By Ismail Omipidan
Most Nigerians say the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as part of its campaign promises, promised restructuring. But the party, as recent as June this year denied ever promising restructuring.
Speaking through its national chairman, Mr. John Oyegun, recently, the party noted that what it promised Nigerians was true federalism and devolution of power.
Oyegun further said that its priority, as a ruling government was not to restructure the country, but how to address the economic challenges confronting the country and put food on the table of the ordinary Nigerian and create jobs for the youths.
“When the APC manifesto was being put together, it was discussed extensively. We chose our words carefully in putting that manifesto together and we are committed to what we have said in that manifesto. But look at it this way: If you ask a Nigerian youth today, will he say his number one preference is restructuring or will he say his number one preference is a job, food on the table, economic prospect, and restoration of hope in the future?
“Will restructuring be the panacea that will solve that problem? That is the challenge we are confronted with as the APC. What is more important, to fix the economy or to embark on this political issue with all the contentious and different interpretation that the public give to it? It is very specific on the manifesto and we are not going to renege on it; no question about that. It is a matter of time,” Oyegun, declared.
But after months of dillydallying over the matter, the party appears to have succumbed to pressures from Nigerians, and appears to have taken the driver’s seat in the ongoing restructuring debate.
Interestingly however, while inaugurating the committee, Oyegun, made it clear that the party was inaugurating a committee on “True Federalism.”
But he charged the committee to review all the ideas variously referred to as “True Federalism”, “Restructuring”, “Devolution of powers”, “Regionalism”, and “Resource control” among others with a view to articulating and aligning the public position with the party’s manifesto and campaign promises.
In furtherance of the mandate handed over to the committee, secretary of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi, last week addressed told Journalists that beginning from Monday this week, the committee would hold public hearing in the six geopolitical zones of the country.
According to him, four teams had been set up, from the committee to conduct two public consultations across the zones, adding that Team one, with eight members, has the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, as leader. The team is expected to cover the South-South and the North-Central zones. Other members of the team are: the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola; his Borno State counterpart, Kashim Shettima; minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonaya Onu; and the APC National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso.
The second Team, he noted, would cover the South-East and the North-East, with former Edo State governor, Osarienmen Osunbor, as team leader. Other members of the team are: the governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello; and the APC National Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi.
Senator Adetumbi, further said Team three, which has Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, as leader, would conducted public hearing in the South-West and the North-West zones. Other members of his team are: minister of Women Affairs, Senator Aisha Alhassan; and a former Enugu State governor, Sullivan Chime.
The fourth team, he noted comprises the 25 members of the APC Committee on True Federalism. He said the fourth team, was saddled with the responsibility of taking the views of citizens of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), National Assembly members, youths, civil society groups and professional bodies, adding that since its inauguration, the committee had met four times and it had narrowed down the issues for discussions to 12.
He listed the issues as: creation/merger of states, derivation principle, devolution of powers, federating units, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation and form of government.
Other issues are independent candidacy, land tenure system, local government autonomy, power sharing and rotation, resource control and type of legislature that best suits the country.
He further disclosed that the committee was not conversing for any opinion. Instead, he said, the committee was only interested in harvesting opinions in order to inform the party on what the public is saying on the issues put out for discussion, so that the party could work effectively in such a manner that it responds to public opinion.
Speaking on whether or not the committee would consider the 2014 National Conference report, Adetumbi , said “the report of the conference is in public domain and it is available as literature for the work we are doing. Not just that, you have the 2005 Political Reform Report, we are looking at all of these in order for the APC to understand what its role should be on the way forward.
“I don’t think there is anything called rejection of that conference. The report of the conference is in the public domain and it is available as literature for the work we are doing. Not just that, you have the 2005 political reforms report. So, we are looking at all of these in order for the APC to understand what exactly its role should be in the way forward,” he added.
He went further to say that “first and foremost, we must recognize that the work of nation building is an ongoing process, in which every stakeholder has a role to play to make his own contributions, in which case, the APC as a national political party is an institution that has a role to play in making its own contributions and this exercise is its own way of making that contributions.
“And it felt that it’s necessary, not just to think amongst ourselves, but to actually ask the people, what do you actually think and that is why everything that this committee is doing is not about its own opinion. It’s about harvesting the opinions of the ordinary people that we want to talk to in order to form an opinion. After all, no political party exists just by itself. It exists by the mandate of the people.
“We have put up a public announcement calling for memorandum and calling for members of the public to meet us at designated venue without any discrimination. So, it’s an open invitation to all Nigerians to attend and make their views and their voices to count.”
Reminded that the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF), led by the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, who incidentally is also a member of the party’s committee, were also carrying out similar task, Senator Adetumbi, further said: “The Northern Governors Forum as stakeholders in the development of Nigeria, have every right to consult people on the future of Nigeria. I don’t think it’s a matter of monopoly and I think that is the attitude of the APC. Every opinion is welcome. The Committee will do its work. The challenge now is for all of us to be positive because what we are looking for is solution. There is no monopoly of ideas and the party felt that in view of ongoing discussions in the country about state of federalism, it’s good for the party to understand exactly what its role is and its definition of the issues are, and in doing so, the party felt in its wisdom that public consultation is necessary and that is what we are doing and it does not foreclose any other body within the country to do its own work. That’s why somebody referred to the conference held by the South-West recently. They’ve just consulted and put something into the public domain. That’s a body of information; it’s a body of knowledge from which ideas can be gathered in the best interest of the country.
“The issue of conflict with National Assembly does not arise because this exercise is not trying to make laws. It’s trying to understand what the popular demand of the people is, which the party can use to advocate within its membership in the National Assembly for necessary constitutional amendment ideas. And don’t forget that constitutional amendment is not a one in a life time opportunity. It’s once in every four years. So, the fact that the National Assembly is going through a process does not foreclose public discussion and debate on what should happen and there is always a timetable and opportunity in the future to take such ideas and turn them into necessary laws by the National Assembly,” the ex lawmaker, added.
He also addressed the concern being raised in some quarter that the task the committee was now embarking on, was at variance with the position of President Muhammadu Buhari and that of the party.
Hear him: “in terms of the debate about when the party manifesto was being worked out, I think everything was debated. But we must be honest to acknowledge that at the time in 2015 when the manifesto was being worked out, the content of the debate is not as it is today.
“In 2015, nobody was drawing maps. Today, maps are being drawn. And in 2015, there was some level of nationality. So, you can assume some broad recommendations and that was what went into the manifesto of the APC and that is the point I made that it’s a dynamic issue. Because we acknowledge that there are new elements to the debate, new anger has set in, we are opening the frontiers of the debate and inviting even people with anger to come and express their anger and we hope to make things out of it in such a way that everybody will locate his or her bearing.
“On the issue of statement of Buhari foreclosing the debate, I don’t think that is the case. If he says the National Assembly has powers to take decision, I think he even opens the frontiers. We have representatives in the National Assembly. If today there is a position in the party, the party can call its members in the National Assembly and direct them to act accordingly. A constituent can also direct their representatives. So, there is nothing foreclosed. I will take the statement of President Buhari to mean an acknowledgement that the issue is open for debate.”
From all the indications, APC appears to have taken the driver’s seat on the debate on restructuring. But only time will tell whether or not its government would muster the courage and political will to implement the variant of restructuring majority of Nigerians will be voting for at the end of the public consultations.