Nigeria: El-Rufai and the Restructuring Debate

8 December 2020

The need to restructure the federation has become more pressing

Although the All Progressives Congress (APC) committed itself to restructuring the country and promised to support devolution of powers during the 2015 general elections, the party reneged upon ascending to the presidency. However, in the build up to the 2019 general election, the party constituted a committee chaired by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. Since then, nothing has been heard about the issue until recent weeks when el-Rufai started to speak vociferously about the overdue restructuring of the country. Some of the populist recommendations in the report of his committee include devolution of powers; state control of mineral resources, including oil and gas, except those offshore; state police; and delisting of local government from the 1999 Constitution as amended, among others.

Instructively, in 2014 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration instituted the National Conference, APC was the only political party in the country that did not attend and since gaining power, its government has insisted that it would not implement the conference recommendations. Yet, most of the proposals by the el-Rufai committee tally with those made by the conference. Indeed, majority of the APC senators and House of Representatives members stood stoutly against the devolution of powers amendment bill, killing it during the passage of amendments to the constitution in the eighth National Assembly. The bill sought to devolve some critical powers to the federating units by moving some items from the exclusive to the concurrent legislative list.

However, notwithstanding the reservations about the sincerity of the APC on the issue of restructuring, Nigerians should give the party the benefit of the doubt, especially now that el-Rufai is leading the debate. We hope that the party would be able to convince President Muhammadu Buhari on the urgent need to restructure and rebalance the country in order to make it a more efficient federation that would work for every Nigerian citizen irrespective of tribe, religion and gender.

As this newspaper has said on several occasions, the current, and essentially unitary structure is not working for Nigeria as it continues to stifle development and growth on all fronts, and generating internecine strife all over the federation. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) has at different times repeated the call to decentralise security apparatus and law enforcement from the federal to state down to the community. He has argued, and rightly so too, that partnership in the security sector and inter-agency collaboration must be encouraged to bring about effective policing, adding that the police, as the traditional and age-long security outfit, must be accorded their pride of place.

Besides, the issue of bankruptcy for many states poses the same challenge as the structural viability of Nigeria and the mockery of our federalism. When the government of Nigeria is mentioned today, the only unit that comes to mind is the central government - a symptom of the malady of over-centralisation. But the chicken is finally coming home to roost with the outright economic bankruptcy of many of these so-called states. Things have degenerated to an extent that the fiscal law of matching federal allocation proportionally with states internally generated revenue had to be violated in order to maintain what the preponderance of states receive, which is now not even sufficient to pay salaries.

Given the foregoing, we are yet to see a way out of the prevailing governance mess without ultimately embracing a return to fiscal federalism. That is why we consider the current campaign by Governor el-Rufai very important. As the chairman of the APC committee that recommended restructuring the country, it is now his responsibility to impress it on leaders of his party that for Nigeria, time is running out.

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