Published On: Wed, Sep 5th, 2018

Nigeria’s restructuring and Osinbajo’s unpardonable prevarications




Of late, our learned Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has achieved fame – or even notoriety – for his uncommon ability to doublespeak, especially as it concerns the ongoing debate for and against restructuring of the country’s polity. He has acquired, somewhat, special skill that enables him to advocate for restructuring today, and tomorrow turn 360 degrees to oppose the same idea he had so eloquently made a case for the previous day.

Only recently, the Vice President surprised many when he reportedly argued that restructuring was not the country’s problem. As was expected, his argument generated a lot of reactions from a number of Southern and Middle Belt leaders. And especially Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere. Understandably, these groups have been at the forefront of the restructuring debate and Osinbajo’s ‘gaffe’ must have come as a rude shock to them.

But it was the written response by former Vice President, and presidential hopeful, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, titled: “Osinbajo got it wrong on Restructuring,” wherein he once again, made a clear case for restructuring, and faulted Osinbajo’s assertions, that got the current Vice President’s attention, prompting him to write a response of his own in the form of a letter to the editor of Premium Times, the medium that had originally published Atiku’s intervention.

In the said letter, which informs this article, the Vice President accepted that he rejected the notion of ‘geographical restructuring’ which according to him, would only take us back to regional arrangements or lead to increase number of states, when, as he pointed out, many of the existing states are struggling to pay salaries.

Reading that letter, I had reasons to doubt whether in truth, it came from our dear professor. First because the arguments made therein, sounded quite pedestrian. And second, because they were so contradictory that one struggled to make sense out of it all.

Atiku Abubakar

For instance, while the Vice President said he is opposed to ‘geographical restructuring’ because it could mean taking us back to the regions, he proceeded to write extollingly, about the successes achieved in the old Western region.

He wrote: “We should rather ask ourselves why the States are underperforming, revenue and development wise. I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South West Zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up fifty percent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.”

And proceeded to assert that, “what we required now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal Federalism, and a clear vision for development.”

The Vice President is apparently equivocating in a manner that is beneath his standing. He cannot be arguing in one breath, that we don’t need geographical restructuring, and in another breath, he notes that some states are not able to pay salaries. He can’t pretend to assume that geographical restructuring can only mean creating more states. Absolutely not, and like he noted, it can also, ideally, mean reduction of the existing number of states into, perhaps, six as we already have six zones.

He cannot extol the progress made in the old Western Region and not remember that it was only possible because the region had greater autonomy to manage its resources and was in competition with other regions over performance. That was healthy competition. Unlike the unhealthy scrambling for resources we have now.

The attempt to attribute our current failures solely to corruption, is another attempt to elevate the problem to the point where a number of uninformed Nigerians would begin to assume it is the only challenge the country faces, such that another highfalutin promise to fight corruption could resonate with them.

Such apparent falsehood, I would naturally expect from an ideal Nigerian politician, but coming from a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church and a professor of law who one would naturally assume would hold to the highest standards of truth, one can only weep for the country. For indeed, where else can we expect honesty?

Osinbajo made the rather convenient attempt to suggest that what Nigeria needed was a leader who can manage her resources well. He wrote:

“Good governance involves, inter alia, transparency and prudence in public finance. It involves social justice, investing in the poor, and jobs for young people; which explains our School Feeding Programme, providing a meal a day to over 9 million public school children in 25 States as of today. Our NPower is now employing 500,000 graduates; our TraderMoni that will be giving microcredit to 2 million petty traders; our Conditional Cash Transfers giving monthly grants to over 400,000 of the poorest in Nigeria. The plan is to cover a million households.”

Permit me to say that this argument is so lame. And the inevitable question would be, how much has the Buhari administration managed these resources in over three years? Why is it that the administration claims to manage resources better, and is only coming with yet another promise to manage it even better, yet, all the economic indices are worse off than they were during the ‘mismanagement’ years of President Goodluck Jonathan?

