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A former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, has said the Federal Government does not need to amend the constitution before commencing the restructuring of the country.
Abubakar, while delivering a lecture on ‘Restructuring Nigeria’ at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, on Wednesday, declared that Nigeria could be restructured in six months.
He said, “Some of what my ideas of restructuring involve require constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance. The Federal Government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them.
“In the future if the Federal Government identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads, and thereafter leave the maintenance to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for the purpose.
“The Federal Government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process.
“The same goes for education and health care. We must reverse the epidemic of federal take-over of state and voluntary organisations’ schools and hospitals which began in the 1970s, and also transfer those established by the Federal Government to the states.
“We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located.
“The country can be restructured in six months, all you have to do is return the items on the concurrent list to the states,” he added.
Atiku noted that it was not abnormal for Nigerians to have different positions on restructuring because “it is a concept that means different things to different people.”
“To me, restructuring means making changes to our current federal structure so it comes closer to what our founding leaders established, in response to the very issues and challenges that led them to opt for a less centralised system.
“It means devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas.
“It would mean, by implication, the reduction of the powers and roles of the Federal Government so that it would concentrate only on those matters that could best be handled by the centre such as defence, foreign policy, monetary and fiscal policies, immigration, customs and excise, aviation as well as setting and enforcing national standards on such matters as education, health and safety,” he said.
Abubakar went ahead to suggest what he described as ‘first steps’ that should taken by the Federal Government towards restructuring the country.
The steps, according to him, include placing local governments under the control of the state governments, establishment of state police, reduction in the number of federating units, and “local control of resources but with federal taxing powers to help redistribute resources and to help address national priorities.”
“These are possible first steps and would be easy wins for the Federal Government and the country. They will in part show the goodwill of the federal authorities in dealing with this very serious issue, and complement the important consultations which the Acting President has undertaken in recent times to douse tension in the country.
“Indeed the Federal Government can voluntarily withdraw from most of the items listed in the very thin Concurrent Legislative List of our constitution.
“I believe that the benefits accruing from these first steps will help us as we move towards the changes that require amendments to our constitution,” Abubakar stressed.
The former Vice-President, in the same vein, suggested that unviable states that could not generate adequate revenue should be absorbed by other prosperous states.
Opposing calls for creation of new states, he said, “Those calling for new states seem oblivious of the fiscal crisis the existing states are in and how dependent they are on transfer payments from Abuja.
“If we are to maintain the current state structure, how do we ensure their financial viability?
“Obviously they would have to diversify their economies and revenue sources, but what happens to those unable to do so?
“One option that I have suggested is a means-test requiring states to generate a specified percentage of their share of federal allocations internally or be absolved into another state.”
In the alternative, he noted that “we may revisit Chief Alex Ekwueme’s suggestion that we use the existing geopolitical zones as federating units rather than the current states.”
Abubakar expressed regrets that “fear, greed, envy, and resentment are at the centre of disagreements on resource control,” which he described as the most contentious issue in the debate on restructuring.
The President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, and the spokesman for Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in separate remarks at the event, supported the call for restructuring.
Nwodo observed that northern Nigeria would benefit a lot from the country’s restructuring because of rich agricultural resources in the region.
Odumakin said restructuring had become a national affair as “the whole country has bought into it.”