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Echoes of restructuring keep pulsating amid challenge of national unity

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor) and Seye Olumide
11 October 2020   |   4:33 am
Declining productivity, environmental conditions, geopolitics, demography, and socio-economic disequilibrium. All these notions revolve around the basic considerations propelling...

A cross section of members of 2014 National Conference in Abuja

Declining productivity, environmental conditions, geopolitics, demography, and socio-economic disequilibrium. All these notions revolve around the basic considerations propelling calls for a reconfiguration of Nigeria’s governing structure and systems.

Programmed as a republic in 1963, the country adopted the federal system of government to take care of its diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Having survived a civil war, the military interregnum that succeeded the failed civilian experiment mangled the three broad regions into 12 states. With time, the 12 states were enhanced by the creation of local governments out of the former divisions and the partition continued until 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory emerged.

Questions have continued to be asked whether the envisaged restructuring should encompass constitutional stipulations and governing systems or just a reconfiguration and redefinition of boundaries of social and political systems.

The perceived imbalance and incoherence in the national political structure seems to be compounded by the nature of Nigeria’s grundnorm, which not only began with a deliberate falsehood but also went ahead to layout distortions in the entire organogram of statecraft.

States’ Creation As Military’s Gambit
As a direct fallout of the creation of 12 states, local council authorities, and the choking influence of the military, shortly after the Gen. Yakubu Gowon military administration was overthrown, further states creation happened.

The Murtala Mohammed-led junta that overthrew Gowon in a palace coup raised the number of states to 19. From 19 states and 774 local councils in 1979, the federating units kept increasing through 21, 30, and the present 36-state structure.

One constant feature of the state creation efforts is that it remained the exclusive preserve of military juntas and became their sole strategy of legitimacy and mandate preservation while eliciting the buy-in of the citizens.

Without a doubt, the processes of states’ creation were not well thought out, and the critical elements of balance between the administrative structures and overarching national economic development were seriously lacking.

For instance, issues of viability and sustainability were not considered in the areas being designated as states or local councils. Over time, it became apparent that the need to make the administrative structures the basis of revenue sharing informed the subdivisions of the federating units.

Furthermore, landmass and population were indiscriminately applied during considerations for state creation. As such, ethnic and cultural barriers were broken in the haste to lump communities within state boundaries.

The other issues, including quota during admission into federal institutions, and federal character in employment and appointive opportunities remained muted while the military regimes lasted. But, at the return to civil rule or multi-party democracy, these issues cropped up, especially the notion of imbalances in the system.

Those observations gave rise to calls for restructuring, which in a way, came out of other variants like fiscal federalism, resource control, self-determination, secession, and referendum.

The political impetus to the agitation for restructuring came around May 31, 2016, when the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, noted that the best way to quell secessionist agitations and allegations of marginalisation and ensure better resource allocation and productivity was to restructure the country.

The attempt by the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) to dismiss Abubakar’s assertion in the name that it was not the priority of the government added fuel to the flame.

Apart from the governing party, other interest groups, including the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and United Middle Belt Forum (UMBF) also took sides for and against the call for restructuring.

In the buildup to the 2019 general elections, the issue of restructuring was became a political subject between the two major political parties. And in a bid to push back on the negative imputations from the public, the governing party decided to set up a committee to receive memoranda on the matter.

However, no sooner had the election been won and lost than the National Assembly began mooting the idea of further constitutional review, to stave the calls for restructuring by ethnic nationalities and pressure groups.

Agitations, Counter Notions
RECENTLY, the wave of nationalist agitations in the form of restructuring started gathering storm. From what was just a political catchphrase, restructuring has become a sort of albatross on the neck of the APC-led government.

But in a remarkable volte-face, the APC-led government last Sunday described calls by individuals and groups for the restructuring of the country as not only unwarranted but also unpatriotic. This simply shows how far the clamour has progressed from political rhetoric to a vehicle for ethnic nationalism, and a secessionist/self-determination swagger.

