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When ex-president Jonathan, others differed on restructuring

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Goodluck Jonathan. Photo: ASKTEEKAY

Nwodo, Adebanjo, Jega Outline Benefits, Modalities

For about his first time of mounting the rostrum to speak on the contentious issue after leaving office, immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has challenged the National Assembly to bow to the wishes of Nigerians as it undertakes another review of the 1999 constitution.

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When he was in office as President, the issue of whether the amended constitution should receive the final blessing of the executive by way of assent, pitted him and the 7th National Assembly led by Senator David Bonaventure Mark.

But, speaking during the 18th Daily Trust Dialogue Forum held in Abuja, the former President threw his weight behind the clamour for restructuring of the country. He recalled his experience in the Gambia, where the process of constitutional review had just begun, and urged Nigerians to prevail on the federal lawmakers to amend the constitution according to citizens’ demands.

Jonathan, who chaired the dialogue themed, “Restructuring, Why? When? How?” argued that beyond the issue of restructuring, it behooves Nigerians to restructure their minds on some of the teething issues bedeviling the country.

Alluding to the National Conference he inaugurated on March 17, 2014 in Abuja, the former leader identified nepotism, ethnic and religious differences, as well as, lack of patriotism as teething problems plaguing the country.  

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And, stressing the need for the continuous existence of Nigeria as a united and indivisible country, he declared: “As a country, we have our peculiar challenges and we should devise means of solving them, but we should not continue to vent our spleen on the amalgamation. 

“As Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. My conviction is that discussions on restructuring will not help except we restructure our minds, because some of the challenging issues at the national level still exist at the state and local council levels. 

“For instance, in some states, it is not easy for some persons to win an election, because of the area they come from, the language they speak or their religious belief.

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“Take a look at how local government elections are conducted at the state level. Why is it very difficult for an opposition party to win a chairmanship or councillorship seat in a state, despite the fact that the same party probably secured seats in the State Assembly and National Assembly elections organized by a federal election management body?”

He explained that all those inadequacies  “show that restructuring alone may not solve all the anomalies in the system. I believe that restructuring for a better nation is good, but there are other fundamental issues we should also address. We cannot restructure in isolation without tackling the challenges that polarise our nation.” 

He added: “These include nepotism, ethnic and religious differences as well as lack of patriotism. The issues of tribe and religion have continued to limit our unity and progress, as a nation.   

“Leadership is like giving care to a sick patient. If someone is ill, he will receive different phases of treatment regardless of which doctor is on duty until the patient recovers fully and is discharged. I think the same is applicable in nation building.”

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Root Of Friction
IN his contribution, the immediate past President General of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, placed the blame of the inadequacies on the 1999 Constitution, which was forced on Nigerians by 24 officers of the Supreme Military Council. He noted how the 24 officers, who were chosen without recourse to geographical representation, overthrew the sovereignty of the old three regions. Those three regions, Nwodo stressed, were products of the 1960 and 1963 constitutional conferences endorsed by Nigeria’s founding fathers in the mold of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo.

Speaking with emphasis, Nwodo insisted that the 1999 constitution eroded the sovereignty of the regions over their national resources and domestic security, “unleashing in the process an unprecedented fall of educational standards, domestic security and economic wellbeing.”

Reeling out figures to buttress the need for restructuring of the country, the former Ohanaeze leader likened the presidential system being operated in Nigeria to a unitary system, saying it is responsible for unbridled level of corruption in government. 

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His words: “Quota as opposed to merit became the primary consideration for appointment to public offices. States and local governments, which did not reflect any demographic equality were created and used as yardstick for representation in the legislature and the executive.

“We must restructure to revamp our agricultural potentialities. When I speak of restructuring, some of my Northern Nigeria friends have suggested that I do not want the North to partake in the oil revenue of Nigeria. Well, I have just outlined the indisputable fact that oil is a fast drying resource for earning of foreign exchange. The truth is that the most reliable source of revenue now is agriculture.

“Netherlands is today the largest exporter of food in the world. Its cross-sectional area is about half the size of Niger State. It is the world’s largest exporter of potatoes. Its revenue from vegetables and dairy contribute more than $100billion annually to its economy. The secret is education, better-mechanized farming, growth of green farm technology, drone monitoring systems and land reclamation by building of dams.

“Northern Nigeria is Nigeria’s greatest treasure in Agriculture. Northern Nigeria is blessed with diverse livestock production with its capacity for dairy production. It has various tubers of potatoes, yam, cassava and cocoyam. Its poultry growth is rich and its vegetable and fruit production in Nigeria’s different weather conditions are outstandingly plentiful. Under a restructured Nigeria, Northern Nigeria will earn more from food production than the Netherlands.

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“We must restructure, because our current electoral system is dysfunctional and does not elicit confidence. I watched with complete and utter disappointment social media films of underage children voting in the last local government elections in Kano State last week. No reasonable government will tolerate this kind of brigandage. If we had stronger regional governments, it will be perhaps better to manage such infractions.

“Nigeria is the only country where you have to wait, for sometimes up to one year to have an electoral dispute resolved in the courts. We have unwittingly dragged the credibility of our law courts into disrepute so much so that journalists and lawyers alike cast aspersions at them. We must restructure to reduce insecurity in our country.”

Pointing the way forward, he called for the restructuring of the country before the 2023 general elections, adding: “To restructure Nigeria we need a constitutional conference of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. To use the current National Assembly as the forum for constitutional amendments grants a tacit recognition of the overthrow of our democratic norms by the enthronement of a military constitution by which they are composed.

“The outcome of the constitutional conference must be subjected to a public plebiscite in which all adult Nigerians shall have the right to vote. This process should be open, it should be supervised by international agencies to validate its transparency and thereafter usher new elections, based on its provisions and structure.

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“This process in my view will ultimately refocus our country, breed a democratic culture that underscores selfless service rather than individual enrichment, promotes genuine unity instead of ethnic bigotry and challenges our capacity to exploit our abundant potentialities to make life more abundant for our people.”

If Nwodo spoke as a politician on a campaign podium, the Afenifere Chieftain and elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who delivered his presentation virtually, came with a tone of urgency. He supported the return to the practice of true federalism as encapsulated in the 1963 constitution.

He stated: “The form of government we are operating now will not work. We have to return to the practice of true federalism. The constitution we have now is a fraudulent construction. We, the people of Nigeria, did not make the 1999 constitution. What we have now is not working for us. It is the military that imposed it on us. It is not the constitution of our founding fathers. Until we go back to it, we won’t have peace.”

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Fresh Perspective
FROM the former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, came a fresh perspective on the subject, by suggesting the need for elite consensus.

Jega bemoaned governance driven by incompetent, inept, inefficient and self-serving leadership, at both federal, state and local government levels, failure of governance to satisfy the needs and aspirations of citizens, increasing devastating poverty and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions of the citizens. He identified those, as well as, political brinksmanship by some elite, especially politicians and/or ethno-religious ‘war lords’ as some of the reasons behind the agitation for the restructuring of the country.

Jega acknowledged that Nigeria’s current federal structure needs refinement and improvement, stressing however that the elite need to reach consensus to achieve the goal. His words: “We need good democratic governance to nurture and entrench political accommodation of diversity, as well as equitable power and resources sharing. The near absence of the two intervening variables has obstructed the attainment of the aforementioned desirable objective of a federal system.

“Unlike most, relatively stable, federations, the efficacy of Nigeria’s federal system has been undermined, essentially by an imbalance, as well as inequities in the distribution of power and resources between the national and subnational units. 

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“This imbalance is a product of Nigeria’s colonial experience, subsequent post-colonial authoritarian military rule, and series of reckless, bad and essentially undemocratic governance, especially in the 21 years of civil ‘democratic’ rule.

“Although there is a general recognition among the elite that existing imbalance and inequities, which have characterised the operation of our federal system are destructive of the essence of the Nigerian federation, because among other things, they provide the canon-fodder for heightened ethno-religious mobilisation and violence, the faction of the elite that has been dominant in politics and governance has, basically, refused to be receptive to the vociferous demands for reforms. 

“This is essentially because being in power and controlling governance institutions has been primarily for self-serving objectives and personal aggrandizement, rather than serving the people and the nation selflessly; or at least with an enlightened self-interest. 

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“Paradoxically, this faction of the elite has a stranglehold on political power, by projecting their access to power as group (ethnic and religious) representation.”

The immediate past INEC boss recalled that in “the Nigerian Fourth Republic, that is, since 1999, there have been two major undertakings to generate elite, if not national, consensus on how to address outstanding, burning national issues, including primarily, the “national question” and the undesirable structure of the federation.”  

“For example,” he went on, “there was the “Political Reform Conference” (2006) under the Obasanjo government; and there was the “National Conference” (2014) under the Jonathan government. The Report of each contained many good, rich recommendations for addressing persistent national challenges. Regrettably, both have remained unconsidered/unimplemented by the dominant faction of the elite in governance.

“As governance increasingly becomes poor and bad, as Nigerian politics slides backward from “democratic” to undemocratic/ authoritarian modes of governance, and consequently as the country is plunged into uncontrolled ethno-religious violence and other forms of criminality, the demands for restructuring have become vociferous, with even extremist, irredentist demands for the dismemberment what is now known as Nigeria.” 

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According to Jega, “The way things are going, Nigerians in general and the elite in particular, need to engage with the issue of restructuring more seriously and purposefully and begin to address it. I say ‘begin to address it’ because, regrettably, we have allowed things to be so bad for so long that it would require concerted, systematic effort over a carefully defined time-frame, to be able to successfully, permanently solve the challenges, which bedevil Nigeria, especially those, which have giving rise to the intense demands and agitations for ‘restructuring’.

“To my mind, there is no doubt that, understood properly, without grandstanding and brinkmanship, restructuring is necessary and the time to begin to concretely commence it is now. But, there should be no doubt, also, that although restructuring is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for stability, progress and socioeconomic development in Nigeria. 

“It would have to be combined with good democratic governance predicated on justice, equity and equality of opportunity for all citizens, for it to yield dividends in meeting the needs and aspirations of Nigerians. The other dimensions of national challenges, such as insecurity; poverty; poor access to, and poor quality of, education; unemployment; and denial of equality of opportunity to women, the physically challenged and so-called settlers; all these cannot be effectively and urgently addressed, without good democratic governance, driven by selfless, focused and patriotic leaders.”

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Pathways
ALL said, what are the probable ways to achieve functional restructuring of the country? Prof. Jega was unambiguous. He said: “The best way to restructure the Nigerian federation is to pursue systematic, incremental positive changes and avoid ‘once for all’, wholesale, undertakings, because they are time consuming, energy sapping, and constraining.

“The National Assembly’s efforts to do constitutional amendments since 1999, “all at a go!”, consequently with little value addition, has lessons for us to draw from. Specifically, the best way to go about it would be to: reduce powers and resources of the federal government specified in the Federal and Concurrent Legislative Lists, increase powers and resources of the state governments on the State Legislative List.

“Devolve powers and resources from the states to the local governments, require the states to create “Development Areas”, as the lower level tier of governance at the grassroots level, below the LGAs.
“Accordingly, review the resources allocation / revenue sharing formula between federal, states (and local governments) taking into consideration the new sharing of power and responsibilities. 

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“For example, what could be termed as the global best practices in federal systems is that, unlike what obtains in Nigeria, healthcare provisioning, education provisioning, agriculture, housing and urban development, are all state responsibilities, with the role of the federal government in these matters limited to setting standards, regulatory framework, and incentive structures in form of grants-in-aid and so on to ensure balanced and even-development throughout the country. In this context, there would be no need for behemoth Federal Ministries of education, health, housing and urban development, rural development, etc., controlling resources, which ordinarily should go to the states.

“Even the role of the Federal Government in roads and transportation could be limited to Highways, which promote inter-state commerce in the federation, while many of the so called “Trunk A” that are within states urban areas, or linking towns within the states, should be made the responsibility of the States.

“The major responsibilities of the Federal Government should be limited to inter-state commerce, national banking, currencies, foreign relations, communications, aviation, seaports, foreign loans, armed forces and security services, postal services and telecommunications, mining and such. States should have a role in policing, which should be on the Concurrent Legislative List.

“Given issues relating to capacity and competence, the handing over of these powers and responsibilities should be phased, in accordance with the imperatives of systematic, incremental positive changes.”
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