Restructuring Nigeria: I stand halfway with Atiku
Recently, it was reported that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had a different view from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar concerning the type of restructuring that Nigeria needed. While Osinbajo only wanted fiscal restructuring, Atiku wanted both fiscal and geographical restructuring. I must say at the outset, that it is a good thing that both political leaders agreed that Nigeria needs restructuring, unlike some other political leaders who say all is well and do not see any need to restructure.
For me, I do not only agree that Nigeria should be restructured geographically and fiscally but I believe that Nigeria should be reinvented. This is because a broken bottle cannot be repaired, patched or amended. It just has to be re-moulded. The breaking of the country did not start today. It did not start with this government, nor the one before, not even the one before that, though some elements in these governments have contributed in some way in the breaking of the country. In my view, the breaking process started when the military led Nigeria to destroy the foundation on which modern Nigeria was built. My Bible asks: “If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Nigeria was clobbered together by the British, not for the love of the different nationalities that governed themselves, before their arrival but for their commercial advantage and administrative convenience, in some cases applying force. They held the disparate nationalities together by guile and subterfuge and when they were preparing to depart, they feared that the whole arrangement could unravel. Thanks to the wisdom of our foundational leaders who painstakingly worked out an arrangement that gave the nation the best chance to survive. They accepted strong regional geographic structure as the federating units. The semi-autonomous regions ceded some limited power to a Federal Government. From 1956 when regions began to obtain regional autonomy and self governance status, Nigeria’s growth in the global community assumed accelerated growth and significance. The arrangement was not a perfect one but it was the best in the circumstance.
But when the military came on the scene in 1966 and until they left in 1999, they broke down all the covenants and structures that held the Nigerian federation together and substituted their unitary structure that fitted their “command and control” set up. They dissolved the federating units and the foundation of a stable federation and later began to create a new set of federating units, ceding limited powers to these new ‘creatures.’ We then ended up with an inverted federal structure that has been wobbling since 1999.
When Obasanjo came to power in 1999, he was embarrassed by signs of an unstable federation which the military (which he was part of) left behind. First he ignored the symptoms; when the signs got worse and could no longer be ignored, he tried the strong man military tactics. The symptoms exaggerated and in 2005, he was” compelled” by reality to call the National Political conference and requested it to fashion out the way to restore stability to Nigeria. Unfortunately, the National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Ken Nnamani refused to consider the report for sundry reasons, including self-survival.
Yar’Adua and Jonathan came to power and concluded that some good gestures to the Niger Delta would solve the problem. The gestures gave some respite but soon after, the vibrations started and soon escalated to tremors, threatening earthquakes. Jonathan was “forced” to call the 2014 National Conference. Again, the Sixth National Assembly failed to look into the report and recommendations before the end of the session. Then came President Buhari’s APC government promising to restructure the nation. They forgot this promise on coming to office. Then the vibrations returned and soon the tremors.
Like Obasanjo, Buhari adopted the strong arm tactics employing operation python dances, crocodile tears etc. The National Assembly called for the 2014 report. Temporary relief. Buhari refused to send it, but someone did. Soon the political battles for the Senate leadership eclipsed everything. And the vibrations returned with stay at home orders by IPOB last week. The leaders of Southern Nigeria issue statements about DSS appointments and the continued lop sided appointments. Meanwhile, the Boko Haram insurgency remains active, so also the herdsmen killings (with reduced frequency) and the Niger Delta militants issuing threats.
Many states are insolvent and most depend on the federation account while concurrent expenditure consume over 70% of total national budget. On all scales of measuring human development index, Nigeria seems to have peaked in 1966 and seems to be on continuous roller-coaster ever since. Many Nigerians and good friends abroad agree that current Nigeria’s political and fiscal structures are unsustainable and are responsible for holding the country down and chronically preventing it from rising up and achieving its full potentials. Truly, Nigeria needs to set itself free and indeed needs to reinvent itself. A new foundation is indicated in line with the former destroyed foundation.
But as has been shown over and over, those in power have often failed to accept reality and do the needful. It is certain that self or group survival has been the main hindrance. Politicians in power who often do not feel the pain of the people and most times are consumed with selfish ambition have been most reluctant to take the bull by the horn. Because the needed restructuring or reinvention will lead to job and privileges losses, they have continued to deny or delay this panacea to save Nigeria and return it to a peaceful and ordered growth and development. Certainly, the piece-meal amendments of the 1999 constitution with token yielding of fiscal privileges to the beleaguered states, which Osinbajo seems to prefer will not solve Nigeria’s problem. We need a total reinvention of Nigeria-drastic overhaul and rearrangement of Nigeria’s political, geographic, economic, fiscal, educational, cultural and social structures and practices, captured in a new truly federal constitution truly drawn up by the true people of Nigeria. I am not quite sure Atiku’s concept of restructuring is as deep, holistic and wholesome as my own concept, hence I am standing with him half-way.
• Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR.
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