Can Anything Good Come from El-Rufai’s C’ttee?

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Davidson Iriekpen queries the choice of the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who has openly castigated those clamouring for the country to be restructured, as Chairman of the All Progressives Congress’ committee to define its concept of restructuring

After much pressure , the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) last week finally accepted to join the discussion on restructuring by setting up a 10-man committee to articulate its position on the issue.

The party, which has restructuring of the country in its manifesto, had been silent on the issue in the face of outcries from across the country.

The clamour has become so strong that prominent political leaders have joined the campaign.

Those leading the campaign include two former vice-presidents, Dr Alex Ekwueme and Atiku Abubakar, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Gbonigi (rtd), former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Alani Akinriade (rtd), Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Senator Femi Okunronmu, Chief Albert Horsefall, Chief Edwin Clark, Pastor Tunde Bakare, National Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin and President, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Chief John Nwodo and many others.

But to their consternation last week, APC appointed Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who has never hidden his contempt for those calling for restructuring the chairman of the 10-man committee. In fact, last month, the governor had appeared on national television where he lambasted those clamouring for restructuring, describing them as political opportunists. He noted that they opposed restructuring when they were in power at the federal level, wondering why they now joined the calls if not for political reasons.

When the governor was asked why restructuring was jettisoned by the APC government even though, it is contained in the party’s manifesto, he stated: “It was not jettisoned. I think, in fact, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has done more in practical terms about federalism than the previous administrations put together. Those who talk about restructuring see it as largely political opportunism, in my opinion, rather than practical reality.

“I will give you examples. State governments are now much more involved in economic policies at the national level than ever before. We meet every month under the auspices of the National Economic Council; and working together with the federal government, we chart direction for our economic policy. That is part of shifting the federal-states balance. As you said, it (restructuring) is in our manifesto and it is specifically stated there that we are going to look at the exclusive (legislative) list and do something about it. But what I’m trying to say is that there are three schools (of thought) calling for restructuring: there are those who are just political opportunists. They are people who, when in power, did not believe in restructuring. When they were at the federal level, they did not believe in restructuring but they have now moved out and are calling for restructuring.

“There are those who genuinely believe that there is the need for us to look at the exclusive list and drop many of the items that are there. There is the need for us to know that even the states, in an ideal situation, the state government should not be involved in primary education; it is a local government matter. Primary education is better managed at the community level.”

When asked what restructuring meant to the Progressives Governors’ Forum, el-Rufai said, “For us, restructuring means to first look at the federal-state balance. We will look at the balance between responsibility and power; between the two tiers of government and ensure that what is best done at state and local level is devolved to the states and what is best done by the federal government stays with the federal government. That is the first step.

“Once that is agreed, the necessary steps for constitution amendment should kick in. For instance, in our APC manifesto, we have committed to ensuring that we have state police because we believe that a centralised police system is inappropriate for a county as large and diverse as Nigeria.

“We can have federal police just as we have it in the United States, dealing with particular kinds of intra-state and inter-state crimes. But most of the criminal laws should be under the control of the states. There are arguments that in the First Republic that some regional governments abused the police but I would say that even today, state governments are in the position to use the police to abuse political opponents because state governments carry the substantial burden of running the police in their states. The third step is to look at the revenue allocation formula and try to inject some kind of balance and equity tied to the responsibilities that each tier of government is going to share. This is our conception; this is how we see it and it is all articulated in our manifesto.”

El-Rufai is not alone in this line of thought. His party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had once disclosed that the federal government was yet to give restructuring a priority. He said: “It is contentious and lot of people talk about restructuring without any commonality. We have stated clearly what we want to do; devolution, true federalism. We really avoided the word restructuring because it means so many things to so many people. So, yes (is the) short answer to your question. We are coming to that but our priority for now, for today, is to fix the economy and restore hope, provide jobs to the teaming millions of our youths all over the country.”

After describing those calling for restructuring opportunists, many now wonder why APC appointed El-Rufai the head of that committee.

This has made the Igbo umbrella group, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere; and a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, to criticise the committee. While Afenifere and two civil rights groups berated the APC for reneging on its promise after it had been voted into power.

The spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said the party was playing cheap political game by setting up a comical committee, stressing that the APC was insensitive to the mood of the country. He stated that a party that was committed to the well-being of the country would not take the people’s agitation with levity, wondering why the party promised to ensure true federalism in its manifesto when it had no plan to do so.

He added: “They put in their manifesto that they would ensure true federalism, what did they understand by that? If they don’t understand the word, they should get the Chamber’s Dictionary and look at the meaning of restructuring rather than setting up a comical committee to divert the attention of Nigerians.

“It is unfortunate that while the country is sliding and going under, right before our eyes, the APC is playing cheap political games with the people of Nigeria. This shows they don’t understand the season that we are. They lack the capacity to understand what is going on in the country. When the country is stressed, when there is discontent here and there, a party that is committed to the well-being of Nigeria will not be playing this kind of game.”

Also, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and the Campaign for Democracy (CD) described the APC panel on restructuring definition as laughable, arguing that it was an attempt to “take Nigerians for a ride.”

The group said apart from the “strange mandate” given to the panel to define restructuring, the composition was not representative. CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said: “I learnt of that panel with serious bewilderment. It is a joke taken too far. The APC rose to power on the crest of its manifesto and one of its cardinal points is the clear promise to restructure the country.

“It is an idea that is conceived in treachery, nurtured in perfidy and delivered to us with mischief. I believe the APC should sit up. The patience and the indulgence of the Nigerian people have everything to do with the failure of the PDP but that does not mean that our memory is short. The real alternative we needed is what we have not yet got after two years. How would you explain that kind of reckless statement that the APC is just setting up a panel to define what it means by restructuring?”

The CD President, Usman Abdul, said: “I think the APC’s attempt to begin its work on restructuring without bringing the major stakeholders (outside the governors’ forum) into it is laughable. The panel is simply to make a caricature of what we have been saying.

“Some governors in this panel were part of the writing of this manifesto. When elections were near, they advocated and promised restructuring, but now in power, they are dragging their feet on their promises. There are people who have mechanisms for restructuring and should be brought into any constituted panel, not just governors whose antecedents cannot even be trusted.”

A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, described the setting up of the panel as irreconcilable. In a tweet, he said: “The APC setting up a committee on restructuring Nigeria is like Satan setting up a committee on reconciliation with God. They (APC members) do not want it.”

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If they don’t understand the word, they should get the Chamber’s Dictionary and look at the meaning of restructuring rather than setting up a comical committee to divert the attention of Nigerians.