In what has been interpreted in many quarters as a desperate move to save what is left of its battered public image and win support of Nigerians ahead of the 2019 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) last Wednesday made a public presentation of the report of its committee on true federalism.
The 24-member ad hoc committee headed by Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, which was inaugurated August 10 last year, had earlier submitted its report to John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the party, on January 25.
Key areas where the committee made recommendations include referendum, where it recommended an amendment of the constitution to provide for referendum to be conducted on “burning national or state issues before decisions are taken”; state police, where it recommended that “police should be both federal and state”; and state judicial council, where it proposed “an amendment to create the State Judicial Council that will appoint and discipline judges within a state while the National Judicial Council will exercise control over the appointment, discipline of judges of the federal government only”.
On fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, the committee proposed amendment of “section 162 and sub-section 2 of the constitution” and amendment of the “revenue allocation and Federation Account Act to give more revenue to the states and reduce the federal government’s share of revenue”.
It further recommended the creation of state court of appeal “so that from the high court, you can appeal to the state court of appeal before it goes to the Supreme Court”; replacement of “state of origin”, which is discriminatory, with “state of residence”; an amendment to the Federal Character Commission Act to allow people domiciled in a place to be considered as indigenes”; vesting of minerals, mining and oil, except offshore minerals, in the states and amendment of the Petroleum Act to allow states to issue oil mining licences, as well as the Land Use Act, Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act, the Petroleum Profit Tax Act 2007”; and allowing for independent candidacy as a way of “widening the political space”.
Other areas the committee made recommendations include legislating on stamp duties, public holidays, state prison, and state creation of local government areas.
El-Rufai had promised that when the recommendations are passed by the National Assembly, “they will significantly rebalance our federation”.
Last Wednesday while presenting the report to the public, Oyegun apologised to Nigerians for the delay in the restructuring move, and in the party’s characteristic manner, attributed the delay to huge challenges the APC government inherited from the previous administration.
He alleged that the restructuring campaign which reached its peak last year was “championed by people who were determined to run down APC government”, even as he admitted that Nigeria urgently needed to restructure its governance system to enhance speedy socio-economic growth and development.
“We, undoubtedly, inherited a collapsed governance system and were faced with the task of fixing the economy, security, civil service, infrastructural deficit and other governance system that are helpful for the realisation of the agenda,” Oyegun said.
“But we are glad that tremendous success has been recorded in all these areas. That has made the time ripe for the APC true federalism committee report and possible implementation of the content of the far-reaching report.”
While some Nigerians are still astonished by APC’s sudden turnaround on restructuring, many contend that the setting up of the committee and the report itself were ploys to placate the electorate and curry their favour ahead of 2019. Many Nigerians had before now accused the APC of jettisoning the restructuring promise it made during the 2015 election campaign.
Before the party set up its committee on true federalism last August, the clamour for restructuring the country had become deafening from many quarters. In the thick of the clamour, prominent leaders of APC had blatantly denounced restructuring, saying it was not in the party’s manifesto.
The self-same Oyegun, APC national chairman, had rejected the call for restructuring, reportedly saying that the ruling party never at any time promised to restructure the country.
“When the APC manifesto was being put together, it was discussed extensively. We chose our words carefully in putting our words together and we are committed to what we have said in that manifesto,” Oyegun had said.
Similarly, El-Rufai, the latter-day chair of the APC restructuring committee, had also arrogantly descended on the proponents of restructuring, calling them “political opportunists and irresponsible” people.
Lai Mohammed, minister of information, culture and tourism, had also said on national radio last June that restructuring was not President Buhari’s priority.
On his part, Bisi Akande, a former national interim chairman of the party, resorted to verbal gymnastics, claiming the party never used the word “restructuring”, but that it had always advocated devolution of functions and true federalism.
“Restructuring is not our language…. That is not in the APC manifesto or constitution,” he had told journalists after a South-west APC meeting in Ibadan last October.
But then, the clamour did not abate as many, including renowned human rights lawyer Femi Falana, took APC to the cleaners for recanting what was clearly stated in its manifesto.
And so, the party hurriedly set up a committee. Not surprisingly, at the inauguration of the El-Rufai-led committee in Abuja, Oyegun made a U-turn, saying right from the party’s constitution and the manifesto, there were very elaborate references to true federalism and devolution of powers, and that the idea of restructuring was almost like a mantra for the APC.
He said APC was best qualified to “claim ownership of the principle and the need for true federalism”, adding that from the constituent units, it was one of the principal points discussed and agreed upon, as a result of which the party’s constitution and manifesto were very elaborate in their references to true federalism and devolution of powers.
“It is therefore totally inconceivable for uninformed members of the public to jump on this bandwagon of restructuring of the federation to give the impression that the party was in any way against the principle of taking a fresh look at the basis of our federalism,” he said.
Reacting to the APC committee’s report, Seriake Dickson, governor of Bayelsa State, called on the ruling party to set up a multi-party committee to consult widely and fast-track the process of implementating the recommendations.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja late in January, Dickson said he supported the committee’s recommendations but asked the APC to ensure the implementation of the proposals before the 2019 general elections, saying engaging various stakeholders from other political parties would add more value and input to the process.
“What the APC committee on restructuring did was quite surprising, quite unexpected and a welcome development. This is one of the fundamental proposals on constitution reform. I appreciate and commend their patriotism,” Dickson said.
“We have to jointly engage our National Assembly members to consider it and pass it to Mr. President for approval. It’s a national issue. We need a more equitable, free, fair and prosperous Nigeria. We encourage them to see the proposal through. After all, they control the two chambers of the National Assembly. We cannot give up now, we need to save Nigeria,” he said.
Edwin Clark, prominent South-South leader, challenged the APC to show faith in the committee’s work by forwarding the recommendations to the National Assembly.
“I have read the APC report on restructuring, on devolution of powers, resource control, state police. If they are sincere and honest about them, let them forward their recommendations for action to the National Assembly because majority of the members of the National Assembly who rejected devolution of power, are still holding to that,” Clark said.
“So, if the APC is sincere on the devolution of powers, resource control and state police and they believe in true federalism which includes fiscal federalism, we are all on the same page. They should publish it and send it to the National Assembly. If they do that, Nigerians will live together. The unity of the country will be strengthened; it should not be just for election purposes,” he said.
But the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said it is not fooled by the APC’s gimmicks. It dismissed the report as a ruse and fresh calculated ploy by the Buhari-led government to divert public attention from the endless litany of afflictions occasioned by its almost three years of dysfunctional governance.
Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP national publicity secretary, in a statement on Wednesday said it amounted to outright depravity that the same APC leaders who on assumption of office rejected restructuring would now suddenly turn around to pose as fathers of a restructured Nigeria simply because the 2019 general elections beckon.
The PDP said the attitude and body language of APC leaders underline the fact that the APC had no intention of implementing any form of restructuring.
Recall that Buhari had in his 2018 New Year broadcast expressed a “firm view” that Nigeria’s “problems are more to do with process than structure”, a statement pundits interpreted as outright rejection of restructuring.
“It is therefore deceptive that in the wake of their rejection by the people, the discredited APC and its dysfunctional government have suddenly woken up to parade as champions of a restructured Nigeria,” PDP said.
“This is a callous and wicked attempt to once again take Nigerians on a trip to the land of fantasy. We therefore urge Nigerians to reject the new ploy by the APC to deceive them for their votes in 2019,” it said.