Be that as it may, the dividing line between the authorities and those in opposition emerged after the National Political Confab of 2014 released its report. As at the time of the confabulation, opposition political parties, which later coalesced into the APC stood aloof in denunciation of the method through which the delegates emerged.

Describing the confab as a last-ditch effort by the then governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to entrench itself in power, the opposition leaders averred that coming barely one year to the general election, the timing of the exercise proved to be one of its many pitfalls.

Despite the feeble partisan opposition, the conference concluded sitting and released its reports in two big volumes, with perceived far-reaching recommendations, including the devolution of power, the creation of more states, and state police among others.

At a time when many voices rose in support of the implementation of the confab report, precisely in 2016, President Muhamadu Buhari declared the national conference report (in a national broadcast) as “best for the archives.”

His remarks notwithstanding, the confab report is considered in most quarters as the best document that details how Nigeria’s governance system could be restructured to the benefit of all ethnic nationalities.

One year after the 2019 general elections, and nearly six years after the confab, the former opposition APC is now the governing party. But, for the five years it has been in government, the clamour for restructuring has gathered momentum, leading to a gradual shifting of grounds by some of its faithful.

The Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, disclosed recently that the APC has not “abandoned its quest for restructuring,” recalling how the party projected restructuring as a core manifesto and set up the el-Rufai-led committee to make recommendations to its leadership.

While remarking that the panel had submitted its report, the governor declared that concrete steps had been made towards making proposals to the National Assembly, stressing that the move has been rekindled by the commencement of the constitution review by the Senator Ovie-Omo Agege-led committee of the NASS.

He stated: “We must confront our reality as a federation; the current structure is supportive of the unitarist model. The state structure, for now, is problematic. There is a need to move towards devolution, not only functions but also resources.”


Governor Fayemi, who noted that true federalism is the answer, said the onus is on the National Assembly to look at the previous reports of national conferences. His words: “Many recommendations along the line of restructuring, devolution, and true federalism were embedded in the reports of the Niki Tobi Panel, the 2004 Conference set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the 2014 conference established by former President Goodluck Jonathan.”

The NGF chairman, who noted that there were as many protagonists and antagonists of constitution reforms, stressed that there are entrenched conservative interests to keep Nigeria the way it is, just as there are also entrenched interests to reform the country.

Vote For Regions
BUT despite Fayemi’s assertions, the Senior Pastor, Christ Livingspring Apostolic Ministry (CLAM), Pastor Wole Oladiyun, advocated the country’s return to regionalism.

Pastor Oladiyun, in a statement, declared that Nigeria urgently needs a new constitution, noting that federal character should be expunged from the constitution, while merit should be enthroned as the core basis for leadership recruitment in the country.

He stated: “Restructuring should lead to a brand-new constitution, a return to the regional government structure, and a reduction in the cost of governance. Also, we need to review our system of governance, because the current arrangement does not reflect true federalism.”

Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu

While insisting that the “current unitary system,” where states over-depend on monthly federation account allocation for survival was no longer sustainable, Pastor Oladiyun said for the country to move forward, it must operate a regional government.

The immediate past Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, told The Guardian that if the national confab report is discarded on political grounds, Igbo would insist on restructuring, stressing that the recommendations of the 2014 confab could solve a substantial part of Nigeria’s challenges.

Nwaorgu, who was also an attendee of the confab stated: “The membership structure of the confab touched all the spectra of the Nigerian society. Nigeria is a country made up of various ethnic groups – Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, Fulani, Tiv, and Berom, among others. All these tribes were represented at the confab. There were socio-cultural groups, political parties, market groups, trade unions, and the physically challenged, among others. Decisions were taken for the betterment of everybody, based on equity, fairness, and justice.

“There was give and take throughout the months of the confab. We arrived at true consensus and that is the only way forward for this country. Any group that thinks that the status quo should be maintained does not love this country. It is the body structure of this polity that is evoking all the problems because there is injustice; there is inequality among others.

