Hard tackles for restructuring campaigners in Bukar Usman’s scholarly engagement
For the number of years that the clamour to restructure Nigeria has dominated the airwaves in the media and at other public fora, no known prominent agitator has thought it wise to give the agitation fleshed-out intellectual vigour in a book form.
Of course, interviews in newspapers, radio and television are indeed accepted platforms to advance issues and ventilate arguments that are of national significance. But these are ephemeral platforms; they soon pass away like the wind and nobody remembers them except the diligent researcher who may chance upon them to serve us as reminders. But presenting national discourses in a book form is something unique altogether. It makes for enduring seriousness and the overall value proponents of a discourse accord it. Restructuring Nigeria: An Overview (Klamidas Communications Ltd, Abuja; 2019) by Dr. Bukar Usman is a book that tilts the scales in this all-important national discourse.
A cursory look at the Nigerian landscape shows that the Restructure Nigeria Agenda is among the issues that characterize the north-south dichotomy that have made the country’s development somewhat impossible. From the look of it, only a handful of personalities from the north have lent their voices to the restructuring agitation, foremost among them is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who campaigned on it in the 2019 general elections. Also, a handful of personalities from the south also agree with Usman that only an ethical value re-orientation and mind reset are the essential missing links in Nigeria’s inability to sustain its march to a progressive, modern nation.
However, Usman asks a pertinent question regarding Nigeria’s development that is also at the heart of the restructuring agitation: “Do our problems spring more from awful bad governance than from structural inadequacies?” While he tends to lean on the ‘bad governance’ proposition with its value-related baggage as being responsible for Nigeria’s under-development, proponents of restructuring believe otherwise. In fact, they insist that the country’s foundation is faulty and everything else built on it is bound to collapse. But the verdict is almost out even as those who are against restructuring say otherwise. After fifty-nine years of independence and 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, is the country any better than it started? Proponents insist the country has regressed instead of achieving any meaningful development in proportion to its vast potential.
While Usman is not entirely against restructuring, he, however, argues in his new book that whatever restructuring that needs to be done can happen through the instrumentality of the National Assembly, which organ has the constitutional duty to tinker with the constitution. And in fact, he states that the body has been doing so from time to time, adding that no constitution is perfect, which necessitates provision for its amendment. He takes a swipe at those who propose that the 1999 constitution is inadequate and did not emanate from ‘We, the people’ proposition, insisting that those who convened at various constitution-making arrangements actually serve that needed representative purpose.
“There is no ideal constitution anywhere, and no constitution is too good to be amended,” he states. “Times change, circumstances change, and these may throw up genuine reasons to amend some part of the constitution. What matters fundamentally is that the constitution is amended in accordance with the provisions made by the constitution. This makes sense. Since the constitution is regarded as the grundnorm or basic norm, what other instrument of constitutional amendment can be better and less hazardous than that provided by the constitution?”
As a proper establishment man who rose to the enviable position of permanent secretary in the civil service, Usman insists that whatever amendment needs to be done to achieve a restructuring of whatever guise must go ‘through the due process’ and not some ‘fruitless exercise’. Usman is clearly against any “extra-legislative platforms that would shape or radically alter” the constitution, saying that the restructuring debate “has so far been too emotionally charged and too unwieldy to yield specific results in real constitutional changes.” A change of tact may indeed be desirable, he seems to suggest.
Usman castigates those calling for the wholesale amendment of 1999 constitutional through another national conference, arguing that “Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, no constitution has sustained democratic rule in the country as long as the 1999 Constitution…. Given Nigeria’s history of instability, eighteen years of uninterrupted democratic rule, in spite of occasional instability, is very remarkable. Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on how to improve what has worked longest for us rather than dissipate energy and emotions haggling over a speculative or once tried and jettisoned alternative?”
The entire purpose of Usman’s work is to debunk claims that the 1999 constitution is defective and cannot guarantee the country’s yearning for ‘fairness, equity, and justice’. And that whatever defectiveness is noticed can be redressed through legislative amendment. So, he picks holes with some of the views put forward by proponents of restructuring. Two claims stand out among those who reject the 1999 constitution as “not democratically derived but was hastily put together by the military and the inability of the National Assembly to structurally alter the constitution.” But Usman, through rigorous arguments drawn from local and international references, sees those who distrust the National Assembly to effectively carry out needed amendments as playing to the gallery. He says restructuring debate seems confined to a few elite and argues for the need to take the debate to the grassroots to find out their take on the vexing issue.
In chapter three of Restructuring Nigeria: An Overview titled ‘Analysing Perceptions and Arguments for Restructuring Nigeria,’ Usman presents 32 arguments proponents of restructuring make and punctures them one after the other. These range from why Nigeria has remained under-developed, need to go back to regionalism, state police, absence of good governance, devolution of power, resource control, unfair distribution of resources, centralized hold on power, and many other reasons that have held the country down from making progress. But in each case, Usman posts counter, neutralising arguments. He, however, concedes that centrally policing the country has failed and sues for the local policing model that puts policing at the grassroots for more effectiveness.
