It is not only the ardent proponents of restructuring who should be interested in the outcome of the prevalent debate on the issues of the Nigerian federalism. Even those who are not quite enthusiastic about the idea of restructuring ought to ponder the synthesis that should emerge at the end of the heated national conversation if only because of the unstoppable momentum it has generated. The matter is made more problematic by the seeming lack of structure to the debate. The point at issue here is a very practical one. And it should bother the government as well as those Professor Biodun Jeyifo has described as “restructurenistas.”
To address this practical question the political gap should be bridged between President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly on the one hand and those whose legitimate battle cry is “restructuring or nothing” on the other hand. The tone of the debate should, therefore, be tempered in that direction in order to achieve a worthwhile outcome. It is wrong to dismiss all those agitating for restructuring as separatists. Visible among the proponents of restructuring are eminent Nigerians motivated by nothing but patriotism. Their antecedents make this to be self-evident. Their contributions to the debate have been civil and illuminating. It is equally fallacious and malicious to label those who hold contrary views in the debate as enemies of Nigeria only good to be savaged with their character assassinated. Some participants in the important debate are simply incapable of civilised conversations. All sides to the debate should be wary of those waving the flags of anarchism and opportunism. For these characters, restructuring has become an industry of endless conferences. Yes, an industry is certainly emerging if you consider how much resources, time and energy invested in the business of constitution – making by way of national conferences, drafting committees, constituent assemblies at least in the last 40 years. It is important to take the wind out of the sails of those elements bent on pursuing the unhelpful polar positions on restructuring.
For Buhari, the podium for the debate on emergent issues of the distorted Nigerian federalism is firmly located in the National Assembly. Now, on a closer look, the position of the administration is not merely passing the buck and it should not be seen as such as some patriots might be tempted to do in the circumstance. Meanwhile, the National Assembly has carried on with its business of constitution amendments as if it is oblivious of the groundswell of opinions for a more fundamental approach to restructure the federation. The other day the Senate even rejected devolution of powers when if some restructuring campaigners have their way Nigeria would become a confederation. The National Assembly has not displayed the due sensibilities to the political ferment in the land. This has heightened the lack of confidence of proponents of restructuring in the National Assembly as the avenue to achieve the goal of making the Nigerian federalism workable.
For example, in the agenda of the Southern Leaders of Thought (SLT) is the making of an entirely new constitution with the imprimatur of the people in a referendum. That is a more radical proposition than the amendments being processed by the lawmakers in Abuja. It might be more practicable to pursue the quest for fiscal federalism and redrawing of the territorial map of Nigeria working through the National Assembly. Can the southern leaders push through their proposal of creation of eight regions (four in the south and four in the north) out of the existing 36 states through the National Assembly? The proposed regions from the 19 northern states are Northwest, North-Central, Middle Belt and Northeast while the 17 southern states would be merged into the Southwest, Mid-West, Southeast and South-South. It requires multi-lateral compromises to achieve this goal of the Southern Leaders of Thought. Is there the possibility of such compromises by the various sides to the debate? Meanwhile, the wider the gulf between the government on the one hand and the political forces outside power on the other the more remote the possibility of a generally acceptable outcome at the end of the day. So a national consensus on the methodology of restructuring is an imperative of the moment. After all, by definition, federalism itself implies continuous negotiation between the centre and the federating units as well among the parts of the federation.
There is no federalist practice anywhere in which the element of negotiation is no more implicit in it. Whatever the outcome of the current debate, future generations of Nigerians might still have cause to re-examine the union to suit their circumstance as long as the federation exists. To be sure, this will certainly not be the end of history. The alternative to this spirit of negotiation (with the implicit shifting of grounds) is perhaps a revolution, which is not on the horizon. In any case, some forces are pushing for anarchy in every part of the country. Historically, the ruling class played decisive roles in staging national democratic revolutions that helped in forging the structures of many western nations. There is no indication that the Nigerian ruling class is capable carrying out such a task as they are overwhelmed by their primordial outlook.
