Whether President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, like it or not, the restructuring debate will linger till the 2019 electioneering period, Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James write
That Nigeria urgently needs a political restructure to allow for peaceful and purpose-driven coexistence among the numerous constituent ethnic groups is a truism that has remained a topical issue no past or present administration wants to look into.
But that notwithstanding, there is a convergence of opinion on the need for the country to take the bold step – and from all indications, just as the ‘change’ mantra was the catch word during the last general election in 2015 – restructuring of the nation will take a central place in 2019.
Though President Muhammadu Buhari does not favour restructuring Nigeria recently, one of his bosom friends and closest political allies, the founding pastor, Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was his running mate in the 2011 general elections, joined other citizens to advise the Nigerian leader that it is the only way to move the country forward.
While Bakare’s advise should pass as a candid suggestion, as most of his predecessors, the president can’t deny the unending agitation among Nigerians that the best legacy he could give the country is to allow a political restructuring of the country. The proposal is that Nigeria must restructure to correct the glaring mistakes in its federal system.
“This was the case when the Nigerian federal system was originally conceived by our founding fathers. Prior to the coming of the colonialists, sovereignty was domiciled in empires, kingdoms, city-states and republican villages,” Bakare posited, adding that now that Nigeria is a sovereign state, the various people that make up the nation should be allowed to discuss their unity.
The clergyman who is the convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) emphasised that “the hues and cries for restructuring in our nation appear not to have been well received by this present government.” Adding that he holds the view that whatever successes the President Buhari-led government might have recorded in the past one year, could not take away the fact that “restructuring the country will correct the fundamental flaws in the nation’s federal system. The president and his team must summon the courage to make hard choices, especially the choice to restructure”.
That has been the views of most of those who discuss the topic. Hence, the argument that the mantra of change on which President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) attained presidency should include changing Nigeria’s obvious structural defects.
The assertion by the president as regards the national conference organised by former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan that “I have not even bothered to read (the report) or ask for a briefing on it and I want it to go into the so-called archives”, is an indication that he is not favourably disposed to the topical issue. This is however contrary to what he promised during the election campaigns that he would look into the report and implement the good aspects of it.
The position expressed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who also recently said restructuring Nigeria will not make any difference and that if states are given half of the resources of the federal government it would not make any difference, is a further indication that the current leadership is not on the same page with proponents of restructuring.
Still a Sustained Quest
Despite the fact that successive governments and the present administration have not shown the political will to genuinely pursue the agenda of restructuring the country, the list of individuals and groups clamouring for it is nearly endless, because to every discerning minds, it is the best option in addressing the plethora of problems confronting Nigeria.
Not a few Nigerians believe that sectional agitators like the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) even the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) and others like that will subside if the national restructuring and true federalism is put in place.
During the 17th convention of the Igbo Youths Movement (IYM) held in Enugu last year January, the position taken by eminent Nigerians like former Vice-President, Alex Ekwueme; former governor of old Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo; former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana; former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; renowned author, Arthur Nwankwo; Niger Delta activist, Ms Annkio Briggs and others, the consensus was that President Buhari should restructure Nigeria in line with the principles of true federalism.
Addressing the theme: ‘Still in Search of True Federalism’, all the speakers at the event advised Buhari to implement the 2014 national conference report as a prelude to restructuring the country. They asserted that the current spate of sectional protests and demand for separation by various groups as well as other socio-economic crises could be reduced if the conference report is implemented.
Ekwueme, a proponent of the current six geopolitical zones structure, which now takes care of minorities in the South and the North, has always maintained that Nigeria agreed with the colonial masters to have a regional government where each has a constitution, annexed to the Republican constitution of 1963.
“There is need for us to return to the basics from what we inherited from our founding fathers,” and to him, that would be the Republican Constitution which stipulated 50 per cent revenue sharing formula for the regions, 30 per cent to a pool from where it could be shared and 20 per cent for the centre.
Recently too, the Ebonyi State chapter of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) warned President Buhari that the best way to avoid a situation where the country is plunged into war is by restructuring it.
The CDHR chairman, Reverend Father John Odeye, was of the opinion that the six geopolitical zones of the country would be strengthened by restructuring.
Speaking at the public presentation of a book titled, ‘The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria’, published by a former federal lawmaker, Hon Chude Offodile, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, warned that Buhari’s attitude towards restructuring at a time when the Biafran agitation was intensifying was dangerous.
He implored the president not to ignore the growing call for fiscal federalism and the re-negotiation of Nigeria’s unity, stressing that “If I were President Buhari, I would be very suspicious of anyone who advises me to ignore the Biafran issue. Anyone who says that is either ignorant or being mischievous or quite patently doesn’t mean well for the government and probably wants the government to repeat the mistakes of the past. We must start learning”, Soludo urged.
In fact, to pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, the issue of restructuring is not negotiable. The group vehemently protested against Osinbajo over his comment on the restructuring of Nigeria.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary and a fervent restructuring advocate, Yinka Odumakin, faulted Osinbajo saying, “we would like to respectfully admonish him to be sure footed on the subject before he speaks next time. He misses the entire debate by engaging in the reductionist argument narrowing the whole issue to taking more money from the federal government to the states.
