President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year message hit many proponents of a restructured Nigerian polity like a bolt out of the blue. If there had ever been any doubt about his position on restructuring, it was made crystal clear in the nationwide broadcast when, in just one sentence, he perfunctorily dismissed the ongoing wave of clamour for restructuring. He said, “When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.”
He is wrong. This is a deliberate attempt to play the ostrich in an important national issue that verges on the continued existence of the country as a corporate unit. It is a deliberate state policy to further postpone the looming doomsday scenario that is likely to occur if the only viable remediating measure is ignored, either for political or ethnic reasons. As the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, said a few months ago, it remains the only option to prevent an impending implosion.
At a thanksgiving service to mark the country’s 57th independence anniversary, Dickson hit the nail on the head in a very profound statement that described advocates of restructuring as true patriots. In a proposition that will be difficult to fault, he said, “My view is that there is an urgent national imperative for us to review the country. Maybe some people have problem with the word restructuring, but we have to re-examine our nation’s foundation and see how we can make adjustments that will promote a more stable and prosperous Nigeria.” He followed up with a warning that, failure to address the injustices and imbalances in the country, “there will be implosion.”
The imbalances and injustices under reference are nothing short of a bastardised federal system foisted on the country that continues to place one section of the country at an advantage over the others. Nigeria’s nominal federalism ensures that, instead of the federating units controlling their wealth and paying the requisite royalties to the Federal Government, as was the case before the coup and counter-coup of 1966, states now go cap in hand to Abuja to share the resources wrongly appropriated by the Federal Government; here, the states producing the least are assured by the system that they would leave with the lion’s share, which is wrong. It amounts to building a house on a foundation of injustice, which cannot stand.
But to those who have been following the restructuring debate closely, the President’s position may not come as a complete shock. Right from the outset, he had shown nothing but disdain for the political conference report, which tends to lean towards power devolution, control of resources and local policing, which, in a nutshell, encapsulates the essence of restructuring. With the next elections barely a year away, it is doubtful if much is going to come out of the agitation; but it is a quest that is not likely to go away soon.
All the forces out to deny the people their wishes are rearing their heads. All of a sudden, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the meaning of restructuring, with individuals, depending on their provenance and political persuasion, coming up with different meanings to suit their interests. Among some people, including the Sultan of Sokoto, it has become an anathema to mention restructuring. It has become the dismemberment or disintegration of the country. For the ruling All Progressives Congress, restructuring has become a semantic puzzle requiring a committee to unravel the mystery.
Yet, this is a concept that has a simple and straightforward meaning. Many Nigerians have also come out to define restructuring or what, for want of a better name, has often been dubbed “true federalism.” Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, described it as the “reconstruction or reconfiguration.” In a recent statement, the playwright enunciated, “This has been expressed most recently, and most universally, in the word ‘restructuring,’ defined straightforwardly as a drastic overhaul of Nigeria’s articles of co-existence in a more rational, equitable and decentralised manner.” He described it as bringing governance and its benefits closer to the people.
Bisi Akande, an APC chief and former governor of Osun State, made it even simpler, by calling for a return to the 1963 Constitution. Although many have conveniently labelled it a return to regionalism, it is actually a return to federalism as practised then by the four regions, namely the Northern Region, Western Region, Eastern Region and Mid Western Region. The only difference would be that the states would replace regions as the federating units.
APC’s posturing on restructuring is not only devious, for a political party that anchored its campaign on restructuring, but also frustrating to Nigerians who innocently rose to the bait. Fortunately, the party has not denied that it dangled restructuring as part of its election manifesto. At the inauguration of the APC committee on restructuring, headed by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, the party Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, said, “If any group can claim ownership of the principle and the need for true federalism, that group is the APC.”
It is important to reiterate the fact that the warped structure of the Nigerian state is not only holding down the country in terms of development but is also fuelling agitation for self determination in different parts of the country. Apart from activities of the Niger Delta militants, who at a point threatened to declare independence, there have also been similar threats from IPOB, and MASSOB before it, in the South-East.
The terror attacks by Fulani herdsmen across the land are evidence of a failing state that should compel a review of how Nigerians can live together with less conflict. While some people have continued to wax philosophical by insisting that there is strength in diversity, the compelling reality calls for the acknowledgement of the differences of culture and people and the need to thrash out the modus operandi of their co-existence. Failure to look critically at the centrifugal forces may lead to a point where even opportunities for dialogue may no longer be available.
A country of over 400 distinct linguistic and ethnic groups, federalism comes as a natural choice to Nigeria. But unfortunately, because of the greed for oil money, action on restructuring is being frustrated to the detriment of overall good of the country. Every part of the country is blessed with one mineral resource or the other, which enhances the capacity to survive without oil money. But the obsession with oil is blinding the elite of the country to the bigger picture.
If they think they can keep the country together by force, then they should not forget that a similar action failed to prevent break-ups in Yugoslavia and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic. Only justice and equity, as exemplified by restructuring, can hold Nigeria together.