I accept that good governance involves prudence in public finance. But it involves more importantly, creativity in wealth creation. Osinbajo’s argument presupposes that there is already a pool of resources and what is required is someone to manage it more efficiently. It’s a lazy mindset created by our exposure to oil wealth. A government worth its name should be able to create wealth, not just manage it. Indeed, that’s the first and primary economic responsibility of government. As former Managing Director of Diamond Bank, Dr. Alex Otti, would argue, taxation is government’s own share of the prosperity it helped to create.

The school feeding programme the Vice President talked glowingly about as an achievement is hardly sustainable. And in any case, if we now choose to run a welfare state, things like that should not be a federal government programme. It should be handled by local governments. And they should be able to do so if we had the right structure.

Again, the Npower programme he boasts of as a huge accomplishment, is largely a transfer payment that is still not sustainable. It is a way of bribing the mass of unemployed youths to buy time. It is quite similar to the amnesty programme of the Niger Delta. Stripped of all other nomenclatures, it is bribery. Income should be tied to production. In other words, people should earn money by adding value. I know a number of the beneficiaries who are not doing anything. It’s only those posted to schools that teach.

Yet, the idea of giving out stipends as empowerment to traders is one that can only be hatched by a government that lacks ideas on how to create wealth. Providing good access roads and relevant infrastructure is the best empowerment to traders and entrepreneurs, not stipends. It’s like the idea of sharing Abacha loot to poor families. It’s just a waste. You cannot empower a poor family with N5000. In fact, you cannot empower someone who doesn’t have any skill.

I live in an area that has such bad road that one can hardly go out when it rains. And the implication of that, is that, even on a normal day, people pay more to move. Motorcycles – for okada riders – and cars wear out easily. Therefore, I argue that doing the road is more of an empowerment to the people in the area than giving everyone N10,000. It’s simple logic.

Here is another attempt to over hype corruption and hoodwink the gullible: “Surprisingly, Alhaji Atiku leaves out the elephant in the room – corruption. And how grand corruption, fueled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favorable concessions to enrich themselves. This was a main part of my presentations the Minnesota Town Hall meeting.”

The way the Vice President and his group interpret corruption is really hilarious. There is no way you are not going to have corruption in a system like ours, which as he rightly pointed out is a ‘rentier’ economic structure. The system is, in itself, corrupt. There is no kind of democracy that allows you to go to someone’s place, take his resources, sell them, and share the proceeds amongst yourselves. Ideally, what you do is allow him to do so and tax him. Thus, it is the height of hypocrisy for a government that insists on preserving this unjust, corrupt system, to turn around and claim it is fighting corruption.

It is surprising that the learned VP is talking about stealing here, when available evidence, as confirmed by even foreign agencies, suggest that there has been more stealing under this government than the previous ones. And indeed, the idea of Buhari was basically to “redistribute” money to Northerners who were angry that the South is leaving them behind.

Osinbajo should go to NNPC, Customs, NPA, and so on, find out the composition of the staff in those ‘cash cow’ agencies, then tell us what really explains it. Apparently, even in NNPC, corruption has doubled. Or how does one rationalize the skyrocketing amount paid in subsidies to unknown people?

But there is no greater corruption than putting square pegs in round holes. I have argued elsewhere that if I had a mechanic shop and I was looking for someone to run it. I would prefer someone who will steal from the profit but is a very competent mechanic to someone who will not steal anything but cannot tighten a screw.

The first person will guarantee patronage and you can look for ways to check his stealing instinct. The second person will run your business aground because you won’t have any customers.

In the above sense, those who advocate for Buhari on the basis of even his ‘non existent integrity’ are just so ignorant. The idea that someone who retired to his village many years ago, has no proven ‘requisite’ educational qualification, and who is not cosmopolitan and doesn’t interact with people outside his enclave, is the best person to lead a complex country in dire need of salvation is one I will perhaps, never understand.

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