How can a consensus be forged? The barriers on the way of this national conversation should be broken. The barriers are ethnic, regional, partisan, religious etc. in nature. For example, there will be a Yoruba summit tomorrow at the Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan, the political capital of the South West. It would be interesting to see how the various (and often antagonistic) strands of the Southwest power bloc would respond to the idea of merging existing six states into a region much less negotiating with other factions of the Nigerian ruling class. While some Yoruba leaders were signing the document on creation of regions at the southern leaders forum others were probably busy preparing the documents for an Ijebu State and an Ibadan State among other agitations for state creation nationwide. The fact seems to be forgotten that under the military the states were created in response to agitations and lobbies by some elements of the ruling class. The slogan then was that state creation brought development closer to the people. Decades later, it is now discovered regretfully that the states are no more viable and would need to be merged to make them strong federating units. It will also be interesting to see how the southwest governors and lawmakers in the national and six state legislatures respond to the Ibadan Summit. Will the members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) take a common Yoruba position at the summit? The road to a national consensus on restructuring will have been taken when the lawmakers articulate the positions of the power blocs. Unfortunately, the trend nationwide is for some factions of the respective blocs to assume to own the gospel truth of political opinions in their regions. Those who think differently are considered heretics.
Beyond this, the debate is not loud on some issues. Whether restructuring means creation of 36 more states or a reversion to the 1960 three-region structure, these issues are inescapable. The first is that Nigerian unity is worth defending not as a romantic enterprise, but as an existential necessity for all regions and ethnic groups of Nigeria. Devolution of powers could make governance more effective depending on the orientation of those responsible for governance. The principle of justice and equity clearly supports fiscal federalism. Federalism is more effective when the federating units are strong enough to be playing their constitutional roles. However, the negotiation for restructuring should be deft enough so as not weaken the centre to extent of impairing its capacity to be responsible for the whole. This debate should not be conducted as if Nigeria has recorded zero integration since 1914. It is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the Nigerian elite (from all ethnic groups and regions) to deny the patent existence of integrative forces. The members of the elite have solid material interests to keep Nigeria united based on equity and social justice. Every part of Nigeria needs a united Nigeria as much as Nigeria needs every part to be a great African nation.
The second point to stress is that all the different formulae of restructuring are only addressing the vertical questions of the most effective political map for Nigeria. For instance, at the Ibadan Summit tomorrow, the name of Chief Obafemi Awolowo would be invoked as the great exponent of federalism. His works, Path to Nigerian Freedom and Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, might be quoted. By the way, a statement in one of the books that “Nigeria is mere geographical expression,” is perhaps the most famous out -of -context quotation in the restructuring debate. However, it will also be good to cite the other works of Awolowo especially The People’s Republic and The Strategies and Tactics of the People’s Republic of Nigeria. The other works embody Awolowo’s social democratic thoughts on how to banish poverty and underdevelopment from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Awolowo was not only about “true federalism,” but also more fundamentally he offered ideas about the welfare of all Nigerians wherever they were located.
Whatever the outcome of this debate, the horizontal issues of the political economy will not be automatically solved. These issues which actually define Nigeria (beyond being unitary or truly federal) are poverty, disease, ignorance and widening inequality. They are the issues of every part of Nigeria. If few regions or more states are created the issues will still define the regions and states unless a change in governance orientation reverses this trend of underdevelopment. With profound respect, proponents of restructuring should be suggestible enough to inject some political economy thoughts into the debate. There is hardly a political economy approach to the otherwise rich debate.
A few weeks ago, a fellow columnist, Alex Otti, drew readers’ attention on this page to the damning verdict of the Development Finance International and Oxfam on Nigeria. The report published in July drew a nexus between poverty of the majority of the people and worsening inequality:
“Nigeria has the unenviable position of being at the bottom of the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index. Its social spending (on health, education and social protection) is shamefully low, reflected in very poor social outcomes for its citizens.
More than 10 million children in Nigeria do not go to school and 1 in 10 children do not reach their fifth birthday. The Africa Progress Panel has demonstrated that despite Nigeria’s positive economic growth for many years, poverty has increased, and the proceeds of growth have gone almost entirely to the top 10% of the population. The CRI Index shows that while Nigeria collects significant tax revenues from oil, there is huge potential for it to raise more tax, for example on personal incomes, and so it scores very badly on this aspect too. Finally, Nigeria’s treatment of workers and women in the workplace also puts it near the bottom of the rankings.”
Nigeria would not receive this sort of verdict if the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in the Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution were made justiciable to ensure justice in the socio-economic structure of Nigeria. Yes, this is also a structural question directly touching the daily lives of the people! The Southern Leaders of Thought have called for the deletion of Section 162 of the Constitution so that revenues would be residual matters. It would also be good to call for the Chapter II to be made justiciable in a new Constitution that may emerge at the end of the debate. With that, those who would administer the structure (whether of 72 states or eight regions) would be compelled to make heavy social investment in basic education, primary healthcare, social housing etc.
The outcome of the debate should be a restructured federation in which the centre and federating units could muster the capacity to deliver social justice by combatting mass poverty, ignorance and disease. Otherwise it would end up as the usual power game of the elite without any positive impact on the people.