Just a little over 90 days to next year’s general elections in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has unexpectedly opened the door to the possibility of his government entertaining the much hyped issue on restructuring of Nigeria.
Mr. Buhari was speaking in Paris, France in an interactive session with the Nigerian community in France, on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum. This year’s Peace Forum, initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron, is the first of would-be annual events to discuss “collective governance and international cooperation” in the face of global challenges and increasing uncertainties in the world.
The event coincides with the commemoration of the end of World War I, exactly hundred years ago. The Paris event was attended by over 70 heads of State and governments including US President, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin of Russia among many world leaders.
Mr. Buhari, who’s ruling All Progressives Congress party had crest to power in 2015 on the promise of constitutional restructuring and devolution of power from the central government to sub-national government, appeared to renege on the commitment upon assuming office.
Earlier in the year, during the presidential New Year address to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed calls for a holistic new look at Nigeria’s political structure, saying he did not see it as a priority.
“When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure,” the president said back then.
The president’s comments then appeared targeted at shutting down the growing agitation across the country for a fresh look at the country’s federal system which had become too centralised and its expenses over bloated overtime. Advocates argue that Nigeria was only a “federation on paper and a unitary country in practice”, and that the bureaucracy was stifling growth and innovations at the local levels.
But at the session with the Nigerian diaspora in France on Monday, while responding to a question, Buhari appeared to have moderated his views and opening the door to the possibility of even entertaining the issue of restructuring.
“There are too many people talking lazily about restructuring in Nigeria”, he complained “Unfortunately, people are not asking them individually what do they mean by restructuring? What form do they want restructuring to take?
“Do they want us to have something like the three regions we used to have? And now we have 36 states and the FCT. What form do they want? They are just talking loosely about restructuring.
“Let them define it and then we see how we can peacefully do it in the interest of Nigerians.
“They are just saying they want Nigeria restructured and they don’t have the clue of what the form the restructuring should be.
“So, anybody who talks to you about restructuring in Nigeria, ask him what he means and the form he wants it to take,” he stated.
Buhari’s complaints about the exactitude or consensus on the meaning of restructuring by advocates of restructuring however, is the normal refrain by those feigning ignorance about the issues around restructuring. In 2014, the government of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, confronted by similar agitations – had setup a national conference of 492 eminent Nigerians to discuss the issue and distillate the various shades of opinion on the subject matter.
The nearly 200 days conference cost the government a whooping N7 billion naira to organize, at the end of the exercise came up with a “Confab Report” of 613 far reaching recommendation. The APC then, as a political party, declined invitation to participate. Ex-president Jonathan, received the report from the conference chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi (rtd) on 21 August 2014. Caught in the heat of the 2015 electioneering campaign, he put the report in abeyance pending his hopeful re-election – which he lost!
The report has since been gathering dust at the shelves of Aso Villa.
Buhari’s comments in Paris has been met with cautious optimism nonetheless. It is yet to be seen if the president’s remark was a solid shift in policy position of government, or merely an attempt to jump in on the restructuring fray, as the message of restructuring from leading opposition parties seem to be resonating strongly among votes of the four geo-political zones of the country (north central, southwest, southeast and southsouth) where the demand for restructuring has been loudest.
Analyst believe that the president and his party may not garner any political mileage from any promise of restructuring at this time, for failing to have done so in the three and half years of being in government unless it could take practical steps to demonstrate genuine willingness to address the critical areas of devolution of powers to the States.
Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is running his campaign on the promise of restructuring.
Buhari discussed other issues of interest
He also gave reasons why Nigerians in diaspora might not vote in the 2019 general elections.
According to him, it will be very difficult for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to put in place structures to accommodate them with just about three months to the 2019 elections.
Noting that the increasing Nigeria population in the diaspora supports the calls for their participation in electing Nigeria leaders, he said that it might not happen in the 2019 general elections as INEC had been more focused on strengthening and consolidating on its achievements to conduct credible elections within the country.
But he said that Nigerians in diaspora would definitely participate in future elections.
Buhari said “We want to secure the Nigeria votes first before we go foreign. We are going to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be more independent and viable …. so that they can recruit more committed and educated Nigerians to be in charge and use technologies to get the votes from all the constituencies.
