Former Vice President and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar, yesterday called for the restructuring of the country.
At a public presentation of a book entitled We Are All Biafrans by Chido Onumah in Abuja, Atiku said his call was based on ongoing allegations of marginalisation by some Nigerians.
According to Atiku, the structure of the country is heavily defective as it does not provide the enabling environment for growth and progress among the 36 component states of the federation.
The former vice president who spoke against the backdrop of renewed agitations by militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) recalled how Nigeria once operated a federal system at independence that allowed the regions to retain their autonomy, raise and retain revenues, promote development, and conduct their affairs as they saw fit, while engaging in healthy competition with others.
He said: “Agitations by many right-thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.
“As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach it has not served my part of the country, the North, well.
“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.”
Atiku who chaired the occasion noted: “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.
“Nigeria must remain a united country. Our potential is enormous. But I also believe that a united country, which I think most Nigerians desire, should never be taken for granted or taken as evidence that Nigerians are content with the current structure of the federation.
“Making that mistake might set us on the path of losing the country we love or, as Chido Onumah puts it, result in our ‘country sleepwalking to disaster.’”
He continued: “Let me quickly acknowledge that no federal system is set for all time. There are always tensions arising from matters relating to the sharing of power, resources and responsibilities. But established democracies have developed peaceful mechanisms for resolving such conflicts among the tiers of government. They recognise that negotiations and compromises are eternal.”
Blaming over-dependence on oil for the rot in the polity, he canvassed the devolution of powers and resources to states and local governments, a tax-centred revenue base, diversified economic activities and productivity in order to enlarge the tax base, an end to the indigene-settler dichotomy, and state police to augment the federal police for the states that so desire that system.
He thereby urged well-meaning Nigerians to refrain from assuming that anyone calling for the restructuring of the federation is working for the breakup of the country.
“An excessively powerful centre does not equate national unity. If anything, it has made our unity more fragile, our government more unstable and our country more unsafe . We must renegotiate our union in order to make it stronger. Greater autonomy, power and resources for states and local authorities will give the federating units greater freedom and flexibility to address local issues, priorities and peculiarities.
“ It will help to unleash our people’s creative energies and spur more development. It will reduce the premium placed on capturing power at the centre. It will help with improving security. It will promote healthy rivalries among the federating units and local authorities. It will help make us richer and stronger as a nation.”
Atiku who fielded questions on the multifaceted problems besetting the polity advised the authorities to use the “carrot and stick “approach to resolve the problems associated with militants in the Niger Delta region.
Recalling how he came up with the master plan for the development of the Niger Delta, he disclosed that he was the brain behind the establishment of the Niger Delta Ministry, wondering why the ministry was sited in Abuja as against the original intent of siting it in the Niger Delta to be able to address the developmental needs of the oil-rich region.
Atiku also enjoined the authorities to privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and set aside no less than $20 billion to address the developmental needs of the Niger Delta region.
Regretting that Nigeria had the misfortune of ending up with “accidental leadership,” he expressed the hope that the country would get the right leadership in due course.
He expressing dissatisfaction with President Muhammadu Buhari over the spate of the farmers-herders clashes in the polity saying: “We have a leader who is not prepared to learn from the past.”
Atiku who recollected how he lost 300 cows to cattle rustlers from neighbouring Cameroun said: “Again, here we come back to the same economic challenges that are facing the country but we also have a leadership that is not prepared to learn from the past and the leadership that is not prepared to lead.”
He, however, gave Buhari a pass mark over his performance in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, and on the ant-graft campaign just as he maintained that Buhari needs more time to fix the comatose economy.
He insisted that as long as the problems of insecurity in the Niger Delta persist, Nigeria would not be able to tackle the problem of power supply since it remains dependent on the supply of gas.
Recalling the Philippines experience, he insists that the viable solution to the power problem remains the establishment of captive power stations dependent on hydro, coal and other sources of energy supply.