As the campaign for restructuring of Nigeria is gaining momentum proponents and opponents of the idea are making waves wanting to be listened to; but whose interest is paramount will determine how the federal government reacts
| By Olu Ojewale | May 22, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT |
AS it was in the time past, the campaign for Nigeria to embark on restructuring is again, gaining a momentum. Nigerian leaders of thought, political juggernauts, professionals and non-professional at every opportune time, are now calling for restructuring of the country to resolve its numerous political, economic and social problems.
In any case, the call sounds familiar. The irony of the current campaign is that only a lone voice from the North is championing it whereas the rest are from South.
It was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who renewed the campaign for restructuring sometimes last year during the public presentation of a book entitled We Are All Biafrans written by Chido Onumah. At the event, Abubakar, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, noted the heavily defectiveness in the structure of Nigeria, saying it does not provide the enabling environment for growth and progress among the 36 component states of the federation. The former vice president, VP, who spoke against the backdrop of renewed agitations by militants in the Niger Delta and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, said the solution to the country’s problem was, and still is, restructuring. Since then, the former VP has been using every available opportunity to talk on the issue. For instance, at the public presentation of Daily Stream newspaper in Abuja, on Thursday, April 27, Abubakar said the North must stop the blame game over lack of tangible development in the region and embrace restructuring.
He said Nigerians must continue to live together as one country amidst the seeming pervasive climate of disunity. Abubakar said: “If people get disillusioned, and in frustration, they embrace and imbibe all sorts of views, beliefs and ideas including ones that suggest that people from the other ethnic, religious or regional group is responsible for their woes. Today, the three northern zones are the most backward. Instead of us to blame ourselves, we are blaming the south.
“The (former) Senate president was saying we fought civil war about 50 years. When you fly today from the north to the east, they have rebuilt their own east. We have not even rebuilt a hut in the north. We are still living in such huts but they have rebuilt the east and then we blame them for rebuilding their own homes. But the most germane question is: must we really continue to live together as one country amidst such pervasive climate of disunity, which is impeding our development? My prompt answer to this is yes, we should remain together, because it is the best option, and because we will be stronger, greater, and better in one piece than in pieces.”
Abubakar, who advocated for restructuring of the country, said the nation must re-visit the 36-state structure in view of the idea of overly dominant federal government. He said the nation must devolve power from the centre to the federating units, adding that many of the items in the Exclusive List should be devolved to the states or any other agreed federating units.
He said: “To have the federal government create local governments and directly fund them makes nonsense of the word ‘local.’ Those powers should be vested in the state governments. And it should include an end to federal ownership of interstate roads, schools, hospitals and the uniformity in remunerations across the country. We must sit down, discuss, and agree on the nature of our fiscal federalism, how to share our resources. I am on record as having advocated for the control of rents by the federating units from which they are derived while the federal government retains its powers to levy taxes.” He said that this would make the nation productive again as all the federating units would engage in healthy rivalries and competition, which would only result in more progress.
Since then, the clamour for restructuring has become a sing-song among interest groups and individuals in Nigeria, giving their own ideas of how the country should function. Supporting the idea of restructuring, Emeka Anyaoku, a former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, suggested that Nigeria should restructured into a federation of six regions based on the existing six geo-political zones.
Anyaoku made the call on Saturday, May 6, at the Meritorious Award and Grand Reception for some distinguished Nigerians of Igbo extraction, organised by Ndigbo Lagos, a socio-cultural group. Anyaoku argued that ‘’the root cause of most of our current problems is the inappropriate governance structure which the country has been operating since the military intervention in government in January 1966.’’ He suggested that most of the powers currently concentrated at the centre in the presidential system be “devolved to the regions to enable each region develop at its own pace. The leadership of the centre should remain less powerful and less attractive as it was at the beginning of our independence.’’
