The 80th birthday anniversary of the former Governor of Osun State and former Chairman of All Progressive Party, APC, Chief Bisi Akande, availed Nigerians across the country an opportunity to discuss issues affecting the Nigerian federation. At a colloquium themed, “Nigerian: Achieving National Unity Through Peaceful Restructuring”, organised in honour of the octogenarian at Emeritus Professor Theophilus Oladipo Ogunlesi Multipurpose Hall, Opposite UCH, Ibadan, Oyo State on 16 January 2018, eminent Nigerians, of the current generation of politicians, examined ways at which the nation could be restructured in such a way that all the citizens would have equal opportunities.
The keynote speaker, Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who reiterated that the views he expressed at the occasion were strictly personal, noted that the colloquium topic is intended to acknowledge the political history of the celebrant and also provide a platform to discuss contemporary realities. “Chief Bisi Akande comes from a political tendency that has always been ardently federalist. The political party on whose platform he became Governor of Osun State in 1999 put restructuring as a priority, as a way of returning the country to the federal structure with which it attained independence… I hope that we can all agree that restructuring is an important matter, despite the tendency of certain sections of our elite to trivialise it with their opportunism. With all sense of responsibility, I believe some Nigerians have made a career and livelihood around “restructuring” without deep thought, or a clear plan or implementation strategy. For them, it is a tool to alienate rather than convert our compatriots to the nation-building imperative that restructuring offers. Rather than the hard graft of solving our governance problems, this group would rather grab headlines and mouth sound-bites at opportunities like this. You can almost sense that this people actually dread restructuring becoming public policy, having succeeded in living off a serious national imperative for so long. We must be mindful of this class of people”, he set the tone for his discussion.
To El-Rufai, restructuring should be about the reform and improvement of our national efficiency, explaining that reforming the nation’s governance structures is a crucial part of making the nation’s political system conducive to the pace of growth and development the country needs. He emphasized, “Along with better structures, fitted for efficiency and devolving responsibilities to the level of government best able to handle them, we must also invest in constructing a new national consensus and adapt our attitudes to uphold the values that enhance us all”.
Affirming the dysfunctionality of the nation’s federation, for which he held the military responsible, El-Rufai stated that Nigeria is operating a governance structure that is more unitary than federal, and not optimised for delivering public goods to the generality of our people. He said, “Therefore, it is not surprising that there are pressures for reform. Under British auspices, our founding fathers debated and settled for federalism as the political structure for a free and independent Nigeria. It was successfully argued that a diverse country like Nigeria could best thrive as a federation. And the political arrangements that ushered Nigeria to independence were unmistakably federalist, enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions and operationalised through strong regional governments”.
The governor lauded the political giants that led the old regions for competing to do their best for their respective people, arguing that the regional government upheld federalism. He cited the instance of the Western Region that launched the first public television service in Africa, a few years after adopting a free education policy that consolidated its head start in western education by extending universal access to the masses. He pointed out that each of the three original regions founded its own university, built industrial estates, established development finance institutions, and developed hospitality businesses, among others adding that the regional governments also tried to build the physical infrastructure needed for a modern economy.
El-Rufai argued that the termination of the First Republic in January 1966 dealt a fatal blow to democracy and federalism in Nigeria, stressing that the two comings of the military, lasting about 30 years in total, distorted Nigeria into a unitary state. He stated, “The four-year gap between the first coming of the military and their second coming saw a brief resurgence of the federal ideal. For instance, between 1979 and 1983, Lagos State, under the Awoist government of Chief Lateef Jakande, established a state university, a radio station and a television service. Other states like Kano, under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory, also followed suit establishing a state newspaper and TV station. But this was just a brief interlude in the steady degradation of federalism”.
