Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 35
The other day, the head of the current administration, President Muhammadu Buhari took the nation by storm by his unambiguous rejection of the agitation for restructuring of the skewed Nigerian federation. The occasion was the launch of the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation in Zaria, Kaduna State. In ways, rhetorical, the President remarked, “… those who are discussing restructuring, my question is, what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about. Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent 1979 Constitution.”
Although the president spoke by proxy in the person of Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu who is the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the remark has not gone down well with actors in the public sphere, a space crowed by calls and designs for a new Nigeria. Expectedly, it has attracted reactions in form of criticisms from the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Afenifere, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ohanaeze, The Middle Belt Forum (MBF), the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and other groups as well as individuals. The PDP read the president’s utterance as utter disdain for the citizenry for the obvious reason that the country is bedevilled by insecurity and dire economic hardship. As Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, PDP’s spokesman puts it: “It is appalling and to say the least, despicable, that Mr. President and his party, the APC, which came to power in 2015 on the promise of restructuring, have not only reneged, in utter duplicity towards Nigerians but also turned around, six years after, to label restructuring as warfare and Nigerians demanding for it as ‘mischievously dangerous’.”
On its part, PANDEF took a swipe at the President, pointing up his deception for the reason that the President’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had set up a committee for restructuring and recommended key areas of restructuring such as state police, resource control among others. Indeed, this is an intolerable volte-face. Given the public repudiation of restructuring, one would have expected the president to wax stronger in terms of solutions to banditry and the routine kidnapping of school children. PANDEF stated polemically, “No responsible government anywhere in the world would make or sanction such gibberish statements against its citizens. We are, undoubtedly, under a grossly blinkered leadership, sadly, to the detriment of the security and welfare of citizens.”
The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) pointed to the impossibility of Nigeria unless the country is restructured underlined by devolution of powers with clear autonomy for the federating units. The pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, simply restated what restructuring means for the undiscerning to the extent that it is for “Nigeria to remain one but not to remain one in a way that one component part will be lording it over the other.” Equally, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) noted that the federal process was one of a routine bargain. The president’s recalcitrance merely betrayed his preference for the Fulani-supremacist agenda to the detriment of the aspiration of the Nigerians. There appears to be a convergence of opinion across the geopolitical zones as the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) made its voice heard. Its spokesman, Hakeem Baba-Ahmad underscored the president’s ignorance when “I think the president does not appear to understand the concept of restructuring because failure to restructure the country represents serious threat to future unity of Nigeria. If this administration of Buhari does not accept the principle of restructuring and the process of restructuring Nigeria, I am sure the action of Nigerians will impact the remainder of Buhari’s office negatively.”
Beyond the response from interest groups from the major geopolitical zones, the Buhari’s un-regal outburst provokes several questions, which some critical commentators have already posed. First, whose responsibility is to process the restructuring agenda? Is it the agitators? Is it the president? Or the elected representatives of the people occupying the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly? To be sure, the hue and cry of the agitators amount to feedback from the system, which the elected representatives ought to process into concrete enactment with or without the assent of the president. However, the dynamics of power goes beyond this descriptive process approach. Indeed, power is constructed around historical blocs either class or ethnic or a mixture of both and the president belongs to a section of the northern power bloc, which is opposed to restructuring. The organic intellectuals of the bloc argued that there had been restructuring which manifested in the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions that aimed to strengthen the unity of the country. So what is the noise about restructuring? In relation to this viewpoint, we hasten to note that in transition politics, beneficiaries of a decadent system or the existing order are often reluctant to change, until they become converts or are changed by change. It is only the absent-minded who would deny today that the lie of things in Nigeria is well. Even the blind and disinterested bystanders know that this country is dying by instalment. Need we, therefore, reiterate the old axiom that those who make peaceful change impossible are overcome by other dynamics of state-building? As the voice of truth about federalism being a viable way out of an incongruous polity resonates, let us embrace it now before it is too late.
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