On restructuring, there shouldn’t be any controversy, says Nwabueze
In this interview with Niyi Bello and Leo Sobechi, elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze bares his mind on the on-going agitations for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation. Excerpts:
What are the pillars of restructuring as being agitated for by many Nigerians?
I don’t understand the pillars and I don’t understand why there should be any kind of controversy or uncertainty about restructuring, something that should be clear to everybody. But the meaning of restructuring in the contest of Nigeria, we are talking about Nigeria here, is to allow people, there are over three hundred nationalities in Nigeria, research has been done on this and the figure is still disputed, have a sense of belonging. What should be clear is that, in a country like this, with such a vast expanse of territory comprising many ethnic nationalities, there is a bone of contention going on, each ethnic nationality grouped with other ethnic nationality that is related to it by language, culture and geographical contiguity should be allowed to govern themselves in matters that concern them alone.
Restructuring mean nothing more than allowing each ethnic nationality grouped together with other ethnic nationality, related to it by culture/language or geography. That was the basis on which we gained independence under the 1960 constitution, which remained under the 1963 constitution. It means self-government, and the term is nothing new to us, we are used to it. In 1953, 1960,1963 there were groupings in the region, but with nationalities, big and small but related.
In 1953, Anthony Enahoro moved the independence motion and the North opposed it. The British said since the North was not ready yet, we would allow each region to govern itself. So self-government is not new, govern yourself within your territory within the territorial sovereignty of the country Nigeria, it doesn’t imply destroying Nigeria. No, we keep Nigeria together as one state, but let each group govern itself, that is self-government that was accepted, established by law and the constitution; the colonial constitution. Western and Eastern Nigeria were given internal self-government in1957 leaving the North until 1960 when full independence was granted to the country.
Division over restructuring
It is obvious now that the country is divided, north and south, on this issue. Let the southern groups and the northern groups come and negotiate, debate and dialogue. I believe in dialogue, I believe in debate and I believe in negotiation. There is no use saying that Nigeria’s unity is non negotiable. We have to sit down and negotiate. How can we achieve this and what are the things to be taken away from the centre? We have to examine also how we came to the present situation. Self-government was entrenched in 1960-1963, how did it come to be what we have as the present situation, how did it come about? That instead of groups being allowed to govern themselves we now have a central government that reaches into all kind of matters, converting the system to unitary.
On what platform should the issue be discussed?
The Federal Government is the one to bring all negotiators together. Nobody is disputing that now. We have held one National Conference before and there have also been others in the past. What we need now is one specifically focusing on restructuring. And some of us have already taken up the challenge of initiating dialogue. My own group, the Southern Leadership Forum, contacted Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the former Vice President and we told him to go ahead and constitute the Northern group. So we started discussing the matter and the understanding was that we would discuss, brainstorm, reach the position and the Northern group will be consulted. We anticipated the division of interests in the north but we left it for Atiku to sort out.
We invited him to one of our meetings and he came with the Governor of Adamawa, and he pleaded that we should give them time, that they were in the process to constitute the Northern group. This was a period of fasting; the Ramadan fast, and they said that they needed time. But the Ramadan ended and having settled our own position, we are still expecting to hear the formation of the Northern group. He sent a message that we should please give him more time but up till today, we have not heard them. A copy of our position was however sent to him. That is the position that we are today.
But I don’t think that Atiku is the only man who can organize the formation of the Northern group, so we have plans, if he is not able to do it, we will get others to try to do it, so that the Northern group can be formed, and the dialogue will begin. In our group, our own work has been done, completed, so there is no need to take that step, it is only if we fail to get some people order than Atiku, to organize the northern group to meet with us, we will try and see how we can achieve our goal. And of course we need the co-operation of the Federal Government. That is a bigger obstacle because whatever decision jointly taken by the two groups will still need the support of the Federal Government for implementation.
