By: Tunde Rahman
The debate about the expediency – or otherwise – of restructuring has increasingly become a top-drawer issue, gaining momentum by the day and suggesting that it may be one of the dominant issues of the 2019 election. The main political parties in the country are now more or less, in my estimation, obliged to clearly state their stand on the issue to be taken seriously in the next poll. The ruling All Progressives Congress, which had been rather lukewarm about the matter despite having devolution of power as a precept in its constitution, has hit the road with its committee collating the views of its members across the country on restructuring. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party is also said to be weighing in on the issue. On September 7, many Yoruba leaders and leaders of socio-political groups in the South-west gathered in Ibadan, the region’s political capital, to state their position on restructuring. The highpoints of the deliberation contained in their 16-point communiqué include a return to the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, both of which espoused the regional structure and granted wide powers to the regions. Also canvassed was overhaul of the revenue allocation formula that will see 50% going to states, 35% to the proposed regional governments and 15% to the central government.
While it must be emphasized that it was not every stakeholder in Yorubaland that attended the summit let alone agreed with the entire proposition, the question whether this makes the submission any less valid is a moot point. In the North, some of the region’s leaders including governors are also talking and demanding devolution of powers and other variants of restructuring. Also, the National Assembly, which had curiously dumped devolution of power as an item on its constitution review plan, is now having a rethink.
The fact that political leaders and stakeholders are talking and complaining loudly about the present political structure suggests, in my view, that something is awfully wrong with our situation and that an urgent remedy is required. And I think we are gradually getting to that point where we must confront the problem. At every turn, the popular mantra is now restructuring. Until last weekend, the question which has been on nearly every lip is this: When would the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, speak about the issue? After bidding his time, putting together his views, consistent with what he has always stood and fought for over time, Asiwaju eventually unfolded his position last Saturday in a keynote address as Principal Guest of Honour at the 2017 Annual Dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association (KCOBA). That speech was further proof that Tinubu knows when to speak and how to do it with some aplomb. As one commentator on a national television succinctly put it last week: “Knowing when to speak and how to speak should now be added to the worth of Asiwaju Tinubu, widely regarded as a consummate politician, strategist and administrator”.
Asiwaju spoke on both the economic and political imperatives of the moment. It was a landmark speech, highlights of which bear restating here. In the lecture entitled ‘A New Nigeria or A Better One: The Fitting Tools of A Great Repair,’ Asiwaju left no one in doubt that he desired a better Nigeria for the people. “What I seek is a better Nigeria. I care not whether something is old or new but whether it shall make us better”. He lamented that a nation as diverse as ours had not taken the time to give our legal marriage its proper functional underpinning. “We all lined up to call ourselves Nigerian without gathering to discuss what it meant. Thus, we inhabit a nation that has not sufficiently defined its governance. We may be defined by political borders and boundaries but we have not glued ourselves to collective purpose and vision. Too many of us are born in Nigeria but not of it”.
Nigerians, he said, must listen to those clamouring for secession to determine what they actually mean, explaining that many secessionists cry separation because their personal ambitions would be better served by such. Expressing his belief in one Nigeria, he argued that breaking up the country would solve no problems. He concedes, however, that some problems remain in the nation which needs to be fixed. “That I am a foe of disunity does not mean I have blinded myself to the truth that our nation is in need of great repair,” he said. “We all see the nation for what it is. Some look further to see the nation for what it is not and they rush to condemn it. I choose to see the nation for what it can be and thus seek to nurture and cultivate it so that this Nigeria may bring forth the fullest blossoming of its riches, resources and ingenuity of its diverse people”.
Asiwaju’s thematic prognosis outlines a foundation for a new Nigeria. And despite the evident brilliance, he would rather see it as his humble initial contribution to the long overdue discourse on how to mould and shape our political economy. He condemned Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil revenue and on the rent-seeking behaviour such revenues encourage. “Even at the best of times and with the highest of oil prices, the economy was characterized by imbalance and inefficiency. Widespread poverty, gross inequality and massive unemployment described the condition”.
Among his many remarkable prescriptions were the creation of an industrial capacity that employs large numbers of people and manufactures a significant quantity of goods for domestic consumption; national industrial policy that fosters development of strategic industries that create jobs as well as spur further economic growth; focus on manufacturing things that Nigerians and the rest of the world value and want to buy; institution of a policy of tax credits; subsidies that insulate critical sectors from the negative impact of imports and lowering of interest to make credit available for business investments and consumer credit accessible to the average person.
Others included a national infrastructure plan, addressing the power problem to obtain this vital ingredient to economic vitality, government-backed home mortgage system, re-invigoration of agriculture with the reintroduction of commodity exchange boards and agric mortgage loan corporation to help the common farmer to improve output and income and a re-calibration of the revenue sharing formula in order to give more funds to the states. Noting that the central government was doing things the states can do better, the APC leader said giving heed to the recommendations above will keep the federal government busy. It was at this point that he restated his often-stated call for true federalism. He argued that the imbalance between the roles of the federal and state governments lies at the root of the nation’s difficulties.
Moving many of the 68 items in the Exclusive List to the Residual List as was the case in the 1963 Constitution will help ensure true federalism, he said. These items include police, prisons, stamp duties, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, trade, commerce and census. He said those eager to dispense with federalism in favour of “more rash and impractical remedies should allow us to first truly practice federalism before we deem it a failure”.
Sadly, it has to be said though that the reportage of this speech in one or two newspapers and commentaries by a few on social media seemed to have misconstrued some of Asiwaju Tinubu’s standpoints. A few clarifications would suffice here in that regard, as restructuring has now become a coat of many colours with many espousing diverse and often self-serving versions of what they term restructuring. First, Asiwaju’s advocacy has always been for a true federalism. What he seeks is a re-balancing of the roles between the federal and state governments to give more powers to the states to perform their responsibilities as obtained in the 1963 Constitution. The APC leader is convinced that the ongoing debate is healthy for the country and should help produce a better system for Nigeria.
Second, when Tinubu noted that not all change could be deemed to be good, it was neither meant to disparage the APC which he helped found, nor a denunciation of the party’s change mantra as insinuated by some on social media. That was sheer mischief. He spoke in a context which clearly highlighted that what he sought for the country was a better Nigeria and that whether something was old or new was immaterial to him. For the avoidance of doubt, this is what he said: “What I seek is a better Nigeria. I care not whether something is old or new but whether it shall make us better. Not all change is good. Not every new thing shall be kind to us. Yes, Nigeria must change, but some of the changes we need cannot be bought at the store of the new. Many things we need are shelved in the warehouse of the old. Just as we must learn new things on one hand, we must remember vital old wisdom on the other”.
Taking the comment of anyone, particularly leaders, that points a way forward out of context would not help the ongoing democratic discourse. Their views should be properly captured. Asiwaju’s paper has been published in full by some of our national newspapers. The speech is on the internet and can also be glimpsed on his Twitter handle.