Osinbajo, Atiku at war over restructuring

The debate on restructuring Nigeria bounced back to the public arena yesterday as the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar clashed over who between them was the true advocate of restructuring and had done more to advance it.
Osinbajo had, last week, incurred the wrath of Nigerians when he dismissed the restructuring debate as unnecessary and irrelevant in today’s Nigeria.

Many advocates of restructuring, including Atiku, then took him to the cleaners while Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, expressed its disappointment at Osinbajo’s apparent abandonment of a concept he once held dearly.

However, Osinbajo fired back at his critics yesterday, explaining that he was not against restructuring per se, but merely kicked against what he described as geographical restructuring of the country.

In an open letter released to the media yesterday, Osinbajo admitted that he rejected restructuring as canvassed by many because the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to Nigeria’s problems would either take the country back to regional governments or increase the number of states that make up the federation.
The vice president insisted: “Restructuring in whatever shape or form will not mean much if our political leaders see public resources as an extension of their bank accounts. This, I believe, is the real issue.”

He recalled that the 2014 National Conference recommended the creation of 18 more states, but argued that creation of more states would not be beneficial with several states struggling or unable to pay salaries.

The vice president also argued that what Nigeria required now was not geographical restructuring, but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development.

He attributed the historic successes recorded in the then Western Region to not just fiscal federalism, but visionary leadership.

According to him, the leadership of Western Region at that time had no access to oil money, but was able to do exploits in governance using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining.

The regional government, Osinbajo said, 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 at the time, while still giving up 50 per cent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.

The professor of Law said that he has been an advocate of fiscal federalism and stronger state governments and had argued in favour of State Police, for the simple reason that policing is a local function.

  “You simply cannot effectively police Nigeria from Abuja. Only recently, in my speech at the anniversary of the Lagos State House of Assembly, I made the point that stronger, more autonomous states would more efficiently eradicate poverty. So, I do not believe that geographical restructuring is an answer to Nigeria’s socio economic circumstances. That would only result in greater administrative costs. But there can be no doubt that we need deeper fiscal federalism and good governance,” he said.

He accused many advocates of restructuring of playing politics with the issue, arguing that Atiku’s concept of restructuring “is understandably vague” and seeks to cover every aspect of human existence.

He said: “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition. He says it means a “cultural revolution”. Of course, he does not bother to unravel this concept. He says we need a structure that gives everyone an opportunity to work, a private sector driven economy. Yes, I agree. These are critical pillars of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), including our Ease of Doing Business Programme.

  “If, however, this is what he describes as restructuring, then it is clear that he has mixed up all the issues of good governance and diversification of the economy with the argument on restructuring.”

Osinbajo stated that 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 two 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.

“Surprisingly, Alhaji Atiku leaves out the elephant in the room – corruption. And how grand corruption, fuelled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concessions to enrich themselves. This was a main part of my presentations at the Minnesota Town Hall meeting,” he said.

  In a swift reaction, Atiku described Osinbajo’s letter as an attempt to ward off the “avalanche of public condemnation” for his 360-degree turn on the concept of restructuring and to douse the tension his comments created in the polity. According to Atiku, Osinbajo’s explanation was an attempt to revise history and does not hold water.

He said that contrary to Osinbajo’s postulations, there was no ambiguity in his concept of restructuring, rather it was Osinbajo who had attempted to introduce ambiguities into the debate with his concept of geographic restructuring.
Atiku challenged Osinbajo to either stand with well-meaning Nigerians on restructuring or profess his new preference for the  status quo.
“Mr. Osinbajo said, “The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring”. That I disagree with and so do many other Nigerians. If the Vice President has changed his stance, I welcome it, but we should not use one finger to hide behind semantics. For the Vice President to say “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition” is most unfortunate.
“I have been in the forefront of the discourse on restructuring since the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference and to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any term like ‘geographic restructuring’. It is a strange concept, not only because it is not what the restructuring debate is all about, but also because the words of the Vice President, which prompted my response were clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.
“I have been very clear, detailed, and unambiguous about my ideas for restructuring.
“Devolution of powers and resources to the states. No state will receive less federal funds than today as a result of restructuring; matching grants from the Federal Government to the states to help them grow their internally generated revenue position; the privatisation of unviable Federal Government-owned assets; a truly free market economy driven by the laws of demand and supply; replacing state of origin with state of residence, and passing the PIGD so that our oil and gas sector will run as a business with minimal governmental interference.
“I am hard pressed to see how these clear and specific ideas can be described as ‘vague’. One would have thought that if anything is vague, it would be the idea of ‘geographic restructuring’ whose meaning is hanging in the air,” Atiku said.
On the issue of good governance raised by Osinbajo, the former Vice President carpeted the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the present administration and its claims at reviving the economy and creating jobs, adding that more Nigerians have been impoverished in the last three and half years than ever before.
“While what Professor Osinbajo says may be true or false, I must say that his dovetailing into the area of the economy does not explain certain facts such as the fact that the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2017 that Nigeria lost 7.9 million jobs in the 21-month period under review.
“If the Vice President cannot see that losing 7.9 million jobs in 21 months while creating 500,000 jobs is a deficit, then I do not know what to say to the honourable professor.
“Professor Osinbajo also harps on “prudence in public finance”, but he fails to show the wisdom in sharing out $322 million of Abacha funds to the poor only to take a loan of $328 million from the Chinese the very next month. Many Nigerians, myself included, see this as imprudence,” Atiku said.
.new telegraph

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