He stated further, “In my view, the pragmatic argument for restructuring is compelling. Restructuring is not just a matter of ideology, it has become one of effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability. Societies make progress when sound and effective governance provides equal opportunities for citizens to realise their fullest potentials. It seems logical that the flexibility of federalism suits a large and heterogeneous entity like Nigeria better than the rigidity of unitarism. Our Founding Fathers realised this in the 1950s. Their military successors did not, and what was a stop-gap arrangement to prosecute the civil war became nearly permanent for three decades. The review of taxation powers in favour of the FG helped raise revenues to fund the war, but having achieved its purpose, the powers taken from the state were not swiftly repatriated. The resultant concentration of power and resources at the centre expanded the federal bureaucracy, emasculating the states in favour of a powerful centre that did very little well. By getting involved in virtually everything, the Federal Government became good at almost nothing, to everyone’s loss. The things that secure and unify our country, and make it a common space for equal citizenship, commerce, free movements of people, goods and services, should be within the purview of the Federal Government, and often, not exclusively. The Federal Government should build and sustain a stronger military and invest in the people and technology that can ensure better intelligence-gathering capacity for national security”.
El-Rufai dispelled the long held believe that northern oligarchy believes in unitary government as he argued that it was the military regime of General J T Aguiyi-Ironsi, that introduced unitary system into Nigeria polity, stating, “not only is the North ready, willing and able to embrace inclusive restructuring of our polity, but to add that those that speak loudly against it represent no one. Most of them have never held elective office, and therefore do not appreciate that the North with its natural endowments stands to be the biggest beneficiary of restructuring”.
El-Rufai called on the Federal Government to immediately devolve more powers to the states, and the states to the local governments pointing out, “Many of the challenges that confront our country are best resolved at the sub-national level. How well our children are educated in the first nine years of schooling is down to the states and local governments. Improving health outcomes for our people, easing and widening access to primary health care, providing routine immunisation to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases, guaranteeing ante-natal care and safe delivery for pregnant women are all public services that are within the powers of states and local governments. The provision of extension services to farmers, construction of feeder roads and aggregation centres for farm produce, are all state and local level functions that the Federal Government can never do very well. The devolution of more powers and responsibilities to the states creates many options for productive collaboration between state and federal governments”.
In restructuring, El-Rufai advocated state police, arguing, “I do not believe that a single, centralised police force can deliver on the necessity to visibly project state power and enforce the law in this vast country of ours with nearly 200 million people. Also, I do not believe that as far as local governments are concerned, a uniform, constitutionally-enshrined system makes sense. The diversities at the local level can best be accommodated by retaining the provisions of the Constitution requiring a democratic local government system, and leaving the structural details like the number of local governments, their boundaries and headquarters to legislation by the State House of Assembly. The total revenue allocation to all Local Governments from the Federation Account should therefore be determined and fixed, leaving it to the State House of Assembly to legislate on the vertical and horizontal sharing arrangement. The state governments can then flexibly restructure and re-design the local government system, consistent with the history, culture, demography and endowments of the state”.
He equally advocated a review of revenue sharing formula which will entail the reduction of the 52 percent being taken by the Federal Government and increase the share that goes to the states and local governments. He emphasized, “A successful restructuring will ultimately change the whole concept of revenue allocation, in the sense that states will be required to basically pay their own bills. Our states ultimately have to find and develop the revenue sources that can sustain their functions. Given the condition of many of our states, this will take some time, but it is apparent that many governors are paying closer attention to raising more internally-generated revenue”.
Winding down the lecture, the governor highlighted the recommendations of the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism, which include the rebalancing of the federation, with more powers and responsibilities devolved to the states, each state to be allowed to operate the system of local government that best suits it, upholding of derivation principle, which would be applied to hydro-power and other forms of renewable power generation, control of mineral resources be vested in the states which will pay applicable royalties and taxes to the Federal Government, which will lead to the amendment of the extant laws such as the Petroleum Act, the Mining and Minerals Act, the Land Use Act and the Petroleum Profit Tax Act.
As a result, the committee recommended that the following items be transferred to the Concurrent List and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of both the states and federal government: Police, Oil and Gas (other than offshore oil and gas in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone), Mines and Minerals (other than offshore minerals in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone), Railways, Prisons, Fingerprint and criminal identification records, Stamp Duty, Registration of Business Names, and Food, Drugs and Poisons (other than Narcotics).