“That is what the conference set out to address. There had been consistent pressure for holding a national conference to address structural imbalances, but a particular tribe in Nigeria that has cornered all the benefits in this country is holding out and wanting people to believe that it is the whole North. There is nothing like North. The concept of North and South ceased when we had north, west, and eastern regions. Immediately the regions were done away with, the concept of North and South ceased to exist.”

Sudden About-face
IN a sharp departure from its long-held aversion to the issue of restructuring, the Lagos State House of Assembly, recently enjoined Buhari and the governing APC to come down from its high horse and listen to demands by ethnic nationalities for self-determination, secession, and restructuring of the country.

The position of the 40-member APC-dominated Assembly comes as a huge contrast to the outburst of one of its national leaders, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who openly kicked against the 2014 National Conference.

Intriguingly also, APC leaders, especially those from the Southwest, despite promises on restructuring Nigeria as contained in the party’s constitution, maintained sealed lips on the matter after the 2015 electoral victory.

To compound issues, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has equally made a volte-face on restructuring, which he vehemently canvassed before the 2015 election. At a point in 2018, the law professor argued that simple geographical restructuring is not the problem with Nigeria, but prudent management of national resources.

Yet, it was the intensity of deafening agitations for restructuring, particularly over complaints against Buhari’s skewed appointments in favour of the North that forced the governing party to set up the el-Rufai-led committee on restructuring.

But apart from submitting its report to the party’s National Working Committee in 2018, nothing else has been done about that issue, or recommendations made.

There has also been escalating insecurity across the country, allegedly perpetrated by armed herdsmen and other criminal elements. The herders-farmers’ clashes have presented President Buhari’s administration as a weak one, as his security agencies, perceived to be dominated by people from a particular section of the country, have displayed a lackadaisical attitude towards stemming the tide of insecurity.

At a point, former President Olusegun Obasanjo pointedly accused President Buhari of attempting to Fulanise the country.

Also, a former Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), publicly encouraged other ethnic nationalities to defend themselves if they felt threatened, saying the country’s security agencies were compromised, and in collusion with perpetrators of violence against other ethnic nationalities.

The herders’ invasion of Southwest forests and the consequent kidnappings and killings forced governors in the region to form a new security outfit codenamed “Operation Amotekun” to protect the region from persistent attacks. Other regions in the county thereafter moved to set up their separate regional security outfits to protect their people.

Upping The Ante With Renewed Clamour
HOWEVER, following the celebration of the country’s 60th independence anniversary, the clamour for restructuring has risen in strident tones much like the agitation for self-determination and secession. Indeed, several Yoruba groups have emerged to openly demand Oodua Republic.

And, as if it sensed the inherent danger in this, the Buhari government decided to clampdown on the agitators. That open show of teeth, however, did not deter the agitators. Be that as it may, one of the factors said to have propelled the self-determination demand is the alleged plan by the North to jettison the gentleman rotational agreement of the presidency in 2023.

At last Monday’s plenary session, the Lagos State House of Assembly said it was important for President Buhari and the National Assembly to listen to those agitating for self-determination and address their fears. The Assembly also expressed concerns over the likely consequences of such agitations, noting that it was gradually becoming popular even as it cautioned on the danger of turning a deaf ear to the agitations.

In their remarks during events to mark the country’s independence anniversary, the legislators, who took turns to address the issue, said it was important for Buhari to continue to work for the unity of the country, address poverty, unemployment, inflation, and underdevelopment.

Earlier, the House Deputy Majority Leader, Noheem Adams said: “Motion for the independence of Nigeria was moved in 1953 by the late Pa Anthony Enahoro. We got our independence in 1960, but we have had issues such as the civil war, economic challenges among others but the issue of national unity has always been the problem. The issue of economic development has also been a problem and we have been depending on oil and attention has not been on industrialisation. Lagos has always been at the forefront of development for the country. So, the state needs to be given a special status.”

The Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, added that it was important for the president to have a listening ear, adding: “We should look at countries that have developed, not those that are struggling. We should look at our problems and see what we have done wrong.

