In what can be likened to Professor Wole Soyinka’s Abiku, a poetic rendering of a stubborn and insistent phenomenon that refuses to be quashed by time and circumstance, the age-long calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation have again resurfaced. The consensus of opinions is that, in the light of the glaring dysfunctional manifestations in the polity, there is the need for Nigeria to return to the drawing board and re-engineer the foundation of its federation.
From virtually all the geo-political zones of the country, the calls for restructuring are gathering momentum by the day. They sink into the hearts of patriots because, more than at any other period in Nigeria’s history, the socio-political and economic problems manifesting in the country have shown that it cannot continue with its present skewed structure. The history of the anomalous federal practice that is the lot of Nigeria is in the public domain: -how the Major General Aguiyi Ironsi regime had, in 1966, spiked the regional autonomy hitherto enjoyed by the component units and foisted unitarism on the then six-year old federation. Since then, the unitary system has hindered the creative inclinations of Nigeria’s diverse peoples, different worldviews, multiple languages and make-ups.
Even when the country lays claim to being a federation, it is, in all material particulars, still a unitary state. This has led to endless sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems that are the natural offshoots of such systemic inconsistency. It is apparent that many of Nigeria’s existential problems today are as a result of the anomaly of a country which is apparently federal in its natural constitution but is being run as a unitary state.
The attempts by some top-placed runners of the country to deny that restructuring of the federation was part of the campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) have boomeranged, as is the attempt to reduce the calls to a sectional agitation. Some elders and statesmen have also lent their voices to the renewed agitation, the aggregate views of whom, we believe, the country could only ignore at her peril.
In joining our voices with the strident calls for restructuring by respected Nigerian leaders, we are not calling for a reinvention of the wheel. Rather, we are of the opinion that the various constitutional conferences held in time past, the most recent of which was the 2014 conference convoked by the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan, have enough antidotes to the skewed federalism that Nigeria practices. What is urgently imperative is for the recommendations of those conferences to be dusted up and implemented to the letter.
It is apparent that non-adherence to federalist principles has largely affected the destiny of Nigeria, leading to a general governmental apathy and stunted development. From the developmental mileages made by Nigeria during the First Republic, the outcome of a federal structure and practice that worked effectively and helped to jumpstart the developmental destiny of Nigeria, to which nostalgic references are made periodically, it is apparent that federalism is the ideal governmental structure that Nigeria needs. It is most conducive to its peculiar geography and diverse peoples.
Since the commencement of the unitarist ‘federalism’ during the days of the military, Nigeria has gradually sunk into indolence. There is a general laxity in the land, from the government to the governed, further worsened by the discovery of oil and its attendant problems. Agriculture, which used to be the mainstay of the economy, has been abandoned for the rat race for oil money and Nigeria is viewed as belonging to all and the patrimony of nobody. This has made less patriots of Nigerians, with everybody returning to their tent, protecting the hegemony of tribe and geography. Competition among the federating units, one of the flourishing ideals of a federation, has dried up with indolent states literally doing nothing and waiting to collect monthly dole-outs from the oil patrimony every month. The current global economic crisis that has revealed the dangers of half a century of Nigeria’s misguided practice of unitarism.
There is therefore the need for the centre to be made less attractive, while the federating units become the lords of their natural endowments, paying rents to the Federal Government. This is a better way to develop. It would make the units to look inwards and not be dependent on the resources of other people for their own development. Certainly, the call for Nigeria’s restructuring is a better song to hear than the various separatist tunes currently being bandied in the South-East and South-South. These are a result of the leadership turning deaf ears to the calls for a proper articulation of Nigeria’s togetherness.
No matter how they are cowed, such groups will continue to spring up like ferns in a plantation. To ignore the restructuring call is to give room to all the fissiparous movements to coalesce, indicative of the fact that the country is on a journey to the Yugoslav model, a euphemism for a break-up. If Nigeria’s unity is not going to be negotiable, the country needs to restructure.