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Published On: Mon, Feb 19th, 2018

APC Panel Report on Restructuring and 2019 polls

The release of the report on restructuring by the APC committee led by Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state has rekindle hope and expectation in the future of the nation and the willingness of its political elite to prevent a possible major crisis.  Although a late convert to the demand for restructuring, APC and particularly El Rufai who once dismissed restructuring as plot to destroy the country, may have turned a full cycle to fully embrace and endorse it.

The panel, according to the party became necessary because of the controversy over its understanding and therefore required proper articulation. Obviously the controversy over its definition and meaning was contrived to distort and distract from the real issues.

Shun of its bastardisation and politicization, restructuring is simply reviewing and improving our federal system to make it work better. Most people today agree that the country is not working because of its skewed federal structure which is in fact unitary in nature.

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 judgment.

Nearly three years after winning elections, the APC seems to have capitulated to the agitation for restructuring the country. The panel made sweeping recommendations to save the fragile polity through true federalism. The report might be a belate gambit, but if determinedly implemented, could help turn around the country’s fortunes.

Fortunately, the APC panel appears to have done a good job but the challenge is what to do with the report. The report focuses on 12 areas of interest such as fiscal federalism, citizenship, state police, federating units, labour matters, the legislative lists and devolution of powers, and littoral states etc. However, the party believes that these recommendations could be implemented in 2019, which may suggest after the general elections.

This is not good enough; whereas the APC accepted the demand for restructuring late – indeed, coerced into it – it displayed positive political sensitivity to respond to the yearnings of the people by moving with the tide. By doing the needful it invariably put its political credibility on the line and not following through will be a major betrayal. This is responsible for the seeming skepticism toward its panel’s report.

So it is disturbing to put forward the implementation of the report to 2019, the year of a major election, a coincidence that is difficult to ignore. The simple reading is that the party is not really committed to the idea and wants to use it to win over its supporters for the purpose of the election. This will be sad and a terrible gamble with the future of the country.

We still have almost one year before the election and there is so much that can be done before then if there is the political will. Waiting till 2019 to begin implementation will be a show of bad faith.

Furthermore, the introduction of littoral states, the infamous onshore/offshore dichotomy in the report is a deliberate attempt to stoke controversy and crisis which may eventually scuttle the whole exercise. It is disingenuous and calculated to divide the solidarity of the oil producing and non producing states. This matter was first introduced by former president Obasanjo to divide oil producing states and penalize the advocates of resources control, such as Akwa Ibom that depends on offshore oil exploration.

Put together, there is more to the APC panel report than meets the eye. It is a surprise that the party eventually bought into the restructuring agenda but this is being mitigated by its convoluted and unclear signals about its readiness and disposal to carry through the task and particularly the position of the president on it.

President 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 collating 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.”

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, and the party and government do not seem to be bothered about time.

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