“Yes, fiscal federalism is part of the argument, but the issue goes beyond the monthly Federal Allocation Committee. The central plank of restructuring is for Nigeria to go back to the true practice of federalism wherein mineral resources that abound in all states would be freed from the exclusive list so that states would move into prosperity and not be reporting at Osinbajo’s office for bailout from a centre that only corners what belongs to the states.
“They would also have enough to contribute to sustain the occupiers of Abuja and the functions that are allocated to them,” Afenifere noted.
According to the group, “The question of diversification is a point that advocates of restructuring have canvassed as it makes no sense for a country as vast in resources like Nigeria to depend on a mono-product economy. It is part of the restructuring we are talking about and not an alternative to it.
“The restructuring package has a whole wide range of issues that have to do with justice administration, electoral system and its cost implications, conflicts arising from clash of cultures and how to deal with them to ensure peaceful co-existence.”
Afenifere insisted: “Nigeria iiss fast falling apart and all genuine patriots have come to a consensus that we must restructure to arrest the drift.”
Perhaps, the comment of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar on the need for Nigeria to be restructured would be more instructive. According to him: “Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach, it has not served my part of the country, the North, well.
“The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in the light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. Nigeria must remain a united country. I also believe that a united country, which I think most Nigerians desire, should never be taken for granted or taken as evidence that Nigerians are content with the current structure of the federation. Making that mistake might set us on the path of losing the country we love”.
Oil Politics and Restructuring
The general believe among the people in the oil producing states is that Nigerian leaders are not bold enough to restructure the country because the current structure favour a section of the country. One of the federating units, the Northern part, had almost three quarters of the land mass of Nigeria and dictates whatever it wants for other federating and this was a sign of what would create a problem because the arrangement produced three unequal federating members within the union.
Aguiyi Ironsi’s unitary system was modified into a unitary federal structure with any one occupying the presidency lording it over the federating units. Though that arrangement favours states living solely on oil revenue made from other states, it is unsustainable, politically unstable and unproductive.
Pointing to oil politics as the factor for the haphazard arrangement, former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode in his unrepentant advocacy for a restructuring in Nigeria, prays for President Buhari to find crude oil in the North part in commercial quantities.
According to him, the major barrier to ensuring peaceful resolutions on how different ethnic groups in the country co-exist is because the Southern part of Nigeria is the mainstay of its North counterpart.
Over 15 years ago, former Delta State governor, Mr. James Ibori refreshed the quest for resource control by the oil producing states when their cries was becoming more strident over the question of why should a section of the nation take the burden of the entire nation on its shoulders without commensurate benefit to that section?
Why should the resource from a section belong to all and the resources from other sections be exclusive to such area?
These and many other questions are now fuelling the agitation in the Niger Delta as the youths from the region take up arms against the nation in a cry for freedom.
Some of those pushing the restructuring debate are resolved that without it, Nigeria may never attain its full potential and that at the long run, the country may end up disintegrating.
For instance, Odumakin said it is only by restructuring that Nigeria can continue to exist.
“That is the only panacea to move forward. Every other thing done is simply a waste of precious time. It’s about two years since this government has been in power and everything has changed to worst. They said they want to fight corruption but not one person has gone to jail and there are even reports of corruption among them.
“Nigeria is in a terminal crisis at the moment – it is in a coma. Unless we do the needful by restructuring, it may take its final breath”.
Former National Secretary, Labour Party and founder, the Egalitarian Mission, Africa, Dr. Kayode Ajulo argued that since Nigeria is practicing democracy, government should pay attention to the yearning of the people as regards restructuring.
“My advice to the president is that since we are in a democracy, the government should work towards the aspiration of the people and restructure the country.
“What we need is restructuring. It is a constitutional issue. If we say we are practicing federalism, it must be so. But now we have a federal-unitary or monarchical country where rule of law is low. We now pay attention to rule of men. Nigeria is overdue for restructuring and it is high time we do that”, he noted.
On his part, the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Ganiyu Taofeek implored the President Buhari-led administration not to jettison the idea of restructuring. He particularly urged him to look into the report of the 2014 national conference and consider the implementable decisions in it.
“There is no doubt that Nigeria needs restructuring. That is the fulcrum of the former president Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP-led government national conference that brought every ethnic group in the country together.
“The APC leadership never supported it. It is not in their policy. They want to throw away the baby and the birth water. We heard some APC leaders supporting something like restructuring but they cannot say that as a party.
“We have a PDP that has laid the foundation that can be built on. What the restructuring would look like can be discussed because while some are feeding fat on what is our common patrimony, some are feeling cheated”, he said.
The Lagos State Chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Pastor Biodun Popoola has a relatively different perspective on the issue. To him, rather than the selfish agitation being branded as call for restructuring, Nigerians must objectively contribute to the debate.
“I get bothered when Nigerians talk about restructuring because the politicians that have ruled Nigeria have not exhibited the political intelligence and maturity needed to people in ‘high places’ to come together and agree. If you listen to the intellectuals, they are even polarised along ethnic and political interests.
“If you look at those calling for restructuring, they are people who have been disadvantaged by Buhari’s politics. It is about their political selfishness and economic gains. If we must restructure, it must be on the platform of truth. It must be outside the people who have taken us to the hollocust we are in now. Every Nigerian must have an input. Then I can support that we should talk about restructuring”, he noted.