Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has openly disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari on the need to cede police establishment powers to state governments.
Mr Osinbajo said he had been a longstanding proponent of state police and, in fact, found the current federally-structured police system largely ineffective.
“I have argued in favour of State Police, for the simple reason that policing is a local function,” Mr Osinbajo said in a response to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar Tuesday. “You simply cannot effectively police Nigeria from Abuja.”
By this disclosure, Mr Osinbajo has distanced himself from Mr Buhari, who has long rejected the state police and other components of restructuring. The president believes there are no sound economic bases on which establishment of state police could be affixed, saying most Nigerian states are not financially upright to sustain internal police system.
“How many states are able to pay their workers in time? And you add the police to them? People should look at this matter very well.
“You cannot just give someone guns and ammunition, train him and refuse to pay him, you know what will eventually happen,” Mr Buhari told the Voice of America in early May.
Mr Osinbajo has been sparring with Mr Abubakar, who is now seeking the presidential ticket of opposition Peoples Democratic Party to unseat Mr Osinbajo and Mr Buhari in 2019, over the perennial conversation around Nigeria’s current sovereign structure, which some have criticised as unfair, exploitative and unworkable.
Their arguments, which come as political activities for 2019 general election heat up, highlight the topical influence the restructuring agenda may have on the campaign trail.
Like most other functions of the federation, Nigeria’s Constitution accords exclusive control of the police to the central government. The need to dismantle this controversial arrangement is amongst the key fabrics of restructuring, and often at the heart of the debate, alongside resource control.
But while calls for restructuring have grown in recent years, debates over the essence of the cause have seen citizens draw divergent conclusions, and proponents are often dismissed as demonstrating dishonesty, shallowness or outright confusion.
But Mr Abubakar, perhaps the most visible campaigner for a restructured Nigeria today, insists he has clearly defined what constitutes restructuring, accusing his detractors of deliberately muddling up his position for political gains.
In yet another response to Mr Osinbajo as part of the debate on PREMIUM TIMES this afternoon, Mr Abubakar outlined six fundamental elements that define his restructuring Nigeria argument:
Devolution of powers and resources to the states.
Matching grants from the federal government to the states to help them grow their internally generated revenue position.
The privatisation of unviable federal government-owned assets.
A truly free market economy driven by the laws of demand and supply.
Replacing state of origin with state of residence, and
Passing the PIGD so that our oil and gas sector will run as a business with minimal governmental interference.
He noted that he had long held this position, accusing Mr Osinbajo of being mischievous when the vice-president accused him of being “understandably vague.”
“I am hard pressed to see how these clear and specific ideas can be described as ‘vague’,” Mr Abubakar said. “One would have thought that if anything is vague, it would be the idea of ‘geographic restructuring’ whose meaning is hanging in the air.”
2019 Presidential aspirant and former vice president, Abubakar Atiku.
Mr Osinbajo sparked the debate when he addressed a gathering in the United States last week, during which he commented on restructuring Nigeria.
The “problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring…and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic re-structuring,” the vice president said.
Mr Abubakar immediately took issues with Mr Osinbajo’s characterisation of the debate, saying Mr Osinbajo demonstrated “a lack” of understanding of “the core tenets of the concept.”
But in his rebuttal, which the vice president’s office sent to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday, Mr Osinbajo touted himself as a longstanding advocate of restructuring, buttressing his claim with a slew of comments and actions he had been involved in in the past.
“Only recently, in my speech at the anniversary of the Lagos State House of Assembly, I made the point that stronger, more autonomous states would more efficiently eradicate poverty,” Mr Osinbajo said. “So I do not believe that geographical restructuring is an answer to Nigeria’s socio-economic circumstances.”
“That would only result in greater administrative costs. But there can be no doubt that we need deeper fiscal federalism and good governance,” he added.
A Wide Gulf
For the decades that debates around restructuring Nigeria have featured at the top of national concerns, including national conferences held to harmonise some of its components, calls for the actualisation have come predominantly from the south.
While critics of Mr Buhari said his reluctance to embrace the cause was because it could be politically-toxic for his re-election ambition, Mr Abubakar’s opponents are skeptical about his absolute commitment to the cause, especially as it remains hugely unpopular in his northern region.
Still, the divergent views of Mr Osinbajo and Mr Buhari on restructuring underscore their deep disparity in their belief systems, said political analyst Shola Olubanjo.
“They have always been different,” Mr Olubanjo told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday afternoon. “They only came together for political expediency and they will part ways as soon as their presidency is over.”
“Nigerians are showing interest that this disagreement is coming publicly, but what they should imagine are different takes they always have regularly on other key matters,” Mr Olubanjo said. “Those we may never know.”
The analyst saw the raging arguments between Mr Osinbajo and Mr Abubakar as a plus for the 2019 elections, still.
“It is a breakaway from the flimsy discussions that we have been seeing for too long, but I would appeal to that all parties to be sincere in their agenda for Nigerians,” he said.