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On National Debt Getting Out of Control: El-Rufai Walk Your Talk on Restructuring

By John Uwaya
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Ordinarily, as His Excellency Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State is neither the president nor finance minister, one would not task him on the frightening reality of rising national debt. So, this exception to the rule is because as a public figure he has become more forthcoming than many others on matters of public interest including the political ideal of restructuring of Nigeria. In particular, The Punch tabloid of 11th of December 2020 echoed him publicly cautioning a central government led by his own political party on the risk of a mounting national debt.

In the same breath, he reportedly bemoaned the rich not paying income tax in Nigeria with their tax in 2018 adding up to a meagre N20m paid by only twenty persons in an economy that has produced countless “rich people” since this fourth republic took off in 1999. Or besides our Dangotes, Atikus, Adenugas, Adelekes, Alakijas, etc., are all the thirty-six state governors, the nation’s ninety-six senators just to mention but a few public office holders, not rich? Yet, just twenty of them paid income tax totaling N20m only in 2018.

No wonder our national debt is rising as a government apparently lacking the guts to tax the rich, continues to transfer aggression on the weak like the planned forceful borrowing of N17 trillion pension funds to further compound the woes of hapless pensioners. Neither can the central government approach the rich for loans although international financial institutions have always insisted that a few of Nigeria’s billionaires can either pay off her debts or lend to develop her basic infrastructure.

There lies the paradox of Mallam El-Rufai counseling state governments to collect more taxes to diffuse a tickling debt bomb. As that appears not to have worked in the past, it is highly doubtful if that is the solution in a strange federalism which according to Prof. Itse Sagay, is a feeding bottle federalism where the supposedly federating units have been spoilt silly with financial windfalls by a central government. And like a spoilt child, that tier of government can never think out-of-the-box for a financial independence.

In fact, the bitter truth is that what we have are not executive but administrative governors used to administering cash handouts by Abuja. And hunted by negative antecedents, they lack the moral courage to tax populaces whose lives they do not impact positively. In other words, they do not represent the interests of the Nigerian electorate. And like the timeless slogan, “no representation, no taxation” – reciprocals and corollaries of fiscal federalism which structurally and proactively fight official corruption as opposed to medicine after death anti-corruption war.

Therefore, by alluding that effective taxation is possible under Nigeria’s subsisting feeding bottle federalism, Mallam El-Rufai has not walked his talk on restructuring on which he tries to come across as a lone voice in the wilderness of his ruling political party. Labouriously, he has tried to convince the Nigerian public that if a tree could make a forest, he would have unilaterally restructured Nigeria; an impression buttressed by appeals to the recommendations of a committee he chaired in 2017. But to keen observers, his committee was not only an afterthought but most unnecessary and irrelevant.

Not until the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku delivered his revolutionary: “Restructuring for a United and Progressive Nigeria” speech on 20th July 2017, did the APC led central government remember that restructuring is part of the manifesto on which it rode to power. Besides, the ruling party did not need to set up a committee to examine the workability of its own manifesto sacrosanct as a social contract with the electorate that voted her into power. In fact, after taking over power, workability of any campaign promise or expectation is a foregone conclusion – having been discussed and agreed already by committee(s) before inclusion in the manifesto of a party. So, on assumption of office, what the electorate expected is not a fresh discussion by rank and file party members but legislative committee(s) discussing the restructuring of Nigeria. But how can that happen when on purpose, no legislative bill to that effect has been initiated since 2015.

Rather all that we are being treated to are allusions of imaginary party elites opposing the restructuring of Nigeria. If that assertion is no subterfuge, a bill should be introduced and as with every draft legislation including the controversial Water Resource Bill, let members of the public for and against the restructuring of Nigeria air their views or make their inputs. Although its passage is not expected to be a problem in a legislature dominated by the ruling party, if it is defeated all would see that, at least, an effort has been made. In fact, had restructuring of Nigeria gotten just a fraction of the legislative time that non-manifesto matters like creation of cattle colonies and Water Resource draft legislation have received, much progress would have been made by now.

Apparently, restructuring has become a buzz word for electioneering and winning elections only to be trampled upon soon after. Although it formed the cornerstone of the ruling party’s manifesto in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, it was never again mentioned until countdown to the 2019 general elections. Hence the sudden harp on restructuring this time even as no draft legislation is in the works is perceived as the usual motion without progress with fight over which ethnicity produces the next president kicking off 2023 politricks in earnest. And with the late Chief Rotimi Williams dubbing the 1999 a fraud, not many are taking the Senator Omo-Agege led constitution review effort seriously.

Much as it is pitiable that an important matter as the restructuring of Nigeria is being trivialized on the altar of politricks, the blame goes to those whom the Afenifere scribe, Chief Yinka Odumakin accused of betrayal in restructuring the country into their pockets. Hence as nature never permits vacuums, the most unlikely have picked up the gauntlet and expectedly, to deceive a gullible electorate. And their opponents smarting from loss of credibility for trading off restructuring, they are left with no moral reason for aspiring to the 2023 presidency other than appeal to a false sense of entitlement.

The societal ills including security paralysis and declining economy presently bedeviling Nigeria amply prove that opponents of restructuring are riding a tiger in which stomach they could soon end.

John Uwaya wrote via [email protected]