Anyaoku said that the new structure should retain the existing states as development areas but that the governance paraphernalia of governors, state assemblies, civil service and judiciary should be removed. He observed that one of the main challenges that would come with the new system would be that of revenue allocation, suggesting that to tackle this, resources should be divided into man-made (resources produced by the citizens) and God-given (that is minerals both liquid and solid). Anyaoku said the revenue from God-given resources should be allocated with the federal government receiving something between 20 and 23 percent.
In his keynote address at the occasion, Anya O. Anya, president of Ndigbo Lagos, said that having fought a costly war, the Igbo should uphold the unity of Nigeria and continue to give their best to the country. He said the world expected a lot from Nigeria even in troubled times, urging politicians to give better leadership to the people.
Similarly, John Nnia Nwodo, president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, maintained that the issue of restructuring of Nigeria was more important than the agitation for Igbo presidency. Nwodo, who spoke during a dinner organised in his honour by Old Sigmites, Lagos chapter, a club founded in 1950 at the University of Ibadan, insisted that the agitation for Igbo presidency was not an issue. Nwodo said: “I don’t think agitation for Igbo presidency is important now; what Nigerians are asking for is restructuring of the country to be a true federation. It cannot continue to be a federation in name, the political lexicography for federation is an independent federal unit.
“The moment you have independent federal unit, being state or regions and they have control over the resources they produce, they will contribute on agreed proportion to the federation. The question of who is president and where he comes from will die down. It is going to be a matter of who is competent.
“MASSOB and IPOB organisations, no matter how divided they appear in public, are basically motivated by the same sense of outrage and bitterness. Our young men and women can no longer tolerate a second class status in their own country.”
Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group which has been agitating for the restructuring of Nigeria, recently had to vent its anger over the issue following the Ile Ife clash between Hausas and Yoruba.
The group was particularly bitter that the federal government took side with the Hausa/Fulani as exhibited by some government officials.
Yinka Odumakin, national publicity secretary of the Afenifere, said in particular that a situation where a local crisis as in the case of Ile-Ife, Osun State and taken over by the federal government would not make for peace and unity in the country.
According to him, the various clashes across the country stemmed from the skewed structure of governance operated in the name of federalism. Odumakin said: “It is all the fallout of the fact that we have refused to build a nation, a proper country. All they have been doing is command and control, social injustice. It has built up and reached a boiling point; so we must restructure this country to allow every section of the country to live their lives.
“It has got to a point now where we have to resolve this matter once and for all. If they don’t want Yoruba in this country, they should tell. Go to the United Nations, the countries that are more populated than Yoruba nation are not up to 40. So we can be a nation on our own if this kind of things will continue. We cannot continue to suffer to say we belong to Nigeria; to hell with it.”
The same position was taken by Tunde Bakare, a senior pastor and overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly when he criticised the conduct of Ibrahin Idris, inspector general of Police, IGP, over the arrest and detention arising from the Ife clash. During a sermon entitled “Raising of a Model Leader,” Bakare argued that public officers should not be allowed to promote ethnic agenda in the country, noting that it is not the way of righteousness
“If there is a fight between two people, you don’t arrest one person and leave the other. What you do is to arrest the two and let the law takes its course. To arrest one party and leave the other and even go ahead to justify it is an abuse,” he stated.
Edwin Clark, a former federal commissioner for Information cum leader and advocate of rights of Niger Delta people, warned that there would be no lasting peace in the country except it is restructured and people have control of their resources .
“As President Muhammadu Buhari used to say, if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us; but I am saying, if we don’t restructure, restructure will kill us,” he stated.
As if to emphasise the urgency required for restructuring the country, the issue took a centre stage on Wednesday, May 3, during the launching of a book by Alani Akinrinade, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of Army Staff. This was because Akinrinade has been consistent over the years that restructuring is the answer to Nigeria’s problems.
