Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar Tuesday called for a review of Nigeria’s political system with the country returning to the regional structure that obtained in the First Republic.
Atiku said that the current three-tier structure, comprising the federal, states and councils should give way to a two-tier system made up of the six geopolitical zones with states serving as provinces.
He called for decentralisation of power to other lesser tiers of government so that the people would have a greater say in governance, but disabused the notion that decentralisation could lead to a breakup of the country.
The former vice-president spoke at the annual Leadership Newspapers Awards in Abuja where former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, called for the scrapping of the Senate as a way of reducing the cost of governance, while former Minister of Defence, Lt-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, decried the overweening influence of governors in the polity.
The former vice-president, in his address, advocated the restructuring of the federating units in such a way that it would strengthen the various geopolitical zones.
According to him, “I want to recall that during the 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the Second Republic vice-president of this federation, introduced and canvassed for the concept of geopolitical zones.
“I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again.
“Now, I realise that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working. Dr. Ekwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset, could not see at the time. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre.
“And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating.
“There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces.
“The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.”
Atiku also weighed in on the ongoing debate over the desirability or otherwise of decentralising the nation’s police force, saying there was nothing wrong with each state having its own police unit so long as it could be insulated from and is independent of the state or regional government.
“Should we abolish the Nigerian Police because it is often abused by those in power at the federal level? Should we abolish the state treasuries because governors abuse them? And should we also abolish local governments for the same reason? No. We should, as a people, struggle for and put in place institutional safeguards against abuse of power by those in power at all levels.
“We have a chance now to put many of those safeguards in a new constitution. The argument that governors will abuse state police is rather specious,” he added.
On decentralisation of power, he said: “Why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools? Decentralisation is not an invitation to the breakup of the country and national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level.
“Of course, I am aware that some of the main beneficiaries of our erstwhile regional parliamentary democracy have been hiding behind the call for restructuring to push for the breakup of the country because of their proximity to a finite natural resource and transient political power.”
Atiku said because of excessive centralisation and the military rule that facilitated it, the Nigerian president is the most powerful leader in the world.
“This is because he can quite literally unleash all security agencies on an individual or organisation, undermine the National Assembly, and turn the judiciary into an almost pro-government and conformist organ.
“This is not in the realm of speculation; it has been happening in this country. Indeed, I drew attention to it when I was in office as vice-president and was having a political face-off with my boss. It is not healthy for democracy and must be changed,” he said.
Supporting Atiku’s position, Danjuma described governors as powerful sole administrators who command enormous powers.
He said the governors are in control of ministers appointed at the national level, adding that even in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the president has no power without the governors who control the delegates.
“Our governors are the most powerful. There is the need for a radical and drastic restructuring of the country,” he stressed.
In his speech, Tinubu who lamented the cost of governance, called for the scrapping of the Senate, saying only the House of Representatives should be retained, as it is more representative of the people.
He queried why the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should have a first line charge, when its chairman has no power to appoint resident electoral commissioners (RECs).
He said it was not in the interest of democracy for the president to be appointing RECs.
Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who received an award during the ceremony as Governor of the Year, however, told the gathering that there was hope in the country.
Fayemi, who spoke on behalf of the recipients of the awards, called on Nigerians not to lose hope in their country, adding that the desire to make the country better must be collective.
He said the opposition would make sure that they come together to provide an alternative to the ruling PDP.
The highlight of the occasion was the presentation of the Leadership Newspapers awards of Person of the Year to Danjuma, Governor of the Year to Fayemi and the Politician of the Year to House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal