By Tobi, Soniyi, Ejiofor Oyeyipo Sola James, Shola Oyeyipo in Lagos and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The clamour for the restructuring of the country deepened yesterday when a panel of professionals and leaders of thought cutting across the Northern and Southern parts of the country participated in a lively debate organised by the THISDAY Newspaper Group on the restructuring question.
Appearing on the ARISE News Network, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers in Abuja, the panellists were evidently divided on whether Nigeria should be restructured or not and the various interpretations of what restructuring should entail, with some of them arguing that what the country needs is better governance and a departure from the leadership of the past, while others contended that there is a structural defect in the polity which if not fixed, could lead to Nigeria’s disintegration.
However, there was a consensus that the agitation for restructuring was a fall out of the absence of good governance, equity, justice and fairness in the country.
The panel comprised the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; constitutional lawyer and a member of the Northern think-tank group, Auwalu Yadudu; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Supo Shonibare; and President General, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo.
Other included the Managing Director of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Eniola Bello; a former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Chief Albert Horsfall; former Cross River State Attorney General, Mrs. Nella Andem Rabana (SAN); former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Bashir Yusuf; and Mr. Luqman Edu, representing the youths.
Kicking off the discussion, the Managing Director of THISDAY concurred that restructuring means different thing to different people.
According to him, some people view restructuring as the introduction of state police, devolution of powers, resource control and return to regionalism, but argued that some of the initial steps taken by President Muhammdu Buhari fuelled the current agitation in the country.
“President (Goodluck) Jonathan was voted out of power because the people wanted change. But the first step taken by Buhari on the issue of 97 per cent and five per cent project execution, made him to isolate two zones in the country. When the herdsmen attacked, nothing was done and the response by the government created the separatist agitations,” he explained.
In his contribution, Anyaoku whose contribution to the discussion was pre-recorded, as he could not join the debate live, said restructuring would ensure greater national cohesion, development and stability.
He was of the view that the concentration of powers at the centre had provoked a do-or-die agitation for the control of the centre, arguing further that the country needed to restructure the governance architecture.
He said: “Nigeria at the moment is far more divided than it has ever been.
“I remember that the golden age of Nigerian nationality and patriotism was the immediate years after independence in 1960, when we had a true federal system of government and our founding fathers – Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo – after many conferences, agreed that the best form of government to serve the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Nigeria was true federalism.
“And I believe that since we departed from that following the military intervention in governance, we have been moving backwards.”
According to him, the structure of governance was not what caused the civil war but the killing of southerners in Northern Nigeria.
Anyaoku insisted that since the military intervened in governance, the Constitution of Nigeria, which was truly federal, has continued to be eroded to reflect the military command structure in the army “with the result that we now have a very powerful centre”.
“A powerful centre provokes very-very do-or-die attitude, as they say, political competition for that centre and this sort of competition exacerbates the divisive tendencies in the country, whether religious or ethnic and so on.
“I believe that we must return to true federalism, which will enable each section of the country, each federating unit to develop at its own pace and look forward to dealing with the centre which would have far diminished responsibility than it currently has,” he explained.
In his opinion, restructuring would revive the national spirit that existed when the country was a true federation.
“There are many strands (to restructuring) but on the economic side, I think that virtually everyone recognises that the 36 states structure is unsustainable. We have a situation where 27 of the 36 states are no longer able to pay the salaries of their civil servants.
“To start with, if you devolve, if you created far few federating units; in my view, six federating units you will have a basis that lends itself more readily to accountability,” he said.
When asked on the agitation by the Niger Delta region for the control of the oil resources in the region, Anyaoku said that could be addressed by retaining the existing states as development zones within the larger federating units.
“If within the larger federating unit, the existing states are to become development zones, they would continue to look after their development and after their various sectional aspirations, and if there is to be another pressure arising within the federating unit, the federating units should be free to create new development zones to cater for the aspirations for sectional ambitions within the federating units.
“The point is that the 36 states we have at the moment means 36 administrative structures, 36 state assemblies, civil services, judiciaries and the result of all that.
“If you take Nigeria as a whole, the country is spending about 80 per cent of its revenue on administration, leaving 20 per cent or less for capital development. And no country has developed with that degree of allocation of its revenue to governance.
“The thing is that if you retain the structures that have enabled them to achieve their sectional agitations within the larger federating units, we will have a situation where the resources that will be available to the larger federating unit will be a more viable basis of planning development.
“You will have the opportunity to address the sectional feelings and sectional interests of these less viable units,” he said.
Anyaoku added that the most important thing was to agree on the structure of governance, “to agree that instead of the 36 largely unviable states you will have six federating units and thereafter whether it is a presidential system or parliamentary system of government”.
He added: “You could tailor a presidential system that would be less expensive than what we have today. What we have today is mimicking the United States, because the Nigerians parliamentarians are far-far more remunerated than the US congress men and women and you can have a presidential system with much more reduced cost of governance.”
On how to go about it, Anyaoku advocated for a combination of an idea to enable the executive prepare a bill which would go to the National Assembly since it is already dealing with constitutional review.
“Since the National Assembly is dealing with the constitutional review, it will take that into account and the new constitution that will emerge, will then be put to a national referendum so that for the first time, we will have a constitution that can truly be described as ‘we the people of Nigeria’ are responsible for the constitution,” he stated.
In his contribution, Nwodo said the 1999 Constitution, as crafted, was unacceptable. According to him, the constitution failed to reflect the wishes of Nigerians.
He argued that the effectiveness of any constitution is measured by its acceptance, adding that “Nigeria is the only country in the world answering a federation but without any characteristic of a federation”.
Nwodo argued that the concept of the 1999 Constitution was sharing the wealth and not production and wealth creation.
