From Iheanacho Nwosu and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Mixed reactions yesterday greeted President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year’s Day national broadcast. Apart from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) trading words, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBF) disagreed on the issue of restructuring of the polity.
While ACF agreed with Buhari that restructuring was not the root cause of the nation’s problem, SMBF argued that any further attempt to avoid restructuring was an invitation to chaos.
Leaders of the Forum in a statement jointly signed by Yinka Odumakin, Senator Bassey Henshaw, Prof. Christian Ogbu and Isuwa Dogo for South West, South South, South East and Middle Belt respectively, said there was no other way out of the systemic crisis confronting the country than a return to true federalism through the restructuring of the polity.
The Forum said Nigeria cannot progress under the 1999 constitution, which keeps 68 items on the Exclusive List, stating that there was need to devolve more powers to the states to enable them perform optimally.
“The truth of the matter is that our nationhood crisis has peaked and there are no further opportunities to guarantee opportunities for our citizens no matter the good intentions of leaders or even unrealistic promises packaged to offer them false hope. In 1983, when the Shehu Shagari administration was overthrown, its budget for a country of 80 million people was $25 billion. But 35 years after, the Buhari government has just proposed a $23 billion budget for about 180 million people.
“The above clearly shows that there is no way out of our systemic crisis except we resume productivity which was our hallmark in the years that we practised federalism as an entity. We have exhausted all possibilities of a better and sharing economy and all that is left is unemployment, hunger, gnashing of teeth and conflicts among nationalities over shrinking opportunities.
“We cannot become a productive country under a 1999 constitution which keeps 68 items on the exclusive list including mineral resources which abound all over the country but which the states whose governors are constitutionally vested with authority over land cannot touch.
“We need to give authorities to the federating units over their resources for self-sustenance and paying all necessary dues to the Federation to sustain common services.
“We must devolve more powers and authorities to them to have effective state administrations. The federal police has shown it lacks the capacity to deal with crimes in a multi-ethnic society like ours, the imperative of state police has never been more urgent and now,” it said.
The Forum added that after a “harrowing 2017” in which Nigerians went through untold hardship, with four million people losing their jobs and insecurity reaching an all time high, 2018 should be a year for national introspection.
However, it said unfortunately, the government instead of addressing the source of the nation’s challenges has resorted to downplaying the problem.
“Social scientists have argued correctly that a problem is not resolved either by running away from it or ascribing it to the wrong source. Unfortunately, that is what we are doing as a country by playing down our crisis of ‘structure’ while on a wild goose chase about ‘process.’
“Nigerians must organise, mobilise and work towards building an inclusive and productive country in 2018 using all democratic and peaceful means. It is a year to battle for the soul of the country by forces of federalism and upholders of a suffocating unitary system.”
But the ACF in a statement by it National Secretary, Anthony Sani backed the president on his position on restructuring.
Sani claimed that the president’s speech has inspired hopes that the government is focused on addressing key challenges facing Nigeria.
“All President Buhari said in the speech about restructuring of the country is that the problems of Nigeria lie more on attitudes of Nigerians and the way they do things and not on the structure of the country or on the form of government.
“This may be an odd thing to say when you note that there is nothing like true federalism and that is why no two federal systems are clones. But the common mantra in all federal systems is such that the central government is balanced by appropriate state level power.
“You would also note that the presidential system works well in America, the parliamentary system is successful in Britain while a combination of the two systems has worked well in France. As to the constitution, please note that the America’s constitution has just few pages, Britain does not have a written constitution while Nigeria has a book called the constitution that is observed more in the breach. It is noteworthy that the 1999 constitution is a clone of that of 1979 and those clamouring for restructuring contributed in siring that of 1979.”
According to the ACF spokesman, the current structure with states as the federating unit is a compromise between the unitary system and the confederate arrangement.
“So the president may not be wrong when he says Nigerians are impatient. But if we must undertake any major reforms of the polity, it cannot be based on reports of a conference of unelected delegates.
“It would be morally preposterous and undemocratic to short-change the people by pandering to reports by unelected group of elites. Political parties which wish to structure the country should reflect it in their manifestos and use same to canvass for electoral mandate needed for implementation.
“I say this because while there is national consensus on problems of a nation, there is often no such national consensus on methods of solution, hence the significance of multiparty democracy which allows political parties to represent distinct methods of solution of national problems as contained in their manifestos. That is how democracy works. Those who profess to be jaunty face of democratic values should not be seen as promoting undemocratic practices.”