Restructuring: A Headache That Won’t Go Away

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Monday Discourse

As the call for restructuring becomes more strident, Segun James identifies those behind‎ the clamour and why many people seem to be buying into it

 If there is anything those in power today would wish for, it is for the agitation for restructuring to disappear. Unfortunately however, the reality is that the clamour for the country to be renegotiated isn’t going to just disappear, at least not very soon.

The problem, however, is that while many agree that the country should be restructured, they are wide apart on how to go about it. This is because the word ‘restructure’ in Nigeria context  is not a term that is very simple to understand. Its meaning may depend on who you ask.

Nigeria, in the surface does not look like a country that is about to implode nor is it about to suffer any upheaval that threatens its corporate existence as it was in 1967, a situation that led to a civil war.

For better and for worse, the corporate existence of the country has been an exception to the rule. After all, some other mishmash behemoths created by the colonial British Empire at the height of her power, have been broken into different countries. India split into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh while Sudan recently divided into two. But so far, Nigeria has remained one.

Now the situation appears to be changing. The oil money is dwindling; the people of the Niger Delta are becoming uncomfortable with others taking advantage of their resources and agitating for resource control while the other component parts of the nation are jostling to take control of  the leadership of the nation. It is while this is going on that the call to restructure the country has suddenly become strident.

There are threats that if the call for restructuring is not heeded, the country may implode. But will it? Today, several reasons are responsible for the clamour for restructuring. Why should one part of the country believe it is more superior to the others? Why should revenue derives from a region be used to fund other regions? Does each region stand an equal chance of producing the leadership of the country? Why should the security agencies be concentrated in the hands of one tribe and same religious group? These and other questions are what are fuelling the call for the immediate restructuring of the country.

Livinus Okeke has lived in over 10 countries and has visited 30-odd more, in most, any discrimination he might have experienced would be because of his skin, a feeling which was deflected by his status as an honest businessman who has contributed to the growth of economic relationship between Nigeria and those countries.

But in Nigeria his own country, Okeke laments that he is made aware at every turn that he is not from Kano state where he was born over 40 years ago.

Okeke said that his look, his dressing, his intonation and his physical future automatically makes him an “outsider” on the streets of Kano even though he speaks the language fluently.

He is an outcast even though he considers Kano his home as he had never leaved anywhere in the southeast where his parents hailed from.

Now he has up to the 1st October to determine his fate or he might face the wrought of Arewa youth who have given Igbo people three months to leave the north.

“I am still contemplating where to move to. I cannot say it is a lie only for them to invade us. Immediately when the children vacate for the summer, I will send them with my wife to Lagos while I will take the risk alone. Kano is my home town. I have my business here. I have houses here and God has blessed me here. Now they say I should go back to the east when my home is here.”

Okeke said that he does not believe in the call for a Biafra which according to him is unnecessary. “My wife is from Adamawa state. Where will I keep her if the country is divided along ethnic lines? We have inter married so much that breaking the country will be impossible.”

He however believes in the call for restructuring. To him, “if the country is restructured and the centre is no more as powerful, the people of the country will appreciate each other. We have practically taken each other for granted.”

For Alhaji Ibrahim Olawepo, a Lagos based businessman from Kwara state, those calling for a break-up of the country do not see beyond their nose. He said that Sudan should have taught Nigerians the lesson that a break-up does not necessary means peace.

 He said that since the break-up of the Sudan into two nations, the South Sudan has still not known peace as the former ethnic groups that came together to fight for a separate nation are now feuding among themselves.

He said that even if Nigeria breaks into north and south, there will still be calls for further break ups.    

If you look at the future from this frightening perspective, then you are welcome to the world of General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade retired who is a leading voice among those calling for the country to be restructured. He wants the unity of Nigeria to be discussed and a better nation rising from the ashes of the present system which he says has failed the people.

That a retired general of the calibre of Akinrinade would make an urgent call for the country to be restructured is an indication that the agitation should be taken serious.

 

Left to Akinrinade, an otherwise taciturn former Chief of Defence Staff and commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces and civil war hero, the nation is already overheating and an implosion is imminent, a situation which may lead to a break-up of the country called Nigeria.

Almost 50 years after the Nigerian civil war ended, the general now regrets his participation in the war to keep Nigeria one. He reasons that the nation and its political leadership had refused to learn from history; and that from all indications, the labour of our heroes’ past are now in vain.

