In this report, Olaseni Durojaiye examines the different positions canvassed by both Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and one of his predecessors, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the restructuring debate
1) Devolution of power.
2) Matching grants from the federal government to help states grow their internally generated revenue
3) Free economy market driven by the laws of demand and supply.
4) Replacing state of origin with state of residence.
5) Passing the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.
1) Judicious management of the nation’s resources not geo-graphical restructuring.
2) Need for deeper fiscal federalism to make states more viable.
3) Devolution of power including need for state Police.
4) Government’s Social Intervention programmes as evidence of good governance.
5) Being part of pro-restructuring campaign through the courts.
Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the contentious debate bordering on restructuring yet again returned to the front burner of political discourse last week, and this time around, it pitted an incumbent Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo against one of his predecessors in office, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Not that the debate had ceased to be relevant in the political circle. It was only in the shadow of other political discourse.
Noteworthy is the fact that it did not form the crux of the campaign rhetoric by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) leading to the 2015 general election. But it has always been the position of the progressives way back in time that restructuring was the way to go.
However, Atiku has since made it a major talking point in his campaign to become the president of the country. Also, that the most strident restructuring campaigners have always been the politicians of the progressive inclination to which Osinbajo belongs, the Atiku narrative was expected to have been embraced by all. This is because for a long time, they had insisted that only a holistic restructuring would address the glaring imbalances in the polity.
But Osinbajo reignited the debate in faraway the United States while giving a speech in which he reportedly cautioned 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 geographic restructuring.”
In his summation, the vice-president argued that the nation’s major problem was about judicious management of the nation’s resources and added that “it is about managing resources properly and providing for the people properly, that is what it is all about.”
The statement elicited a near-immediate response. One of it came from the former vice-president, who seized on the statement and stated that the vice-President got it wrong and insisted that, “it is a surprise that the Vice President would take such a position and, in particular, fail to appreciate the connection between Nigeria’s defective structure and its underperformance” .
But rather than abate, the vice-president elected to ventilate his view clearer in a statement he sent to an online news portal during the week. In the statement, sighted by THISDAY, he acknowledged the quotation ascribed to him and lamented that his “illustrious” predecessor, Atiku didn’t situate his speech in the proper perspective, then went on to detail his role in the restructuring campaign since when he was the Attorney General of Lagos State during the tenure of Governor Bola Tinubu.
Specifically, Osinbajo flaunted his credentials as an advocate of restructuring and described his predecessor’s understanding of the debate as “vague”.
He stressed that in pursuant of the restructuring agenda, the Lagos State Government instituted some cases against the Federal Government, some of which the state won with the support of some other littoral states of the federation and stressed that Atiku couldn’t have been oblivious of the cases being the vice-president at the time.
The statement read in part: “As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems. Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation.
“As we all may recall, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of 18 more states. And I argued that, with several states struggling or unable to pay salaries, any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us. We should rather ask ourselves why the states are underperforming, revenue and development-wise.
“I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South-west zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up fifty per cent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.
“I then argued that what we required now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development.
“As Attorney-General at the time, it was my duty and privilege to lead the legal team against the then Federal government, in our arguments at the Supreme Court. I am sure that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would remember these cases on greater autonomy for states that I cite below, as he was vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the time.
“At the Supreme Court, we won several landmark decisions on restructuring Nigeria through deeper fiscal federalism, some of which our late converts to the concept now wish to score political points on.”
Hours after Osinbajo’s letter went public, Atiku again fired back. In a statement made available to the media, he accused his successor of trying to re-write history among other things. Like Osinbajo, he also listed his pro-restructuring credentials, including speeches he gave at different times in support of restructuring.
In the statement, Atiku accused Osinbajo of attempting “to revise history” on restructuring. In an apparent bid to further espouse his views on the raging topic, Abubakar highlighted six steps, and noted these are the steps he meant when talking the issue.
The steps were devolution of power, matching grants from the federal government to help states grow their internally generated revenue position; a truly free-economy market driven by the laws of demand and supply; replacing state of origin with state of residence and passing the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.
In the letter, Atiku stated that “faced with an avalanche of public condemnation for his 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring, it is understandable that the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has written to Premium Times to douse the tension his comments created. However, in doing so, the vice-president should not attempt to revise history by saying 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.”
Continuing, Atiku explained that “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. Be that as it may, in his letter, Vice-President Osinbajo then jumps from the topic of restructuring and goes on to say:
“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 NPower 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.
“Finally, while the Vice-President is not exactly correct when he says, ‘In four years from 2010 to 2014, the PDP government earned the highest oil revenues in Nigeria’s history, USD381.9billion, by contrast the Buhari administration has earned USD121 billion from May 2015 to June 2018’, let us for the sake of argument say that he is right,” he stated.
Analysts who have been following the debate between the two eminent citizens maintained that politics is at play. While some noted Osinbajo’s role in the agitation for restructuring, they inferred that his initial statement which sparked the row may have been an unintended slip. They argued that it would have amounted to sheer hypocrisy on his part if he had turned his back on the need to restructure the country, having assumed office as the number two citizen of the country.
Interestingly, those that share Osinbajo’s views wanted his opponents to look beyond the U.S. speech and argued that in his statement, he had not only explained his pro-restructuring stance but went ahead to further deepen the discourse.
They maintained that he has shown that he has not abandoned the call, rather went ahead to show that restructuring would not yield maximum benefit unless it comes with an attitudinal change to eschew corrupt tendencies.
But those in Atiku’s corner accused the vice-president of double standard and insisted he spoke tongue-in-cheek when he described his predecessor’s understanding of the issue as vague.
Though observers welcome such an issue-based discourse, they urged that it should be restricted to verifiable facts even as they cautioned the two gladiators to be mindful of their standings and not needlessly heat up the polity ahead of the general election.