His position drew the ire of Atiku, now a presidential aspirant under the platform of the PDP, who countered him, saying Osinbajo’s position sought to reduce restructuring to a geographical concept
■ Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEF, Middle Belt Forum, others give VP hard knocks
■ VP spoke our mind – Prof. Jide Owoeye
Enyeribe Ejiogu, Omoniyi Salaudeen, Olakunle Olafioye, Onyedika Agbedo, Henry Okonkwo (Lagos), Rose Ejembi, Raphael Ede (Enugu) and Ben Dunno (Warri)
Recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar were literally engaged in executive debate on restructuring.
READ ALSO: Osinbajo, Atiku clash over restructuring
Osinbajo while taking questions from a cross section of Nigerians in far away Minnesota, United States, after addressing a town hall meeting had said: “The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic restructuring.”
His position drew the ire of Atiku, now a presidential aspirant under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who countered him, saying that Osinbajo’s position only sought to reduce restructuring to a geographical concept, which he emphasized was unhelpful and a demonstration of lack of appreciation for the tenets of restructuring as a concept.
His words: “I have been in the forefront of the discourse on restructuring since the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference and to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any term like ‘geographic restructuring.’ It is a strange concept, not only because it is not what restructuring debate is all about, but also because the words of the vice president, which prompted my response were clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.”
Vice President Osinbajo may not be alone in his thinking as Prof Jide Owoeye said that he spoke the mind of another school of thought on restructuring, which he is one of them.
Hear him: “As advocates of restructuring I believe Prof Osinbajo is on our side. He talks about fiscal restructuring, for instance, he says VAT should be a work and eat formula and so should belong to states where they are incurred, rather than the federal. Is that not restructuring?
“He further advocates for removal of Federal Government’s overbearing involvement in inland waterways, land matters etc; which Lagos fought for via the law courts. He wants state police as policing, according to him, is a community issue if it must be effective and using his own words you cannot police the entire expanse of this country effectively from Abuja,” he said.
Owoeye said that what Osinbajo seemed to be against was tinkering with the existing geopolitics of what constitutes the federating units.
“I would agree with him because what he advocates seems to be the path to true federalism should not be confused with bogging ourselves down with cumbersome geo-political rearrangements, which some are using to agitate for creation of more states etc, or regional units that would further increase expenditures on governance.
“As attorney general of Lagos State, he fought for restructuring without using the term which, of course, has acquired different interpretations among the advocates and antagonists of true federalism. Above all, he is a Yoruba man with the sentiments we want to uphold in this side of the country.
“Let’s encourage rather than disparage him. Of course, a new federal constitution or
a return to the one of 1963 would profoundly serve our desires for decentralisation. But what happens in the mid-term is what renders Osinbajo’s position thinkable, considering the fact that constitutional structure is one thing while its operation is another.
“UK and South Africa are good examples of unitary systems where provinces have acquired considerable autonomy just because operators of the system make it so. Perhaps we should prevail on our state governors together with their attorney generals to take a cue from Lagos because more often than not, their style of governance inadvertently move us further away from federalism judging by their actions and inactions,” Owoeye said.
Prof. Owoeye’s support notwithstanding, Osinbajo’s attempt to make light of the campaign for restructuring, which the South-west geopolitical zone has for long been at the vanguard of the quest and which is also enshrined in the constitution of the All Progressives Congress, APC, has incurred the wrath of some of his people back home in the South-west and beyond.
Respected Yoruba elder, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, may have felt embarrassed by the vice president’s seeming sudden amnesia and feigning ‘ignorance’ of the long burning issue.
He said: “Osinbajo is a confusionist. He is just trying to be politically correct. How can a man of his knowledge and intellect claim at this time that he doesn’t know what restructuring means? He doesn’t know what is restructuring and he took the Federal Government to court when he was the Attorney-General of Lagos State for not paying them their local government allocations? On which authority did he do that? He does not know what is restructuring when there is restructuring on the manifesto of APC? He does not know what is restructuring even after they set up a committee under el-Rufai? Osinbajo must be told that he is a disappointment to many of us, who hold him in high esteem and those of us who know his background and his knowledge and intellect.
“Osinbajo shouldn’t turn himself to the spokesman of those who are doing unconstitutional things in this country. He as a lawyer sat down as the vice president and the president was saying the rule of law is subject to national security. It doesn’t give the man any credit and it doesn’t do us, the Yoruba, who believe the man is representing us, any proud. Osinbajo should keep quiet if he cannot defend what is right or if he cannot oppose what is wrong.”
Adebanjo had hardly finished when Senator Femi Okunrounmu, who played a central role at the 2014 National Conference during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, when restructuring was ‘essentially codified’ in the confab report, took the baton to give Osinbajo more verbal flagellations.
His words: “Osinbajo is just trying to confuse the issue to obscure his having to follow his leader blindly. Osinbajo is a confused man and he is trying to confuse everybody, but I am sure people who truly understand what restructuring is all about are not confused. Atiku was very clear about what he meant by restructuring. Those of us who have been shouting restructuring in the last three or four decades are not in any doubt about what we mean by restructuring. It is Osinbajo whose parents have also been shouting restructuring, but because he wants to be in the good books of President Muhammadu Buhari that is why he is trying to confuse issues and pretend as if he doesn’t know what restructuring is all about. So, Nigerians should not be deceived by people like Osinbajo. Restructuring means one and only one thing: go back to true federalism, the proper federalism we had between 1960 and 1966 before the coup. Nigeria practised true federalism. It was on the basis of that that we got our independence in 1960 and the three major leaders at the time – the Saudauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe – were all in agreement with it. It was the military that distorted it when they took over.
