Prior to the 2015 presidential election, when the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was an opposition party, seeking to upstage the then government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), one of its main campaign promises, among others, was the restructuring of the country, something many Nigerians had been clamouring for.
The promise, for all its intents and purposes, sat well with Nigerians, especially as the APC made it a point of duty to climb the podium at every point in time to assure Nigerians that, once it is voted into power, the issue of restructuring will be one of the first things it will tackle.
To convince Nigerians that it meant serious business, the party played big on the issue and made it a key factor in its Constitution. To further convince Nigerians of its sincerity of purpose, the APC made a meal of the restructuring issues in its manifesto, and in Article 7 (ii) of the April 2014 APC Constitution (as amended), the party specifically said its major aim and objective was:
“To promote true federalism in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
On page 7 of its manifesto, in what it referred to as a “honest contract with Nigerians to create a federalism with more equitable distribution of national revenue to the states and local governments because this is where grassroots democracy and economic development must be established,” the APC said within the first year of its coming to power, it will constitute a restructuring committee that would oversee the “true and honest” reformation of the nation.
In the foreword to its vision for a New Nigeria (Page 3, second paragraph), the APC said the party was committed to “implement efficient public financial management strategies and ensure true federalism” as well as “restructure governance in a way that kick starts our political economy so that we begin to walk the path of our better future,” unlike the PDP which they tried so much to demonize.
The journey to hoodwink the citizens did not stop there as the APC held several public lectures and symposia to explain how it intended to deliver on the promise and the benefit which would accrue to Nigerians.
The restructuring agenda had hit the right cord with Nigerians and when the election came, the APC won by a landslide. Citizens were patient with the government and allowed them to settle down before bringing up the restructuring issue.
However, when it became apparent that nothing tangible was going to come out of it, the voices of dissent began to dominate the political space.
Buhari’s restructuring contradiction (2016)
In September, 2016, a clear one year after the APC got into power, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, came out with what he thought was some words of assurance when he told Nigerians to continue to exercise patience as the President was still making efforts to deliver on his campaign promises, particularly the restructuring of Nigeria.
Ngige who was addressing a press conference in Awka, Anambra State, said the Buhari-led administration had already commenced the restructuring process starting with the nation’s economy.
“Nigerians have changed their way of doing things for the better and have become more prudent and judicious in their spending pattern.
“It’s one after the other. After economic restructuring to reposition the economy of this country, the Buhari administration will embark on the political restructuring and will set the modalities for the exercise.”
But Ngige must have forgotten an earlier statement by Buhari that there was no way the restructuring of the country was going to work, owing to the polarity of the nation.
Buhari had, on June 19 of 2016, vowed that his administration will not restructure the country, stressing that those “agitating for separation and canvassing for restructuring are naive and ignorant of war.”
“The issue is that those who are currently calling for restructuring and conference on what they call ethnic nationality, if you go to Southern Kaduna, Taraba, who is to represent them? We have a different combination of ethnicity in many parts of the country. Even Kano and Kaduna, Igbos have properties. The same goes for Yorubas.
“There are Fulanis in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. So those calling for whether separation or restructuring, some of them, I will say, they are very naive or even mischievously dangerous. Those agitating for restructuring are ignorant of war and its consequences,” Buhari had said.
APC restructuring committee (2017)
But that did not end the outcry by Nigerians for the party to go ahead with its promise of restructuring and as the clamour became deafening, with ethnic warlords springing up from every part of the country, President Buhari, in August 2017, bowed to pressure in response to public agitation over the matter.
The government hurriedly set up a committee headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, tagged the ‘APC Committee on True Federalism,’ with the mandate to midwife a clear path and the architecture on the position of the party on true federalism.
The committee reportedly held public hearings across the six geo-political zones of the country and turned in a report.
The APC Restructuring Committee which was set up by the then National Chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun, was “to distill the true intent and definition of true federalism” as promised by the party during the electioneering campaign, and to take a studied look on the report of the various national conferences, especially that of 2014, and come up with recommendations.
The El-Rufai-led committee got down to work and, while presenting the outcome of its deliberations months later, said it had consulted widely with Nigerians in town-hall meetings, engaged thousands of young Nigerians to carry out extensive researches, so as to come out with an all-encompassing report.
Committee report (2018)
By the time the report was ready and presented to Odigie-Oyegun on January 25, 2018, the el-Rufai committee listed 12 issues it had come up with which, if followed to the letter, will see to the true federalism Nigerians had long wanted.
While submitting the report four months later, el-Rufai had said:
“After four months of rigorous research, we are pleased to inform the Chairman that we have completed our assignment and are here to present our report. Our report is in four volumes.
“At the end of our rigorous research, debates and deliberations, we came up with 24 items that Nigerians have indicated interest views that balance our federation.”
While receiving the report, Odigie-Oyegun promised Nigerians that by the middle of February 2018, all structures of the party would have met and considered the report.
