WHO IS AFRAID OF RESTRUCTING AND TRUE FEDERALISM?
BY UBAKA OKOFU
There is no doubt that the issue of restructuring has been on the front burner of national discourse. It’s equally true that restructuring would guarantee true federalism and devolution of power between the federal government and the federating states, and the call to restructure Nigeria predated the inception of this administration that came into power on May 29th, 2015.
The President has been criticized for being averse to the idea of restructuring Nigeria. This, he has also denied. The President’s evasive approach to the burning issue has given him out as being opposed to restructuring, and possibly give Nigerians a new constitution. To add to the foregoing, is the President’s eerie silence over the reports / recommendations of the National Conference which was convened in 2014 by his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
The conference was inaugurated on the 17th of March, 2014, and was headed by Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi. Every ethnic interest and professional body in the country made up the 492 delegates that was attendance. Members sat and brainstormed on every issue of political concern in the country. At the end of which a 10, 375 page report was put together and presented to President Goodluck for action.
It has been stated that the reason the Goodluck administration could not implement the recommendations of the conference was primarily because he had run out of time. Electioneering was in full swing for the 2015 Presidential election, and President Goodluck had more to do to win a second term in office with his vice, Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
But Goodluck lost the election to Mohammadu Bahari of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) and the recommendations were instantly swept under the carpet for the infamous reason that the report did not come from the appropriate legislative body with the constitutional power to tinker and make law for the country. What President Buhari didn’t know is that the National Conference that was inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan on the 17th of March, 2014 had all the powers in the Prelude to the 1999 Constitution (2011 as amended ), and that the only thing needed to be done to make the report operative is the ratification of the report by a joint session of the National Assembly.
Most Nigerians are not surprised that President Mohammadu Buhari had persistently refused to see the need for a complete restructuring of the present political arrangement in the country. Why the President is still adamant and not yielding to plethora of deepen calls for restructuring is better imagined. It is believed that the call for true federalism and devolution of power between the central government and the component state government would further expose the non viability and economic sterility of some states in the northern part of the country where the President hails from.
For the umpteenth time, Nigerians have clearly shown that the present constitutional arrangement was faulty and could no longer sustain the almost broken down political union between the various ethnic divide in the country. The unimaginable depth of suspicion and the level at which some sections of the country are agitating for secession have also deepened reasons why Mr. President should do the needful and save the country from total collapse.
With 17 months to the expiration of this administration, the body language of Mr. President as well as those of his kitchen cabinet has shown clearly that restructuring or a holistic amendment of the 1999 Constitution by the present administration was dead on arrival.
It’s not only sad but unpatriotic that in the cold face of rampant secessionist agitations from several parts of the country which include the Ijaws of Niger Delta, the Igbos of South East and the Yorubas of South West, President Buhari has continued to evince clear intentions that he would not heed the calls to restructure by supporting the amendment of the defective 1999 Constitution to reflect true federalism and how Nigerians should live as one indivisible entity even in their diversity.
Instructively, there have been more calls for constitutional reforms from the southern part than the northern part of the country where the President and key members of his cabinet hail from. It was argued that the unnatural silence of the President on the much talked about constitutional reforms, perhaps was because the President hails from the northern part of the country that has been a major beneficiary of the lopsidedness of the defective 1999 Constitution. Primarily, those from the Niger Delta region which has been the mainstay of the Nigerian unfederal federation had continually frowns at the present reap off by most states in the north that contributed little or nothing to the federation, yet share from the federation’s account monthly.
It is under this same spirit that Governor Nyesom Wike of River had to drag the federal government to court over why some states should have a greater share of the VAT derived from within Rivers State, even over and above that allocated to Rivers. itself It’s imperative to note that a huge chunk of what is shared as VAT comes from alcoholic and beverage companies that have been banned by the Sharia-driven Hisbah Police from operating in some northern states. The basis of sharing of resources and the federal character spirit have long been vilified . The question has also been asked, why would anyone act the stumbling block to a system that is richly empowering the people of his region? It’s most likely that President Buhari or any northern President that is fanatical would support fiscal federalism.
Last Democracy Day, June 12th, 2021 to be precise, President Buhari on national television was unpretentious when he insinuated that Nigerians were going to see and hear the last on the calls for restructuring. He lied again when he told Nigerians that his administration was not averse to constitutional reforms but would play a crucial role in the process even though he had no intentions to usurp the power of the National Assembly in that regard. The truth is, if the President is not aversive to constitutional reforms by being evasive on who should do what, why allow the report of 2014 National Conference to gather dust ?
If the responsibility to give Nigerians a new constitution as several opinion polls have shown, why is the presidency acting as a clog to the expected reforms? If the President knows that only the National Assembly can deal with restructuring or outright amendment, he should atleast support the call by a majority of Nigerians to restructure the country.
Being double-faced and evasive are clear signals that neither Mr. President Buhari nor members of his cabinet are disposed to restructuring. His refusal to sign the Electoral Act ( Amendment) Bill 2021 to law after it has gone through both chambers of the National Assembly is evident that the President is indeed averse to any reform. ‘He is simply not the one. Let us wait for another.’