If Atiku or other people in the North are able to organize the North for negotiation, then it is after that, that we will then say to the Federal Government, this is what we have been able to do, it is now left to you to do something to concretize the brainstorming by the two groups, and by the combination of the two groups, if the present government is not able to do anything, then of course, it is time for action within the law.
What kind of action?
The statement that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable has a point. It is a statement popularized by an American ex president and I hope that our authorities, the Federal Government are aware of this, but if they refuse to co-operate, they are inviting violence, they are inviting action. But it should be peaceful action within the law. If nothing happens, then of course, we are setting the stage for violence.
What about lobbying southerners in government?
When you see the Federal Government taking the position that it appears to have taken, how can you go and start lobbying a minister from the south to disagree with the Federal Government position? We are not doing that. Those outside the executive, Senators and so on must be persuaded to see reason. And that is where the political parties come in. The political parties must be involved in this; they must be persuaded. I expected that every progressive Nigerian from the South understands that the restructuring holds the key to the unity of this country. People are complaining because the federal system is being manipulated, ruled by some people from the North, the so-called cabal. What we have today, like I said before is the unitary system and it is the work of Military rulers from the north. They want it for their own advantage, and that is the ground of complaint by people in the south. The federal system that we want and worked hard to accomplish has been thwarted; it is not what the south wanted. So the southern leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives as a whole are expected to be aware of what the present situation is and to support it, instead of waiting to be lobbied. We haven’t lobbied anybody, they should know.
Going back to 1963 Constitution and parliamentary system
Why did we depart from the parliamentary system? If you read history of how we got into the parliamentary system, you would know that it was imposed on us. Probably we would not have gotten our independence if we wanted anything other than the parliamentary system. Whether you like it or not, if you want independence genuinely, take it or you won’t get independence, so that is how we learnt it. How was that system abandoned? We said it is not a natural system to have division within the Head of State without powers and the Prime Minister with all the power. You know the conflict that this brought about in Nigeria. Ministers were challenging each other and challenging the Prime Minister and there was confusion. That is part of the reasons why the system was abandoned.
Some have been complaining about the cost of presidential system but the problem about presidential system is not that it is costly. If we do not have all the corruption, that system will not cost so much. If you operated the system the way it should be operated, it is a good system. What made it costly is corruption. It was corruption, so I don’t reject the presidential system. It could be modified, but by comparing the two, I think the presidential system is a better system.
Devolution of power
That is what restructuring is about, with the concentration of power in the Federal Government, the country is not where it ought to be. We criticized that as the main issue about the restructuring, that is the main issue, too much power concentrated at the center. How can you seriously talk about true federalism when the political functionaries of the state government, the members of the State House of Assembly, even members of Local Government council, had their election conducted by a Federal Government agency. Take police as another point. The state government is supposed to be autonomous government. The idea of government implies an authority with an independent control of its own forces. You cannot talk about government if that government does not have control of the coercive forces. So we are unhappy about this.
My personal position is this; I want this country to remain one; that is my personal position. I grew up in a one Nigeria and I believe in it. But I know that it is good for everybody and I hope that it will remain so. But the way we are going, the position of the present Federal Government seems to give the invitation to violence. The way the Federal Government, under the present administration, is going is suggesting a set agenda. Check the recent appointment in NNPC, out of fifteen top positions, ten go to the North, three to the Southwest, two to the South-South, nil to the Southeast. It is like the present Federal Government is not really interested in holding the country together. They cannot hold this country together without doing justice to all groups, North and South. I hope that the present administration will reverse its attitude and its policies.
If you have the ears of President Buhari, what will you tell him?
I don’t have his ears and that is why we want to use the media now to reach him because some people say he is hard of hearing. I want him to be a patriotic Nigerian. I want him to be a real instrument of change. Change requires a revolutionary. If you have a president who is inbuilt with a revolutionary, he is prepared to mobilize the society for change. There is no mobilization in our society going on. This society is routine, talking about corruption alone cant take you anywhere. Corruption has eaten deep into the society and you can change it, not by taking few people to court. You should go down into the society and mobilize people to change it; that is what is expected.
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