After two years of playing deaf to the nation-wide agitation for the restructuring of the country and denigrating those calling for it, it is encouraging that a high level committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) last week endorsed the demands for a new structure for Nigeria. The endorsement came barely a month after President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed the calls as a distraction in his New Year message to the nation.
The 10-man committee was headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. It also included four other serving state governors, a former governor, the national organising secretary and the national publicity secretary of the APC. The committee first presented its report to the party chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, and later made a public presentation in Abuja during which the party apologised for and explained its foot-dragging on the issue. Chief Oyegun said the APC had inherited a collapsed governance system and was busy trying to fix the economy, security and infrastructure, but now that success has been recorded in these areas, the “time was ripe for the APC true federalism committee report.”
The report aroused great optimism by moving 10 items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List, including some items hitherto considered controversial. The list includes Foods, Drugs, Poisons, Narcotics, Fingerprints and Identification of Criminal Records. Others are Registration of Business Names, Labour, Mines and Minerals, including Oil Fields, Oil Mining, Geological surveys and Natural Gas; Police; Prisons; Public Holidays; Railways; and Stamp Duties. On the highly charged issue of resource control, the committee declared that “we have proposed that mining, minerals, oil should go to the states,” except offshore minerals. It also endorsed independent candidacy but with the caveat that the individuals must prove that they have not been members of a political party six months before they wish to contest elections.
Governor El-Rufai explained that if the necessary constitutional amendments are passed, Nigeria will return to a balanced federation by devolving more powers to the states and reducing the burden of the Federal Government. He noted that Nigerians have clamoured for these changes for long and his committee had listened to the voice of the people and “taken the reports of all previous constitutional and national conferences.” The committee, he added, had also drafted the requisite bills to be passed to the National Assembly and the states Houses of Assembly.
Also among its recommendations is the presidential system of government, provided that corruption and the high cost of governance are urgently addressed. This is bound to be disputed by the protagonists of the Westminster system who argue that Nigeria cannot afford the presidential system not only because of its cost but because it is endemically corrupt.
It also voted against the creation of more states, but it is not against the merging of states owing to the growing regional economic cooperation that is being witnessed among states. It upheld the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference which dispensed with the local governments as a tier of government. It also endorsed state police with the caveat that state police would handle certain categories of cases as is done in the United States. Prisons, it stated, have historically been owned by local governments and should revert to them, while states should now build prisons since most of our current prisons are owned by the Federal Government. It took Public Holidays to the concurrent list so that there will be federal public holidays for the entire country and the states can have their public holidays. The committee also recommended the abolition of “state of origin”, which it says is discriminatory and should be replaced with “state of residence.” It also recommended that a referendum be conducted on burning national issues.
We commend the APC committee for its work, which largely reflects the demands of many Nigerians on issues such as state police, resource control, the railways and fiscal federalism. But, the party must realise that these are just words on paper. Nigerians are sceptical, considering that the party was virtually dragged before it finally bought the idea of setting up a committee on restructuring. The true test of the party’s good intentions and seriousness can only be ascertained by the expedited passing of the requisite bills to incorporate the changes into our constitution. The APC should have no excuse whatsoever, given its commanding majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. If, in the next few months, the necessary legislative work is not done to make the recommended restructuring a reality, Nigerians will come to the conclusion that the submissions of this committee are nothing but a vote-catching exercise.