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Nigeria Must Be Restructured Before 2019 Elections — Gov. Dickson

Governor Seriake Dickson said on Friday that fundamental alterations can be incorporated into the Nigerian Constitution before 2019 elections —even as he acknowledged outright restructuring of the country can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

“Nigeria must be restructured before 2019 elections,” Mr. Dickson told reporters at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja Friday afternoon. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

The Bayelsa governor said Nigerian politicians can no longer afford to punt the ball on restructuring for much longer, commending the ruling All Progressive Congress for finally acknowledging the need for Nigeria to undergo fundamental changes to its political and economic system.

“Even though we have a long way to go to fine-tune this, I commend and appreciate their commitment to building a stable, equitable and, therefore, prosperous Nigeria,” Mr. Dickson said of APC’s latest approach to restructuring, which is expected to be a major issue in the 2019 elections.

His comments came a day after the APC restructuring committee submitted its report to the party’s leadership in Abuja.

Amongst the recommendations of the panel, led by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, were the adoption of state police, independent candidacy in elections, resource control, amongst other key restructuring elements.

The panel, however, declined to grant autonomy to local government areas, dealing a major blow to grassroot governance, with state governments micro-managing local authorities in violation of the Constitution.

Mr. El-Rufai’s committee insisted that local government must be placed under the supervision of state, finding no reason for Nigeria to keep running a three-tier system.

John Odigie-Oyegun, chairman of the APC, said while receiving the report that the party will ultimately forward it to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The president backs autonomy for local government areas, advising local government administrators in a September 2016 meeting to free themselves from “the stranglehold of state governments.”

It was not immediately clear if the president would sign a series of constitutional amendments that did not include local government autonomy.

Yet, Bolaji Abdullahi, the spokesperson for the APC, told news reporters the president was “highly enthusiastic” about the work of the party’s restructuring panel.

Critics accuse Mr. Buhari and the APC of a muddled sincerity of purpose in their recent embrace of restructuring.

Top APC personalities have dismissed the restructuring as a ruse, with Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima stating in November 2017 that “to hell with restructuring.”

President Buhari has not been as harsh against pro-restructuring campaigners, but he has repeatedly declined to see the issue as important much less a priority.

“When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure,” the president told Nigerians in his New Year’s Day address. “No human law or edifice is perfect.”

Both the president and Mr. Shettima’s views mirror the position of a significant segment of northern Nigeria, where restructuring is seen more as a way of breaking up the country across tribal lines than as a critical step towards making Nigeria a more acceptable entity for all.

Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and 2019 presidential hopeful, has remained arguably the biggest voice for a revamp of Nigeria’s democratic system in the north, which is the country’s largest region.

Mr. Abubakar canvasses a weakened federal government for a stronger and genuinely autonomous states to pave way for a renewed economic growth and social development, a push that was at the centre of the 2014 national conference.

Other pro-restructuring advocates demand a return to the defunct 1963 Constitution which was run on the basis or regional autonomy.

The APC did not participate at the conference, rejecting it as a charade put together by former President Goodluck Jonathan to settle his political allies and bolster his campaign war chest ahead of the 2015 polls.

The previous utterances and antics of its leaders notwithstanding, Mr. Dickson said he remained cheerfully optimistic that the latest moves by the APC indicate the party’s resolve to be sincere in its approach to restructuring going forward.

Mr. Dickson said a “multi-party” alliance “needs to come onstream” to set the restructuring process in motion with the aim of passing a sweeping reform before February 2019 when the next general elections are scheduled to hold.

“It’s time to intensify consultations and meetings across all party lines,” the governor added. “When nations face challenges, leaders come together. This is not about party affiliation.”

The governor urged citizens and political players to step up pressure on the National Assembly to fast-track the restructuring process once the body receives a bill.

An amendment to the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority at the two chambers of the National Assembly. Lawmakers at the state level will also need to support such amendment by two-thirds majority in two-thirds of all the 36 states.

On the surface, the governor’s demand may appear a little too ambitious to a portion of the populace, but it’s “actually doable” if there’s a sincerity of purpose on the part of politicians, especially the APC which controls the centre and the parliament but which has been footdrag.

“The key resolutions on restructuring can be entered into the Constitution before the 2019 elections,” Yinka Odumakin, a pro-democracy campaigner, told news reporters by telephone Friday night. “But the APC does not appear ready to see these things through.”

Mr. Odumakin, who participated at the 2014 national conference, said after the APC “wasted” crucial time forming a panel, it has decided to take its recommendations through the party’s hierarchical structure before reaching a conclusion.

“First, the party did a merry-go-round on restructuring issue, only to do a copy and paste of our recommendations in 2014,” Mr. Odumakin said.

“Now, they want to take all the recommendations through their party’s national working committee, national executive committee, national convention before finally placing it before the president.

“By the time they’re done with these, campaign for 2019 would have arrived,” he said.

Mr. Odumakin said the APC plans to use the issue to rally Nigerians for another term in power.

“They will tell Nigerians that since they’ve already commenced work on restructuring, they should be given another term to complete their work.”

But Mr. Abdullahi rejected this position, saying the party had already drafted a legislation for restructuring.

“The terms of reference for the committee included drafting a legislation that includes all the restructuring elements that were recommended,” Mr. Abdullahi said.

He also denied that the committee lifted its conclusions from the 2014 national conference report.

“Unlike the 2014 national conference in which people just sat under a roof and decided on what to do, the APC committee actually went across the country’s geopolitical zones to make its findings,” Mr. Abdullahi said.

“If the said confab report reflects the aspirations of Nigerians and our committee report has emerged through the process of even wider consultation with Nigerians, then there should be no surprises if there are similarities,” he added.

“Rather than fight over copyright, members of that 2014 confab should be excited that their recommendations have been backed up by our independent findings and our party has shown unprecedented commitment to the issue of restructuring,” he said.

Mr. Abdullahi also agreed with Mr. Dickson that a restructuring could come before 2019 election, adding that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo remains an ardent proponent of devolution of powers for a truly federal republic.

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Nigeria Must Be Restructured Before 2019 Elections — Gov. Dickson
Governor Seriake Dickson said on Friday that fundamental alterations can be incorporated into the Nigerian Constitution before 2019 elections
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