Who is afraid of restructuring Nigeria?
As different forces compete for the battered soul of the nation, the issue of restructuring the political framework of Nigeria keeps bobbling up, sometimes with the fervency of zealots and at other times with profound duplicity. While some highly-placed officials of state have displayed absolute ignorance about the idea of restructuring the nation, others have played the ostrich on this idea whose time has come.
How else can one interpret the contentious view expressed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo the other day that, ‘restructuring is not the problem of Nigeria’? Was it not the same Prof. Osinbajo as Acting President who advocated the creation of state police? Why has it become so difficult to think outside the box in our national affairs? Why are state actors so inconsistent on governance issues? We have read some clarification provided to a former vice president’s response to the same view of Prof. Osinbajo (on federalism) published on this newspaper’s op-ed page today. We are not persuaded by the inconsistency and sophistry therein.
During the outgone week, different persons, having studied the volatile political environment made calls for tinkering with the political structure of the country. The Obi of Onitsha, Niger Delta Avengers, Afenifere, Ijaw and Tiv youths at different fora called for restructuring Nigeria. The message is that Nigeria as currently configured is not working. There is distrust in the polity about the motives of the central government. There is an inefficient bureaucracy, which feeds fat on the national patrimony. The local government number and structure are skewed in favour of a section of the country. It is wishful thinking to believe that an efficient leader sitting in Abuja can successfully oversee the affairs of one hundred and eighty nine million Nigerians. The constituent parts of the federation should be given more responsibility and say in development matters.
This newspaper has been consistent in this regard: reiterating the benefits of restructuring this complicated federation – that has served no one any good since 1966 when military authorities in government pulled down federalism and replaced it with unitarism.
The President and his men who have not been committed to restructuring the federation despite their promise and report received on it since January 25 this year should be told that the level of injustice using the federal might is a sore point in the country. The Federal Government has continued to use its organs to attack and oppress the constituent parts of the federation. State governors who are not in the good books of the Federal Government are subject to being harassed by federal agencies. What is more, resources, which are generated from just two regions (out of six), are arbitrarily shared without due process at the nation’s capital.
Indeed, there is a perception that the incumbent President is inherently sectarian without any check to balance him. In a true federation this will not happen. The minorities will have their say and develop their environment with the resources they have been blessed with.
It does bear reiteration that a call for restructuring Nigeria is not synonymous with political disintegration. It is not a call for dismembering Nigeria. It is simply a call for re-examining how we develop and allocate our natural resources. So far, we have been encumbered by restrictive thinking and rigid regimentation, which we inherited from the years of military misadventure in power. It is a call for re-visiting the current federal system, unitary in practice, which we operate. Simply put, the commanding nature of the political system is not healthy. Nowhere else in the world is the anachronism, which we operate, tolerated. No member of the Canada-based Forum of Federations is run like Nigeria.
Restructuring Nigeria means ensuring the federating states will tap the resources in the geographical area and make contributions to the national coffers. It means that policing will be left in the hands of locals. It means that each region will concentrate on developing its infrastructure at its own pace. Restructuring will also ensure that the Federal Government will concentrate on defence, currency and foreign affairs. It also means that the monthly jamboree, which takes place in Abuja in the name of sharing the national wealth, will come to an end. Each state would develop its natural resources and effectively guarantee the good life for its people.
Different groups are clamouring for restructuring. Instructively, the Governor Nasir el-Rufai Committee, which the ruling APC set up submitted its report since January 25, this year. It was no surprise that the committee also recommended the restructuring of the nation.Fittingly, the report of the Committee contains a draft bill to facilitate its conveyance to the National Assembly for debate and action.
But the President, fixed in his military ways, seems to be the main obstacle to restructuring. Perhaps, the 75-year-old leader, a retired general, is yet to fully grasp the import of the strident calls for a fresh examination of our country. There is great dissatisfaction and disillusionment in the country. If his advisers are not telling the president the truth, it is unfortunate. Pockets of protests, the IPOB uprising, the Boko Haram insurgency and the rise of the militant forces in the south-south are all pointers in one direction: the days of over-centralisation are over.
So, it is time to open up the political space and let each constituent part develop its resources as best as it can. It is inconceivable that the entire country can be policed from a central command based in far-away Abuja. We ought to re-think our current practice of federalism. This in our view should be gradual by starting with the low-hanging fruits, as it were.
For a start, we recommend that the government should re-visit the El Rufai Committee document, which made far-reaching and fundamental recommendations after broad consultations. The Report of the National Conference, which was held in 2014, could also come in handy. Indeed, profound recommendations came out of that body of eminent Nigerians. The report should be dusted up and sections on power generation and supply, state policing, economic and natural resources, local government administration, and revenue mobilisation should be closely examined.
The truth is that if President Buhari and his men fail to rise to the occasion, ultimately their successors, yielding to the will of the people would do so. Mr. President set the machinery in motion to re-structure Nigeria now, please! As we have repeatedly noted here, it is an idea whose time has indeed come. The conclusion of the whole matter is that unless Nigeria is restructured to reflect organic federalism, outcome of any presidential election will always be like a Shakespearean tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Any elected president, young or old, will always be bogged down by the negative effects of unitary system, which has always served only the rent-seeking, selfish and greedy power elite who detest the people of this country.
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