Making Nigeria big for something
Slowly but steadily, Nigeria is lurching forward towards a rebirth – if that is what restructuring is all about. Even if we are not so certain about the final architectural design yet, what we see from the glimpses of the sketch shows it will not be exactly the same again when we are through with the works. By we, I’m assuming we, the ordinary people, will all have a chance or two to make our own contribution.
The talks about the need for a born-again Nigeria assumed a feverish dimension some weeks back when the National Assembly formally requested the presidency to re-submit the report of the 2014 national conference which made copious recommendations about the shape of a new Nigeria. The former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who set up the conference, submitted the report to the National Assembly in the wee hours of his administration in 2015. Nothing was done because the nation was engulfed in a heated preparation for election.
Despite the support the call has received from prominent citizens in recent time – President Ibrahim Babangida has thrown his weight behind some tinkering with the constitution to pave way for restructuring – it requires some cool headedness and some dose of reasonableness to get critical stakeholders to begin to talk to one another.
When the move was made in the Senate before the Sallah break, there was a cacophony of voices – some in favour and some others, as to be expected, not in favour, indicating that no matter the fervour and the zeal it is generating, getting a unanimity of views on the matter is like asking for the moon.
But the nation must not shy away from it. To get to some talking point requires a lot of give and take and respecting one another view, avoiding grandstanding and a reckless display of a holier than thou attitude. Already there is some little disquiet from the corridors of power signifying an uncoordinated answer to the recurrent clamour for structuring. The suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, is on record as having said that this administration was too busy with other important national issues to give a thought to the 2014 national conference report. Describing the exercise as job for the boys, he said, in any case the reports were too voluminous for anybody to digest and act upon.
Now a source in the presidency has been quoted as even denying the existence of the report in the presidency when the National Assembly requested for a re-submission of same. This is rather unhelpful. And it signals the prevailing attitude of the central government, apparently forgetting that its own party, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, made a big play of restructuring in its manifesto. Advocates of restructuring are therefore right to hold the government to its promise.
In any case the Yoruba Assembly, an umbrella platform for socio-political groups in the South West zone at a meeting in Lagos last weekend said they are not bothered about the report – their contention is that there should be no piecemeal amendment of 1999 constitution. Whole sale exercise or nothing. And they insist that they would not mind seeking the support of the international community, principally the British and the United States governments to help to pilot the country to a truly sustainable federal democracy. Coming from General Alani Akinrinade, a former Nigeria Chief of Army Staff, a senior field commander in the Third Marine Commando of the Army during the civil war, a Nadeco chieftain to boot and convener of the Yoruba Assembly, it would be fool hardy to dismiss their submission as the ranting of the frustrated.
Their counterparts from the Middle Belt with a handful of some other Northern minorities want the Federal Government to implement the conference report by creating 12 regions, including the Middle Belt Region and 54 states as basic centres of development to ensure balance and equitable development – and not to forget, stem the rampage and the “murderous” activities of the Fulani cattle herdsmen.
In the likely event that the talks get to the point of a constitutional amendment via the National Assembly and the state legislatures or through the instrumentality of a national referendum, what issues are we bringing to the table? President Babangida, in his contribution, dwelt on the devolution of power to the current federating units, meaning the 36 state-structure and state policing. It does not make sense any more, he says, to have Federal Government take charge of roads in the major towns and cities. And he added for good measure that the time had come to perish the fear of governors running amok with state police under their control. There should be a lean Federal Government dealing with international relations, defence and the national economy.
Apparently the 2014 conference report would be more helpful in the matter, having done a more exhaustive work and produced a more comprehensive report going over the gamut of structure and the form of government, devolution of powers, state creation, resource sharing and resource control, fiscal federalism and state policing among others. But the recommendations, in my view, come with severe limitations. Not being a sovereign national conference, and could therefore not re-write the constitution, its report, willy- nilly must go to the law makers for debate and ratification. And possibly weave it into the constitution.
Granted that the nation is now in the mood for a restructuring, some questions are pertinent: is it going to be an evolution over a period of time or a revolution that comes to the citizens like a bolt from the outer space? An overnight work and the following morning, you wake up to a bright new day and a newly minted constitution with all the provisions of a truly democratic Federal Government of a great Nigerian nation with the required panacea for peace and stability, equity, justice and fairness. Overnight we grow into an Eldorado with an undiluted egalitarianism.
If that happens, how do we manage the shock of the great little men of power at the helm of affairs in the states, some of them clearly endowed only with executive and administrative capacity deficit? Like the Lilliputians, the little they have been saddled with have been poorly managed because most of them came to office terribly ill-prepared for this level of responsibility and also devoid of basic experience in managing human and material resources. And then suddenly more power is to be devolved to them. What I imagine would happen is an expo of confusion much compounded.
To avoid this calamity I submit that the nation must be prepared to undergo human capital restructuring as well. And also the restructuring of our leadership recruitment process that would shift emphasis from money, ill-gotten wealth in most cases, as the only qualification and criterion for leadership. This is an absolute requirement for Nigeria of the current millennium in which other countries are run by men of ideas and high-tech knowledge.
Is our electoral system going to undergo restructuring as well to weed out the chaff from the wheat; to give the advantage not of the crooks hankering for power for its own sake, but to the advantage of the truly tested with experience in public affairs and human resources management whose world view is exceptional and who is intellectually equipped to dream big dreams and develop vision with adequate capacity to translate his vision into reality.
If the answers to these posers are not in the affirmative, if we restructure and yet continue with business as usual, then we would have succeeded in sentencing the ordinary people to a state of perpetual penury and deprivation.