JUST when one thought we have lost interest in topical issues in Nigeria’s politics, some glimmer of hope rose from an unusual horizon.
The current debate over restructuring and related matters between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar intrigues me. Though it may just pass as just a spat in climes where serious political deliberations are norms in election seasons, in our Nigeria of current era in which the culture of deep interrogation or at least, interjection of politicians on topical issues ahead of elections is almost dead and heavily ridiculed even by the electorate, the development between Prof. Osinbajo and Alhaji Atiku is a huge one. It is more so, to me, because digging through their arguments, both the current and erstwhile veepees are somewhat beating their chests for standing for the same thing. But if it so, why are they bickering? Or do they just enjoy the spat?
Following a recent appearance of the incumbent vice president at a Minnesota, United States of America (USA) town hall meeting in which, in audience with the press, the professor appraised Nigeria’s problem as not the regularly touted ‘restructuring’ but “managing resources properly and providing for the people properly” the erstwhile vice president took him up for what he described as his (Osinbajo’s) “360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring.”
Osinbajo, an erudite scholar with doctorate degree in legal studies and professor of law said: “In contrast to the simple geographical restructuring of the country, prudent management of national resources and providing for the people properly, are better ideas for Nigeria’s development challenges.”
Observing that “the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographical restructuring,” Osinbajo reasoned further that Nigeria’s issue “is about managing resources properly and providing for the people properly, that is what it is all about.”
“My view is that we must create the environment that allows for people to realise themselves economically because that truly is what the challenge is with our country.”
“My view,” he added, “is that we must create the environment that allows for people to realise themselves economically because that truly is what the challenge is with our country.”
He went on to highlight most of the welfarist programs of the current federal government stating thus: “Good governance involves, inter alia, transparency and prudence in public finance. It involves social justice, investing in the poor, and jobs for young people; which explains our School Feeding Programme, providing a meal a day to over 9 million public school children in 25 States as of today. Our N-Power is now employing 500,000 graduates; our TraderMoni that will be giving microcredit to 2 million petty traders; our Conditional Cash Transfers giving monthly grants to over 400,000 of the poorest in Nigeria. The plan is to cover a million households.”
He then anchored on corruption as the main challenge which should be crust of current national debate instead of restructuring, even as he acknowledged that for the eight years he served as the Artoney-General of Lagos State he, and his boss then, Sen. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (governor of Lagos State 1999 – 2007) were in the vanguard of those who rooted for restructuring, resource control, fiscal federalism and states’ economic redemption from the stranglehold of the federal government.
Without saying whether he has abandoned the struggle for the reorganisation of the political and economic relationship between the federal government, states and local governments, which he continued to address up until recently, Osinbajo laid a premise that seemed to affirm restructuring but would not accept what he called ‘geographical restructuring.’
His words: “I have been an advocate, both in court and outside, of fiscal federalism and stronger State Governments. I have argued in favour of State Police, for the simple reason that policing is a local function. You simply cannot effectively police Nigeria from Abuja. Only recently, in my speech at the Anniversary of the Lagos State House of Assembly, I made the point that stronger, more autonomous States would more efficiently eradicate poverty. So I do not believe that geographical restructuring is an answer to Nigeria’s socio-economic circumstances. That would only result in greater administrative costs. But there can be no doubt that we need deeper fiscal federalism and good governance.
“Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition. He says it means a ‘cultural revolution.’ Of course, he does not bother to unravel this concept. He says we need a structuring that gives everyone an opportunity to work, a private sector driven economy. Yes, I agree.
These are critical pillars of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), including our Ease of Doing Business Programme.
“If, however, this is what he describes as restructuring, then it is clear that he has mixed up all the issues of good governance and diversification of the economy with the argument on restructuring.”
But Atiku, in lampooning Osinbajo’s stance on the restructuring matter as jejune and evasive, claimed that the incumbent deputy in Aso Rock tends to be diversionary and hides behind a subterfuge by deploying the hybrid expression, “geographical restructuring” to denigrate the more encompassing debate on recaliberating and rejuvenating Nigeria the ‘restructuring in question means.
Atiku’s words: “the Vice President should not attempt to revise history by saying that he spoke against ‘geographic restructuring.’
“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 the restructuring debate is all about, but also because the words of the Vice President, which prompted my response were clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.
“Mr. Osinbajo said, “the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring.” That I disagree with and so do many other Nigerians. If the Vice President has changed his stance, I welcome it, but we should not use one finger to hide behind semantics.”
He went ahead to establish what, in his opinion, are the core issues in the national restructuring debate. “I have been very clear, detailed, and unambiguous about my ideas for restructuring,” Atiku said, “At several occasions, including, but not limited to my speeches at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), and at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (made in April this year and July 2017, respectively), I gave very clear and concise ideas about administrative, political and economic restructuring as follows:
Devolution of powers and resources to the states.
No state will receive less Federal funds than today as a result of restructuring
Matching grants from the Federal Government to the states to help them grow their internally generated revenue position.
The privatisation of unviable Federal Government-owned assets.
A truly free market economy driven by the laws of demand and supply.
Replacing state of origin with state of residence, and
Passing the PIGD so that our oil and gas sector will run as a business with minimal governmental interference.”
These appeared like the same issues that the incumbent vice president said he stood for as Artoney-General in Lagos. But Osinbajo still notes that “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition,” to which Atiku replies again: “I am hard pressed to see how these clear and specific ideas can be described as ‘vague.” One would have thought that if anything is vague, it would be the idea of ‘geographic restructuring’ whose meaning is hanging in the air.”
I should not have the misfortune of pointificating on who is right or wrong here. I would rather take the privilege of spotting the overwhelming similarity of the rhetoric, logic and tropes. Like calling six half a dozen, the duo convinces me that the issue in Nigeria’s 2019 election season is restructuring. We may grandstand, filibuster or gerrymander on it, in the mind of the man on the street is the question: ‘So na like this e go de dey?’ (Will things continue this way they are?)
One however notes that the restructuring issue is radically being watered down. From Osinbajo’s prism it is welfarism, disciplinary measures, citizen policing and ‘wait-we-will-get-there-someday’. From Atiku it is need for free market economy, nativity and fund allocation issues. Restructuring bodes much-much-more. But this is the much of it the duo can bring out for us to ponder now.
What about those issues yet to be stated? We need to sort this country out because we face a more dire situation.
One vital outcome of the current debate is the need for citizens to lure the leaders who want to have us to more serious debates on more serious issues. Else, we will rot in our current stagnancy.