In politics, people generally recoil from the idea of learning from the past. To them, every situation is unique and should be handled differently. This is where Akinrinade differs from the politicians. To him, in politics and in war, history has been found to repeat itself severally.

To him, the adage that when you open a window both fresh air (the good) and the flies (the bad) will come in is apt. Hence there is the need to constantly be on the lookout to kill the flies each time you can. He says that it is the refusal to do this that has led to the pollution in the national polity. 

Akinrinade said the current Nigeria structure is a mockery of a united country united; and that the Igbos agitating for Biafra should be allowed to go.

 

He said that although he still believes a true federal system is good for the country, the current structure makes the war to keep the country as one looked like a futile exercise.

 

“Good, you allow people to make choices. And you also said it is good to allow people decide their fate. This present agitation by the Igbos, garbed in the Biafra movement, in retrospect, wouldn’t we now begin to admit that the fight to keep Nigeria one, based on contemporary realities, was futile, a fool’s errand, that was not worth it?

 

“Those ideals that people had, in keeping the nation one, appeared to have been thrown out of the window. Well, I think as far back as the early 1980s, I’d alluded to the fact that it is still possible to keep a country like Nigeria one. I still have that belief.

 

“Maybe because some of us have served everywhere and we have friends everywhere and we talk and discuss and share views. As far back as 1983 when I went to Ife to deliver a lecture, I suggested that we would do much better with a confederation. There were quite a number of things I also said there. Because, there, I made it clear that the way free education was being continued, it was not going to survive or give quality education, that it needed remodeling.

 

“Those who had made good and were expected to pay back to society were still hinging their hopes on free education. That was not fair. When you have benefited and can afford to offer at least 20 scholarships, you still want to keep your wealth made through free education and you want your children to also participate? On top of that, you add bursary. Are you going to give bursary to children of people in my social category? It would be unfair on the farmers and those in dire need of the bursary.

 

“So, because my father married five women, I should now marry six because I appear to be a bit more comfortable? The society will not grow like that. Somebody has to apply the brakes and fine tune things.

 

“I believe a confederal system is more manageable. When the people are pushed and there is no other way, we would become reasonable because what is going on now, the governance structure cannot continue forever.”

To Mr. Akin Osuntokun, a lot of people misconstrue the call for restructuring as a call for a break-up of the country. He insisted that this is far from the truth.

According to him, the 36 state structures and a very powerful centre federal system now being practised in the country is not sustainable. He noted that only a few states can sustain themselves under the present arrangement. Even the federal government is depended on one commodity that is no longer bringing in as much money as in the past, hence the economic depression that is facing the nation.

Osuntokun said that the 36 states could be collapsed into six regions, a situation that would reduce the huge spending on payment on civil service salaries and taking care of several governors and legislators.

He emphasised that unless something was done about the structure of the country the people might rise someday against the ruling class.

Elder statesman and leader of the Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo is another proponent of restructuring. To him, the call for restructuring is urgent and the opportunity for it to happen is now. He insisted that Nigeria would likely collapse unless we embark upon restructuring now.

Adebanjo also disclosed that some radical Yoruba people have already drawn up the map of the Oduduwa republic.

He noted that the Yoruba people cannot be suppressed from demanding for a Yoruba-centric republic for long unless restructuring takes place. Restructure now, or Yoruba will break away, he warned.

Adebanjo said the call for the restructuring of Nigeria should be seen as a matter of urgency because all factors in the country ‘point to disintegration.’

“We are going for disintegration. That is what I am sorry about. You cannot keep the country together like this. You would continually be suppressing here and suppressing there. The Southern Kaduna affair, the people there shouted against regionalism, because of the oppression there.

“They said the Fulani were oppressing them. If you look at the recommendations of the 2014 National Confab, we said any area that has economic interests is free to stay together after a referendum of 71 per cent. That was how we brought in regionalism. We did all that to make sure we stay together.

“If you look at the agitation from the South-south, South-east, they are not even insisting on restructuring; it is restructuring within Nigeria or outside of it. We even understand that some radical Yoruba have drawn the map of the Oduduwa Republic and all that, but we are keeping them down.

“There is an advantage in the economy of scale but we cannot keep them down for too long when we know that they are being cheated. We say those areas that they feel they are being cheated; let us iron it out so that we can stay together. What is wrong with that?”

Today, the nation is now at a crossroads. What is the way forward? But with the northern youths having given an ultimatum that is now heating the polity and the people of the south-east calling for a Republic of Biafra, will the centre ever holds for the country again? Only time will tell.