I’m for fiscal federalism, not geographical restructuring, Osinbajo replies Atiku

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Ade Adesomoju, Abuja Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said on Tuesday that his comment on the calls for the restructuring of the country was tak...

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said on Tuesday that his comment on the calls for the restructuring of the country was taken out of context by his predecessor, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The Vice-President replied Atiku in a letter addressed to the Editor of Premium Times, responding to the online medium’s publication of his predecessor’s criticism of his recent comment on restructuring in the United States of America.

Osinbajo, in his letter, said contrary to Atiku’s criticism, he was not opposed to restructuring, but had only advocated restructuring through the deepening of fiscal federalism in the country.

The Vice-President, who enumerated the successes he had recorded in his campaign for restructuring through fiscal federalism, said as the then Attorney General of Lagos State he won at the Supreme Court several landmark cases on the subject, which “late converts to the concept now wish to score political points on.”

He said, in his comment, which he maintained was taken out of context by Atiku, that he had kicked against “geographical restructuring”, which would not address the poor performance of most of the states of the federation, and instead, advocated restructuring Nigeria through deeper fiscal federalism.

The Vice-President, who also restated his call for the establishment of state police, said Atiku’s version of restructuring mixed up issues of good governance and diversification of the economy.

Osinbajo said, “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition.

“He says it means a ‘cultural revolution’. Of course, he does not bother to unravel this concept.

“He says we need a structure that gives everyone an opportunity to work, a private sector-driven economy. Yes, I agree. These are critical pillars of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, including our Ease of Doing Business Programme.

“If, however, this is what he describes as restructuring, then it is clear that he has mixed up all the issues of good governance and diversification of the economy with the argument on restructuring.

“Surprisingly, Alhaji Atiku leaves out the elephant in the room – corruption. And how grand corruption, fuelled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concessions, to enrich themselves.

“This was a main part of my presentations at the Minnesota Town Hall meeting.

“In arguing for good governance,  I made the point that our greatest problem was corruption. I pointed out that grand corruption, namely the unbelievable looting of the treasury by simply making huge cash withdrawals in local and foreign currencies, was the first travesty that President Buhari stopped.

“I showed the OPEC figures from oil revenues since 1990. In four years from 2010 to 2014, the PDP government earned the highest oil revenues in Nigeria’s history, $381.9bn. By contrast, the Buhari administration has earned $121bn from May 2015 to June 2018, less than one-third of what the Jonathan administration earned at the same period in that administration’s life.

“Despite earning so much less, we are still able to invest more in infrastructure than any government in Nigeria’s history. The difference is good governance and fiscal prudence.

“In the final analysis, restructuring, in whatever shape or form, will not mean much if our political leaders see public resources as an extension of their bank accounts. This, I believe, is the real issue.”

Osinbajo had during a recent interaction in the United States asserted that “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”.

Responding to the comment, Atiku, in a statement, said Osinbajo was wrong for portraying Nigeria’s problems as not being connected with restructuring.

While not denying making the comment attributed to him, Osinbajo, however, contended that it was taken out of context by Atiku.

Osinbajo stated, “First, let me say that I really would have expected Alhaji Abubakar to at least get the full text of my comments before his public refusal of my views.

“But I understand; we are in that season where everything is seen as fair game!”

Osinbajo, who reiterated his belief in “deeper fiscal federalism” over “geographical restructuring,” said tinkering with the current geographical structure by going back to regional governments or increasing the number of states would not address the cause of the states’ under-performance.

He said, “As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems.

“Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation.

“As we all may recall, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of 18 more states.

“And I argued that with several states struggling or unable to pay salaries, any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us.

“We should rather ask ourselves why the states are underperforming, revenue and development wise. I gave the example of the Western Region (comprising even more than what is now known as the South-West geopolitical zone), where, without oil money, and using capitation tax and revenues from agriculture and mining, the government-funded free education for over 800,000 pupils in 1955, built several roads, farm settlements, industrial estates, the first TV station in Africa, and the tallest building in Nigeria, while still giving up 50 per cent of its earnings from mining and minerals for allocation to the Federal Government and other regions.

“I then argued that what we required now was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development.”

Osinbajo said, as the then Attorney General of Lagos State, under the leadership of Bola Tinubu, as then governor of the state, he had, in and outside courts, defended the concept of fiscal autonomy which states were entitled to under the Nigerian Constitution.

He said in promoting fiscal federalism, he had argued alongside the oil-producing states that they should have a right to control their resources, while he had also made a push that the ports of Lagos were also a resource of the state.

He also said he also filed an action at the Supreme Court arguing that the Value Added Tax, being a consumption tax, should exclusively belong to the states.

He also said he had also won several landmark decisions on restructuring Nigeria through deeper fiscal federalism at the level of Supreme Court.

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