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APC panel report on restructuring -Punch Editorial

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Nearly three years after winning elections, the All Progressives Congress seems to have capitulated to the agitation for restructuring the country. Already, a high-powered committee led by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has submitted its report to the party on the need to dispense with the current pseudo-federal structure, which many Nigerians pinpoint as an impediment to national cohesion and economic progress. The panel has made sweeping recommendations to save the fragile polity through true federalism. The report might be a belated gambit, but if determinedly implemented, could help turn around the country’s fortunes.

Essentially, the APC Committee on True Federalism proposed the devolution of powers to the federating units and a measure of resource control. In line with this, it recommended state police, which is to operate “alongside the federal police” and each force with its own defined areas of authority. The committee views the current Exclusive Legislative List, which has 68 items, as a bastardisation of federalism. That is a good judgement.

Therefore, some of the items therein, including prisons, labour matters and registration of business names, are to be entrenched in the Concurrent List. This is pragmatic. In the United States, Australia and Germany – all federal polities – policing is decentralised. With insecurity reaching alarming proportions, well-structured policing at the federal, state, local council and community levels will go a long way in putting criminals in check.

Indeed, it is an idea that is ripe for implementation. During the National Security Summit on February 8,  Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said, “…we cannot realistically police a country the size of Nigeria centrally from Abuja. State police and other community policing methods are clearly the way to go.” At the summit, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, led by Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, backed the establishment of state police. The same argument goes for a decentralised prison structure. The current formula, in which the Federal Government is in sole control, is a misnomer. The few federal prisons are inadequate; infrastructure there was mostly erected in the colonial era. It is pointless to retain it.

Although some have raised objections, the panel’s recommendation about the LG system is fundamental: in federal states, the centre and the states, provinces or regions are the federating units. The federating units thus have control over the local governments, leaving them to create and fund LGs as they deem fit. With this kind of system, the 774 LGs would not have been entrenched in the 1999 Constitution nor be used as a means of sharing revenues.

With hindsight, the row between Lagos and the then Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government, in which the then President seized the allocations for Lagos on the spurious basis that it created 37 local council development authorities, would never have arisen.

However, the el-Rufai committee edged its bets on fiscal federalism: it said that mines and minerals, oilfields and mining, geological surveys and natural gas should be in the Concurrent List. There is nothing wrong with this. The decisive factor, however, is that the report vests offshore oil and gas resources exclusively in the Federal Government, while states will only control onshore resources.

Although oil-producing states are currently entitled to 13 per cent derivation, most of Nigeria’s oil resources are now offshore. The Federal Government will thus be the major beneficiary in the proposed arrangement. In federal states, the federating units have control over their resources and pay royalties and taxes to the centre, as was the practice in the 1963 Republican Constitution that the military discarded in 1966. For the proposals about state police and prisons to be implemented, the states have to generate income from the resources in their domains. Therefore, the proposal has to be reviewed before the final draft is submitted to the National Assembly.

Will the APC make the difference? Or, is President Muhammadu Buhari ready to take the bull by the horns, doing what three Peoples Democratic Party presidents, who were in power for 16 years, could not muster the political will to do? In truth, a heavy air of doubt surrounds the true intention of the party. Buhari and the party seem to be far apart on restructuring. In his New Year’s Day broadcast, Buhari dismissed restructuring outright, although the party’s committee was already analysing the views of Nigerians as of that time. To the bewilderment of Nigerians, Buhari had said, “When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.” Wrong.

It is, therefore, hard to reconcile the President’s views with the pledge of the APC to restructure the country. This is why many Nigerians believe the el-Rufai committee’s report is a well-orchestrated political ploy to buy time. One, the report has yet to be submitted to the President, who might have the final say. Two, it has not reached the National Assembly, which will debate and amend the Constitution accordingly, along with the 36 state Houses of Assembly. This is a legal maze. It requires time, which is a precious commodity, as electioneering for 2019 commences in August.

However, this should not deter the exponents of restructuring. The APC made restructuring part of its manifesto while campaigning for votes ahead of the 2015 elections. The campaign is highly likely to be a long one, but the process of restructuring has to start before the elections. By starting restructuring now, incrementally, Nigeria will attain true federalism. Therefore, its advocates should hold the APC to its word. If it dithers, the electorate should take it that the committee is, indeed, a ruse to hold on to power through the 2019 elections.
 
Punch
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