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Embattled Oshiomhole speaks uncharacteristically on devolution

Published by The Nation on Sat, 16 Nov 2019


NIGERIANS know that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is Janus-faced on the subject of devolution of power, and are astounded by how brazenly the party flaunts that vice. Even though the ruling party included it as one of their objectives should they attain office in 2015, it was unusually easy for them to renege on that promise barely a few months after their president, Muhammadu Buhari, was sworn in. First the party was silent on it, then after much prodding, they hemmed and hawed. But finally, after the public had assailed them with unprintable epithets, they damned the consequences and declared that the grouching public had first to define what they meant by restructuring, a term often used interchangeably with devolution.Afraid that the controversial issue of restructuring might condemn them to defeat in the 2019 elections, the party pusillanimously accented to the need to do something peripheral to restructuring and devolution. They therefore set up a panel headed by their Kaduna stormy petrel, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, who flamboyantly concocted a devolution pastiche worthy of the best of Fabians, a pastiche designed not to be implemented knowing full well where their party panjandrums stand on the many controversial provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Yes, the panel recommended some form of devolution, but beyond that, every other thing was imprecise, muffled and dispensable. Neither the party nor the presidency has said a word on the recommendations of the devolution committee work. The fault, of course, is not that of the committee; the problem is that the presidency simply does not want to hear anything about changing the present obese and unworkable structure, for, in their vaunted opinion, it would be next door to secession or balkanisation.So, the country has up till now neither heard of the much tamer devolution, should that be the less offensive of the peoples political fancies, nor caught a glimpse anywhere of the highly hated restructuring, the veritable bugaboo that gives the Buhari presidency sleepless nights. Imagine the surprise, therefore, when on Channels, according to this newspapers account, the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, on Monday propounded a thesis, as it were, on devolution, describing the federal government as ungainly large, the powers and influence it wields as unprepossessingly obese, and the other levels of government as stifled and famished. He advocated some measure of devolution to free funds and resources for the states, and for the federal government to shed some weight.According to him: We must restructure our revenue allocation, the Concurrent and the Exclusive lists. The power at the centre is too huge to the extent that it is easier to clampdown on governors than the President. No President of our country has been interrogated for corruption. Are we saying they were all saints'Those who shout restructuring have no suggestions on the table to let us understand their idea of restructuring. We need to be more constructive in tackling our challenges. They are coming up with all sorts of artificial devices. The future generation should be the ones discussing restructuring because they are going to live with the outcome in the futureEthnic champions approached everything with ethnic colouration. We have lost our dignified ways of doing things. We can do a lot more to revisit our core values. We should avoid introducing politics into crime-fighting.Mr Oshiomhole knows in his heart of hearts that the federal government cannot continue to operate the way it is structured now to the detriment of the states, nor can it even be called to question over their perennial misappropriation of the huge funds the constitution put at their disposal. The APC chairman knows the truth, but he is not above the dissembling that has hobbled the party he leads. By throwing barbs at advocates of restructuring, he may simply be throwing a sop to the devil, metaphorically speaking. But no one is fooled. His party has disgracefully abjured restructuring, one of the central and ennobling goals many Nigerians naively read into their manifestos and indeed their existence as a political party. They voted for them in 2015 believing they were capable of making a difference not only in the lives of the people but also in the way things should run. In 2019, thoroughly flummoxed, they again voted for the party seemingly assured that the party would stumble into the inspired role of transforming the country. On both counts, the country has been sorely disappointed.Mr Oshiomhole may not have a thorough grounding of the issues pertaining to nationhood, but he has at least gone farthest than most APC leaders, including their highly conservative president, in challenging the orthodoxies by which Nigeria is governed. It is clear he sees the problem of states in terms only of the resources available to them vis-a-vis the excessively large funds needlessly deposited on the undeserving laps of the federal government, nay the presidency. He was also right in puzzling over the national obsession with corruption at the states level instead of the huger and richer federal government which, he insinuates, is kept unfairly and conspiratorially above censure. His friends in government and those in the presidency who have shielded him from the ravenous wolves intent on deposing him may get angry at his pointed barbs, but it is hard to fault his simple logic regarding where to place the bigger blame in a country inundated with blame games.However, as sensible as his ideas about devolution might be, even though a little restrained and convoluted, they are nevertheless fairly nugatory. In addition, his thesis on how to reorganise and run this country efficiently is still offensively pedestrian. He has admittedly gone further than anyone in the APC to enunciate the structural crisis and dilemma Nigeria faces, but like his party in their misguided pontification of nationhood, he has gone off on a tangent and is therefore of little use in addressing the main issues constraining growth, development and stability. Like his party, he also needs to reassess his theses and find the right coordinates if he and his party are not to shipwreck.Has Mr Oshiomhole asked himself why competition for the presidency and state government houses are so fierce, disruptive and counterproductive' Every election is war, and lives are inescapably lost. As intense as the anti-graft war is, corruption at the federal, state and local government levels have also not abated. It is time Mr Oshiomhole and his party began to interrogate the real factors responsible for the constant administrative stasis and paroxysm of electoral rage retarding the countrys progress. The problem is not a misbegotten revenue allocation formula, as palpable as this is; the problem is the abnormal federal structure operated by Nigeria and bequeathed by past military governments, a structure that fails to emphasise independent and competitive revenue mobilisation. States, or regions, as some have advocated, must generate their own funds and deploy them as they deem fit within the ambits of the law and the structures and cultures that best suit and serve them.His party is dishonest about many things, including its expectations and self-identification, but Mr Oshiomhole must be honest enough to let his party know, perhaps in private, that like its predecessors did, the APC is running the country into a cul-de-sac. They should forget the nonsense about the fractal politics of revenue allocation that has diseased the countrys amorphous federal structure, and must find ways of shedding the terrible and unbearable weight that has made its movement into the 21st century ponderous and nightmarish. Running a diseased federal structure has alarmingly predisposed the country to unhealthy ethnic and religious rivalry, and rendered it vulnerable. If Mr Oshiomholes admission forms the first tentative step in helping the ruling party and sceptical Nigerians to see the light, then his views, despite their inchoateness, are worth it.There is, however, nothing to suggest that the APC chairmans views are not spontaneous and the product of a desultory philosophy anchored on propaganda and flimsy expositions. This is a great pity. Nigeria needs brave men and women of ideas; so far, neither the APC nor its great rival, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has produced such people. The only hope is that President Buhari should represent the last of the conservative and militaristic titans who have kept the country ideologically stagnant. Perhaps the politics of 2023 will produce a tectonic shit in ideas and brave politicians who would dare to think and act for Nigeria. Perhaps.
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