“So, with the way the economy is now, I think with the elections in three months’ time, it will be very difficult for INEC and the government to organize quality survey of those that are outside,” he said.
Responding to the question on education in Nigeria, the President said that his administration is doing its best to invest more in infrastructures, education and other sectors.
Buhari still blaming past governments
The Nigerian elites, he said, disappointed Nigeria and the Nigerian masses under the sixteen years administrations of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
According to him, so much waste has gone down the drain from the huge resources earned in during the PDP administrations in the country between 1999 and 2015.
He said that there was nothing to show for the earnings including the $16 billion said to have been spent on power.
He urged Nigerian elites, both at home and diaspora, to do more in contributing to the educational sector of the country, expressing surprise that the elites tolerated the fall in standards and structures of educational institutions despite the huge oil earnings.
He said; “So, really I have seen it all and I was disappointed in the Nigerian elites. What have they done in these sixteen years?”
“What do we have with our oil production down to half a million and the price per barrel went down to about $30, what could we have done with the infrastructure?
“You should find out the damage done by the main opposition now to the economy and the integrity of the country.
“So, we are now trying to improve infrastructures and do more in education and other areas.
“We are currently reviewing investments in the entire infrastructure of the country like road, rail and power, including investing more in education. We will certainly need to do more in education,’’ he said.
He added “I am doing my best now to utilize our resources to develop the country. We are already getting results on road, rail and power. My frustration is that some people still have plenty stolen money stashed in Europe, U S and other countries.’’
According to him, return of stolen assets in some safe heavens will bolster the administration’s current effort of investing more in critical infrastructure that directly impact on the livelihood of Nigerians.
He said that the war against terrorism will be reinforced with new weapons and hardware for the military
The challenge of abduction and kidnapping in some parts of the country, he said, will receive more attention with better gathering of intelligence.
According to him, God and technology in form of card readers and Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) won the Presidential elections for him in 2015 despite not succeeding in three earlier times.
“We campaigned on three key issues; security, improving the economy, and fighting corruption, and we have not been controverted by anyone that we have not recorded some results,’’ he said.
Speaking earlier, the Nigerian Ambassador to France, Dr. Modupe Irele, said that the Nigerian community in France had demonstrated high sense of responsibility, dedication and morality.
According to her, the large number of professionals had been encouraged to also contribute to the country’s development.
“Nigerians here are law abiding, peaceful and resourceful,’’ she said.
President Buhari’s commitment to change, she noted, will make Nigeria the envy of other African countries.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the interactive session, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, said that it was very important for President Buhari to attend the Peace Forum in Paris.
He said “President Muhammadu Buhari has been preaching for peace, especially when he came on board, he met our country religiously and ethnically divided.
“I think it is important that he meets with other world leaders to discuss how peace can be promoted among the nations and various people of the world.
“There is no way you can promote peace where there is massive corruption. Massive corruption deprives people of development, and if there is no development, there won’t be any peace.” he said
Willy Obiano of Anambra State said that it is important for Nigeria to be emphasizing peace.
In the education sector, he said that the state has invested a lot of money into the sector in the last four years.
He said “We revamped 1482 primary and secondary schools. We have sent our teachers to Singapore and Germany for training.
“More importantly, what my administration has done in Anambra State with respect to education is to reach the … end of Anambra State.” he said
House of Reps member, Nasir Ali Ahmed, representing Nasarawa Federal constituency of Kano State, said that the interactive session was a very successful meeting.
He hoped that a lot of the Nigerians living in France will come back home to contribute their quota to Nigeria’s development.
Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs, recently nominated Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Diaspora Commission, who facilitated the meeting, said that a lot of Nigerians living in France are already doing many things at home for the economy.
“So, we will continue to engage with them and continue to stress the positivity about our country, Nigeria,” she said
Stressing that there are some Nigerians in prisons in France, she said that Nigerians are being encouraged to obey the laws of the land wherever they go.
She also pointed out that the new commission is not a charity organization, but aims to tap into the enormous resources of Nigerians in the diaspora.