“We talk about poverty, unemployment, inflation, lack of qualitative education, ethnic divisions, Oodua Republic, Biafra, Arewa and the people of Niger Delta are making agitations. The president should have listening ears. Our federalism is more of a unitary government; so, we must be careful so that what happened in Sudan will not happen here. We should continue to talk until we get there. We should address the issue of poverty, and inflation.”

Deep Injuries Awaiting Healing Balm
AMID the renewed clamour, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), led by Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in a statement last Tuesday dusted up its demands on the government, stressing that the six-point demands represent its grievances about the uneven federation.

MURIC stated: “We demanded six reliefs on behalf of Nigerian Muslims exactly three years ago. The reliefs were contained in a press release issued by MURIC on 9th October 2020. We are aware that the present government is not positively disposed to restructuring and it has declared its determination to avoid it. Nonetheless, we have decided to represent the demands, which are of special interest to Muslims for the record.

“Let us make it abundantly clear ab initio that MURIC has zero-tolerance for separatist and secessionist proclivities. We, therefore, reiterate our rejection of demands for Biafra, Oduduwa Republic, and all other parochial, selfish, and unpatriotic agitations.

“It is equally important at this juncture to state that this press statement is designed to remind those who are agitating for the balkanisation of Nigeria and restructuring that they are not the only ones who have grudges in this union. Just as there is no perfect marriage, there is no nation in the world without its headaches. In the same vein, just as couples manage their imperfections and try to understand their differences to avoid broken homes, so do stakeholders in nation-building sink their group interests for national cohesion.”

The Muslim group dissociated itself from agitations for secession or even restructuring, even as it “condemned the all-irredentist movements rearing their ugly heads in southern Nigeria, particularly the agitation for the creation of Oduduwa Republic.”

The group recalled that restructuring became popular after the South East, South-South and a section of the South West complained about marginalisation. Several politicians from both the opposition and the ruling party have since spoken in support of this clamour.

“Nonetheless, just as some ethnic groups have complained of disaffections, we contend that Nigerian Muslims also nurse serious grudges bordering on marginalisation against the Nigerian state.

“We must start from the lanes of history because today was born from the wombs of yesterday. Islam has been in Nigeria since the 11th Century and the British met Islam on the ground when they arrived in the 19th Century (800 years later).

“The British did not deem it fit to observe the rules of natural justice when they colonised the country as all Islamic landmarks were eliminated and supplanted with a wholly Christian system.

“This injustice may have been at the root of frequent religious crises in Nigeria because successive governments after independence refused to listen to the agitations of Muslims for a review of the status quo.”

Rehashing the six point demands, Prof. Akintola declared: “The issues being raised by Muslims are listed as follows, so that the authorities may address them when restructuring eventually begins.

“One: Nigerians enjoy a total of eight (8) public holidays in a year. These are Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Id al-Kabir, Id al-Fitr, and Maulud an-Nabiyy. Five (5) of the eight holidays belong to Christians (Christmas Day, Boxing Day, 1st January, i.e New Year Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday). Only three (3) holidays belong to Muslims, viz, Id al-Kabir, Id al-Fitr, and Maulud an-Nabiyy. “Restructuring should give Muslims 1st Muharram. This will bring the total number of Muslim holidays to four while Christian holidays remain five.

“Two: Christian marriages contracted inside churches or registries are held sacrosanct everywhere in Nigeria whereas Muslim marriages (nikah) are not recognised for any official purpose. Muslim couples find themselves in a cul-de-sac each time they presented their Islamic marriage certificates for official purposes. It is paradoxical that in a democracy, one marriage conducted by a religious group is acceptable while the other is not. What kind of constitution is Nigeria using?

“Islamic marriages should be recognised in all official circles where Christian marriages are recognised. The Nigerian Marriage Act (1990) should therefore be revisited.

“Three: Nigeria has a two-day weekend, viz, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a half-day during the colonial era and Sunday was the only full day at the weekend. However, Saturday was made a full day to favour the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, a Christian military ruler. It is very clear, therefore, that the two weekend days recognised in Nigeria belong to Christians, while Muslims have none since Friday, the Muslim day of worship, remains a working day.