“I am going to promise that before the middle of February, it would have been considered and decided upon by the major structures of this party, the National Executive Council, the caucus of the party. And whatever is thereafter agreed, will be presented to the authorities as considered views and decisions of the APC for appropriate implementation,” Oyegun had said.
A summary of the key points of the APC Restructuring Committee recommendations were:
1. Merger of States
Noting that creation of States was already a constitutional issue, the el-Rufai committee said that merger of states was one of the key components of a restructured Nigeria. It proposed a draft bill that will allow states to merge if they so desire.
“Though there was no consensus from stakeholders on the merger of states, we felt that we should propose a bill that allows state to merge and it is up to the party, the National Assembly and the people of Nigeria to decide on that. But we drafted a bill that is there for the party and the government to move on with,” said the committee.
2. Derivation principle
The committee proposed that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act be amended to give the commission the power and responsibility to periodically review the derivation formula. Afterwards, proposal will be made to the President who shall table it before the National Assembly for legislation.
The committee, however, declared: “we have therefore drafted a bill that will expand Section Six, sub Section One of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission act to give them that power. The bill is in Volume 2 of our report.
3. Devolution of Power
On devolution of power, the committee stated: “accordingly, we have proposed that the Second Schedule of Part One and Part Two of the Constitution should be amended to transfer some items that are now on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List that will enable both then states and the federal government to legislate on them.”
The items include: food and drugs, fingerprint identification of criminals, registration of business names, labour matters, mines and minerals, the Police, prisons, public holiday and stamp duties.
4. Fiscal Federalism
The committee noted that majority of Nigerians advocated for states to receive more revenue than the Federal government as this would see the states taking more responsibilities and drastically reducing their reliance on the Federal Government to meet their needs.
“We also have recommendation on fiscal federalism and revenue allocation in which we propose amending Section 162 and sub-section two of the Constitution; as well as amend the revenue allocation of revenue Federation Account Act to give more revenue to the states and reduce the federal government’s share of revenue,” the committee noted.
5. Independent candidacy
The committee said it found out that majority of the respondents were opposed to independent candidacy. However, it recommended that the APC should support independent candidates as this would widen the political space.
“We have included in the bill that no one that wants to run as an independent candidate should be a member of any political party six months to the election. We have put enough safeguards in our recommendation to ensure that independent candidacy is not a platform for opportunism,” they noted.
On the judiciary, the committee noted that the National Judicial Council as the single judicial body in Nigeria operates a unitary judicial system in a federal system.
Based on this premise, the committee stated: “So we have proposed amendment to the Constitution to create a state judicial council that will appoint and discipline judges in a state while the National Judicial Council will exercise control over the appointments, discipline of judges of the federal government only.”
7. Local government autonomy
The committee recommended that the current system of local government administration as provided by the Constitution to be amended was not independent and canvassed that states should be allowed to enact laws on local government administration as deemed peculiar to each of them.
The committee said: “we propose amendments to Sections 7, 8, 162 of the First Schedule and Fourth Schedule of the Constitution to give effect to our recommendation.
“We are by this recognizing the federal government which can only be two tiers of government,” they concluded.
8. Revenue allocation
The issue of revenue allocation, or popularly called resource control, was another key point in the el-Rufai report and based on the agitation by s0ates to exercise control over natural resources within their respective regions and pay taxes and royalties to the Federal Government, the committee declared: “we have also proposed amending Section One of the Allocation of Revenue Federal Act to reflect this reality. We have also proposed amendment to Section 40 to the Value Added Tax Act. They are in Volume Two.”
The committee recommended that local government or state of origin should be replaced with state of residence as the current system was “discriminatory.”
“It is around this that we have proposed an amendment to the Federal Character Commission Act, to allow people domiciled in a place to be considered as indigenes,” they recommended.
The committee affirmed that in Nigeria’s Constitution, there was no provision for referendum except for the creation of state. It was its belief that having a referendum in the Constitution will be a panacea to some of the agitations in the country, especially the agitation for Republic of Biafra as championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
“We have a constitutional amendment to enable a referendum to be undertaken on national issues,” the committee recommended.
11. Public holidays
The committee recommended that public holidays be moved from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List so that there will be federal public holidays and state public holidays.
The committee affirmed that “this is already happening unconstitutionally. This will just make the action of State governments lawful and legal and avoid confrontation with the federal government.”
12. State police
The committee recommended that state police should be moved from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List.
Going by the recommendation, that would pave the way for the restructuring and true federalism that Nigerians had been clamouring for but as it stands, the report has been swept under the carpet and made to gather dust, as most of the government’s numerous promises to Nigerians.
APC and restructuring dilemma (2019)
The promise by Odigie-Oyegun and the APC that the report of the el-Rufai restructuring committee will be implemented by the middle of 2018 turned out to be another lie the party had fed to Nigerians, as it became another of its campaign promise for the 2019 presidential election.
This time, the party assured Nigerians that when it returns to power the restructuring of the country would be the first task it would accomplish.
In its campaigns, the party restated that it would have no choice but acquiesce to the wishes of Nigerians and heed the popular demand to restructure the country to true federalism or, at least, “take some decisions to devolve powers to the states.”
