With overwhelming signs that Nigeria is sinking, some hitherto silent Nigerians have added their eminent voices to the clamour for action. With the centrifugal forces threatening its fabric, clerics, politicians, traditional rulers, retired military officers, rights advocates and socio-political groups are speaking the truth to power in an unmistakable manner on the need to save the country from itself. It is a timely development. In turn, it might persuade other critical segments of society to take up the gauntlet and speak out, too. It is too dangerous to leave the fate of this country hanging in the balance.
On the occasion of the country’s 60th independence anniversary, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, a former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, a former minister, Oby Ezekwesili and lately, Sam Adeyemi of the Daystar Church, have called for the immediate restructuring of Nigeria’s skewed and unworkable political system. Their messages resonate with a majority of Nigerians, both high and low, who have come to the inescapable conclusion that Nigeria is falling apart.
These are the voices of reason, courage and wisdom. We must end these historical pretensions to the unity of the country. For decades, two distinct nationalist policies have competed for primacy in defining the country’s political future: agitation in the South for devolution of powers and the struggle in the far North for the preservation of the unjust system under its dominion. But Adeboye said, “We all know that we must restructure. It is either we restructure or we break up, you don’t have to be a prophet to know that one. That is certain – restructure or we break up…” Without restructuring, there is a huge price for everybody to pay: “Without any doubt, we must restructure and do it as soon as possible. A United States of Nigeria is more likely to survive than our present structure,” he rightly pointed out. In addition, Duke said, “… we need to look at the structure of our nation. That is why there is a clamour that we should restructure the country. It is not to break the country; it is not to frustrate the development of any side or constituent part. It is incumbent so that we don’t restrict our development.”
Still, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is not getting the message. Things are getting worse, not better, by the day. Nigeria has been described as a country that its “yesterday is better than today and today better than tomorrow.” But the Presidency impetuously described Adeboye’s call and indeed, other courageous statements for the restructuring of the country, as “recurring threats to the corporate existence of the country.” It added, “This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the COVID-19 health crisis.”
This is exactly the problem. From insecurity to economic malaise, and wretched human development indices to woeful infrastructure, Nigeria, as presently constituted, awfully lacks the institutional capacity to solve any problem. Insecurity is a big concern, with the Boko Haram insurgents, Fulani herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and militants soaking the country in blood.
In all this, tension is increasing primarily because the Buhari regime is living in denial of the imminent implosion. Its latest response, in which it termed those agitating for restructuring “unpatriotic,” sums up its poor understanding of the dire situation. The Presidency finds its allies among a minority, who pretend that restructuring has not been well defined. In reality, their pretence is borne out of the fear that they will lose all their privileges and unjust advantages under a new and equitable structure.
But far from it: simply, the basic elements of restructuring are fiscal federalism or resource control, state police and wider devolution of powers to make the three tiers of government truly productive. Every part of the union is thus empowered. Nothing, exclaimed Victor Hugo, the celebrated 19th century French writer, “is stronger than an idea whose time has come.” More aptly, in Nigeria, federalism is a powerful idea that is returning to its natural home. Prior to the forceful intrusion of the military into governance in 1966, the country had practised an effective federal system, except for the fact that the defunct Northern Region was larger in size than the other three regions put together. All that the patriots are demanding is a return to the union’s natural default mode of autonomous political territories aggregated in a national commonwealth.
Buhari and other refuseniks cannot and should not be allowed to hold back the aspirations of Nigeria’s 200 million people. A federation is self-explanatory; Nigeria has travelled that road before and those mischievously demanding the meaning of restructuring should be overwhelmed by the relentless peaceful pursuit of the principled goal. There is neither ambiguity nor novelty in the agitation. With over 250 ethnic nationalities, diversity in cultures, multiple faiths and mutually exclusive historical experiences, federalism is the naturally suitable form of government for Nigeria. Buhari’s uninformed, arrogant resistance to change reveals his distance from the people he claims to be representing. The growing unanimity on restructuring is evident in the four of the six geopolitical zones and in the minority population of the stand out two — the North-West and the North-East. All the major socio-cultural groups, including in the North-Central, are bent on restructuring. Even from his northern base, responsible voices like those of Abubakar Umar, an ex-military governor, once warned Buhari to listen to the “growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and many other similar demands.” While views on details may differ, the fragility of the current structure is not.
This unitary system masquerading as a federation has failed, delivering poverty, insecurity, mutual antagonism and state failure. As Adeboye and Duke pointed out, a country is only the sum of its constituent parts; synergy is achieved when each has considerable control of its own territory and resources, from which it then contributes to the centre. But today, of the 37 national and sub-national governments, only one, the Federal Government, pretends to have visible, actionable economic programme. The 36 states mostly have spending plans, while the 774 local governments bizarrely written into the 1999 Constitution are parasitic cost centres that drain resources away from social services and wealth creation to enrich a few. The single police system has made every part of the country unsafe, while the states and LGs are constitutionally constrained from responding with local policing.
But other plural societies are moving fast. While Nigerian states wait to share money, Sao Paulo is the second richest of Brazil’s 26 states and a federal territory, with a large industrial complex and GDP per capita that surpasses that of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It competes with Rio de Janeiro, the third richest, in industry that has a vibrant export in petroleum and other minerals. Australians, declares Geoscience Australia, “enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world” based on a national cohesion and economy driven by competition in mining, agriculture, industry, services and export trade among its six states and two federal territories. Like Nigeria, all its states are endowed with mineral types and arable land. Unlike Nigeria however, they exploit these resources to the fullest and compete for markets and investments.
Most critically however is the potent possibility of implosion. As Adeboye, the usually reticent cleric, declared, the reality of alienation, conflict, violence, poverty and mutual animus among nationalities and faiths constitutes a tinderbox. No one needs a seer to fear that the seething populace and emerging voices of separatism need to be defused by taking the realistic path of remodelling the union towards devolution of powers.
Today’s most pressing concerns require decisions, which take into account a distant and uncertain future. Buhari should ponder the wisdom of Canada that continues to reform and the counsel of Czechoslovakia that broke up peacefully to avert the tragedy of Yugoslavia, which disintegrated violently. As Adeyemi says, effective leaders must listen to the views of the citizens and take appropriate actions.