The author also takes on proponents of regionalism, tracing Nigeria’s history of regionalism, its development, and fall to the military, and why such an arrangement had long outlived its usefulness.
“Trying to bring back the boundaries of the three regions or that of the four regions (including Mid-West Region) is almost as regressive as trying to redraw the 2018 map of Nigeria to include Southern Cameroon,” Usman says, but notes that it was agitations against the regions in terms of marginalization of smaller groups that necessitated the creation of states that “are able to deliver dividends to their constituent groups because they are sub-federating in nature, directly funded and self-accounting… Nigeria’s state structure is on track and I know many Nigerians rightly proud of their states would agree. Of course, in terms of relationship with the federal government, especially as it touches devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, and revenue allocation formula, there is a need for a constitutional review to make these issues align with current realities. And there are a few lessons we can learn from the regions. But one thing we should not do is turn back the hand of the clock by returning to the circumstances of the last days of the regions which prompted the military to strike in 1966.”
The author states that with the sheer volume of Nigeria’s constitution and the number of amendments made so far compared with that of the United States, “Nigeria ought to be better governed than the United States. We have so many laws in this country, yet the rule of law is yet to be entrenched in the psyche of the average Nigerian. The average Nigerian seems more interested in disobeying the law than obeying it.”
He submits further in his final chapter titled ‘The Case for Ethical Restructuring of Nigeria’: “The answer to the restructuring question lies more in collective self-examination, in fundamental change of attitude, and in a public-spirited approach to public administration by the current and future operators of our constitution,” further adding, “…the restructuring question should be sought within the context of restructuring of our values while making other necessary changes to maintain Nigeria’s unity and sovereignty… Given the needful change in attitude, the 1999 Constitution, even without further amendment, is workable.”
But Usman agrees with one of the fundamental arguments of restructuring, when he admits, “The centre, it must be acknowledged, has turned out to be too powerful, hence the current call for devolution of powers and distribution of resources.” But in spite of this anomaly, the author still insists, “There are interior, character and value-related issues we need to address” to move the country forward.
CLEARLY, Usman’s Restructuring Nigeria: An Overview is a bold initiative to answering the perennial national question that continues to plague the country and why a seasoned economist, Jimanze Ego-Alowes promptly made the damning submission that “as currently constituted, the country (Nigeria) is far from being developed or even developable.” Indeed, proponents of restructuring will be up in arms against Usman in some, if not all, of his submissions, especially in the area of managing resources. They will attack him for grossly glossing over the restructuring issues they raise and over-simplifying them in his analysis.
For instance, the revenue allocation formula, which they describe as ‘feeding bottle federalism,’ is at the heart of restructuring agitations, where more than 20 out of the 36 states depending on a single resource produced in about nine states for sustenance. America, where Nigeria copied its constitution, does not have its 50 state governors going cap in hand to Washington every month to collection federal allocations. Each state is self-sustaining. That is why it is called a federal, not an empire, state. It is this sort of federally-induced laziness that restructuring agitators canvas against.
While proceeds from the oil wealth, taxes, and ports in parts of the country are collected in a distributable pool, mineral resources in states like Zamfara, Kano, and others that have caused deaths and fueled banditry are being mined illegally by individuals while the federal government looks the other way. If Zamfara State, for instance, does not have to look to Abuja to collect monthly allocations the state would have no alternative but harness its resources to sustain itself.
Most restructuring agitators describe Nigeria as an empire creation of the coup-making military, headed mostly by officers from one section of the country, who agitators accuse of rigging the federal structure in favour of their area with an unbalanced state creation that gives them bigger numerical strength in the National Assembly. It was prompted one of their own, Gen. Chris Ali, to write a damning book entitled the Federal Republic of Nigerian Army!
Those who advance this position say Nigeria is currently under internal colonial rule, with one section of the country lording it over the others and cornering all the resources at the expense of the others who actually produce them. It is why, for instance, heads of security agencies under President Muhammadu Buhari are mostly officers from one section of the country (with nine state police commissioners from Katsina alone!), why a child from a section of the country can gain admission into Unity School with a mere five per cent while another with 60 per cent from another section cannot because of quota that keeps rewarding mediocrity that eventually fuels under-performance in public institutions, why nine board members of NNPC are from non-oil producing states, and why the heads of major state corporations and agencies are occupied by personnel from the same section of the country. These are what restructuring campaigners will accuse Usman of glossing over in what they will perceive as his support for the status quo with its manifestly entrenched injustices.
While some campaigners are agreed that it is impossible to go back to the pre-1967 regional structure, the say states, as they currently exist, can serve that purpose as centres of power, which only contribute an agreed percentage to maintain the centre, say 25 per cent. That way so-called federal infrastructure like roads that run through states can be maintained since the centre is too faraway.
Indeed, the restructuring agenda will continue to generate debate across the country until an acceptable consensus is reached that promises to move the country away from its current slide into backwardness as the operators of the constitution continue to show remarkable cluelessness. Usman’s Restructuring Nigeria: An Overview is one such major contribution that restructuring proponents will give a close look and possibly refocus their strategies to convince those against restructuring that it is also in their own interest for Nigeria to move in a different direction from where she is currently headed.
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