President Buhari’s recent call for ‘true federalism’ has left many people confused and wondering what his real intentions were. At an award ceremony organised by the All Progressives’ Governors’ Forum at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on May 10 2019, the President was quoted as saying: “We remain committed to improving the welfare of the Nigerian people. Your Excellences, it will be belabouring the point to say that true federalism is necessary at this juncture of our political and democratic evolution.”
Though Buhari did not explain what he meant by ‘true federalism’ – and many proponents of the term have conflicting notions of what it means - it is generally accepted as either a call for a return to the regionalism of the immediate post-independence era or a model of restructuring that will include tinkering with the current structure of the country and its system of fiscal federalism. Buhari never wanted to be part of that conversation - even when it would have been politically expedient for him to do so in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. In fact in the run-up to the presidential election, when it became obvious that restructuring was going to be a big campaign issue, Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) turned from dismissing its proponents as opportunists and denying that it was part of its campaign promises, to inaugurating a committee on ‘true federalism’, chaired by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who was at that time a vocal critic of the whole clamour for restructuring. The El Rufai committee submitted a report last year and made some recommendations, including devolution of power to states, resource management, internal security and merger of states, among others. However many viewed the committee and its recommendations as a ruse, something cobbled up just to broaden the APC’s political appeal in the South during the election. The truth is that restructuring, like its earlier incarnations of ‘sovereign national conference’, and ‘national conference’ has been largely a tool by the Southern faction of the political class in their competition for power and lucre with their Northern counterparts.
Despite the recommendations of the El Rufai report, and the brouhaha around restructuring at the time, Buhari refused to be identified with it. I did not think it was right of him to refuse to even discuss it but I respected his honesty in not trying to reap cheap political capital by expediently embracing it. Therefore for him to embrace the call for ‘true federalism’ after the election, when he apparently has nothing to lose by sticking to his gun of ‘hear no evil, and speak no evil’ as far as restructuring is concerned, means that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
There are a few issues that need to be cleared up urgently: first is that there is nothing like ‘true’ or ‘false’ federalism. Every federalism is unique and no two federations are alike. In fact every unitary state has federalising features and every federal state has centralising tendencies. The nature of a country’s federalism – the mix between the federalising and the centralizing features- is informed by the peculiarity of that country’s history. The second issue is the tendency of proponents of ‘restructuring’ or ‘true federalism’ to romanticize it as the magic elixir that will solve all the country’s developmental problems. More worrying is an uncritical abstraction from some of the features of the First Republic’s regionalism that served the country and the regions well without counterbalancing these with some of the negatives from the experience such as the tendency of the regions to hold the centre hostage or suffocate the minority ethnic groups in their respective enclaves. While the country cannot be sustained on its current structure – both from geographic and fiscal restructuring perspectives - the suggestion that once we embrace restructuring or true federalism all our problems will be solved is either overly optimistic or naïve. Restructuring – or returning to ‘true federalism’ (if it is ever achieved), will solve some problems and naturally create new ones. It can only be achieved through negotiations that will factor in the fears and aspirations of different parts of the country. It is also likely to come through incremental actions rather than a quantum leap of many radical changes.
Whatever may be Buhari’s true intention for joining the ‘true federalism’ bandwagon, what has come across from that move is a certain concession that contending ideas for development should be given listening ears, even if not accepted. Hitherto, he gave the impression of being inflexible and set in his ways, and regarding those with contrary ideas of development as not even deserving any attention. Without prejudice to the challenge of the outcome of the election, it is hoped that Buhari’s conversion to a proponent of ‘true federalism’ will signal a change in his style of governance during his second term in office. While giving him the benefit of the doubt and being hopeful, it will be germane to remind the President that intentions and declarations are not enough. For instance before his inauguration on May 29 2015, he claimed that he was not going to concern himself unduly with the past but would draw the line from the time of his inauguration. Contrary to that declaration, he spent most of his first term in office blaming the Jonathan government for the ills of the country, even self-inflicted ones. Also on the day of his inauguration he famously declared that he belonged to everyone and to no one – only to come up with his statement about those who gave him 95 per cent support and those who gave him seven per cent votes. In the same vein, rather than belonging to all and no one, his government was routinely accused of favouring his section of the country in critical appointments. In essence, if the President really meant what he said about true federalism, then he will also have to muster the necessary political will to resist contrarian forces that will come in different guises and with different arguments to derail him.
