By Jerome-Mario Utomi
In the words of a British author and journalist George Orwell: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield
Certainly, if there is any new statement in Nigeria’s political history that captures the above feelings, spreads out the basic reasons for the ceaseless call for the nation’s restructuring, provides answers to why the existing system is currently unacceptable, challenges the fundamental assumptions, offers a road map for restoring the health and vitality of Nigerian democracy and proposes a strategy for the re-introduction of true fiscal federalism to its proper position in the country, it is the recent presentation by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Executive Governor of Lagos state and National Leader of the All Progressive Congress (APC),
Speaking on the topic; Time to restructure is now, at the 3rd Annual Abiola Ajimobi Roundtable,Tinubu among other things stated that; the current relationship between the police and the people needs such reform so that the police may help better answer the security challenges we now face. …..In fact, it is long overdue. This important change requires more funds in state hands, less in federal. Other items such as stamp duties for financial transactions, tourism, and the incorporation of businesses should also occur at the state level and be removed from the federal charge.
Perhaps the single most important factor in economic development is power generation. States currently are shut out from this vital sector even though the nation suffers a paucity of power. States must be allowed to engage in power generation as long as their efforts are consistent with and do not undermine federal labors in this sector. If we begin these fundamental changes, then our states will become stronger, more able catalysts of economic development. By instituting true federalism, we open the door not only to prosperity but to greater democracy and openness throughout Nigeria. This will help bring peace and tranquility where there is now tension and uncertainty about the pathway our nation is on. He concluded.
Obviously, It is not hard to know that Tinubu’s comment amply and perfectly demonstrate the way to go. it signposts a solid reality that knocks false belief about restructuring paddled for a very long period of time. From the content of his presentation, it’s glaring that ‘a new spirit is rising among us and we must trace its movement and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems to close around’.
This fact notwithstanding, the call did face an array of differing reactions.
While characterizing it as well meaning, some during a conversation observed that it is about taking power away from the centre. It is about efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government. It is about empowering states and governors to take a more active role in governance.
Others, contrary to expectation, went Biblical in their reaction describing the call as not just a new Wine in an old Wineskin but an act of patching up an old coat with a piece of new cloth. Referring to a parable found at Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39 which cautions that no man should put new wine into old bottles, else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled and the bottles shall perish. Or, should anyone use a piece of new cloth to patch up an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and make an even bigger hole in the coat.
The rest viewed it as another political gimmick, a gospel without the truth and a dangerous fiction constructed around 2023. In their judgment, the latest calls is in some ways similar to the 2015 experience where President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC) in their campaign manifesto, promised to “Initiate action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties, and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.” But never did.
However, as a fellow who will not spill his guts easily but don’t hide things either, the question may be asked; why did this piece shared this array of comments?
One possible answer to the questions is that it exposes as human beings how much simpler it is to place blames or criticize than to generate breakthrough ideas. This torrent of negative responses came even when it is obvious that we are all responsible for the decisions that our country makes. ‘We have a national Assembly, an independent judiciary. We have free speech. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws’.Yet; how much of these channels have we used in the past to make such demands? Have we forgotten that no matter how beautiful a policy appears, no matter how strong an institution tends to be, we always have deconstructionists that can undermine it?
For emphasis, apart from enjoying the constitutional backing as enshrined in the nations’ 1999 constitution (as amended), to express his opinion, Bola Tinubu by this call , has demonstrated the most dynamic and cohesive action expected of a leader of his class to earn a higher height of respect. And if adhered to, it will assist the country gain significant ground needed to tackle its development challenges particularly at the state and local government levels.
He is by no means alone in this call. It is factually documented that well foresighted Nigerians have in the past compared the need for restructuring with and likened it to, the indispensability and inseparability of the blood from the body. The nation, they argued, is currently structured and standing in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken. This state of our polity as it stands urgently needs to be revisited and possibly reversed.
No matter how long it will take us to live in denial; devolution of power at the centre has become inevitable. The padding of the exclusive list with activities has made ‘Abuja’ appear as a general surrounded by many lieutenants instead of the order way round. The truth is that for true federalism to be practiced; there is an urgent need for the nation to make the centre less attractive and federating states strengthened with greater autonomy.
To catalyze this process, there is also the need to recognize the already existing ‘agreement’ among Nigerians with critical minds; that President Buhari was elected by Nigerians and he is the symbol of the sovereign many talked about. And therefore, cannot be asked to convoc a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria. Such demand could be likened to asking him to abdicate the high office of the presidency of Nigeria, that is, to surrender his powers, office to a group of elected or selected persons who now determine the tenor of the federation.
From this reality, it is obvious that only the federal legislators can deliver us from this predicament. And it will be rewarding for our nationhood and democracy if the likes of Bola Tinubu use their good offices to lobby the APC dominated National Assembly for this purpose.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.; [email protected]. Or 08032725374.