A scrutiny of the restructuring narrative reveals a lack of consensus among proponents of what the term actually entails, writes Tobi Soniyi
Two weeks ago, a group of elder statesmen led by Professor Emeritus, Ben Nwanbueze, SAN, decided to wade into the issue of restructuring which recently has become the issue
in the country. They came together as the Eminent Leaders of Thought, (ELT).
The secretary of the ELT, Mr. Olawale Okunniyi, said the leaders of thought had formed a group – Project Nigeria Move- ment – to serve as the engine room tfor restructuring debate.
However, they were unable to come up with a consensus and have therefore decided to embark on further consultation.
Okunniyi said they were unable to reach a consensus because they could not conclude on the procedure on how to go about the restructuring issue.
Although the group had resolved to embark on further consultation, the dilemma it faces, illustrates the challenge proponents of restructuring are battling with it; arriving at a consensus on restructuring.
No doubt, change is a permanent feature in human existence. However, as desirable as change is, it is should not be a change for change sake. In the life of a nation, it is desirable that change should be for the better.
Such is the call for restructuring. Hardly a day goes by without someone or a group calling for the country to be restructured. But that is where the consensus ends.
When each group or individual provides the details of the restructuring proposed by him or her, it usually becomes obvious that his version is different from the others. Worst still, arriving at a consensus has been very difficult. This is not due to lack of efforts on the part of the proponents but because the issues affecting each region differs and every region wants its own version to be the model.
As the call for the country to be restructured continues to reverberate across the country, pinning down what the proponents of the term actually have in mind is difficult. Because of this difficulty, those who believe that the country does not need to be restructured tend to see the agitation as self serving.
Yet, the more people you listen to on why the country must be restructured, the more confused you are likely to become. What has become clear and upon which we can all agree is: restructuring means different things to different people.
While the Cambridge Dictionary defines restructure as to organise a company, business, or system in a new way to make it operate more effectively. Merriam-Webster defines it as to change the makeup, organization, or pattern of..
Coming home, its meaning depends on who you talk to; whether he is Igbo, Yourba, Hausa or from the Niger Delta, the Middle Belt or other numerous tribes that made up the country. Or whether, like former vice president Atiku Abubakar, he wants to seek elective office or not.
Whether he is a professor or someone who did not have much education. The definition may also depend on whether he is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress or the Peoples Democratic Party, or a member of those political parties seeking to gain attention. There are few exceptions though.
This, precisely is why it is going to be difficult to restructure: whose perception or definition of restructuring are we going to implement? Since no two persons or groups seem to agree on what it means. Even when they seem to agree on a general meaning of what restructuring should entail, the devil is always in the details. When you probe further those who appear to share the same concept of restructuring begin to differ.
For some, it means returning to regionalism as was the case in the early 60s. To others, restructuring means allowing each state to own resources in their geographical areas. Others call it devolution of powers withou
specifying which powers.
A legal practitioner, Wahab Shittu, said:
â€œIn discussing restructuring, two questions must be answered- one, do we want to live together and second if yes, on what terms?â€
He said that agitation across the country sent a powerful message to those in authorities. He suggested true fiscal federalism and devolution of powers. The devil, as stated earlier, remains in the details.
For Mr Akin Osuntokun, restructuring should not be a tribal issue rather it should aim at eliminating wastes and re position states for a greater efficiency. According to him, instead of having states that can not survive without recourse to the federal government, such states should be merged. The idea of running to Abuja cap in hand to beg for bail out will become a thing of the past. In a nutshell restructuring to him means having states that can generate enough revenue on their own to run their affairs.
There are others whose definition of restructuring is to create more states as suggested in the report of the 2014 national conference report. The conference came up with over 600 recommendations including the creation of 18 new states; Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti (South East zone), Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. The conference also recommended
one new states for the south-east to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the north-west which has seven. At a time when many states depend on bail out from the federal government to survive, many still hold the view that restructuring means creating additional states!
There are those whose definition of restructur- ing is secession. Those who hold this view would like to have a referendum to determine if the country should remain as one.
Environmental and human rights activist, Annkio Briggs , believed it was too late for Nigeria to be restructured. For her, what the country needed is a complete break-up so that every emerged country can develop at its own pace.
One of the leading voices in the clamour for restructuring is former vice president Atiku Abubakar. He has provided one of the well-articulated positions on the issue. He also does not miss a chance to lecture Nigerians on restructuring. Recently, he said the country could be restructured within six months. Many however, doubt his sincerity. Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai described him and others championing the restructuring cause as opportunists. Nevertheless, he remains focussed on his message.
The former vice president said: â€œWhat I find odd and somewhat unhelpful is the argument of those who say that we cannot renegotiate our union and who proceed from there to equate every demand for restructuring with attempts to break up the country. I believe that every form of human relationship is negotiable. Every political relationship is open for negotiations, without pre-set outcomes.
â€œAs a democrat and businessman, I do not fear negotiations. That is what reasonable human beings do. This is even more important as a stubborn resistance against negotiations can lead to unsavoury outcomes. I have spoken a number of times in the past several years on the need to restructure our federation in order to devolve more power and resources
to the federating units. Recently I went to Kaduna and told an audience of mostly my compatriots from the North, where most of the resistance against restructuring seems to come from, that restructuring is in the interest of the North and Nigeria. I have even called on states in each geo-political zone to, in the interim, pool their resources together to provide some services for their peoples for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness.â€
He has even gone further to simplify It. While delivering a lecture on â€˜Restructuring Nigeriaâ€™ at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu state, Atiku said the fastest way to achieve restructuring was to reduce the power and roles of the federal government and to â€œreturn some items on the concurrent list to the statesâ€.
According to him, the country can be restructured in six months.
â€œAll you have to do is return the items on the concurrent list to the states,â€™ he added. Continuing, he said, â€œSome of what my ideas of restructuring involve require constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance. The federal government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources
it expends on them.
â€œIn the future if the federal government
identifies the need for a new road that would serve the national interest, it can support the affected states to construct such roads, and thereafter leave the maintenance to the states, which can collect tolls from road users for the purpose.
â€œThe federal government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process. The same goes for education and health care. We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located.â€
Someone has to tell the former vice president that it isnâ€™t going to be simple as he thinks.