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By Charles Nwaneri
Many Nigerians, concerned about the slow progress of the nation since independence in 1960, and desirous of giving the country a new lease of life via restructuring the federation by devolving more powers and responsibilities to the constituent parts have at various times and for long, called for the restructuring of the country.
By restructuring, these concerned Nigerians want a situation whereby more freedom is allowed the constituents to be in charge of their affairs while the central government retains control of only those areas of national affairs where sovereignty confers superiority and exclusive jurisdiction on the Central government. In a restructured system, the constituent units would have more control over their local resources and endowments and exploit these for their benefit, paying only royalty and taxes to the central authority. This means that in such a federation, unlike what we have now, states or federating units would be less dependent on the central authority for revenue and their pace of development.
With less revenue and authority, the attraction of the center would be reduced while the economic and development action will be more at the constituent levels thus reducing competition for power and control at the center.
Something close to a weak center obtained in the 1960’s when Nigeria operated the Parliamentary system of government, anchored on the regions with latter being the constituent parts of the then Federation. The then powerful regions dictated and decided the pace of politics and economic development. In fact, at that time, the regions were engaged in healthy rivalry for development as none depended on the central government for funding rather each paid taxes to the center when they export their agricultural products which was the mainstay of the nation’s economy. However, while there are many voices clamouring for restructuring, there is no consensus as to the degree; time or even in what sectors of national life these important changes should take place, though the sector of State Police has dominated national discourse for some time.
Since the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar renewed his clarion call for the restructuring of the country, at a book launch last week in Abuja, a Pandora box of sorts have been opened among Nigerians.
No sooner that the Turaki Adamawa made this call, influential organisations and individuals in the country joined the call for or against. The Igbo socio-political group, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, the Yoruba Afenifere of the South West and some prominent individuals queued behind the former Vice President.
While the call made by the former Vice President was not totally new as he has made similar calls in the past, which he admitted himself, the recent call was given added impetus because of developments in the country that indicate that all is not well with the nation. Atiku’s restructuring call came at a time when there are separatist agitations in the South east and the South south as well as pervasive insecurity, kidnapping and armed robbery in other parts of the country. The issue and the true state of affairs means that a lot is going wrong with the country added to the threat of recession in the nation’s economy and reduced revenue for the running of government business.
Going by the above, critical minded people felt that the call by the former Vice President was somewhat directed at the ruling party and President Buhari especially when the Turaki Adamawa stated in the course of the call that “the country has a leadership that has not only failed to learn from the past, but is unwilling to lead”!
It is strange and a surprise that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, to which the former Vice President belongs do not see the issue of restructuring from the same prism as the former Vice President who is one of its leaders. Thus the response of the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, that the party and government at the moment is saddled with more important economic and social issues to be bordered about restructuring, is an attempt to shy away from addressing an issue which is daily becoming necessary for the future and survival of the country. But Chief Oyegun cannot afford to play the ostrich and needs reminding that restructuring to devolve powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments “in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit” and state police, among others are enshrined in the party’s own constitution. The question is if the APC does not do what it has elected to do on its volition now, when will it fulfill that obligation?
It is gratifying however, that the APC national chairman and the President’s spokesman acknowledged that the manifesto of the party had a provision on restructuring of the country to deal with certain community-based issues. The grouse of these two men with the position of Atiku Abubakar is that the time is not auspicious to deal with restructuring. While to a large extent, it could be said that the Buhari government has immediate and pressing economic issues to deal with to rescue the large population of Nigerians from looming economic adversity, this writer is of the view that it should give a serious thought to the position of the former Vice President on this important Constitutional matter.
In fact, viewed critically, restructuring of the country in a way that will collapse the present unviable and unwieldy 36 state structure into regions with greater autonomy, is the panacea to much of the headaches presently disturbing the Federal Government.
The APC and the government need to see Nigerians like the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and others in favour of restructuring of the nation, as friends and partners in progress who have the well-being of our country at heart, and set machinery in motion to actualize this all important political and constitutional task. The fact that the manifesto of the ruling party, made reference to it means that it is an idea whose time has come and the party leadership owe Nigerians the duty of seeing it through.
Charles Nwaneri, a political economist writes from Maitama, Abuja.
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