Instead of making a political issue out of the restructuring debate, only a proper interrogation of the concept will go a long way in correcting the many problems that have left many parts of the country clamouring for a total reworking of our federation.
Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, recently opened the floodgates to a flurry of fresh debates on the age-old restructuring controversy. He told a gathering of Nigerians at a meeting in Minnesota, in the United States, that the problem with Nigeria was not a matter of restructuring. As he put it “we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic restructuring.”
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His attempted simplification and clarification of the restructuring concept unfortunately rubbed a number of Nigerians up the wrong way, with the nation’s former vice president and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential hopeful who is now an a vowed apostle of restructuring, Atiku Abubakar, taking him up on his position. The ex-VP in a piece entitled “Osinbajo Got It Wrong On Restructuring” published by the online media house, Premium Times, argued that Prof. Osinbajo’s description of restructuring as a geographical concept showed a lack of appreciation of the concept. Many other Nigerians have latched onto Osinbajo’s attempt to take the restructuring concept beyond the creation of more states and the re-division of the country along regional lines to take him and the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to the cleaners.
The argument on the restructuring of Nigeria is a very interesting one. While there are those who see the concept from the prism of the division of the country into regions and the creation of more states to give the states and the regions greater autonomy in the management of their affairs, yet others, apparently including Osinbajo, believe that restructuring goes beyond the geographical division of the country. As the Vice President has explained it and as his antecedents in office when he was the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice has shown, restructuring involves a return to true federalism, especially fiscal federalism, which will let the states benefit more from their natural resources and be more autonomous in the management of their affairs, especially in the areas of policing, job creation, etc.
At that time, Osinbajo, as the head of Lagos State’s legal team, was in the vanguard of the clamour for resource control and the right of states to create local governments and enjoy more from the money generated in their areas, including the Value Added Tax (VAT), the money from the ports and accruals from crude oil sales. In fact, the Lagos State Government at the time created local governments and the then Olusegun Obasanjo administration seized the state’s local government funds until the Supreme Court ruled in the state’s favour on the case, and on many other cases it instituted on the restructuring principle. Osinbajo also openly supported the continued payment of 13 percent derivation to the oil producing states at that time when the latter day proponents of restructuring did not yet appreciate what the term meant.
The VP obviously does not belong to the class of those who want restructuring along the line of the creation of 18 more states as recommended by the 2014 National Conference. Neither does he subscribe to a return to the regional governments of our early independence days. This is a legitimate position and he is only one out of many other Nigerians who see no merit in the creation of more states when the existing ones cannot stand on their own without financial allocations from the centre. Many of our 36 states are currently insolvent and they exist as states only because of the financial handouts from the federal government. Virtually none of them, probably with the exclusion of Lagos, has been able to come up with a template for their own financial autonomy and stability. It will certainly be inexpedient creating more of such appendages, when the existing ones cannot pay the salaries of their workers. Osinbajo gave the example of the old Western Regional government which achieved so much in the fields of education, agriculture and mining, even though it paid 50 per cent of its internally generated revenue to the Federal Government under the regional arrangement.
His view that what Nigeria needs is good governance, not creation of more states or the division of the country into regions, is credible. Good and sincere leadership under any structure will put Nigeria in a better stead to achieve her developmental objectives, while bad governance will take the country nowhere, even if every local government in the country is made a state. He is right that good governance, honest management of public resources, a better fiscal model and a clear vision for development which is properly implemented by government agents are the panacea for the nation’s governance woes. It is, therefore, not surprising that the APC has come out to support Osinbajo’s identification of good governance, honest leadership and social justice as the solution to the country’s problems, instead of a geographical division of the country into different parts. It is surprising that the latter day restructuring canvassers who are now taking Osinbajo to task have held major positions in government for eight years, yet they did not do anything relating to the restructuring of the country, until now that they have found it politically expedient to politicize it.
The simple truth is that neither restructuring nor non-restructuring will end Nigeria’s many problems. Until the country has a good and honest leadership that is fair to all and acts only in the best interest of the Nigerian people, as Osinbajo has advocated, the nation is not likely to move forward. With dishonest and unjust leaders presiding over the affairs of any country, things are unlikely to go well in such places.
It is only when there is a firm resolve to deliver good governance and rule justly that there can be peace, progress and development in the country. Instead of making a political issue out of the restructuring debate, only a proper interrogation of the concept and a sincere implementation of its different components, especially the fiscal ones, will go a long way in correcting the many problems that have left many parts of the country clamouring for a total reworking of our skewed federation.
The view of the vice president, therefore, calls for introspection and corrective action by our leaders to achieve our national objectives, not a blanket castigation of his position or an undue politicization of the matter.