Restructuring will Be in Nigeria’s Best Interest

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Eddie Mbadiwe

“27 States cannot pay salaries” That was President Buhari speaking at a recent occasion. Restructuring is not a swan song neither is it a mantra. It cannot also be called a slogan. Rather it is a direct appeal to our collective soul and wisdom to decisively reflect and preserve our nationhood so that, quoting Chinua Achebe in reverse; “the centre can hold”. It is a road to that dream Nigeria that has to be.

In our current environment, it is beyond belief that some people are still advocating for the creation of more states – certainly for selfish reasons. It was that sage William Shakespeare who asked many years ago whether the fault was in us or in our stars. In Nigeria without a shadow of doubt the fault is I n us.

All the indices for growth irrespective of who does the analyses (for some are skewed) point in one direction.

Unless we restructure Nigeria and drastically change our business ethics, economic growth will be painfully slow. For the pessimists who equate restructuring with fragmentation or dissolution of Nigeria, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Restructuring means creating viable economic units possibly along the lines of the current 6 geographical zones. Unless for those who delude themselves or are in denial, our country Nigeria has not made any appreciable progress after 56 years of independence. South Korea and Malaysia which started the race with is at about the same time are light years ahead of us. Infact Seoul is ahead of many western capitals in terms of living standards. Our current arrangement has so much baggage and this must be shed by direct action.

Years ago highly motivated and idealist undergraduates at the University of Ibadan many of us simply identified ourselves as Nigerians. Some in this group include late Stanley Macebuh, Oti Ejobe, Philip Edore, Tunde Akogun, Goke Adeniji, Kemi Ajayi, Julie Onum, Zazza Lorenzo, Dada Iweka, and Jide Osuntokun among others.

How times have changed and our dream of a great nation is almost going into an eclipse.

In the same vein, as a young lecturer of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, I was a contributor to Nsukkascope an in-house magazine positioned to help transform UNN to a world class University. Chinua Achebe was editor. Other contributors were Chimere Ikoku, Emmanuel Obiechina, Ikenna Nzimiro, Mana Obasi and Okey Emordi.

Nsukkascope not only offered constructive criticism but also proffered solutions. That is the kind of debate I believe Nigeria needs. Let us have serious discussions about the gargantum economic problems now confronting us. The more people that are actively engaged, the better the country will be.

When General Murtala Muhammed inaugurated the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) in 1975 under the chairmanship of eminent lawyer Chief F.R.A. Williams SAN he charged them among other objectives to “The constitution of a federal system of government with constitutional law guaranteeing fundamental human rights, maximum participation and orderly succession of political power. To avoid the pitfalls of the first republic the new constitution should be designed to eliminate over concentration of power and ensure free and fair election”. This group aka “the 49 Wise Men” took their assignment seriously. I write from first-hand knowledge because my late uncle Dr. K.O Mbadiwe was a member and anytime he put his hand on the plough, he gave his all.

After much debates, argument, disagreements and walk outs the Constituent Assembly produced a draft constitution which was promulgated as Decree 25 of 1978 by President Obasanjo. It is sometimes historically important to go back retrospectively in order to understand the foundation of the 1999 constitution which we now operate with amendments.

Going back further still the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed at the Ibadan conference in 1950 “ That only a federal system that allowed each of the 3 regions (North, West and East) as created by the Richards Constitution of 1946 to progress at its own pace would be acceptable”. It is important to remember where we are coming from.

The founding fathers in their wisdom recognised that there are fundamental differences between the ethnic nationalities that constitute Nigeria and took steps to avoid unnecessary friction.

Only a person who plays the Ostrich will fail to see the tension in the land and this tension has to be defused. The American Presidential system which CDC recommended and which was adopted cannot in our present circumstances solve Nigeria’s problems. For the Presidential system to work efficiently certain fundamentals must be in place and the most basic is minimum level of education of the populace.

This is a sine-qua- non for the people to understand and be part of the discussion and decision making. The other one is absolute respect for the rule of law. That discipline still has to be acquired here. In a largely illiterate society such as ours, a few out of step individuals buy up the votes and impose themselves on the nation. One current governor is reported to have scolded his people who came up with demands by telling them not to bother him since he bought the election. i.e. their votes.

In the last 2015 Presidential election going by results delivered by INEC 29.4 million votes were cast for all the presidential candidates from President Buhari, former President Ebele Jonathan down to Chekwas Okorie – This translates to about 16% of an estimated 180 million Nigeria population. This level of participation in my view is ridiculously low, dangerous and a mockery of democracy.

The American Presidential system is based on a strict obedience to the rule of law and division of powers between the 3 arms of Government. Even America with their level of education and more than 200 years of practice still has imperfections and is a work in progress.

The presidential system when functional is very expensive and carries a lot of baggage which our economy cannot shoulder.

Is it not time to have another look at the Westminster Parliamentary system and see whether we can marry aspects of two systems? The important point really is to have a system that solves our problems.

Restructuring cannot succeed unless the Executive initiate a bill through Parliament followed by referendum. It is only then that we can truly have a constitution starting with “We the People”

We have to look at all ramifications including whether ministers should sit in parliament to eliminate all the public hearings whose recommendations are rarely implemented. It may also be the time to debate whether legislators should work part – time of full-time vis- a-vis remunerations.

I can literally hear someone ask “why rock the boat”? The answer is that some of us know that Nigeria has not performed up to its latent potential.

In any case times change and no arrangements are permanently cast in stone. If Britain can exit the European Union after 42 years of marriage in their national interest, we have to look at ways to make Nigeria a more habitable and enjoyable country. We are working for a country we can truly call home.

Restructuring will promote co-operation and healthy rivalry and eliminate a lot of unnecessary expense among our flamboyant living emperor governors. If we do not restructure, Nigeria will continue to waffle and crawl as we have done for the past 56 years.

For the doubting Thomases who are scared by change let us close with a German proverb which says “Go to weave and God will provide the thread”