Buhari and an Administration’s Hypocrisy

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‘Òmò gba, ję kin simi’

Recall that I had said from the onset, that I did not think anything significant would result from the Senate’s constitutional amendment exercise; the body language of the Federal Government seems to confirm this assertion.

First, the Federal Government’s position on the people’s cries for the urgent restructuring of our nation, to avoid the disintegration of Nigeria as we know it – a consequence which not just agitators for restructuring, but many, believe may be the likely consequence if the cries continue to be ignored. I must say that I found Government’s reaction to the crescendo of these cries for restructuring quite bizarre and somewhat outrageous – that President Buhari’s administration “would not be intimidated into making any hasty decisions” about restructuring! As usual, our Federal Government, which is suffering from a chronic case of amnesia and paranoia, put the agitations of the people down to its enemies attempting to plant seeds of discord and disunity in the country! Really? Correct me if I’m wrong – in 2015, was restructuring Nigeria not high on the list of campaign promises of President Buhari and the APC, only coming on the heels of fighting insecurity and corruption, and revamping the economy? Can five years into an eight year administration, be regarded as hasty?! I think not. By 2021 (in a couple of months), this administration will be going into its twilight zone, and yet, it has done absolutely nothing about this particular campaign promise.

With the reaction of the Federal Government via Presidential Spokesmen, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, another question that automatically and immediately comes to mind is: is this Government in touch with reality/feeling the pulse of the people – the security and welfare of whom is its primary purpose? (Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution))? I do not think so. And, this is one of the reasons why many are sceptical (myself included), and of the opinion that the Senate calling for submissions from all and sundry on constitutional amendments, is with tongue in cheek, that is, insincere, or as we say in Yoruba, òmò gba, je kin simi” (child take, let me rest/enjoy some peace). This simply means that a parent gives a troublesome child a palliative to distract him or her, so that the parent can have some peace and quiet, no matter how temporary. I tar with the same brush, the APC’s Restructuring Committee, resolutions of which have not been debated upon by any groups or the public, nor have they been implemented.

I’m sure that by now, most of us, except Government of course, are all aware of the famous definition of Democracy by American President, Abraham Lincoln – “Government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Sadly, it seems to have perished from Nigeria! Because, if Government was familiar with this definition, it would probably not have responded to the agitations and dissatisfaction of Nigerians, with statements that evince the fact that, at best, we are living in a semi-authoritarian dispensation (according to Learned Senior Advocate, Dr Olisa Agbakoba in his interview today), a dispensation which as far as I’m concerned, can only be described as ‘Government of the Government by Politicians for Politicians and a selected few’.

To use the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the excuses for not giving attention to the cries for restructuring, is not only grasping at straws, but lame. In a country of over 200 million people, approximately 60,000 people have so far been diagnosed with the dreaded virus, a couple of isolation centres have even apparently been shut, yet all of a sudden, conveniently, Covid-19 in Nigeria has become such a catastrophic national emergency, that Government cannot multi-task and do anything else, but tackle it!

For the avoidance of doubt, Chapter 2 of the Constitution, that is, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy has assigned the Government of Nigeria multiple tasks including political, economic, social, educational, foreign policy and environmental objectives; and any administration that is unable to undertake all these tasks simultaneously, is not meeting its constitutional obligations.

Section 13 of the Constitution mandatorily makes it “the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to observe and apply the provisions” of Chapter 2 of the Constitution. Therefore, national integration (Section 15(2) of the Constitution), harnessing the resources of the nation and controlling the economy for the maximum welfare and happiness of the citizens (Section 16(2)(a) & (b)), equality of rights, obligations and opportunities (Section 17(2)(a)), are just as important having adequate medical and health facilities for all persons (Section 17(3)(d) of the Constitution). In simple terms, according to the Constitution, fighting Covid-19 (health) and tackling the issue of restructuring (national integration and equality), can be undertaken together.

The 2021 Budget

The scepticism that many are feeling about constitutional reform, is deepened further by the presentation of the 2021 budget last week. The budget is a confirmation that it is business as usual in Nigeria, and that Government is mostly concerned about the comfort of its top officials and cronies, and not the welfare of Nigerians in general. The budget shows that, just as there will not be any meaningful economic reform in 2021, the same fate will probably befall the cries for restructuring.
Aside from the fact that our budget is still quite low (only about N13 trillion), the fact that recurrent expenditure is about one and a half times more than capital expenditure, provides prima facie evidence of a Government that pays lip service to its people and the world – that it is undertaking sweeping economic reforms for the benefit of the citizenry, while in reality it is not doing nearly enough. If Government was actually reforming our economy positively, recurrent expenditure will still not be over 55%, while capital expenditure is less than 30% of the budget. Or would you call economic reform borrowing money recklessly to finance the lavish lifestyle of government and huge cost of governance, while doing one or two things which are visible like the railway, so that the man on the street who knows no better thinks there’s change and traction in the right direction? Another palliative/‘òmò gba, ję kin simi’ move!
Government’s removal of the fuel subsidy, which has had a hard effect on Nigerians, without removing the subsidy on foreign exchange, again shows that Government is more concerned about a privileged few – those that get the Dollar at the ‘official’ rate and sell it to us at the market rate. I believe that the official rate of the US Dollar to the Naira is about N379 to $1 or so, while the actual market rate is about N475 to $1. Who are the privileged few making profit from the foreign exchange margins, margins which should only be available to serious manufacturers who will assist in industrialising our country and creating employment?

The Water Resources Bill

The reconsideration of the Water Resources Bill which was jettisoned when it was first introduced to the Saraki led National Assembly in 2018, has elicited another outcry from the people – those in the affected States do not care for it. The Bill which seems to put certain waters and large chunks of land on the river banks in the 20 affected States under the ambit of the Federal Government, seems to be yet another indication that Government is not interested in any serious restructuring or devolution of powers. Au contraire! It is seeking to concentrate more powers in the Centre. Section 1 of the Land Use Act 1978 (LUA) which vests State land in their State Governors to be held in trust for the use and benefit of the people, is more in consonance with the concept of devolution of powers to the States and Local Governments, as it gives the States control over their land and waters, even though subsequently, the Constitution puts water from such sources on the Exclusive Legislative List (Item 64) as may be declared by the National Assembly to be sources affecting more than one State. Section 2(a) & (b) of the LUA gives Governors control over all lands in the urban areas, and the Local Governments, control over all other lands in their jurisdictions. It seems that this proposed Bill, if passed into law, will achieve the opposite, that is, it will once again diminish the powers of the States, while increasing that of the Federal Government, contrary to what those calling for restructuring, desire.

Conclusion

The sum and substance of my submissions is that, whether it is the economy or the Water Resources Bill or the state of our polity, the Government may say it is interested in the peaceful unity of our nation, but it’s actions say otherwise. This administration on its own, continues to sow more seeds of discord, disaffection and division on a daily basis instead – and it does so rather crudely and with impunity, I might add. It then, employs high-handed oppressive tactics to drown the voices of dissent in the country, possibly hoping that they will simply just go away. Not likely! The APC may have promised Nigerians that it would restructure Nigeria, but, more and more, it is looking like it was just the usual empty campaign promise which this administration had absolutely no intention of fulfilling – simply a tool to curry the support of some zones of the country who are clamouring for restructuring, to secure their votes in the election – nothing more.