There was another compelling part in Buhari’s speech during the award ceremony by APC Governors on May 10 2019. He was quoted as saying: “At a time when some few privileged individuals and groups have chosen to exploit and manipulate the ethnic and religious faults for seeking personal and partisan advantage, we need to build bridges across the different divides and instil faith in the unity and indivisibility of one Nigeria.” Though I do not believe that Buhari is as clannish as he is made out to be by his opponents (and also as clueless as he is often described to be), it will certainly be nice to see him build more bridges across the divides in the country and be more sensitive to optics during his second term in office. It will also be nice to see his government have a more sense of urgency than he displayed during his first term in office. For this, it will be nice if he can announce key members of his cabinet on the day of his inauguration and make major, non-controversial policy pronouncements. His government also needs to distance itself from controversial and polarising individuals.
While I was overall quite impressed with the conciliatory tone of President Buhari’s speech on May 10 2019, I was disappointed that he was unable to make a neat break with his ‘comfort zone’ of blaming all the problems of the country on past leaders. He was quoted as saying: “Hence, against the backdrop of the challenges we have been passing through as a nation arising from past economic and political mismanagement (emphasis, mine), we must feel justifiably proud to have contributed actively in getting Nigeria back on track in the last four years in human and infrastructure development.” The President also wondered what would have happened to the country if the opposition did not come together to seize power from the PDP, which he accused of frittering away the country’s wealth. For him, the APC came to power to save the country from collapse. Apart from some untruths in such sweeping generalizations, and the ‘messiah complex’ that is embedded in such narratives, it will be nice to see a new Buhari that is not fixated on the alleged malfeasances of past governments and the suggestions that good governance has never happened in the country except during his military rule more than 25 years ago and during his second coming as a civilian President.
In The Spotlight
The ongoing controversy surrounding Vice President Yemi Osinbajo over an alleged strained relationship between him and President Muhammadu Buhari, took a dramatic turn yesterday when Osinbajo in a statement declared his readiness to waive his constitutional immunity to “enable the most robust adjudication” of several baseless allegations, insinuation, and falsehoods against his person and office.
Last week, Buhari set up an Economic Advisory Council (EAC) which, according to a statement from by his media aide, was to replace the Economic Management Team (EMT) headed by Osinbajo with directives that members of the newly created body would report directly to the president. The decision, which was given several interpretations, suggested that Buhari in collaboration with the cabal in Aso Rock have made up their mind to frustrate the vice president or force him to resign.
Osinbajo has also recently been accused of mismanaging N90 billion, being funds allegedly provided by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for the prosecution of the general elections. But Osinbajo, in a tweet he personally tweeted and made available to the media by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said: “In the past few days, a spate of reckless and malicious falsehoods have been peddled in the media against me by a group of malicious individuals.
“The defamatory and misleading assertions invented by this clique had mostly been making the social media rounds anonymously. I have today instructed the commencement of legal action against two individuals, one Timi Frank, and another Katch Ononuju, who have put their names to these odious falsehoods. I will waive my constitutional immunity to enable the most robust adjudication of these claims of libel and malicious falsehood.”
However, Osinbajo’s plan to waive his immunity is generating mixed reactions, with some Nigerians questioning the legality and constitutionality of such an action. The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, fired the first salvo, saying the vice president does not have the capacity as an individual to waive his immunity.
In another reaction, a former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, who is also a lawyer, said the vice president has no constitutional right to waive his immunity as far as Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is concerned. According to Momoh, “Osinbajo has no right to waive his immunity except he resigns from office or if he is impeached. My advice to him is to allow those who made the allegation to go and prove their case in the court. As a public officer and politician, he should develop a thick skin to accommodate all forms of criticism.”
A professor of History and Strategic Studies, Ayodeji Olukoju, opined that even though the constitution does not allow the vice president to waive his immunity, “if the man feels strongly to defend his integrity, he should be given the opportunity.”
But sharing a different opinion, factional chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, Mr. Fouad Oki, said it is within the ambit of Osinbajo to waive his immunity if he feels strongly that his name and integrity are at stake. “Since Osinbajo is a beneficiary of the immunity clause, he also has the right to waive it to prove his integrity.”
Osinbajo’s travails might not be unconnected with the struggle for power among southwest political gladiators ahead of the 2023 elections. The rising profile of the vice president and his acceptability in the north in recent times is said to be creating confusion in some camps that have vowed to bring him down. Nothing exposes the fact that Osinbajo is not a politician than the recent decision to announce his resolve or preparedness to waive the constitutional immunity conferred on his office in a bid to regain his credibility in the face of allegations of purloining campaign funds.
