President Muhammadu Buhari is not opposed to restructuring of the country, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina said yesterday. According to him, the President is opposed only to any restructuring that will strike at the core of Nigeria’s unity. Adesina said the devolution of powers, which is in the manifesto of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was a form of restructuring that the President would consider in due course.
According to him, some proponents of restructuring have turned it into an opposition tool. He said the President had sworn to uphold the Constitution, which guarantees a united Nigeria and will not depart from his oath. Adesina spoke in Lagos at the Fifth Anniversary Lecture of News Express, a newspaper published by a journalist and brand management consultant, Isaac Umunna.
Its theme was: National Unity and the Demand for Restructuring – a Governor’s Perspective. The lecture was delivered by Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello. The presidential spokesman, who was a distinguished guest of honour, said no one should “cross the red line” in demanding restructuring. Besides, he said Nigerians were yet to agree on how to restructure the country.
He said: “The areas of restructuring are yet to be defined. Ask 100 people what is restructuring, and you will get 100 answers. It shows you that there is no unanimity on what restructuring really is.
“So, how then do you begin to work on restructuring when it has not even been properly defined or explained?
“No wonder the APC set up a committee to go round the country and find out what people understand by restructuring and what they want to see in restructuring. I think that is a very good step.
“And then a lot of people say, ‘o, the president does not believe in restructuring’. Not exactly.
“The APC has a manifesto. Inside it is devolution of powers. What some people want is to see the entire manifesto being implemented in six months. It doesn’t work that way.
“The mandate is for four years. The President had identified three key things: securing the country, fighting corruption and reviving the economy. It’s work in progress.
“And when he gets to a point where he feels, oh yes, we have made strides in these three areas, then he can look at the manifesto and consider what next. Devolution of powers could be the next thing.”
Adesina faulted those who he said had turned demand for restructuring into an opposition tool, saying it could become a distraction to the government.
“But then, people that are agitating for restructuring – I may be wrong, but my feeling is that they have turned it to another tool of opposition. It comes with a lot of sabre-rattling: ‘Oh, If we don’t restructure, the country will die’. It’s a covert way of opposing the government. That is why I think such people are not doing well.
“If you oppose the government of the day to the extent that you distract it – it’s our country. What should be achieved will then not be achieved at the end of the term.
“Therefore, people who are sincere about restructuring and who want to see a tweaking of the configuration of our country – nothing wrong with it. But for those who have turned it into sabre-rattling, then something is wrong with it.
“If you read in-between the lines, what people that canvass restructuring say, at the substratum level, is the fact that they want to break the country.
“So, restructuring that will deepen our unity is good, but the one that will fragment the country is bad.”
According to Adesina, the President has vowed to uphold Nigeria’s unity.
He said: “No government worth its salt – because the Constitution recognises a united and indivisible country – no President who has sworn to uphold the Constitution will agree with that kind of restructuring that they are trumpeting.
“Restructuring is good. The governing party believes in it, because devolution of powers is a form of restructuring, but restructuring that is turned to trumpeting evil and doomsday for our country is not what any government will stomach.
“I’ve heard the President say it many times that he didn’t fight the civil war to keep Nigeria one and then sit down and watch some people dismember the country.
“He told a story of how he trekked from somewhere in the Eastern part of the country to Gakem in Ogoja in Cross River State.
“He said: ‘After we did all that, do you think we’ll open our eyes and let some people fragment this country?’ He said it’ll never happen. And I agree with him that it should never happen.”
Adesina argued that Nigeria’s diversity should not be a vehicle for disunity.
He agreed with Bello who spoke of other countries more diverse than Nigeria, such as China, Indonesia.
According to Adesina, some countries have as much as 600 ethnic groups yet have remained united.
“We have just over 300 in Nigeria. Diversity should be a tool for unity rather than disunity,” he said.
He also argued that Buhari’s victory accorss ethnic lines shows that Nigeria was positioned for automatic self-restructuring.
“That is not to say restructuring debate should not continue; it should continue. When we come to unanimity of explanation and definition of what restructuring is, then we can move forward,” he said.
Adesina urged Nigerians to beware of “fake news”, which he described as an “epidemic”.
For instance, he said a fake speech purportedly delivered by the President at the United Nations General Assembly was circulated online, and was even published by a newspaper on its website.
He said some had also mastered the art of twisting his words. He recalled that he once made a comment that some diehard critics could criticise God if they got to heaven.
“The intention is to cause disharmony in the country. Closely linked to fake news is hate news, meant to cause discord and throw society into upheaval. We need to watch out for things like that. Those behind them don’t mean well for Nigeria. As consumers, we must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s be careful,” he said.
Bello, represented by his Chief Press Secretary Jibrin Ndachi, said he aligned with those who support restructuring that deepens Nigeria’s unity.
He said Nigeria does not need further fragmentation, adding that diversity should not mean disunity.
“For us, any discussion about restructuring should not be a discussion that looks at Nigeria as a country that is moving towards dismemberment or fragmentation. The respect we enjoy globally is not only because of our potential, but also size.
“Indonesia is a country that is very diverse, yet it is united. We don’t have to agree, but the President has said there are red lines that should not be crossed, because there should be certain basis of discussions and dialogue on how to move the country forward.
“Even countries that have had democracy for hundreds of years have their own challenges. In canvassing issues around restructuring, it should be done with decorum, because the hallmark of democracy is the right of people to have different views. You don’t have to abuse people,” Bello said.