A Nigerian youth seen waving the Nigerian national flag in support of the ongoing protest against the unjust brutality of The Nigerian Police Force Unit named Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Lagos on October 13, 2020. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)
THE groundswell of agitation for true federalism and restructuring should now warrant more than a passing interest of the Buhari administration. As usual, his apple-polishers are showing zero common sense, either dismissing voices of reason or denying existential threats to Nigeria’s unity. But there is no reasonable denial at the moment that Nigeria is on the precipice. Should it roll over and break-up, only Buhari and his handlers should be held responsible – for dereliction of responsibility.
There are certain voices of exceptional influence that would ordinarily not dabble into political affairs, except when it is no longer safe to be indifferent or quiet. And when they speak up, they deserve to be heard. In the last couple of weeks, more than ever before, eminent Nigerians are speaking up in favour of urgent restructuring of Nigeria to save it from collapse. At two fora in this connection, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, harped on the imperative of restructuring Nigeria. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) also joined the fray on restructuring. The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; sitting governors, former governors and ministers, apex regional socio-political organisations like Afenifere, South and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) have all rallied voices behind restructuring to avert imminent break-up. These are not frivolous or noisome political comments. It is unfortunate that the presidency had the impudence to blast all these voices of reason, saying it would not be intimidated on the issue of restructuring. This kind of response is desultory in a democracy.
Indeed, it’s been 60 years since Nigeria gained independence from British rule and already 21 years of unbroken democratic rule. The vast majority of our 200 million citizens can lament that Nigeria is not working as it once did. Opinion leaders are unanimous that a deceptive federal structure and skewed 1999 Constitution (as amended) are major impediments to a Nigeria of our dream. The institutional flaws incentivise the current ineffective leadership across the three tiers of government, widespread poverty and insecurity, and would continue to be the negative elements of not restructuring Nigeria.
1999 Constitution, as amended, states the primary functions of government. Specifically, the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State policy, section 14(b), states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” But there is no gainsaying that the current system has failed in this remit. No thanks to the warped federal structure that arrogated all powers to the centre, and reduced constitutionally recognised 36 States and 774 Local Government Areas to beggars. Our unique federal system is like a father that has 36 children and 774 grand-children who were brought up to be irresponsible. So, every month, they all go cap-in-hand to Abuja to receive allocations that are never accounted for. Meanwhile, all the local government areas (LGAs) are resource-rich. Each has at least a mineral resource in its domain to extract, and create wealth for self-sufficiency. But the current system is at odds with self-reliance and self-development for sustainable prosperity. So, today, according to a recent survey, only nine states – Lagos, Anambra, Kwara, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo and Edo – are ‘fairly prosperous’. Fifteen States are ‘fairly miserable’ and 12 are ‘highly miserable’ – unable to pay salaries, fix critical infrastructure such as roads, education, health and create jobs. Therefore, it is no longer a mystery that our country became the poverty headquarters of the world, displacing India of 1.38 billion population.
Reasons for high rate of poverty, misery, illiteracy and ignorance, violent tension and insecurity are not farfetched. Insecurity has made living in Nigeria hellish. Be it in the ravaged North East or South West, North Central or South-South region, it is almost impossible to live without the paroxysm of fear of insurgent attack, banditry, marauding killer herdsmen, kidnappers, cultists and armed robbers. And no day has gone by without a record of gruesome murder somewhere close by. So dire is the situation that even President Buhari, with all of his escorts, cannot travel from Abuja to Daura by road. The centralised security system, like the federal structure, has failed in securing Nigerians. It is therefore self-evident that the indigenes are better off securing themselves than the policing system that takes orders from Abuja. This is the highpoint of organic federalism as it is practised in global context. Hence, unbundling the police structure – its control, funding and accountability – is at the forefront of the restructuring clamour. What is more, the same police in the country are in the eye of the storm at the moment. Our restive young ones are clamouring for a comprehensive reform within the construct of federalism.
Restructuring the failed Nigerian system is especially urgent now given the atmosphere of distrust and disharmony willfully created by the parochial disposition of the Buhari administration. Contrary to the constitutional recognition of our diversity through the federal character provision, Buhari’s appointments have consistently been skewed, as if non-northerners and non-Muslims are not a part of Nigeria. We noted this danger zone on Tuesday this week in an editorial titled, “Buhari’s curious sermon on national unity”.
To say the least, the northernisation of most federal offices is legendary and a daylight assault on merit and national integration. Taken piecemeal or as a whole, these are all serious cracks on our wall of national existence that no lover of united Nigeria can afford to ignore. The truth is that our country is broken, but not beyond sincere structural repair to avert actual breakdown from the fractured joints that already created Oduduwa, Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Middle Belt Forum, among other agitated groups. This is the prism through which the call for restructuring should be treated at this time. Adeboye and the likes are lovers of one Nigeria, but it has to be a country that works for all and not a few politicians. It has to be a Nigeria that devolves powers to the regions, states and local government areas (LGAs) to control their resources, generate and appropriate revenue, choose their best as representatives across the board and hold them accountable for every action or inaction. Enough of having to look to the centre for salvation and blaming the president for everything that goes wrong in our communities. Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable (a fallacy and a lie ab initio), but we have to determine the terms and conditions of our unity. Restructuring and clamour for true federalism is not to balkanise Nigeria but to make it functional and gratifying to all. To do otherwise is to make ‘peace, love and unity’ impossible, and breakup inevitable.
Some president’s men and beneficiaries of the warp system are already calling names to discredit the messengers, saying Buhari would “not succumb to threat, undue pressure over restructuring.” But this small gang cannot claim to love Nigeria more than Nigerians. They should be reminded that the new voices of reason are not saying anything new. The 2014 National Conference Report, the All Progressives Congress (APC) 2015 electioneering campaigns and its recent special committee on restructuring headed by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, all concluded that the country must restructure if it must work again. Buhari should not be deceived by naysayers to restructuring nor should he underrate possible disintegration of our corporate existence. Give or take, Buhari stands in a vantage position to make history. Either as the president whose civic virtues and deed of eminence saved and upturned fortunes of Nigeria through restructuring, or one whose sclerotic rigor mortis sat over its ticking time-bomb of endemic poverty, insecurity and sectionalism till the country disintegrated. If the latter, then Buhari and his handlers alone shall be blameworthy!