In yet another pointer that the President is oblivious of the harsh political realities in Nigeria, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari recently declared that patriots who are calling for a restructuring of the country are ‘parochial and seek a personal agenda.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth. He should read the report of the Governor Nasir El-Rufai Committee which his own party set up last year and realise that he is out of tune with his own political party. The President needs to be reminded that he was elected to implement the wishes of the people on true federalism which his political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had canvassed during the 2015 general elections.
Certainly, President Buhari is tragically misreading the mood of this nation. The people are angry that he has woefully failed to deal with the worsening security situation. As if adding the proverbial salt to injuries, he appears to seek to foist a rigid centre-controlled structure on the polity. The question Nigerians are asking, and which he must answer beyond anti-corruption rhetoric and a few symbolic actions aimed at combating the cankerworm of incipient corruption is: what do you want to do with Nigeria Mr. President?
Buhari dismissed calls for restructuring while receiving the leadership of an ethnic union, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) led by the 101year-old Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom HRM Dr. Richard Laiyeguen Ogbon Ogoni-Oghoro and UPU President-General, Olorogun Moses Taiga from Delta State. The UPU, like some other groups in the nation had called on the President to yield to the aspirations of the Nigerian people by restructuring the country. It will be recalled that other groups such as Ohaeneze Ndigbo, PANDEF and Afenifere had in the past urged the President to restructure the political and financial architecture of the country. But the President has decidedly given the issue a bad name in order to dismiss it.
A poignant point to be made is that even the El Rufai-led APC Committee on true federalism recommended steps to be taken to assuage feelings across the country. The Committee made well-considered recommendations on delegation principle, fiscal federalism, state police, devolution of powers and sharing of resources between state, federal and local governments, federating units, power sharing and rotation, resource control, state realignment and border adjustments and many other points. In the preamble, the report noted that “at the end of our rigorous research, debates and deliberations, we came up with 24 items that Nigerians have indicated views that balance our federation.’ If the President does not know, these are the issues Nigerians are calling on him to re-visit. Excepts he thinks the El Rufai Committee is parochial too.
While receiving the report in January 2018, then APC chairman Chief Odigie-Oyegun observed: “From the presentation of the chairman of this committee, everyone now has an idea of what the APC stands for when they say true federalism” and he promised that the ‘report is going to get expeditious consideration by the party.’ Nearly seven months after that exercise, the APC is yet to issue a definite statement or take any concrete position while the President contrived to advertise a mind-boggling ignorance and ambivalence for a purpose he alone knows. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has also supported restructuring. It stands to reason that some forces within the party are opposed to the will of the people as presented by the grassroots study by the El-Rufai Committee.
Beyond the recommendations of the committee, this newspaper has repeatedly called on the president to provide a forum for Nigerians to review the terms and conditions of the Nigerian federation. The current arrangement is NOT working. The virulent security issues, the weakened economy, the lack of faith in the Federal Government are symptoms of the failure of the current structural arrangement. The Guardian has recommended that the government could start by dealing with the low hanging fruits on the restructuring tree. State police, power devolution, education, fiscal federalism and mines and minerals are examples of issues that the government can easily handle. On mines and minerals, the APC committee recommended that oil fields, oil mining, geological and natural gas should be on the concurrent list.
President Buhari seems to be doing a cold calculation and gamble that he could win the 2019 Presidential elections without listening to the voice of the people. There is no certainty about that. If indeed he wishes to be remembered positively in the history of Nigeria, this is the time to move away from rigidity reminiscent of his military days and toe the path of democracy. It is time to take a bold action that will etch his name in gold as one of the architects of modern Nigeria. The divisive rhetoric which he seems to promote by sticking to the lopsided nature of the federal system has not helped the nation. Policing the nation from Abuja has failed. The sheer size of Nigeria and its plural nature makes it unreasonable for anybody to think that a central command and control system will take the nation to the Promised Land.
If the President is not in agreement with his own political party, if he is not in agreement with the Nigerian people, then he is alone inside a boat on a troubled sea. On restructuring, Mr. President is dead wrong in his expressed view. Proponents of restructuring are not parochial. It is those like him who do not see the urgent need for a restructuring of the country along the lines of State Police, fiscal federalism, devolution of power to the states as suggested by the APC committee that are palpably parochial. President Buhari should listen to the people and do what is right.
Finally, all politicians who occupy elective offices must do the right thing. They are obliged to speak truth to power and save the nation from sliding into anarchy and implosion. It is no sign of loyalty to keep silent in the face of overwhelming dissatisfaction with the policies of a government which, it must be reiterated, was voted into power with so much good will and expectation but which are being frittered away by the day. Once again, the President is patently wrong to brand as being parochial patriots who have called for a tinkering with the existing wobbly and fraudulent federal structure.