“It is pertinent to note that Friday was a work-free day until the British brought Christianity and stopped Muslims from enjoying their Allah-given fundamental human right. The relief we are seeking through restructuring is that Friday should be declared free to assume parity with the Christians’ Sunday. While we are not seeking anarchy, we are confident that the Federal Government has all the paraphernalia of administration to work out the modalities.

“Four: Immigration officials engage in regular stereotyping of Muslims, who apply for international passports. They intimidate Muslims particularly at the point of taking pictures. Muslim males are ordered to remove their caps; Imams are coerced into removing their turbans; bearded Muslims are compelled to shave or trim their beards; hijab-wearing Muslim women are made to remove their hijabs or ordered to draw their hijab backward to reveal their ears. The same scenario plays itself out in driving license, national identity card offices, and during registration for elections.

“In the process, thousands of Muslims have been denied international passports, driving licenses and national identity cards while millions have been disenfranchised during elections. The authorities must find a way of stopping the persecution and profiling of Muslims.

“Five: Uniformed groups in Nigeria, including the army, police, uniformed voluntary groups, nurses, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), students of primary and secondary schools, etc, use uniforms designed by the Christian colonialists. These uniforms should have been reviewed after independence because they only suit the Christians. Some of them constitute breaches of the Islamic dress code and offend the sensibility of Muslims, who are compelled to wear uniforms regardless of their inner feeling of resentment.

“In view of the fact that western countries like Britain, Canada, and the United States have designed uniforms with hijab for their female Muslim police, soldiers, students, etc, Nigeria’s restructuring authorities should borrow a leaf from those countries.

“Six: There is no single Shari’ah court in South West Nigeria where Muslims constitute the majority. This is contrary to what was obtained in Yorubaland before the advent of the British. There were Shariah courts in Ede, Iwo, Ikirun, Ibadan, etc. Yoruba Muslims are now compelled to take their civil matters like inheritance, marriage, etc to Christo-Western courts. This is preposterous and unacceptable.

“We demand the establishment of Shariah courts in all South West states, including Edo State, where there is a significant percentage of Muslims.”

Dr. Junaid Mohammed

But for Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, those hankering after restructuring are doing so out of mischief.

He wondered why people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not contemplate restructuring when they were in office.

He also faulted the 2014 confab contending that the man who convened the meeting (Jonathan) would have implemented the recommendations instead of putting the report aside as if it was a ploy to win votes.

The elder statesman noted that most of those clamouring for restructuring have not come out with what they mean by restructuring, adding that restructuring means a lot of things to a lot of people.

However, it would be recalled that back in 2014, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, said restructuring implies going back to the independence constitution.

Going down the memory lane, the former SGF stated: “What we mean by restructuring is going back to the Independence Constitution, which our leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959.

“It was on that basis that the three regions agreed to go to independence as one united country. So, it was a negotiated constitution.

This is because, if the three regions were not able to agree, there would not have been one united independent Nigeria. But because the three regions at that time negotiated, and agreed to package a constitution, that is why they agreed to go to independence together. When the military came in 1966 and threw away the constitution, they threw away the negotiated agreement among the three regions, which was the foundation of a united Nigeria.

“So, the military did not only throw away the constitution, but a political consensus negotiated and agreed by leaders of the three regions in those days. When we say restructuring now, we are saying let us go back substantially to that constitution, which gave considerable autonomy to the regions.”

Citing instances of the gradual deviation from the independence constitution, Falae noted that then each region collected its revenue and contributed the agreed proportion to the centre. But when the military came, they turned it around and took everything to the centre; that could not have been accepted by Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, or Obafemi Awolowo.

“This constitution we are using was made by the late Gen Sani Abacha and the military; and Abacha came from only one part of Nigeria, so he wrote a constitution that favoured his part of Nigeria. That is why I am saying, let us restructure and go back to what all of us agreed before. That is the meaning of restructuring.”