By then, the agitations for the restructuring of the federation had become so persistent that the ruling party knew it would be hanging itself out to dry if it continued to play the Ostrich to the demands.
The uproar got so loud that the Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, added his voice to those clamouring for restructuring by expressing the view that the current structure of government cannot take the country anywhere.
The current “Constitution has turned the federating units to mere paupers that go cap in hands to Abuja to collect monthly allocations.
“This is what people are asking for. They are asking for increased political power, increased fiscal federalism while interacting with members of the same country in unity. That is why I think the 1999 constitution was mistakenly drafted and foisted on Nigeria; that is why there is so much tension “ Sagay argued.
However, there were other dissenting voices within the ruling party who felt Nigerians were unreasonable for asking that the party should fulfill its promise.
Doubts as to whether APC had pulled a fast one in Nigerians began to clear when the then party spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, said the APC was only “considering restructuring to win the 2019 elections.”
While speaking as a guest on a television programme, ‘The Osasu Show’, Abdulahi let it slip that the “APC had set up a restructuring committee so it could emerge victorious in the 2019 election.”
Earlier, precisely on November 30, 2017, the then Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, had kicked against a restructuring of the country, calling those demanding for it as “callous and unpatriotic.”
At an event in Abuja, Shettima had blurted in anger when the issue came up:
“To hell with restructuring and those calling for such. People are talking about artificial intelligence, other nations are talking about nano technology or robotics engineering but unfortunately, the topical issue in Nigeria is restructuring. Restructuring my foot! To hell with restructuring.
“Let us improve on governance, let us work for the people, invest in education, create jobs for our people, this madness will stop.
“Restructuring my foot! To hell with restructuring. Let’s focus on governance. Let’s invest in education, let’s work for the people and create jobs so this madness will stop.”
Executive order 10 (2020)
With no will or desire to implement the reports of the el-Rufai’s committee recommendations, President Buhari, in 2020, came out with a set of order, tagged Executive Order 10, 2020, which, according to his media minders, was directed at ensuring the enforcement of a constitution provision.
The order, unlike previous orders, seemed to enjoy the support of Nigerians who felt it would, at least, call for subtle restructuring by giving autonomy to local governments, the judiciary, and play a sweeping role in assuaging the agitations that had continued to gather momentum.
A cursory look at the Executive Order 10, 2020, showed that it authorized the Accountant General of the Federation to withhold monthly allocations to states from the federation account in “respect of any state whose governor failed to implement the provisions of section 121(3) of the Constitution which granted financial autonomy to the state legislature and state judiciary.”
The Section particularly mandated that the allocations in the state budget should be a charge on the Consolidated Revenue Funds of the state which should be a first line charge.
The order further made subsidiary arrangements for the realization of the objectives. But by its nature, Executive Orders has no direct mention in the Constitution, which portrayed that there was no express textural justification for the exercise of executive order by the President in the constitution.
Therefore, it became apparent that Buhari had only made half-hearted, and at best, half-measure attempts at delivering on the much sought after restructuring, albeit, dead on arrival as many Nigerians had come to find out.
To many, it was a mere playing to the gallery by the President who had continued to show a lackadaisical attitude towards the call for restructuring.
However, the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, in trying to give a soft landing to the President on the Executive Order, admitted that it was Buhari way of ‘soft restructuring’ to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy.
He had argued that those “who believe that the President was opposed to the advocacy were missing the point,” noting that Buhari signed Executive Order No. 10 to bring Nigeria’s civil rule at par with the United States of America (USA).
“For the avoidance of doubt, no critic remembered that President Buhari recently signed into law, Executive Order No 10 of 2020, cited as Financial Autonomy for State Legislature and Judiciary Order, 2020.
“If we had opposed the bi-partisan gang-up of the state governors, who opposed this democratic game-changer, they could have failed. This is the foundation for grassroots democracy and the cornerstone of free and fair elections. It’s as if we had shut our eyes and ears to whatever Buhari does whether good or better?
“Executive Order 10 simply delegated powers to the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from the allocations due to a state from the Federation Account, any sum appropriated for the legislature or judiciary of that state which the state fails to release to its legislature or judiciary as the case may be and to pay the funds directly to the state’s legislature or judiciary concerned,” he said.
Despite the intentions and sentiments of the President and his aides, Executive Order 10 of 2020 has been viewed as an unlawful exercise as any display of such power must derive and relate to any express grant by the Constitution or an Act of the National Assembly.
Executive Order No. 10, therefore, has been perceived as not a valid exercise of the executive power of the President as it has been deemed both unconstitutional and dangerous.
Restructuring and 2023
As another election cycle approaches in 2023, Nigerians are, once again, wondering if the restructuring gambit will still play big in the APC campaign promises, and remain a campaign tool for the election.
It has been six years! Will APC continue to play smart with the issue of a radical restructuring of the polity as promised in its manifesto? The answers, as they say, are blowing in the wind.