Why Atiku Deserves Attention

Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar last week restated his call for the restructuring of Nigeria, which he said had become inevitable. “I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like or support it or not. The question is whether it will happen around a conference table, in a direction influenced by us and whether we will be an equal partner in the process. Or will it happen in a more unpredictable arena and in a manner over which we have little influence? It should be at a table and we need to be at that table. A nation is an organism; it grows, it evolves, it changes, it adapts. And like other organisms if it does not adapt, it dies.”

Whatever anybody may say about Atiku and his politics, I think he has been consistent on this issue and that is why he deserves our attention, especially given that it is now very clear that our nation cannot achieve its optimum under the current structure. That is the point I was making last week, when I expressed sympathy for President Buhari who “inherited a broken system”, even though my brother, Reno Omokri, deliberately chose to misinterpret me. The statement had nothing to do with the stewardship of President Goodluck Jonathan nor can I justifiably be accused of making excuses for President Buhari that I had accused of compounding the problems of Nigeria by the choices he has made or refused to make since coming to office.
But back to Atiku, although I was in the United States for most of 2010 and 2011 and did not witness the presidential election, I remember the former vice president pledging in the course of the campaign for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket which he lost that if elected president, his medium-term (a four-year period) strategy would be to ensure that recurrent expenditure was financed fully with non-oil revenue while every kobo earned as oil revenue would be devoted to investment in infrastructure, security, education and health.
Highlighting his plan at the period, Atiku said: “Oil revenue is highly volatile and exhaustible. We must have a plan to wisely use it to build capacity for the future – invest in infrastructure and in the people – and not consume it today. We would also encourage all state governments to set an agenda and timeline within which they would no longer depend on oil revenue for recurrent expenditure. Our regional governments did not get oil revenue but massively developed the country. We must return to the responsible path. The FGN would develop an incentive system (grants-in-aid) to encourage states which are succeeding in making the transition. This agenda is fundamental to motivating all tiers of government to develop the non-oil sectors of the economy and hence diversify the economy.”
I came back to the country in June 2011 and on 29th September, I started what I thought would be a long series titled, “The Atiku Abubakar Formula…1”. Unfortunately, after the second part, published a week later on 6th October 2011, I had to discontinue the idea when I started getting feedbacks from people in government that I had already launched the 2015 presidential campaign for Atiku!
Interestingly, a year later, in August 2012, at a Leadership Newspaper event in Abuja, Atiku, who expressed his opposition to any agenda to hide behind restructuring to divide Nigeria, said most memorably: “there is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating. There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.”
Debunking the insinuation that the idea could lead to the country’s break up, Atiku had asked, “why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools?” and then, he added: “national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level.” That was four years ago.
However, on May 31 this year, at the public presentation of Chido Onumah’s book, “We Are All Biafrans”, Atiku reignited the issue: “The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation. Some may say that we are saddled with more urgent challenges, including rebuilding our battered economy, creating jobs, fighting corruption and securing our people from terrorism and other forms of serious crimes. I believe, however, that addressing the flaws in our federation will help us address some of those very economic and security challenges facing this country.”
To underscore Atiku’s position about the weaknesses of the states and such structural deficiencies noticeable in the country today, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo announced last week that he was considering reducing the number of work days in the state from five to three, to enable the government cut salaries. “I encourage Imo workers to find additional things to do to support their families because of the economic situation we are facing in Nigeria. We are considering to reduce the working days from five to three in Imo, so that workers will use the rest of the days to work and support their families’’, he said.
Before then, his Benue counterpart, Mr. Samuel Ortom had approved that Friday every week would be made a work free day in his state to enable as many workers as possible produce food to feed their families in the current economic downturn which has made the regular payment of salaries a major challenge in his state. The way things are going, I will not be surprised if other governors join in asking the workers to stay at home and be looking for “ways and means” to survive. How can you run a system without civil servants?
While we can always argue that the major challenge of our country today is the absence of good governance at practically all levels, we must also acknowledge that we have a serious structural problem. As it is now evident, majority of the 36 states depend almost entirely on allocations from the Federation Accounts, the bulk of which they expend on payment of salaries and other recurrent expenditures. And with the fall in the price of oil and dwindling returns from that end, many of these governors are clueless about what to do, leading to severe consequences for the livelihood of many Nigerian families. That is why Atiku’s campaign should be taken more seriously.

 

THISDAY

Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

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