“When we had a regional structure, there was production and competition. The clamour for restructuring today is aimed at changing our constitution, because what we have does not promote competition and production,” he added.
Nwodo gave instances of progress made by nations which practice true federalism to buttress his point that Nigeria needed to imbibe true fiscal federalism as a way forward.
He also said that it was an irony that while some people recognised a constitution foisted on Nigerians by a group of military men, they rejected the decisions reached by prominent and well-meaning leaders at the 2014 National Conference.
Concurring, Chief Horsefall stated that restructuring would ensure that “everybody goes back to work.”
He said: “Everybody stopped working when we discovered oil. There is no more groundnut, cocoa and palm oil because everybody has stopped work.“We should run the country according to the independence constitution. What we are seeing today is the same expression of sectional interests. For us to achieve a Nigeria of our dreams, this expression of sectional interests has to disappear. We must find a way of accommodating one another.“We should have a system that promotes justice and fairness for all. It does not matter who is in charge.”
He disagreed with what he said was the attempt by two of the panel members, Yadudu and Yusuf, to label those pushing for restructuring as opportunists and political office seekers.
According to him, notable personalities like the former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.) and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar could not be seen as merely being selfish in their expression of support for restructuring.
“I would like to apologise to those who have been supporting the restructuring and who have been described as opportunists by some of the panellists. I totally disassociate myself from that view,” he said.
He blamed the military for distorting the federal system of governance in Nigeria following many years of holding on to power.
Shonibare also restated the support of the Yourba ethno-cultural group for the restructuring of the country, stressing that no multi-ethnic country like Nigeria could run a unitary constitution.
“The basis for starting Nigeria was to operate as a federation. The First Republic Constitution was a Federal Constitution. There were no issues of ethnicity in the First Republic.
“The issue was a ruling party trying to dominate the opposition party in the Western Region,” he said.
Shonibare warned that if power was not devolved so that people can take their destiny in their hands in terms of taking decisions on their affairs, the country would not work.
“The justification for restructuring is that Nigeria is just not working. The 2014 National Conference Report cannot provide all the solutions but it is a template that can solve some of the issues fuelling the agitations. Our problem is operating a unitary constitution,” Shonibare added.
Mrs. Rabana, in her comments, stated that restructuring should be carried out to adjust the current system, adding that the element of fiscal federalism aggravated the current agitations.
She said Nigerians were tired of the shortcomings of the present system of government, which had failed to guarantee good governance, equity and justice.
She said the ordinary man on the street clearly does not want a continuation of the present situation.
“In my opinion, the agitation is a manifestation of governance. The amendment of the various changes is to make us better. Fiscal federalism is a philosophy of development. Nigeria has been going through restructuring since 1960 and all of them are aimed at promoting development.
“If the structure of governance is not yielding results, there is need for restructuring. What was intended was a federal system. However, the issue of character and values are very important.”
However, other panellists insisted that there was nothing wrong with the country’s present structure, holding the view that the problem was the absence of good governance.
In his contribution, Edu, argued that the country has a leadership problem and stressed the need for competition and strong institutions that could eliminate bad people from the system.
According to him, even if the country was restructured and bad people not removed, the challenges would continue.
“There is a fundamental issue that is not working in Nigeria. I don’t think we are in a democracy. The level of poverty and unemployment is high. People take sides, depending on tribes. Restructuring has to consider all these things.
“That Jonathan brought many Igbos into his government did not translate into development in the South-east. That Buhari gave most of the appointments to the North is not bringing development to the North.
“I think that restructuring has to create more competition, we need to bring more young people to help push for the cause. I believe that there is also a leadership problem in all of this. We need to build institutions that will not enable bad people to assume leadership positions.
“The solution is a generational shift in leadership to allow new ideas and thinking drive governance in the country,” he said.
Yusuf, on his part, described those agitating for restructuring as the disgruntled elite and politicians who have lost out in the political scheme of things in the country.
He said restructuring cannot work in a country where there are no moral values, which he described as a key element that is missing in the country.
“Nigeria is not working because we have no values, which is the basis for national unity. What the agitators for restructuring are doing is for the sharing of the spoils of office. The overwhelming majority of people agitating for restructuring are agitating for jobs and resources.
“A powerful politician in Anambra State abducted a governor and both of them are from the same locality and share the same culture. So, the problem is not the structure.
“For me, that Nigeria is not working is not because of the structure but because Nigeria does not stand for any values,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf’s position was shared by Prof. Yadudu, who stressed that the call for restructuring was what the elite do when they have been left out the power equation.
“There was no consensus on the 2014 National Conference Report. My view is that it cannot solve the problems because it is undemocratic,” he stated.
Yadudu who said he was not one of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution, added he did not see anything wrong with the constitution but that if it must be changed, due process must be followed.
He said if anyone had a problem with the constitution, he or she should bring it up through an amendment at the legislature and called on people to stop disparaging the entire document.
Speaking on the report of the 2014 National Conference, he said the report was not arrived at through consensus and as such could not form the basis for restructuring the federation.
“If you are going to change anything in the constitution, it must be on the basis of Section 35 and a referendum cannot be used since it is not recognised by the constitution,” he said.
On how to tackle the menace of herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, he agreed that local policing, vigilante, and community relations would assist greatly in checking the menace.
Yadudu also expressed the view that the current outcry for restructuring was an elitist idea being forced into the Nigerian political firmament, particularly by those left out of the scheme of things.
He said: “This whole discussion is an idea of the elite. It is not something new. It is what the elite do when they feel they are left out of power. Once it was the National Conference, power shift, or power rotation.
“For the secessionists, if you don’t allow Biafra to go, you have not restructured. If you ask Afenifere, if you don’t implement the 2014 National Conference, you have not restructured,” he said.