As a lawyer and pastor, Osinbajo seems not to have come to terms with the knife fights in Nigerian politics. As such, by joining issues with those who flew the kite about his current travails with the famed presidency cabal on the claim of unaccounted campaign fund deployment, he fell into an ambush. Despite the alleged imbalance in the use of the campaign fund believed to be from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the vice president should have known better that as sociologists say, scandal improves by refutation.
But jumping the gun to extricate himself from the messy tales, the law professor will be surprised by other details that have been making the rounds in hushed tones. Now having been boxed into a corner, the vice president will begin to confront his travails all alone because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who should have taken up the fight, allegedly has some misgivings about him too, and Tinubu is widely believed in certain quarters as being the brain behind the ambush of Osinbajo.
It is alleged that Osinbajo, at the height of his efforts to distance his political progression from Tinubu, claimed at one point, “somebody somewhere nominated me as running mate to Buhari.” Apart from that, sources said it was allegedly the vice president’s covert plot to use the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as a possible platform for his 2023 presidential ambition that threw some ice on his relationship with the former Lagos State governor.
While the vice president was said to have worked in cahoots with the very cabal that is currently going for his jugular to ensure that ANN was put beyond Mr. Gbenga Olawepo, Tinubu was informed about that scheme. Moreover, the fact that the sum of N500 million was allegedly moved into ANN’s account from the presidency to engineer the quiet takeover of the party, seemed to have convinced Tinubu that the vice president was not being frank to him.
In his home state of Ogun, at the peak of the supremacy battle between former governors Ibikunle Amosun and Segun Osoba, Osinbajo was said to have adopted the ostrich style by refusing to back Osoba or Amosun. But while he was adopting the non-aligned posture in the southwest caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osinbajo was made to walk a tight rope in the presidency.
Sitting at the head of the committee that investigated former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, the vice president refused to use “the eyes of an elder” to view the case against Buhari’s Adamawa-born ally. Although the indictment of former Director-General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke, was meant to uphold Osinbajo’s impartiality, at the end of the day, the cabal reportedly held the fall of Babachir against him.
Again, the duo of Chief of Staff Abba Kyari and Babagana Monguno were said not to be impressed with the way Osinbajo capitulated to the intrigues in the Adamawa chapter of APC, which led to the fall of Babachir. Yet, the insistence of the vice president on retaining Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was said to have convinced Buhari’s inner men that Osinbajo wants to measure strength with them.
To make matters worse, the speed with which the vice president pushed through the sack of a former past Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, was said to have compelled the cabal to move against the pastor. Relieved of his position in the DSS, Daura was said to have invested his time digging into various departments and agencies under the vice president, especially all dealings that had to do with money. Having come to the conclusion that Osinbajo’s continued stay in office could jeopardise their plans to execute a mutually beneficial succession plan in 2023, the cabal allegedly decided to unleash their well-orchestrated plan of diminishing his clout and possibly engineering his resignation from office.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous internal memo to the Executive Chairman of FIRS, Babatunde Fowler, seeking clarifications over a shortfall in internally- generated revenue. Then came the howler from Comrade Timi Frank, which claimed that the unfolding travails of the vice president were traceable to the sum of N90 billion from FIRS, which Osinbajo could allegedly not account for.
Meanwhile, The Vanguard yesterday issued an apology on its FIRS story. It said: “On our website publication of Monday, September 23, 2019, we published a story titled “N 90 Bn FIRS Election Fund: Osinbajo’s problem, not 2023 politics.” We have since discovered that the story lacks factual substance and we hereby retract it in its entirety. We tender our profound apology to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on whom the story touches directly, the All Progressives Congress, and the FIRS for any inconvenience or embarrassment the publication has occasioned them. We hold Prof. Osinbajo in the highest esteem.”
In other reactions by legal minds on Osinbajo’s willingness to waive his immunity, the simple answer is no. It will take a very creative interpretation of the constitution for him to ascribe and waive immunity, since immunity does not stop the investigation. It only stops the prosecution. He cannot waive his immunity. There is no constitutional provision for this under the CFRN 1999. If he is so serious and insistent, then he can resign his position and be subjected to prosecution. There are no precedents for such waiver.