On Friday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo delivered a keynote address at the third anniversary of the 8th Lagos State Assembly.
It was a solid speech by most accounts. The thinking was clear, the argument logical and the occasion right.
The only problem with the speech was the speaker – Osinbajo – who acknowledged the need for important change that the federal government can deliver on, but then recommended that for this change to happen, things should remain the same.
The vice president spoke on the topic, “Stronger states and the eradication of poverty.” His main argument was that eradicating poverty is the most important structural change we can make in Nigeria and “this is best achieved by stronger States, by creating stronger states…”
The most important part of the speech
“Poverty can be eradicated… a better standard of living and improved development indices are possible by actions of States.
“To achieve these objectives we need stronger states. What does concept of a strong state mean? It means two things. The first is what states must do for themselves… The second is the devolution of more power to the states, enabling the states to control more of their resources and make more of their own administrative decisions such as creation of Local Governments; the state and community police, including the state prisons; creation of special courts and tribunals of equivalent jurisdiction to high courts. The point I am making is that states must have more powers and more rights.”
The part where the VP missed it
After saying the above, Osinbajo went on to talk about “the phenomenal achievements” of Obafemi Awolowo’s Western Region government.
“The truth is that a combination of visionary leadership and strong autonomous states is a winning formula for economic development, and that is really as simple as it is. Awolowo was also a visionary leader but he also had an autonomous region behind him,” he said.
“But the process of creating stronger sub-nationals is possible even without making any major constitutional changes.”
That’s where he missed it.
The vice president is part of a government which campaigned on ensuring true federalism in the country if it wins. The APC was a major proponent of the restructuring concept. But since coming into power, there has not been any serious drive by the presidency to give “more powers and rights” to the states as Osinbajo said on Friday.
A report by a panel on restructuring set up by the ruling party and headed by Kaduna Gov. Nasir Elrufai was submitted in January. It made far reaching recommendations on devolution of powers, state police, fiscal federalism, states creation, among others.
Despite promises by the former national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun that it would be deliberated upon and action taken by middle of February, nothing has happened six months down the line.
On his part, President Buhari said in his New Year Day broadcast that “restructuring is not the problem.”
So in the midst of this, Osinbajo continues to insist that devolution of powers to states is crucial for development and poverty eradication. Yet he is no longer willing to stake his neck on the fact that a constitution amendment to make it happen is necessary.
The vice president spent the rest of the Lagos speech dwelling on incrementalism and how states (like Lagos under Bola Tinubu) can challenge the Federal Government and the National Assembly “before the Supreme Court in several cases designed to deepen the independence and the autonomy of states.”
That’s the kind of speech an opposition leader should make, not the number two citizen who is uniquely placed to affect government policy and make change happen from the front.