At the height of the clamour for restructuring, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) set up a 27-member committee headed by Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State to get a cross section of views, collate and recommend what can pass as the party’s position. Many considered it a ruse and hurried answer to overwhelming voices of agitation for restructuring or true federalism. However, by the time the El-Rufai committee came up with their recommendations, the preponderance of opinions is that these are a fair representation of the majority of people’s ideas of what they want changed in our political structure. Although, the recommendations were in tandem with Jonathan’s Constitutional Confab’s resolutions, it might have inadvertently set the APC leadership against President Muhammadu Buhari, whose idea of restructuring is at variance with the party’s, going by his utterances.
In a nutshell, the committee recommended the devolution of power to states, resource control, and merger of states, state police, immigration and police to be removed from exclusive to concurrent list, independent candidacy, dissolution of local governments and creation of more councils, among others. Most of these have remained contentious over time. Some are even in the group of ‘no go areas’ considered sacred and which makes it an exercise in futility for those issues to be broached at all. However, El-Rufai, in his characteristic boldness, recommended them in his committee’s report. Some of the controversial issues include resource control and devolution of power. But it is one thing to make recommendations and another to get them implemented. The question is who will push these recommendations and how do you get the support of the National Assembly and the Presidency to implement them? How different is the El-Rufai committee’s work from the on-going constitutional amendments at the National Assembly?
Since his swearing in, the president’s pronouncements and body language do not favour restructuring, despite the fact that it was part of the campaign manifestoes of the party that brought him to power. In his New Year broadcast, the president further gave credence to this assumption. The entire campaign was anchored on change, a well-articulated slogan exploited by the president and the APC to win the last election. His New Year message is aligned to this assertion: “In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the on-going debate about restructuring. No human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected, according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments. We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible, considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure…we must give a long period of trial and improvement before the system we have adopted is anywhere near fit for purpose”, referring to calls in some quarters for a return to the parliamentary system and indicative that President Buhari would broach no restructuring any time soon.
Obviously a structure that cedes so much power to the centre, that allows governors to idle away, come cap in hand to Abuja to share monthly allocations from the federation account and squander same; a system that condones state-sanctioned enforcement organs like Hisbah and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASMA) and such bodies across all states of the federation, that are sometimes mobilised for election abhor state police, can’t be said to be working and obviously need to be reviewed.
In the midst of the hard stance of the president, his party came up with their own recommendations aligning with agitations for change in the way we do things, thereby setting the president and his party on a collision course. The El-Rufai recommendations will likely remain the country’s talking points for the next few weeks or months and how President Buhari reacts to it, whether he will remain adamant and pretend all is well, or initiate the process for the actualisation of the recommendations or ignore them even, remains to be seen. Indeed, whatever happens, it is likely that the party’s position can boomerang on the president.
Coming on the heels of the damaging press release of ex-President Obasanjo to President Buhari, the volatility of the political space and depressing economic environment hitting hard at families and nation, people are watching and waiting to see if the recommendations will be treated with levity. For all you know, putting the recommendations in public space as did El-Rufa’i could be an alibi to once again shore up his popularity. It may also have set the stage for the shape of things to come. This has further given credence to insinuations in many quarters that the Presidency and the party hierarchy are working at cross-purposes leading to some hypothetical questions: If Buhari’s opinion is different from the party’s interest in actualising their campaign promises such as restructuring, can they work as a team to retain power at the centre come 2019?
If the party, El-Rufai and some key players in the party are ready for restructuring, having weighed the mood of the nation and gauged public opinion, and the Presidency is not, will the former distance themselves from the latter? And if President Buhari goes against the recommendations of his party, on which platform will he realise his second term bid and will he become a lone ranger in his own party? Besides, making the report public at a time the popularity of the government is at its lowest over herdsmen-farmers clash and its shoddy handling, is the report a ploy to divert attention?
If the coming storm based on the report in question is a test of will among political titans, the end will be disastrous for all, but if the divisions, disagreements and controversies signpost the workability of party supremacy over its elected officials, it will be an interesting denouement to a problem started by Mr. know-it-all, ex-President Obasanjo, who reversed the first and second republic arrangements that put the party above its elected officials, including the president, just to prove his (Obasanjo’s) over-arching power as a ‘demi-god.