“So, we are saying we should go back to that proper federalism that we practised before. Osinbajo was not too young at the time to understand what we had before 1966. He is just trying to confuse issues and to mess everybody up, but he has only succeeded in messing himself up.”
For the President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, Atiku and Osinbajo were just playing mere politics with the restructuring debate as 2019 is around the corner, saying that he would not be drawn to their debate.
He, however, said: “If we must carry on with this artificial constitution, whoever that is running in the next election that doesn’t run it on the platform of restructuring of the federation is bound to lose the support of the people of Nigeria.”
The Ohanaeze boss who was the guest lecturer at the monthly lecture series of Centre for Memories, tagged “ Nkata Umu Ibe”, held at Enugu Sports Club on Friday night, said that Okpara was able to build so many industries that created jobs for the youths because the 1963 constitution had given regions autonomy to develop at their own pace.
He argued that the whole essence of a federation is the existence of autonomous units that have agreed to corporate to be a nation, “but today, the federal character of Nigeria is in jeopardy by the unitary style of government instituted by during the years of military rule.”
And from the creeks of the Niger Delta, where the people have pined away and traumatized by environmental degradation caused by oil exploration and production activities without reaping commensurately from the petroleum resources under their soil, the Secretary General of the Pan Niger-Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), Dr. Alfred Mulade, said the comments credited to Osinbajo regarding restructuring left his group thoroughly flabbergasted.
He said that PANDEF was aligned with the position of Atiku on the matter.
Mulade said: “The position of Atiku Abubakar is not just his own, but equally in tandem with the position and ideal of every genuine federalist, which has severally been canvassed by not just the PANDEF, but other socio-cultural organisations, including the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Middle Belt, the Northern Elders Forum.
“It has the features of true federalism, including historical, geographical, economic, political, environmental, security, equity and justice components. PANDEF is flabbergasted that the vice president of a government, whose party had restructuring in its manifesto during the 2015 campaign, and even recently empaneled the Mallam Nasir el-Rufai Committee on the subject, would now suddenly turn back, in a foreign land, to repudiate and pooh pooh his party and the government’s stand on a subject they supposedly subscribed to.
“To us in PANDEF, this level of double faced attitude amounts to a political deception, unbecoming of a ruling government. There is no dispassionate observer of the Nigerian situation today that would not conclude that the nation, as presently structured, is bogged down by many structural defects, which are compounded by bad governance.
“The inability of component units to live out their full potentials are largely due to the structural limitations. Restructuring will enable every component unit the leeway to develop to the best of its abilities, thereby leading to a healthy competition for the overall development of the entire nation. This cannot be overcome except the polity is restructured. It will amount to continuous usage of the country as a guinea pig for wasteful and disastrous experiments. It will be foolhardy for Nigeria to allow any group of people to play games on the issue of restructuring beyond 2019.
“It must be noted that any leadership the governance of this country will be committed to must be one that is very clear on restructuring, with lucid ideas and time lines. And, for this government, in particular, it can only be in consideration for re-election based on what it does with the issue of restructuring of the country, between now and February, 2019. It has no luxury of making believable promises to Nigerians anymore on the issue. The refusal of the present Federal Government to implement restructuring, which was one of the pillars of its electoral campaign promises, is most perplexing.”
Mulade also argued that the over-centralization of powers at the centre has not allowed for full demonstration of good governance.
He stressed that no amount of good governance could appropriately address issues of derivation and resource control, devolution of powers, multi-level policing, and other structural expediencies, except by consensual agreements flowing from negotiations, by the component units of the country as has been articulated in the 2014 National Conference Report.
“Clearly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is at fault in his position of faulting the primacy of restructuring as
a panacea for resolving the myriad impediments militating development our nation,” Mulade said.
Similarly, the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators (CNDA) condemned the comments made by the vice president in a statement it issued after it general assembly meeting held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, during the week.
Similarly, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, in a terse one-sentence text message sent through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, he said: “My response to what vice president said is simply this; my position on restructuring is not different from the position being canvassed by the Middle Belt Forum on restructuring.”
To the Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA) and Deputy Secretary, Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT), Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu Uko, restoring regional administrations as enshrined in the 1963 republican constitution is the only way to save the country from imminent demise.
“The truth is that Nigeria will die if we don’t reconstruct the country back to the 1963 Constitution. If Nigeria is not returned to true, fiscal federalism as enshrined in the 1963 Constitution, the country will die.”
The founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) noted that despite the hullabaloo about restructuring by politicians ahead of the 2019 general election, he was yet to see someone who is sincere about the state of the nation among them.
READ ALSO: PDP presidential aspirants will accept one candidate for 2019 general elections-Sen Bwacha
His words: “The problem with politicians and the 2019 election is that I am yet to see a politician who is sincere with the state of Nigeria. Those politicians who erroneously assume that restructuring means devolving some powers to the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), granting the 774 local government areas autonomy and then shouting ‘eureka, we have restructured Nigeria’ are hypocrites. Those who think along that line are hypocrites who will only compound the problem of the country by their childish thoughts that Nigeria can afford 37 different police forces, that is 36 states police forces and the FCT police force. That is too unwieldy. Those who are saying that and those who take sides due to political convenience are taking sides with those who fear change. There are people in Nigeria who are afraid of genuine change that will save Nigeria. And those who fear change are afraid of restructuring; the word restructuring scares them.”