By Asikason Jonathan
Nigerians are looking forward to the 2019 presidential election. The potential candidate for the election who has continued to hug the limelight with the mien of a knight in shining armour is the former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He has of late joined the league of Nigerian political intellectuals going about giving public lectures on how to put the country back on its feet and institute a government that will protect the interests of all the ethnic nationalities that make up of the country. To describe him properly, he is today the country’s foremost apostle of restructuring and true federalism.
However paradoxical this may sound, given his Fulani background and political antecedent, the consistency that has characterized his thought-process over time has shown to a large extent that the Turaki of Adamawa is really serious about his avowed latter-day views on the lopsided structure of the Nigerian state.
“The time has come to say the truth. Whilst it might be inconvenient for our elite who are the ones profiting from the oil rent economy and the feeding bottle of our current deformed federalism, I believe we need to speak the truth. And the truth is this: our national wealth is being drained by a select few instead of building a country for all of us. It has to end.
We need to return resources and power back to the local level and from the elite of the people”, Atiku proclaimed while speaking on “Restructuring For A United and Progressive Nigeria” at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, on July 19.
“For Nigeria to develop – or even make any appreciable progress – we must re-structure Nigeria’s political, administrative and political architecture. That way, we can free resources that would otherwise go to unviable ventures and projects, then commit same to areas that directly cater for and benefit the people,” he stated uncompromisingly in another presentation organized by the Daily Stream newspaper early this year.
Continuing, he asked: “How do we do that? We should, first, dispassionately and painstakingly re-visit our 36-state structure vis-a-vis the idea of overly-dominant federal government. Second, we should devolve power from the centre to the federating units: many of the items on the Exclusive List should be devolved to the states or any other agreed federating units. Thirdly, that devolution of powers must include an end to federal intrusion in local government administration.
The so-called States/Local Governments joint account has virtually absolved state governments of the responsibility to fund local governments while they virtually confiscate the funds allocated by the federal government to the local government. To have the federal government create local governments and directly fund them makes nonsense of the word “local.” Those powers should be vested in the state governments. And it should include an end to federal ownership of interstate roads, schools, hospitals and the uniformity in remunerations across the country.
Fourth, we must sit down, discuss, and agree on the nature of our fiscal federalism – how to share our resources. I am on record as having advocated for the control of rents by the federating units from which they are derived while the federal government retains its powers to levy taxes. That will make us all productive again and our federating units to engage in healthy rivalries and competition, which will only result in more progress.”
While the veracity of the above opinion cannot be overemphasised, confusion exists as to whether Atiku could be trusted. The question many people have been asking is: Is Atiku’s road to Damascus moment a genuine one or a mere ploy to win Aso Rock come 2019?
If we are to seek a reply from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then Atiku will not see the light of day. In “My Watch,” he described Atiku as an impatient and over-ambitious fellow who is not ready to wait and to learn. Even if that assertion is true–although his followers will definitely disagree – we are in 2017 so he could have undergone a political metamorphosis.
To all intents and purposes, Atiku has displayed tremendous knowledge of the problems of the Nigerian state and also has offered such a pragmatic panacea to them that he could be given the benefit of doubt for a leadership role. While he is setting the stage for what would be his last political dance, Nigerians should pray that he doesn’t end up being a wolf in sheep clothing.
Jonathan writes from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State