In his New Year address to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed calls for a holistic new look at Nigeria’s political structure, saying he does not see it as 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 said.
“No human law or edifice is perfect,” Mr. Buhari insisted in the State House announcement which lasted for nearly 20 minutes.
The president said Nigeria should continue to operate its current presidential system, but welcomed ideas on how to make it less permeable to extravagance, waste and corruption largely.
“There is a strong case for a closer look at the cost of government and for the public services long used to extravagance, waste and corruption to change for the better.
“I assure you that government is ever receptive to ideas which will improve governance and contribute to the country’s peace and stability,” he said in the address, which is his first to the nation since August 21, 2017.
The president urged Nigerians to be patient with the current presidential system and allow it to evolve until it becomes suitable enough to accommodate the country’s peculiarities.
The comments appeared targeted at shutting down back-end insinuations that the president may eventually yield to growing agitations for fundamental changes in Nigeria’s political structure.
Critics argue that Nigeria’s current federal system has become too centralised and its expenses have become bloated overtime.
Powers such as policing and control of natural resource, have resided almost exclusively in the federal government, a situation that has left the states largely subservient to the centre, critics say.
They favour a more decentralised structure in which state and local authorities are allowed to keep most of the resources generated within their respective boundaries, while remitting only a fraction good enough to keep the federal government running to the centre.
It is not immediately clear how the president’s party would take the latest rejection of restructuring by its leader.
The ruling party constituted a committee last year to look into calls for restructuring and prepare modalities for the parties approach to the issue.
The panel is led by Nasir El-Rufai, an APC governor and key ally of the president.
Bolaji Abdullahi, the party’s national spokesperson, and Joe Igbokwe, who speaks for the Lagos State chapter, were not immediately available for comments Monday morning.
However, Phillip Obin, an APC member, appeared miffed by the absolute dismissal of restructuring by the president.
“Even a union between a husband and wife could be re-negotiated,” Mr. Obin told PREMIUM TIMES Monday morning.
He said the president should have avoided taking a definitive position that could be seen as undermining the supremacy of the party.
The president’s comments came a few weeks after another APC leader asked those clamouring for restructuring to forget it.
“To hell with restructuring,” said Kashim Shettima, the party’s governor in Borno State.
The APC set-up the committee following condemnation that it had abandoned one of its major campaign promises.
Its leaders had rejected the outcome of a 2014 national conference that produced hundreds of resolutions on how to address the country’s protracted political crisis.
A political analyst, Victor Okhai, said the president missed the fundamentals of restructuring in his speech.
“The president said Nigerians want to go back to the parliamentary system which they had once abandoned. This shows that he doesn’t understand the fundamentals,” Mr. Okhai said.
“He failed to mention that Nigerian did not willingly abandon the regional system in the sixties. It was the military who seized power and dismantled a working system,” he added.
Nigeria ran a regional system with a federal prime minister and federal parliament between 1960 after its independence and 1966 when the first military coup occurred.
The country would be controlled for the ensuing 13 years, during which several states were created and more powers concentrated at the centre.
The system was not reversed when a democratic president was elected in 1979 until 1983 when it was again deposed in a military coup.
The military remained in charge from then until 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy, but the Constitution that was adopted has been criticised as a carry on of military edicts.
Mr. Okhai said advocates of restructuring are keen on giving more control to the states and a reintroduction of regional system if possible.
“This would make the states be in charge of their resources and development and no one would need to wait for a sick president at the centre to come and approve nearly everything for them,” Mr. Okhai said.
He said Mr. Buhari’s statement showed how insincere the APC has become.
“The president has always made it clear that he’s not interested in restructuring. It is the APC using propaganda to deceive the people,” Mr. Okhai said. “Let’s not forget that he had since distanced himself from the party’s campaign promises.”
“This shows that the president has a mind of his own and will go ahead with whatever he decides,” he added.
“But since Nigerians did not willingly abandon the regional system in the first place, it’s now left to the citizens to show the president that he cannot control their destiny in a democratic system. If they want restructuring, they will get it.”
The issue could play a serious role in the 2019 elections, as some of the major hopefuls, including Atiku Abubakar, have already tailored their messages towards a decentralised system.
Mr. Obin said pro-restructuring campaigners should be more vocal and lucid in their agitations if they want to have the ears of the citizens.
“When they say they want restructuring, they need to be clearer about the specifics,” he said.