The APC Committee, according to him, considers the current unitary judicial system that vests exclusive power to discipline every judge in Nigeria in the NJC as aberration that should be abolished, adding that in its place, each state should have its State Judicial Council, and the running costs of each state judiciary should be duly budgeted and appropriated by the State House of Assembly, rather than the National Assembly. “If Kaduna State needs and can afford 40 High Court judges, why should the elected leaders of the state need the permission and consent of an un-elected council in Abuja to appoint and pay them? This undue concentration of absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, as the recent revelations about the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s forgotten, undeclared bank accounts and cash balances indicate”, he stressed.
He concluded, “This country was born with so much promise. Many of those founding dreams have been sadly deferred. But I believe that we can devise a governance structure that is fit for purpose and that harnesses our best talents for the forward push. I wish to reiterate once more that restructuring represents a nation-building opportunity, giving all the parts of this country a chance to develop their resources, and to cooperate creatively. Successful restructuring depends also on our national resolve to protect the idea of a common citizenship. The rights guaranteed under the Constitution should be enjoyed by every citizen, no matter where they reside, and no matter which part of the country they hail from. A restructuring of mentality and values is a key factor in the success of a restructuring of the governance and political structure”.
In his short remark, the nation’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was the Chairman of the day, said that it is undisputable that the nation needs to be restructured, but the pattern of the restructuring is what is yet to be determined. Osibajo stated, “There is a need for the restructuring of our nation but the question is how and in what way? To achieve restructuring, we need stronger state. There is a need for devolution of power to the states. There is a need for the creation of state and community police. The point is that state must have more power and rights”.
In the same vein, discussants of the paper delivered including former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, Secretary, APC Committee on Restructuring, Senator Olu Adetunmbi, former member of National Asembly, Dr Usman Bugaje and former Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Professor Adigun Agbaje, concurred with the need for restructuring the Nation. Nnamani noted that “Restructuring is not disintegration, but an avenue for the nation to develop through the federation units. Any party regarding restructuring as its core mandate is not serious. Anyone that says he will restructure Nigeria in six months is just joking. Nigeria cannot be restructured in one year, restructuring requires consensus. Each state should be allowed to develop at its own pace. There is a lot of responsibilities that the Federal Government was overburdened with that needed to be devolved to states”. Agbaje, in his opinion felt that no nation could be properly restructured if elements of meaningful democracy are lacking stressing, “There is a need to recognise the wider context of restructuring for national unity. We have elements of democracy with deception. Our democracy is not substantive. Our elites are not strategic. Issues of poverty, weak institutions, lack of effective rule of law, lack of recognition of group rights, economic and social rights and so on are not taken into consideration”.
In his welcome address, Governor Abiola Ajimobi opined that restructuring Nigeria is a means to create a country that would work for all the citizens and ensure continued progress stressing, “I want to place it on record that the path to a continuing prosperity for this great nation to achieve true nationhood lies in forging an acceptable Constitution that will recognize the strength in each of its constituent blocs. Such Constitution will ensure a stable polity. Critically important is realizing that governance is not an end but a means to an end. The end, of course, in material term, equals to “good life” for our people”.
In an interaction with the newsmen, the celebrant, Chief Akande who expressed his happiness over good health at 80, urged the youth in the country to value education instead of striving to get rich quick.
Among those who were in attendance were: APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governors of Osun, Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Lagos, Isiaka Adegboyega Oyetola, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, Akinwunmi Ambode represented by his Deputy Governor, Dr Idiat Oluranti Adebule, former Governors of Osun Ogun and Ekiti, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Aremo Olusegun Osoba and Niyi Adebayo, Deputy Governor of Osun State, Chief Titilayo Tomori-Laoye, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Deputy Governor of Osun State, Mr. Benedict Alabi, Ayo Afolabi, APC Publicity Secretary, South West.
Others were: Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan, Most Reverend Gabriel Abegunrin, Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, His Royal Majesty, Oba Adedokun Abolarin, former Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, General Alani Akinrinade (retd.), former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, Professor Olu Aina, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), Niyi Akintola, SAN, Senator Sola Adeyeye and his wife, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Kunle Famoriyo, Chief Dosu Ladipo, Engineer Sola Akinwunmi.