate of occupancy for electricity power lines. His words: “Our system remains too centralized with too much power and money remaining within the federal might. This imbalance leads to relative state weakness.

We need to overhaul how revenues are al- located between the states and the Federal Government. I must state what for many of us may seem a novel idea. But this concept is one that has directed the fiscal policies of other nations for several decades. If we are to catch these other nations in development, it is a prerequisite that we match them in the efficiency of governmental fiscal roles and operations regarding the national government and our subnational political units.

“Given its unique currency-issuing power, the Federal Government can never be starved of the naira required to fulfill its core functions. Due to this currency power, the Federal Government does not necessarily need naira revenue to survive. The Federal Government can never be short of naira unless it creates myopic laws and regulations to so hamstrung the Federal Government. “We have been taught that such confining measures are necessary to contain inflation.

However, they have not been successful in containing inflation and in the long term probably add to inflation. What they have been being terribly efficient at is reducing growth, jobs, and development and bringing recurrent recession. “Because the Federal Government is not revenue constrained, it is just that the federal government not retain so much naira revenue to the detriment of the states. States on the other hand are naira constrained.

They can only spend what they take in as revenue. Thus, it is imperative that states are given more revenue that they can do more things. “Perhaps the single most important factor in economic development is power generation. States currently are shut out from this vital sector even though the nation suffers a paucity of power. States must be allowed to engage in power generation as long as their efforts are consistent with and do not undermine federal labors in this sector.

“If we begin these fundamental changes, then our states will become stronger, more able catalysts of economic development. By instituting true federalism, we open the door not only to prosperity but to greater democracy and openness throughout Nigeria. This will help bring peace and tranquillity where there is now tension and uncertainty about the pathway our nation is on.”

Nigerians await President to walk his talk

While most Nigerians believe that re-structuring will restore the nation to the path of progress, the question at the moment is: Will the President walk his talk in this regard? As it stands, eyes are on the President to determine whether his calls over the years for “true Federalism” were sincere or not even as some stakeholders have already set the restructuring agenda for him. Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who spoke on the issue ahead of Tinubu’s inauguration, maintained that Nigerians will not cease demanding for restructuring.

He said the Tinubu administration must place a renewed focus on the persistent calls for restructuring the Nigerian federation otherwise its programmes and policies will face serious challenges. His words: “Whoever it is must under- stand that the people of this country will not cease demanding a restructuring of this nation. New voices are being heard and they are more powerful than before. They are not just whining voices, they are voices based on actualities.

“We have failed in so many directions and they are saying, ‘let us try in this direction’ and you cannot ignore it. Otherwise, even your economic policies will fail, your infrastructure and transformation will fail. We will just go back threading the same old spur.” Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Evang. Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, who also spoke on the issue in an interview with New Telegraph, said: “The only route to progress and real development is through restructuring the polity.

The unitary structure is responsible for over 80 percent of our miseries. So, Nigeria needs to devolve powers to the federating units and see the country explode, economically. The unitary structure is retarding the growth of the country. We are only delaying the greatness of our country by delaying the restructuring of Nigeria. Therein lies the roadmap to greater Nigeria. A restructured Nigeria will make it impossible for impunity to thrive, so Nigeria has to be restructured without delay.”

The Pa Reuben Fasoranti- led pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, on its part, charged Tinubu to prioritise restructuring of Nigeria into a truly federal state. The group said: “Garnering substantial votes from five out of the country’s six geo-political zones demonstrates that the mandate given to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, is one meant to re-invent Nigeria as a truly federal yet united country.

A country in which every section and every citizen would have a sense of be- longing without regard to any other consideration such as religion, language spoken or where the person comes from and so on.

“Thus, Tinubu should embark on policies that will heal the deep wounds in the country, foster a sense of unity and love among Nigerians and work to ensure that security of lives and property is guaranteed, jobs are created for those seeking jobs, especially youths, revamp education and get the country restructured, so that each region would be in a position to deploy the creative potentials it has to the maximum.”

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