The Imperative of Restructuring

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Perspective
In addressing Nigeria’s multi-faceted challenges, there is no alternative to restructuring, Emma Nwosu insists
It is laughable that some people still believe that corruption can be wiped out and Nigeria turned around without changing the system or that the system can be changed without changing the underpinning structure which has failed to deliver good governance in 50 years of tinkering and test by various regimes since Aguiyi Ironsi’s Unification Decree of 1966.
\It is always those in power against the rest. There is no theory or practice in management or statecraft for moving forward by a lame structure or a dead practice. Something has to give and it is better by love (as restructurists advocate) than by force. How to regain economic activism and wean Nigeria of tribal politics and domination is the big question!
For the avoidance of doubt, we are talking of renegotiating the predatory structure and Constitution, not of dismembering the country. Those of us who have lived, worked and travelled extensively for, at least, 10 years in each of the three original regions can testify that all the nationalities, in spite of abundant complaints, largely cherish the indivisibility of Nigeria but, at the same time, feel that they can add better value, given some space to control the resources in their domains and to express their individuality and ingenuity.
The failure of the federation to fulfill critical objectives of a modern state, to be highlighted, is attributed to the herd structure which is inappropriate for her range of diversities. With regards to sovereignty, it is noted that the Freedom of Association is a fundamental and universal freedom and no one can conceivably outlaw self-determination as a last resort anywhere in the world.
The modern state is the greatest and most complex business in the world. As in the typical business entity, there must be a structure for accomplishing the main objectives which are: to provide a level playing ground for all citizens, to protect the weak (security, equality and Rule of Law) and to galvanise the economy towards inclusive growth and development. Structure has to do with the alignment of the politics of the state with its peculiarities that is a precondition for accomplishing any of the objectives.
The quintessential structure is one that strikes a balance between the interests of the constituent individuals and groups and motivates the citizen to put in his best in the enterprise, with the sense of ownership that is inner-directed (and cannot be imposed) which comes by knowing that he counts, his vote counts, he is equal before the law as other citizens, he is not helpless and he will be rewarded according to his stewardship or contribution.
Once the structure drops from the pedestal of balance and ownership or patriotism among citizens and groups, it inevitably turns predatory and volatile, which is the Nigerian condition. This affective domain of state business seems lost on our leaders, who talk of non-negotiability of the structure of the federation, that is not working, from an angle of ‘might is right’. What is there for the citizens and groups to take ownership of Nigeria, even in the most basic causes?
For example, Adamu left his state of origin 40 years ago and settled in state X, where he has four children, all married with their own children. From Adamu to his grandchildren are still non-indigenes of State X till today and are subjected to discrimination in government jobs and property acquisition, etc. There is the wanton killing of peaceful demonstrators by agents of the state while herdsmen, who serially murder scores of citizens and ransack communities and farmlands are neither dis-armed nor prosecuted.
Employment has become the preserve of children and wards of those in power and their relations and acolytes. Constituent nationalities (such as those of Niger Delta) are devastated in the course of appropriating natural resources in their domains, without regards for their health and livelihood, by the same foreign companies operating in their home countries and elsewhere with the highest regards for environmental impact. What about religious laws and intolerance in a secular state?
As in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are more equal than the others. The mind of that boy who is unemployed because he has no benefactor is already polluted against the state that failed to enforce a level playing ground, so is that of the Niger Delta youth, who sees the wonder of infrastructure in Abuja and Lagos, from the proceeds of his land, but cannot easily get to his riverine home from Port Harcourt.
Where is the justice (or equality and even-handedness, etc) among citizens, which is the motive force of ownership and patriotism? Our leaders live in a world of their own, forgetting that men are not logs but largely emotional beings. Love for country is not something you can decree from your comfort zone. It can only be fostered by demonstrable commitment to justice and egalitarianism among citizens.
By all accounts, the economic success of the First Republic is largely attributable to the structure in which significant political, economic, fiscal, administrative and security powers were devolved to the regions, thereby, empowering them to take their fate in their hands, to exploit their resources, to express their ingenuity and to compete among themselves in inclusive growth and development.
All the regions were happy with it. In particular, the Northern Region was its most ferocious advocate till 1967. That structure generated the sense of ownership and productivity by the regions that propelled Nigeria as a people-centred, economically prosperous and culturally accountable country, ranked among the fastest developing economies in the world. The undoing of that era was tribal politics. Now, not only is that catalyst of a structure gone, we are still saddled with tribal politics, which is double jeopardy.
