Change begins with restructuring
The people of Nigeria’s South-South geo-political zone on Saturday, January 27, 2018 gathered in Port-Harcourt at the behest of Project Nigeria Movement to deliberate and articulate their position on the vexed issue of restructuring. The event did not quite live up to expectation as the region’s elected and appointed political office holders went into hiding and stayed away. The Governor of the host state, Nyesom Wike was absent and so were the Governors of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta and Edo states. Serving senators and House of Representatives members were also absent. So were members of the different states Houses of Assembly. The region’s leading intellectuals and activists who are the most articulate crusaders of restructuring were also not in attendance!
However, what was important was that stakeholders met with great enthusiasm and took a position. The title of this piece was the catch phrase that resonated throughout the event tagged a summit. Its originality derived from the speech of His Royal Majesty Alfred Diette-Spiff, the Amanyanabo of Twon Brass and first Military Governor of River State (1967-1975). HRM Diette-Spiff, a retired Navy Commodore was one of the most prominent and enduring stakeholders in the Obi Wali Conference Centre venue of the summit that Saturday. When the exigency of the Nigerian Civil War, necessitated the creation of River State in 1967, the burden of steering the affairs of the new state fell on the shoulders of the young 27 years old Navy officer. The position of River State during the war was tenuous and precarious. It was a zone of deadly contention between the two warring sides because of its centrality to the nation’s oil wealth and its location as a port. Diette-Spiff lived through it all and administered the state until the putsch of July 1975 sent him packing. In retirement, he remained active in the struggle to remediate the Niger Delta region.
The consensus among all the speakers was that restructuring has become a sine qua non for Nigeria to make progress. It was in the course of his address that Diette-Spiff inspiringly invoked: “Change begins with restructuring” and the hall erupted in approbation. The audience immediately adopted the phrase “Change begins with restructuring” as a potent slogan of engagement with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) since the concept of “change” was the driving force of its victory in the 2015 general elections.
The South-South summit coming a few days after the Governor Nasir El Rufai-led APC Committee on restructuring submitted its report, endorsing restructuring, to the party ought to have been ecstatic, but it was not. Every speaker viewed the El Rufai led committee’s report as a Greek gift intended to lure Nigerians especially the South-South, South-East and South-West into voting for the APC in next year’s election. The speakers urged caution insisting that it was not yet uhuru. They argued that the struggle was just beginning and that the people of the South-South must remain vigilant and continue the clamour for restructuring.
The summit is significant in that it was the first attempt by the zone to give vent to its position on restructuring and the state of the nation. The zone remains the most exploited and environmentally degraded in Nigeria, yet it is the base of the nation’s wealth. The many contradictions inherent in a fraudulent post-colonial state have conspired to rape the region into stupor. The region has had to contend with balkanization instead of advancement, poverty instead of prosperity, strife instead of peace, among other painfully exacting opposites.
The agitation for restructuring is founded on the reality that Nigeria runs on a unitary model while it bears the federal nomenclature. It has been consistently argued that only a federal system of government will prosper a complex nation of diverse people such as Nigeria. This was agreed upon before independence, but many years of military rule promoted a hegemonic complex that thwarted Nigeria’s federal destiny. What constitutes the awful experience of Nigeria, especially the South-South, since 1966 when the khaki boys shot their way into power has been injustice, exploitation, inequity, violence and arrested development. The net result has been a nation torn apart by centrifugal forces all claiming marginalisation and crying for justice.
All Nigerians irrespective of geo-political zones should enlist in the restructuring crusade because only then will the country tow the path of its great destiny. If the APC government has any modicum of honour left, it should immediately submit the El Rufai’s report to the National Assembly so that the process to amend the constitution to reflect Nigeria’s federal status can begin. Only then can true change begin.
When the APC was in the trenches campaigning for the Presidency in 2014, it held aloft a banner promising restructuring. But once in power the party reneged and even shamelessly disavowed the concept. The President disowned it. The party chairman disowned it. So did El Rufai who now brandishes a report endorsing what they all disowned. It is this overnight volte-face that has made Nigerians to pooh-pooh the report. However, the consensus among Nigerians is summed up in Diette-Spiff’s aphorism “change begins with restructuring.”
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