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True Federalism: At least Obasanjo displayed consistency in his bizarre interview


True Federalism: At least Obasanjo displayed consistency in his bizarre interview

Former President Obasanjo said in a recent interview with African Arguments that he neither believes in restructuring nor in devolution of powers.  Obasanjo’s arguments were truly bizarre but followers of the former president would have found it very consistent.

Anti-devolution/anti-‘true federalism’: During his time as president, Obasanjo came to champion the utility of a strong central government and in fact a strong leader at the centre. For several years as president, Obasanjo publicly opposed any gathering that would be convened to discuss the balance of power between the federal government and the 36 states. When he finally agreed to hold a national conference towards the end of his second term in office, it was believed to be because of his secret desire to elongate his tenure.

Here’s what Obasanjo said in his African Arguments interview: “I don’t believe in true federalism. What is true federalism? State governors are more powerful than the president. That’s the truth,” he says. “If anybody tells you they want devolution or true federalism, he doesn’t know what he is talking about, he said.

His response says nothing about efficiency or the fact that there are 68 items on the exclusive legislative list to be handled by just the FG. All the former president hears is the power he believes a devolved polity gives to governors.

Throw back: As stated earlier, this posture is consistent with Obasanjo. In February this year, he told the News Agency of Nigeria that calls for restructuring are “distractions.” Pres. Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, used strikingly similar language just yesterday.

Obasanjo had said in that interview that “we Nigerians need ourselves and if anyone thinks he does  not need another person, good luck to him. What I see in all those groups trying to break away is that they want  more of the national cake. The fact that you want more of the cake means that it is good and you  like it, else you will not be asking for more of it.”

The first part of his argument may be solid but going further to contend that having a discussion on the terms of reference for the union is just a matter of “the cake” is far too simplistic.

One more bizarre takeaway from Obasanjo’s interview was his response to a question on the Biafra agitations:  “The protesters don’t even know what the struggle is all about, but if it gives them false hope, why not hang onto it? Let the elders handle it or ignore it until it loses momentum. There are elders in any community who are still respected. After all, they’re their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, and can still be used effectively.”

Look at that again:

  • Let the elders handle it? – Because young people are so inconsequential that they should have no say on the future they would occupy?
  • Ignore it? – Because in a democracy, agitations by citizens are pesky matters that a leader should not concern himself with. It appears that this Option 2 is the preferred option by the incumbent president.

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