Issues and challenges of restructuring Nigeria
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has provisions for the necessary steps that must be taken and adhered to in amending any of its provisions. Similar provisions were made in the previous constitutions of Nigeria. The procedures for changing or altering the constitution are complex and cumbersome. The framers of the constitution deliberately made it so to discourage frivolities and unwarranted tinkering with the constitution so as to preserve the unity of Nigeria.
The call for the restructuring of Nigeria which in essence is a call for partial or wholesale review of the current 1999 Constitution should be treated under those provisions. It is the perceived difficulties in compliance with those provisions that tend to make some people want to circumvent the process by condemning the existing constitution altogether as a product of a non-democratic process. Some of these people are even calling for a new one that would emerge through what they perceive as the “democratic process.”
There is no doubt that the restructure advocates are few and localised to some sections of the country. However, many of them are respected and influential in the society. Among them are notable politicians, bureaucrats, academics, lawyers, clerics, traditional rulers and ex-servicemen. Some of them have held public offices. Others are still serving. Some never held public office. There are also notorious armchair critics and non-conformists among them. Some of the advocates are also fairly well off in the society. They cannot therefore be accused of acting on selfish grounds or for material gains. But it is quite apparent that they are out to promote, in the main, sectional interests and agenda that could erode the pillars of our national unity. Some of them promote their views with all the force at their disposal. Others threaten to unleash unimaginable calamity on the nation if their largely narrow and untenable wishes are not granted within a given time, ignoring the undeniable fact that nation-building is a continuous project.
However, there are those who joined the bandwagon in calling for restructuring without knowing the full import of what the concept and content of restructuring entails. This reminds one of the episode under the Gowon administration when some students took to the streets in demonstration, shouting, “Ali Must Go!” Non students joined them innocently, echoing “Ali Must Go!” without knowing what the students were protesting against. Nigeria had witnessed and successfully coped with agitations of both serious and comical elements.
Viewed closely, the restructure advocates essentially anchor their arguments on certain misgivings and perceptions in form and style of governance. They perceive intolerable imbalance in the federal structure, as currently constituted; imbalance in appointments and imbalance in the distribution of resources. They equally perceive the system of governance in practice as unitary, contrary to their yearnings for federalism.
The question is what are the likely solutions to the myriads of perceptions and arguments for restructuring Nigeria?
Some of the advocates of restructuring propose a return to the 1963 Constitution. They justify this by arguing that it was the only constitution in the nation’s history that was freely negotiated by our revered civilian political leaders. The three initial Regions and later four, created by that constitution, performed wonderfully as units of development under the political and administrative structure. Indeed, there is no doubt that the regions recorded unmatched developments within the rather short time they were operative.
The restructuring advocates point out that all the subsequent constitutions were handed down by the military. They emphasize that the 1999 Constitution currently in operation was a product of the military and that it is a carryover of the unitary system of governance imposed by military-style governance. Hence they call for a re-enactment of “true federalism” and “true fiscal federalism”, the like of the 1960s which left the Regions with sufficient resources to perform. They argue along this line of postulations contrary to the fact that the current 36 states of the federation get more money than the former regions.
But what are the reasons that made Nigeria to jettison the regional arrangement of the 1960s, if it indeed worked satisfactorily?
Memories are short. Some people seem to forget that it was similar agitations like the current clamour to restructure that brought about the balkanisation of Nigeria into states, ostensibly to redress perceived imbalance that might jeopardise the existence of Nigeria as a country. Emerging from a hard-earned independence, the nationalists could not contemplate such a suicidal act and therefore sacrificed their individual ambitions to sustain the unity of the country.
In their anxiety to bury the ghost of regionalism permanently and to shun the revival of regionalism under any guise, they were not prepared to even tolerate the existence of the residual “common services” after the abolition of the regions. The regional assets were shared to the last kobo, sometimes after a bitter acrimony among the successor states. Some promising regional industrial, commercial and financial undertakings of the likes of Industrial Investment and Credit Corporation (IICC), Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC) and Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), inherited by the successor states, were starved of funds and allowed to collapse or pale into insignificant entities.
Those who propose, for an experimental period, the creation of “Geo-economic Zonal Commissions,” as a more practicable answer to the clamour for restructuring, need to revisit the circumstances of the demise of IICC, ENDC, NNDC, Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and similar institutions and also critically examine the performance of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Likewise they should examine the performance of the River Basin Development Authorities. Of course, a new commission has recently been approved for the North-East. Its take-off and success in meeting the objectives of its establishment and the expectations of the people in its areas of operations may inform the nation better and encourage or discourage the establishment of such geo-economic commissions. But would the agitators patiently wait for such evaluation?
While it may be necessary to occasionally undertake a critical self-examination in nation-building, it is unrealistic to prescribe the structure of Nigeria of 1963 to Nigeria of today, let alone of the future.
•To be continued tomorrow.
• Usman, former permanent secretary in the presidency, wrote from Abuja.
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