What has restructuring got to do with break-up?
Listening to opponents of the idea these days, one is left with the impression that constitutional restructuring of Nigeria will, willy-nilly, set this beautiful country of wonderful people on the path of disintegration. The mere thought of a break-up is repulsive to many Nigerians. And, even among the few Nigerians who, for some queer reasons, express support for tearing up the fatherland, there is the cheering news of a growing number who are retracing their steps.
Honestly, it is the unfortunate allusion to a break-up, a shot in the dark anyway that swells the anti-restructuring camp. It is for this reason that those who support the call to restructure Nigeria should begin to clarify their stand before those views are sullied. The call to restructure Nigeria is purely a constitutional matter and should not, under any circumstances, be equated with balkanising the country.
Since restructuring became a national fad, those who oppose the idea and who fear it may set the country on the path of disintegration insist it is the mind of Nigerians, not their country, that should be restructured. While there is nothing wrong with ethical re-orientation or moral restructuring, here is hoping that the aim of opponents of constitutional restructuring is not to create the impression those compatriots who support restructuring favour a break-up and, therefore, do not mean well for the country.
Those on the fringes need to realise that it will take more than wishful thinking to break up Nigeria. The idea of a break-up along ethnic and/or religious lines is one of the best told narratives by Nigerians about their country. We must concede that many misrepresentations about Nigeria are hatched outside the country’s shores. But the unlikely talk of there was a country called Nigeria, either now or in the immediate future, is a home grown fallacy, a bad product Nigerians successfully exported abroad. The funny idea that a north- south religious divide exists in Nigeria is a myth, a lazy and epidermic thesis forced down the throat of Nigerians. At best, it is a deliberate distraction from the crass incompetence of the political leadership.
Today, attempts to correct the impression are not attracting the desired results because the Western press has fine-tuned the misnomer of a Christian south and Muslim north. This feeling is fuelled, rightly or wrongly, by those who see the north as a major drawback, an albatross of sort, around the neck of Nigeria. Again, the worry is firmed by the presence of, over the past several decades, of an increasingly clueless, criminal and inept political leadership in the north who, rather than exploit the abundant non-oil resources in the region, prefer to cast lustful glances at and, parasite on monthly federal allocations realised from oil revenue.
Problem here is that each time we talk of a break-up, Nigerians do not take into account God’s own hand in the historical events that gave birth to the contraption called Nigeria in 1914. Take the 17 states that today make up the so called Christian south; can we, in all sincerity, carve out a country from there to reflect the christianness of the south? Can the south west, where there are as many Muslims as there are Christians, be classified as component of a south?
In the whole of southern Nigeria, it is in the south south and the south east geo political zones that we find indigenous Christian populations in the majority. But again, there are indigenous Igbo who are Muslims just as we have indigenous people in Rivers and Edo states who profess the religion of Islam and whose interests must be considered when we glibly talk of a Christian south.
Of the three geo-political zones up north, only the north west may be described as predominantly Muslim. And even in the North West, just like the south east and south south, there is a significant indigenous Christian population whose interests must always be considered. The north east and north central geo political zones are a different kettle of fish as there is no state in the two zones where Christians could be referred to as an insignificant minority. None!
In fact, in at least two states in the north central, Muslims are a clear minority. And, by the way, which state in the north east is, in the real sense, predominantly Muslim? Is it Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi or even Borno? Yet, we still talk of a Christian south and a Muslim north! Each time people marshal an argument in support of a break-up, the impression one gets is that the position emanates largely out of frustration. And frustration denies man the ability for rational thinking.
Frustration is the result of the parlous state of the nation’s economy, especially in the north, where the problem of poor leadership, comparatively speaking, is more pronounced. If truth be told, very few Nigerians will resort to violence, be it religious or political, if the economy is working and if more people are engaged in one form of trade or the other. A lot of the frustration results from a situation where a few find themselves in government, mostly through means that are foul, violent and criminal, and corner the common wealth.
The Buhari/Osinbajo administration has proved that all the hot air of a possible break-up will disappear if political leaders get their acts together. To make it realistic, Nigerians must not tire of pushing for a structural restructuring of the country. For obvious reasons, the National Assembly is the right place to begin the restructuring effort. Then we must begin to look critically at some of the far-reaching recommendations of the 1995 National Constitutional Conference which contained pragmatic solutions to the national question. Certainly, none of these suggestions is a recipe for a break-up.
The good thing is that restructuring can be accomplished without the luxury of another time-wasting and money-guzzling national constitutional conference.
• Magaji lives in Abuja and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org