Indeed, speaker after speaker at the book launch entitled “Alani Akinrinade: My Dialogue With Nigeria, backed Akinrinade’s call for the restructuring, saying it would bring about the real change the country needed. Among those who renewed the call were Bola Tinubu, national leader of the APC; Rauf Aregbesola and Rotimi Akeredolu, governors of Osun and Ondo states, as well as Ray Ekpu, former chief executive officer of Newswatch.
In his submission, Akinrinade said only merchants of doom would advise President Muhammadu Buhari that restructuring would give birth to disintegration. He said his family had been urging him to put his experiences in a book and commended those who made the publication and its presentation a success, saying: “I hope that this contribution will halt the journey of our country to perdition.”
Tinubu, who was represented by Tunde Rahman, his media aide, said he remained an advocate of restructuring. He said: “I believe and support restructuring. I also remain a true advocate of restructuring and true federalism and I will not be found wanting when and where the issue of restructuring is being discussed.”
Aregbesola said he was saddened by the poor efforts Nigeria was making at building a federation, saying the police must be restructured as a first step, even within the existing awkward federal structure. The governor, who described himself as a federalist, said Nigeria is the only federation where the police and the entire internal security arrangement are unitary. He said: “Why must the commissioner for Police in a state report only to the Inspector General of Police? Why should the CP not take orders from the zonal commanders? It is an unconventional arrangement.”
Indeed, Akeredolu said the time had come for proper restructuring of Nigeria. His words: “I share the view that there is need for decentralisation of Nigeria; I believe in it and I believe the time has come for proper restructuring in this country. I would argue it anywhere, any time and I will support it. I also believe strongly that we have to work out a master plan on restructuring and we have to discontinue just talking about it.”
Ekpu also said restructuring would not lead to disintegration of Nigeria. He said restructuring is an idea whose time has come. He said: “Mr President should not listen to those saying that restructuring will lead to the country’s disintegration; it will not. A lot of Nigerians really believe in Nigeria. Restructuring will bring a great positive change to this country. This will make the President of Nigeria a great hero.’’
Many prominent Nigerians have at one time or the other added their voices to the growing clamour for restructuring. The list includes: Yakubu Gowon, a retired general and former head of State; Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate; Balarabe Musa, a former Kaduna State governor and leader of the Conference of Nigerian political Parties, CNPP and Alex Ekwueme, former vice president in the Second Republic.
The current clamour for restructuring has been blamed on what some analysts have described as the poor style of governance by the Buhari administration. The administration has been accused of favouritism, especially in appointments of people into government.
All this, it is believed, also prompted the likes of Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, two major ethnic cultural groups to ask for the restructure of the dysfunctional and poorly designed political structures of the country.
But while these groups and individuals are aggressively pressing their positions on restructuring the country, their northern counterparts, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the Arewa Elders Forum, AEF, are singing a discordant tune.
However, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, on Thursday, May 10, declared that it would support “genuine” restructuring of the nation, adding that the north was never at any time opposed to the move.
Briefing newsmen on the Forum’s meeting, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, the forum’s deputy leader, said: “For the record, the forum wishes to state that the north welcomes honest and sincere discussion on all aspects of our existence and remains available to engage any group to discus and advance the nature of our union. We will resist the attempt to create the false impression that the region is hostile to enquiries into the basics of the nation’s structure and operations.
“We will also join other Nigerians in resisting any attempt to seek sectional and parochial goals outside the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
No doubt, the majority of the North has not been comfortable with the growing demand for restructuring. Conservative northerners are suspicious of concepts like true or fiscal federalism, resource control, regionalism, weak centre, state police, and a new revenue sharing formula, saying it would lead to the breaking up of the country. They argued that the country’s problems had nothing to do with its political structure and power sharing, but poor leadership and corruption.
Even some of them who participated in the national conference of 2014, where some far-reaching decisions were made on how to restructure the country appear to be denouncing the document.
