A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN has clarified his recent proposal for a suspension of the campaign for restructuring in favour of new development model, called Cooperative Federalism.
He told The Nation that the agitation for restructuring by sub-national groups was causing the country harm, “because President Muhammadu Buhari does not believe in it.”
The development lawyer has been under fire since he made his suggestion on Wednesday last week.
He presented his views in a document titled, ‘Legal and Institutional Restructuring for Next Nigeria’ which argued that Political Federalism or “Restructuring” may be the way to go, but has not been understood and generally accepted.
Some ethnic sub-nationalities, including Afenifere, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum rejected the proposal, insisting that restructuring was the only way to move the country out of its current crisis.
But responding to their concerns, Agbakoba said the call for suspension of the campaign for the restructuring was based on several factors, including the decline in Nigerians’ standard of living.
He said he believes in the ultimate goal of Restructuring, but that there are other steps that can lead to it.
Agbakoba said: “I was not surprised about the controversies. People like Yinka Odumakin and, in fact, most of the ethnic sub-nationalities kicked against it and have called me all kinds of names that I’m a turncoat, a traitor and all that. But I say no, I’m not.
“I’m a realistic flexible activist. And I just said to myself for instance, that have I attacked Yinka Odumakin for leaving Buhari? He must have his reasons because people make choices. And so I have made a choice based on a lot of factors.
“Most important factor is based on the decline of the standard of living in Nigeria, I have made a choice because I see that government response is extremely poor and I have made a choice knowing that in as much as I believe in the ultimate goal of restructuring there are other steps that can lead to it.
“I have made a choice going back to what Thambo Mbeki advised me at the airport when I met him in Abuja in 1989 and in Lagos 1989, I’ve made a choice based on the demands placed on the Federal Government by the civil societies with the complete exclusion of the state governments and I have made a choice because the state governors are not as helpless as we think”.
Agbakoba explained that if the idea of corporative federalism or restructuring is about people, he does not see any reason why anyone should insist that it’s either this or nothing.
According to him, the country had treaded this part before with the issue of Sovereign National Conference and Government of National Unity where people insisted that it was either these two or nothing.
He said he foresee the same problem with the agitation for restructuring.
The lawyer stated that after rereading the Constitution recently, he “was shocked that governors are not as helpless, that governors can build roads, hospitals, power stations, virtually everything.
“There are areas of course that governors cannot do like federal roads, solid minerals and this is where the principle of corporative federalisms comes in.
“If there is an east-west road that covers three or four states, why can’t the federal government in cooperation with those states get the programme done? Because if the idea of corporative federalism or restructuring is about people, I don’t see any reason why anyone should say it’s either this or nothing.
hich is what the argument now sounds like which I don’t accept at all. It cannot be restructuring or nothing that is why we lost out.
“We had treaded this part before with the issue of Sovereign National Conference and Government of National Unity and we stood firm that without these two nothing else. We are having the same problem with restructuring.”
Agbakoba added that his clarification to the brouhaha is that “I hope that the time will come when we would move to the stage of restructuring, but to the extent that we don’t have it the limited space that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has to have corporative federalism with the federal government to explore the bitumen in his state. But his people are not making demands. Ondo is a poor state but they have one of the world’s richest bitumen, Enugu is a poor state but they have one of the world’s richest reserve coals, Ebonyi is a poor state but they have one of the best salt mines valued at about N14 billion.
“So is it not good that we make demands not only on the federal government but also on the state governments? What stops you cooperating with the federal government to harness these things?
“Look at the Police, every time governors are complaining but under the National Police Council, all the 36 state governors play a role in picking the Inspector-General of Police but they have never summoned a meeting since 1998, yet they complain.
“So this is corporative federalism that the states and the President come together to provide institutions for Nigeria”.
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