Former Vice President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Friday declared that Nigerians have a constitutional right to peacefully agitate for restructuring of the country, with an appeal to the government to focus on identifying the reasons for the agitations.
Atiku, while noting that the country is in democracy now, pointed out that democracy and democratic freedoms allow people to express themselves freely, including questioning the political and economic structures of the country and their place in it.
The former Vice President spoke at the 3rd Policy Monitoring Dialogue Series on “National Unity, Integration and Devolution of Power/Restructuring,” organized by the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja.
The Turakin Adamawa, who maintained that it is important for the government to try to understand the basis for the agitations, called for a new compact rather than vilify the agitators.
He pointedly said that it was disingenuous to accuse everyone who calls for restructuring as trying to break up the county.
History, Atiku said, “tells us that that kind of cheap blackmail will not work as long as the underlying reasons for the agitations persist”.
The former Vice President insisted that it is okay to have different positions on restructuring as restructuring may mean different things to different people.
His words, “Like all things with political and economic implications, those calling for restructuring have varying positions, which is not a bad thing. But we won’t really find out how close our positions are to those of others until we sit down with them and start to talk and negotiate. “The biggest challenge seems to be that we seem to be allowing moderate voices on this issue to be drowned out by the reckless utterances of a few rabble rousers on all sides who may be tools in the hands of those who do not wish this country well.
“These are some of the people who arrogate to themselves the toga of spokespersons of our diverse groups.
“Restructuring will contribute to national cohesion and good governance”, he said.
He reasoned that restructuring the nation’s federal system would contribute the following among other things:
*Devolving more powers to the federating units and transferring more resources to them will help to decongest the centre and enhance greater manageability, efficiency and accountability.
*There will be more clarity in the division of powers and responsibilities between the centre and the federating units, and there will be a reduction in the attention paid to the center.
*Restructuring will ensure greater accountability. People are more likely to hold their state and local governments to account once those governments are no longer able to convincingly blame the central government for their shortcomings.
*Restructuring will promote healthy competition among our federating units, which will encourage them to diversify their revenue sources.
*Restructuring will ensure greater fairness and a perception of same among our constituent parts.
*Beyond these, there is also another huge economic imperative for us to restructure: oil, which underlined and underwrote our excessive centralization and fragmentation into numerous unviable states, and which has been at the centre of much of our squabbles, seems to have reached its peak as source of revenues for our country.
Atiku, who said that he did not believe that any one single thing is the panacea for national cohesion and good governance in Nigeria, added, “But I have no doubt that effecting necessary changes to our existing federal structure will help to promote national cohesion and good governance.”
Continuing, he said, “Some have argued that what our country needs is just good governance, not restructuring. That is misleading.
“In fact, you may have good governance without necessarily having national cohesion and vice versa.
“Yes people want good governance, but often they also want to feel part of the governance process. They like to have a sense of belonging. “They do not just want to see good governance; they also want fair and equitable governance. And they want to be respected as bona fide members of the society. People like to see themselves represented in those doing the governing.
“Let’s not forget that some of the most efficient and effective governments in history were also exclusionary brutal dictatorships which maintained national cohesion until those regimes collapsed. “Equally important is that while restructuring our federal system would help ensure good governance, the latter does not depend on restructuring alone.
“People and communities at every level must continually demand good governance from their elected officials,” he stated.
The former Vice President noted with sadness that military rule and the civil war led to the steady erosion of our federal structure, while the increasing centralization of power and concentration of resources at the federal level, in the context of rising oil revenues and neglect of other revenue sources, weakened and relatively impoverished the states.