For instance, the northern leaders who were members of the 2014 national conference on Wednesday, April 12, in a meeting in Abuja, spoke on the platform of the Northern Delegates’ Forum, NDF, said: “The North was not given fair representation in the conference with 189 delegates despite its landmass of 70 percent and 55 percent of the country’s population. Therefore, we were not happy with the report and have come out with this second report and communiqué.”
Bashiru Dalhatu, a former minister of Power and Steel in the Sani Abacha regime, while presenting his keynote address also said: “The 2014 national conference had 492 members and the north which constitutes about 70 percent of the country’s landmass and 55 percent of its population was allocated 189 delegates while the South with only 30 percent of the landmass and 45 percent of its population was given an incredible 305 delegates.
“This went against sensible demographics, law and practice, which could have hardly been done in good faith. Certainly, it was designed to put in particular our delegates and the North in general at a disadvantage.”
Dalhatu said all attempts to get the President Goodluck Jonathan administration “to reflect the diversity and complexity of the Nigerian society, fell on deaf ears.” Hence, he said the outcome of the conference could not be said to be legally valid.
Invariably, he said the NDF called on “any group of sponsors or individuals agitating for any form of restructuring of the federation, first and foremost, to respect the existing constitutional order and to seek to do so within the bounds and parameters stipulated under our constitution and law. To suggest otherwise would lead to chaos and anarchy.”
The fear in the North, according to analysts, is that should the regions or states be allowed to control their resources and develop at their own pace, the North would be the worse for it; hence, the charge on the government to intensify the search for oil in the region.
Muhammad Sanusi II, Emir of Kano, attested to this when he stated in Kaduna recently that if Nigeria should split into components, Northern Nigeria would be the poorest, having been bogged down by religious and cultural constraints. Said the monarch: “We have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset, that refuses to recognise that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.”
That notwithstanding, Godwin Dappa, a lecturer in the Political Science Department, Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State, believes that restructuring would be good for Nigeria, if properly done. In an interview, he said: “To a large, we do not have the political will to commit ourselves to what it entails (to restructure the country). It has to do with total change, adjustment and revitalisation of governance structures…
“The agitation for restructuring is becoming strident now because the Nigerian populace is beginning to see that the existing structures are one-sided; the formation structures, the state structures and the government and politics structures are one-sided. Take a hard look at the service chiefs, from the police, to the army, immigration, civil defence and what have you, they are all headed by northerners.
“If we restructure now, it will not be sincere enough, because we are not yet practicing the art and science of democracy; we are not yet there. Even some of the people from the South-South and South-East that is agitating, as soon as they are called upon and settled, they would say ‘yes sir’ and join the continuity bandwagon.”
Nonetheless, Joseph Okpala, a public affairs analyst, would want Nigeria to restructure now. Okpala argued that separatist agitations remain the trump card for a united Nigeria. According to him, the country has been stagnated and deprived of progress because of the alleged dubious foundation laid by the British colonial rulers.
“We got it wrong from the foundation of corruption the British government laid in Nigeria, whereby they gave undue advantage to the north. They manipulated the census figures to give the north undue advantage, and the result is why it is difficult for Nigeria to know its population, which is a sine qua non for planning for development,” he stated.
Okpala said that no sane society could thrive under an arrangement where the people could be browbeaten and conned, stressing: “When you are oppressing a people and cheating them you are sowing a seed of trouble and the fruit it bears is the renewed agitation for Biafra.”
“When America was oppressing the Blacks, it gave rise to agitation championed by people like Martin Luther King, Jr, but because they were dealing with intelligent people that wanted their nation to be great, the wall of segregation broke down, and they opened their door that later gave rise to (Barack) Obama becoming the president of the US.”
Indeed, the IPOB members on Thursday, May 11, in a renewed agitation, said that there would a sit at home demonstration on May 30, in the South East and warned that no amount of intimidation would sway them.
Perhaps, one good thing that could emerge from the current clamour for restructuring is that the federal government should listen to Nigerians to make everyone feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. Whether to restructure or not, interests of all Nigerians should be paramount. Time to listen is now.