The news in town is that both President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), have in words and in deeds rejected calls for the restructuring of Nigeria. Buhari emphatically declared in interviews to mark his one year in office that he would prefer to see the National Conference report, which comes close to resolving the national question and many of the contentious issues plaguing this land, gather dust in the archives.
These were his words: “I advised against the issue of the National Conference. Teachers were on strike then. I have not even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it and I want it to go into the so-called archives.” But recall that during the electioneering, the same Buhari promised to look into the report and implement the good aspects of it that would help move the country forward. It now appears, he was just being politically correct, to sway votes from a particular constituency in the last presidential election. Buhari’s change of tune only adds to his litany of broken promises since assuming power.
For those of us who saw through the superficiality of a changed Buhari dummy sold on the campaign train, it didn’t come particularly as a surprise. What came as a surprise was perhaps the interim position of a party that had previously arrogated to itself the curative solutions of national afflictions, which now unfortunately aligns perfectly with Buhari’s casual and contemptuous dismissal of a report that will, to a large extent, calm this disquiet in the land. It is this position that has left a distinctively chilling feeling in many people that words can hardly express. More so, there is a growing anger and frustration with these agents of change that approbate and reprobate at the same time on the same issues between daybreak and nightfall.
Even more disturbing is the shameless attempt at rationalising every misstep of the Buhari administration with excuses of dubious colouration. The applause from his supporters that follows every motion of his body celebrated as achievement is to say the least, mystifying. And for a moment, you are tempted to agree that everyone needs a psychiatric evaluation to determine their sanity. There appears to be a prolong bout of epileptic seizure of rational thinking in this debate to free Nigeria from the forces that want it to stay perpetually down while other nations are moving up. One week after Buhari’s declaration, the chairman of the APC, John Odigie Oyegun, followed suit with his party’s position, stating that the party was uninterested in the restructuring of the country for now, because there were more important priorities such as rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and ensuring the security of lives and properties. But can any meaningful and sustainable thing be achieved without creating the necessary environment which will unleash a tidal wave of opportunities and possibilities as we will have in a restructured country.
As they dismissed the National Conference report out of hand, they have also dismissed the very panacea to rebuilding the economy and ensuring the security of lives and properties in the long-term; they have also waved aside true federalism to make the country more workable, thereby freeing it from the strangulating clutches and vestiges of an obtuse structure that defies not just common sense but economic and political realities. The indirect result of their action is that the entire man-hours of work put into the conference report, the deliberations, the conclusions reached and the money invested in it have all gone to waste on the whimsical excuse that some leading APC members did not support it from the outset and that “teachers were on strike” when the conference was held. Can anyone out there tell me how the teachers’ strike during the duration of the conference diminished the value of the report? Ironically, our president is more fixated with the financial cost of the conference than the final outcome of the deliberations no matter how noble it may be.
I cautioned Nigerians that the change upon which some deeply flawed politicians of the APC campaigned was designed to grab power purely for the sake of it but I was ignored. This is what you get when the truth and the reality are sacrificed for the temporary relief that illusion brings. It was never about the country or its people. It was a campaign built on a powerful word that easily captured the imaginations of many – including some hitherto discerning individuals. Their casual dismissal of the report has shown that they had no allegiance to the principle and practice of true federalism, neither do they have the desire or the capacity to address the fundamental problems besetting this country – which have their roots in this opaque restructure. It is a tragedy of immense proportions that some of the outspoken elements of the South-west who rode to national prominence on the crest of the struggle for the convocation of the Sovereign National Conference and the clamour for fiscal federalism are no longer keen on it.
The architects of this fraudulent contraption that brought ultra-centrists and progressives together to form the APC are now showing a supreme contempt for the very ideals and principle we had previously known them as believers and fierce advocates of. They have become men of straw, tongue-tied by their own contradictions and ravenous desire for power. Nothing best reinforces this flawed alliance and exposes them for the hypocrites they truly are than their lacklustre attitude to the current clamour for fiscal federalism as once-upon-a-time vociferous campaigners for restructuring and true federalism have once again been caught red-handed in their own duplicity. The questions we should ask them are: was it all just convenient because they were not in power at the centre? What has changed about restructuring they had rigidly canvassed that they now no longer want? Is it because they have now tasted the intoxicating power at the centre and are relishing it? I am unable to understand the precise motivation behind this sudden change.
The sad irony here is that Nigeria’s interests clash with the interests of its leaders, and in this epic life-and-death struggle to liberate the country, the interests of our leaders have always emerged victorious. Now is the time to tell them, we want our country back. How else does one explain that what will save Nigeria and fundamentally redefine its future for the better is now being rejected by a party that carries the barge of progressivism and won elections on the mantra of change? Why can’t the nation change a system and the structure that has stunted its progress for so many years and made it a big for nothing giant? Why can’t its leaders take the right steps to fix this problem we all know and identify as hindering the country’s progress? Well, I tell you what, if you judge the future from what we have suffered in the past and are still suffering, you will see ominous dark clouds gathering over Nigeria. So why can’t we discuss how we relate with each other; how we allocate national resources; who gets what and how?
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has become the unlikely voice of reason in this debate as other leaders of the party of change are either keeping silent or mocking calls for restructuring in a selfish diminution of those values of freedoms, equity and justice, human rights and enduring principle of the rule of law they once vehemently defended as articles of faith.
The truth here is that the structure of Nigeria as it is now is not working. And when a building or a bridge has structural defects, there is no other way to fix it than to knock it down and rebuild. The structural defects in Nigeria have become the single most important inhibition of its growth and development. These have made corruption so rife in the country that it has become second nature. The structure must be knocked down for a new foundation to be laid for the birth of a new nation. And for this to happen, we need a resolute leader with a broad vision, strong progressive political convictions and a pan-Nigerian disposition to drive such a change.
In my view, Buhari may be a patriot in the eyes of some, but does he possess the requisite attributes to liberate and reform the country and set it on the path of development? Does he believe that the structure upon which the country was built is deeply unjust and fundamentally flawed? I have my doubts, the reason being that he is a creation and beneficiary of the system that has brought this country to its knees. But history is replete with examples of unlikely heroes who turn around an unjust system that created them to bring healing to their country and in the process became beatified in the hearts and minds of the people forever. Will Buhari look at this moment and decide he would bend the arch of history to the path of a new nation? Again, it is unlikely but not improbable.
Restructuring Nigeria is a chance at rebirth and an opportunity at regeneration. The country as currently constituted has become a gift to some that keep on giving and getting nothing in return. The APC leadership’s position is driven and motivated largely by an inordinate ambition for power for self-interests.
Interestingly, following the removal of subsidy on petrol by the then president, Goodluck Jonathan in January 2012, the governors elected on the platform of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which alongside others later morphed into the APC met on January 7, 2012 at Lagos House, Marina, to deliberate on the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government. They declared inter alia: “We fully associate ourselves with the position of our party. In our view, the debate on the fuel subsidy is a narrow one… We are more concerned about the totality of the economy.
For this reason, it is imperative to immediately implement the long-standing demand for fiscal federalism. The first step in this direction is the immediate review of the lopsided revenue allocation formula.” In attendance were Governors Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Lagos; Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti; Rauf Aregbesola, Osun; and Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State
These people are still active players in the politics of this country today. Two of them are cabinet ministers at the federal level in a government that has openly rejected the clamour for fiscal federalism and restructuring. What is Fashola and Fayemi’s position on the issue today? They are now mute and indifferent.