2 October 2017
By James Ojo
Change! If there is any issue needing urgent attention in the country at the moment, it is the recent calls for restructuring.
From the South-South, South-East, South-West and even some parts of the North, there is a strong conjecture that the country needs an urgent change.
In recent times, the concept of restructuring has been associated with different terms such as devolution of powers, true federalism, regionalism among others.
Regardless of the diversity of concepts associated with the term, the continued calls are conspicuous testimonies that the present structure in the country is faulty, benefiting few at the expense of the over 180 million Nigerians.
This writer commends the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, for finally setting up a 10-man committee on the issue in June, after appearing indifferent to the issue, for so long, if not too long; considering its importance to socio-economic development of the nation.
The committee has Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State as its chairman and Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi as committee secretary.
According to El-Rufai in a statement in September, the Committee is expected to forward its report to the National Chairman of the party, Chief Odigie Oyegun by the end of October.
Beyond political gimmicks, it is expected of the committee in its final submission to reinforce the need to restructure the country. This is given the fact that the Chairman of the committee itself admitted that the current structure in the country is unbalanced.
“As I have argued since 2012, there is no doubt that the Nigerian federation is unbalanced and in dire need of structural rebalancing. This I think we all agree as Nigerians but the devil is in the details. I believe most Nigerians appreciate and cherish our unity in diversity but seek the enthronement of a fairer, meritocratic system that puts social justice above everything else. It is not very hard to achieve this,” el-Rufai had noted while delivering a paper on restructuring at Chatham House in London.
No doubt, the recent arrangement, for so long has been a cog in the wheel of the nation’s path to prosperity. It has left the country on the brink of widespread poverty, corruption among others. Unfortunately, the issue has, so far, been interpreted from a political point of view point.
This writer disagrees with President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the 2014 National Conference organized by ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Femi Okuronnmu was dead right when he quipped, “Nigeria’s unity is negotiable, and must be negotiated to the satisfaction of all of us (all the ethnic nationalities).”
If history, the knowledge bank of all ages, is anything to go by, in a true democratic setting, which Nigeria lay claim, whether or not to secede is dependent of the sense of security, equality in political appointments and equal allocation of resources among the existing component states.
South Sudan’s separation from Sudan in 2011 unarguably, could be tied to the partial or non-existence of these essential ingredients. Why then should President Buhari insist Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable, even with a faulty structure?
Speaking on this, a former military governor of Kaduna state, Abubakar Umar said: “President Buhari’s insistence that the unity of Nigeria is a settled issue is a nationalistic wish and is no surprise coming from a veteran of civil war fought to keep the country one.
“However, this does not take into account the mood of the nation as indicated by the growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and many other similar demands. If indeed the president is able to ignore and silence those agitators, it will be a case of suspended animation.
He added: “But the fact that there are growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and other similar demands speak gravely of the way the federation is being governed.
“Nigeria’s unity can only be guaranteed when all its citizens feel they are getting a fair deal; when all its component parts are treated justly and equitably. When none feels oppressed.”
In the same vein, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in a press statement signed by Alfa Mohammed, the party’s National Publicity Secretary had said: “This issue of restructuring we reason is fundamental to the peace and unity of our great country, and pretending otherwise is like postponing the dooms day.”
Understandably, the President, by virtue of his office, is mandated to hold the country together, but as recent agitations in the country have shown, Nigeria can only remain one when the various component states are convinced of the need to be together.
According to findings by the Professor Pierre Englebert, a Professor of African Politics at Claremont College, the unwillingness to cut African nations down in size (in other words, to let new nations form) has “contributed to its underdevelopment.”
In his article, “After South Sudan: The Case to Keep Dividing Africa,” Pascal Zachary argued that the insistence of African countries to continue with structures bequeathed to them by colonial masters, if when they are not working, would instigate more secessionist movements than expected in the continent.
While this writer is not advocating for secession of any sort for the country, he believes it is high time Nigeria restructured the current arrangement that have stymied her development so far as the country marks her 57th independence from the British Colonialists.
Undoubtedly, there are various benefits the country stands to gain, if restructured. In the first place, restructuring would end the present over-centralization of powers at the centre and empower the various component states. The over-concentration of powers at the centre has created the power-intoxicated scene where those elected at the centre are hardly accountable to the electorates. It will reduce the cumbersomeness associated with the present structure.
Also if restructured, the various federating units in the country would enjoy high level of autonomy and depend less on the Federal Government for survival. It is appalling despite the rich natural resources in the various regions, Governors still throng Abuja monthly for allocations with little attention to develop these resources.
It is unfortunate that we have sacrificed our identities following the upsurge of the oil boom in the 1970s. With the dwindling price of crude oil globally, how long will this tradition continue?
During the first republic, each of the components developed greatly. The three existing regions – western, eastern and northern – all had their distinctive identities. Each region was known for their various strengths and there was a healthy competition among all the regions.
These are issues restructuring would resolve. There will be fiscal federalism where the resources would be more controlled by each state. It would also address the issue of state police, create more jobs, ensure payment of workers’ salaries regularly and fast-track the economic-cum political development of the country.
What should engage our attention now is how to address the emerging issues and controversies trailing restructuring such as state creation, revenue allocation among others, not whether the country should be restructured or not.
The President Buhari-led administration should swiftly adopt recommendations of the 2014 National Conference held in Abuja.
As President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Samson Ayokunle pointed out in his congratulatory message to Muslims in the country to mark this year’s Sallah celebration; failure of the ruling government to address the yearnings of the people could lead to “conflagration,” adding that “No nation can survive two civil wars.”
At 57, there is no better time to restructure the country than now.