• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Osinbanjo and the restructuring of Nigeria

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If you have been following me for two weeks now, you would expect to read my third instalment on my thoughts on corruption. However, I think the statement credited to Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo that suggested that what Nigeria requires is diversification and not restructuring, is too serious to ignore.

I thought the statement was too weighty to go without a response, and also to provide a context, for the following reasons. First is to examine the statement given the political history of the Vice President himself. Second, to provide a context on the basis of the stand of the wing of the APC, from which he emerged Vice Presidential candidate, before becoming the Vice President. This response is also important to help disentangle the “chicken and the egg, and which comes first” situation. Otherwise, it could be fairly politically convenient to assume that restructuring and diversification are opposite and competitive phenomenon. Fourth, to stress the historical paths of politicians like the Vice President.

 

For eight years, 1999 – 2007, the Vice President was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Lagos State. He was in the Cabinet of Bola Tinubu that took over from the military in 1999, the first set of politicians to experiment with the constitution bequeathed by the military. More importantly, the experience as Attorney General of Lagos state during the period when Lagos had to constantly negotiate the powers of the constituent states against that of the centre, led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military president in his first incarnation, would have exposed him to the overbearing powers of the centre.

 

During that period, the constant negotiation was symbolised by the withheld local government fund by the federal government because Lagos state was determined to do things differently. So, as commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, it was Osinbajo that led the legal arguments on behalf of Lagos state. There is no doubt in my mind that, at that time, the Vice President already knew about the suffocation, frustration, and overbearing influence of the centre. But it was in that context that the state started the drive and focus on local taxation, something that is now considered a master stroke 15 years after. Essentially, the conditions imposed by the federal government forced it to look inwards.

So, it is erroneous to see the Vice President as a neophyte in Nigerian politics, and thus consider the statement an innocent gaffe. If he was at all, he was a student of Asiwaju for at least eight years, and he remained a loyalist after. More so, contrary to what some may think, the Vice President was not late into the APC party. He was instrumental in drawing up some of the key aspects of their policies, especially the welfare related policies that include that of school feeding programme and the conditional cash transfers for the most vulnerable, which his office now leads. It is also important not to consider him a neophyte given the debates within the Presidency he has carefully won in the last year on issues that matter to him.

Given the above illustration, and how knowledgeable he is, I could not fathom that he did not see the link between our current economic structure and landscape, and our inability to diversify our exports away from oil. It is also baffling because the APC has never styled itself, though conditions that pervade the country suggests otherwise, as a party lacking in knowledge and sincerity. So, with such a statement by the Vice President, many interpreted it as being motivated by political convenience and a case of intellectual duplicity. Worse, coming from the Vice President, it is clear case of policy betrayal. This is what underpinned the outcry that followed the statement.

If the Vice President now sees any effort that takes us closer or exactly as we were in the 1960s (which is my own definition of restructuring) as time wasting, he will not be the only one who has metamorphosed as they move from state to the federal. While in the state, they see the suffocation, overbearing, and the hindrance by the federal government, but in the federal, they see the wastefulness of the states. That is why the Vice President argued that providing more resources to the states will make no difference. I agree. But also, given more resources to the centre will make no difference either. None of them have worked for the money.

The current economic system is not working. It is not about prudence, nor is it about corruption. Those two vices are symptoms of the rent seeking conditions created by waiting for the revenue resources from oil in the Niger Delta. Even from a management perspective, Nigeria’s economic system can be likened to an international multilateral firm with a single line of real authority and thought.

Okay, let me use this paragraph to summarise my arguments. As I write this, the federal government has initiatives on agriculture, on solid minerals, on job creation through information communication and technology, on oil and gas, local content and many more. However, all these policies, and the thousands of them promoted by the federal governments before them, are initiated and driven from the centre. Every thinking on economic prosperity emanates from the centre. Meanwhile, all these activities will happen in the states. And the buying in from states are, at best, lukewarm. How do you get results? Why not let them determine their own fate and destiny? Even the oil and gas industry, is anyone surprised that there has been no major development since the military days?

In conclusion therefore, call it what you want, and focus on the aspects that meet your aspirations if you like. What I know is that when the time comes, and I pray and hope that it is sooner, rather than later, the design for our mutual economic development will be discussed, negotiated, and agreed. In the meantime, it is not helpful for someone of the stature of the Vice President, given his precedence in Lagos state, to foreclose that discussion. That is dangerous, very dangerous. I thank you.

 

Ogho Okiti