Following backlash over comments made in a speech he delivered at the National Security Summit organised last week by the Department of State Services, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has said he did not refer to advocates of restructuring as political jobbers.
Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, had responded to comments Osinbajo made which appeared to dismiss advocates of restructuring as self-serving political opportunists.
They specifically berated him for arguing against Awolowo’s famous line of “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression”, and for appearing to impute selfish political goals to the advocacy for restructuring.
On Awolowo’s statement, Osinbajo had said that, “This is what some people have said, that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression and for that reason it is not likely to succeed as a united whole. But those who say so do not know that even the expression, mere geographical expression used in relation to a country was not first used in relation to Nigeria.
“As a matter of the fact, it was the German statesman Klemens von Metternich who used this same expression for Italy. He simply summed up Italy as a mere geographical expression exactly a century before Nigeria was born.
“Italy is still a mere geographical expression but still a nation. So we must not be misled by those in some pseudo-intellectual way suggest to us that the mere fact that we did not deliberately one day hold a conference to come together means that we should not or cannot stay together. Indeed we can”.
On the question of marginalization which some have argued is at the root of the clamour for restructuring, Osinbajo said, “The fifth narrative which I want us to look at and which I also believe is false is that those who make charges of marginalisation are altruistic. Those who say my ethnic group has been marginalised, my religious group has been marginalised, that they say so for altruistic reasons or altruistic purposes. I want to say that is not necessarily the case.
“As a matter of fact, most times when people say for instance that the Southwest has been marginalised, what they are saying is I have been marginalised, appoint me because I am from the Southwest. That is simply what it is. Whenever people make these charges of marginalisation, it is usually self-serving”.
But in a statement by his spokesperson, Laolu Akande, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo dismissed the interpretation by Afenifere, though not mentioned by name, as untrue. The statement reads: “Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ,SAN, has expressed surprise at the news report quoting Chief Ayo Adebanjo as saying he described those agitating for restructuring as political jobbers.
“At no time did the Acting President say that those asking for restructuring were political jobbers looking for appointments. The video, audio tapes and full text of his speech at the National Security summit organised last week by the Department of State Services, DSS are publicly available.
“While several newspapers and media outlets reported Prof. Osinbajo’s said speech last Wednesday, not one of the publications made such a blatantly inaccurate claim that he said those asking for restructuring were political jobbers.
“Besides, the debate on restructuring is an important one and the calls for restructuring cover a wide range of legitimate and constitutionally valid issues. Indeed all Nigerians have both a right and a duty to advance their arguments on the subject.
“The Acting President himself have expressed support for State police based on the community policing model, advocated for devolution of powers to the States and fiscal federalism. Besides, the Buhari administration has been active in supporting State rights in several ways including in fiscal matters and will continue to do so”.
Some analysts had argued that Osinbajo did not accommodate any recommendations on restructuring in his lengthy speech, and would wonder why Akande is only now, after the backlash, listing the acting president’s supposed restructuring proposals.
They will note that Osinbajo may have been towing the now-convenient party line of refusing to unequivocally commit to restructuring, as has been exhibited by the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Odigie Oyegun, and other party leaders, when he delivered that speech.
Some will argue that the Acting President is only hiding behind the veil of language technicalities, as his comments in the speech could legitimately be so interpreted.
They will reckon that to dismiss the claim of marginalization, which has become an essential part of the restructuring question, as purely selfishly politically driven, was to infer that the restructuring campaign was so motivated.
Many will dismiss Osinbajo’s denial and claims to the contrary as a desperate but dishonest attempt at saving face. They will conclude that the acting president is only being clever by half.