It was the military establishment that dismantled the regional structure negotiated by the midwives of the Nigerian federation, by systematically transferring all essential powers to the federal government and by creating a multitude of mostly unviable states, local governments and ministerial departments and agencies, for the redistribution of executive powers and consolidated revenues of the federation in favour of their constituencies, in the greed of oil boom.
Together with the Constitution imposed by Decree No. 24 of 1999, we now have the imperial federal government and presidency. Everyone is at the mercy of whoever controls it and the battle is fierce. Emasculated vassals called states now queue periodically at the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja for handouts of oil revenue, to the neglect of agriculture, which was the backbone of the economy that the regions relied upon to outdo one another in economic development.
In place of economic activism, we are bedeviled by indolence, prodigality and predatory relationships and conflicts between individuals and groups over sharing (instead of generating) national ‘cake’, leading to economic decline. The majority of states cannot even deal with recurrent expenditure not to talk of embarking on development-oriented capital expenditure, anymore.
The ambition for this obnoxious fiscal template, which was to spur even development throughout the federation, has turned out to be misplaced as the North is still relatively more impoverished than the South. This failure makes a good case for the restoration of fiscal independence to the federating units.
Development is cultural and has more to do with challenge and mindset than gratuitous funding. Given its obvious comparative advantages in timeless agriculture, animal husbandry, food processing and solid minerals, the North will fare better under the regime of fiscal independence than under the ‘feeding-bottle’ unitarism being practised today, contrary to the apprehension or what it is made to believe.
With regards to tribal politics and domination, the most fundamental case for restructuring the Nigerian federation lies in the geo-political imbalance between the North and the South sown by the colonial master, Britain.
Among other indulgencies before stepping aside, it allowed the formation of political parties on regional basis (instead of the more patriotic national basis) and allocated the dominant population and federal constituencies as well as recruitment into the armed forces, together with all key military installations, to the single Northern Region, at the expense of the Southern regions, combined. You then have a lopsided federation with the North as the behemoth and bully that can dictate the fate and pace of Nigeria, in both military and civilian dispensations.
It has always utilised that leverage and has been successful in betting the major tribes, mainly the Igbo and the Yoruba (which should rather be collaborating to counterbalance it, for universal good) against each other, as occasion demands.
This imbalance, in which one section can always have its way, as in might being right, is the harbinger of domination and various other forms of injustice bugging the Nigerian federation. And there can be no peace without justice and no development without peace, no matter how you navigate.
There is need for the balance of political power between the North and the South, on the one hand and between the majority and the minority ethnic groups on the other hand, as much as there is need to regain such template for resource control and entrepreneurship among the federating units that largely accounted for the economic success of the First Republic. Without doubt, leaders of the South are more to be blamed than those of the North for allowing the imbalance to grow and multiply till today.
Although political supremacy is a misused possession rarely surrendered voluntarily in the Third World, it was De Klerk as white President, who weaned South Africa of apartheid. Will there be a leader from the North to beat Goodluck Jonathan, in concern for peace, by restructuring the Nigerian federation?
As has been maintained, we are like spoilt children of a polygamous home squabbling over limited food in the kitchen instead of each mother daring the weather to the farm with her children to compete and harvest food in abundance. “The harvest is plentiful but labourers are few”, as if the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about Nigerians.
Significant fiscal independence will compel federating units to exploit their resources comparatively, to produce competitively and to diversify and galvanise Nigeria to prosperity. Competition and prosperity being infectious, as was seen in the First Republic, hardly would any federating unit be eventually left behind. And, in any case, a productive and prosperous Nigeria will take better care of destitute units or citizens than one in which everyone is unequally yoked to stagnation.
Any leader, who will not restructure Nigeria equitably, will, inevitably, be overwhelmed by the imperial presidency and its provincial and enclave mentality, which is antithetical to justice, peace and development – in spite of his proclaimed wish to be exemplary. Changing Nigeria will take abnegation on the part of the leader as did De Klerk to wean South Africa of apartheid.
Although much was expected of President Buhari, his government is becoming the most provincial and alienating of people and groups, which is a recipe for the iron grip and injustice. There are discordant tunes even in the flagship anti-corruption project. The economy is regressing from recession to depression, worsened by ill-advised devaluation. Not much can be accomplished on a faulty prognosis. But, with God, all things are possible.
-Nwosu, a business, training and research consultant, wrote from Lagos