Memo to El Rufai: A Prologue

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 Let me begin with the acknowledgement that the ruling political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has finally picked up the gauntlet of a commitment it made in its manifesto to the restoration of true federalism in Nigeria. In tandem, I equally seize this opportunity to commend my brother, the governor of Kaduna state, for his tour de force encapsulation of virtually all the ramifications to the restructuring of Nigeria debate at his outing at the Chatham house, London ( in his capacity as the chair of the APC committee on restructuring). In making this commendation, I have dutifully cautioned myself against the perils of premature applause. As with many things Nigerian there is the ever present probability of a promising beginning maturing into the anti-climax of an elephant giving birth to a mouse.

Nigeria has endured so long on the philosophical undercurrent of the “muddling through” logic supplemented with the defiance of the Praetorian Guard defenders of the post-civil war definition of Nigerian nationalism. The most visible personification of this category of defenders is the duo of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari. In a recent polemical outburst, the former recently upped his defiance to the level of questioning the validity of ‘true federalism’. The open secret is the father-son relationship I enjoyed with him and it is a tribute to his patriarchal accommodation that he values my company notwithstanding our opposing ideological polarity on the utility of restructuring. The disposition is reciprocal. I have an almost elastic understanding and tolerance of his idiosyncrasies often at the expense of the exasperation and consternation of intimates who view him from a more detached standpoint. I am imposing this personal jive because the Obasanjo personality is crucial to the understanding of the complexity of Nigerian politics and the restructuring debate in particular; remember he took the surrender of Biafra in 1970. Another crucial figure who similarly looms large is the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Relatively speaking, the pre 1966 Nigerian military was a professionally inclined nationalist institution. And this virtue was substantially attributable to the fact that the independence constitution virtually rendered the military of no consequence to the political fortunes of any political party or region. Indeed, the military amounted to so little in political calculations that the Western region was completely oblivious to its minimal representation in the Nigerian army. It was a rude awakening for the region when it was caught flat footed in the post 1966 ‘power flows from the barrel of gun’ politics-so much so that it became hostage to the prospect of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, between the protective custody of either the Northern or Eastern region. And the Yoruba in me would not allow me to go further without making the observation that the supreme irony of the civil war was that the subsequent crash course creation of a Yoruba segment of the Nigerian army, the Third marine commando, proved to be the most potent fighting force unit of the federal army.

After 1966, the Nigerian army effectively transformed into the political instrument of enforcing the Nigerian vision of the victorious party in the balance of terror contest between the opposing coup makers of January and July 1966. In the fluidity and volatility of the antecedence to the civil war, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to make a close call and the choice he ultimately made had the unintended consequence of legitimatizing the Nigerian vision and ideology that crystallized from the civil war. Central to this vision was the acceptance of the outcome of the civil war as the unyielding definition of the unity of Nigeria to which all else must be subordinated and sacrificed, including, especially, federalism.

Extrapolating from the lessons of January 1966, it would be asking too much of the North (the dominant conservative Islamic wing of the Northern political establishment), for it not to adopt the strategy of aiming for a position of permanent political advantage in Nigeria going forward. To the extent that this position is not consistent with relatively egalitarian begetting federalism, is the extent to which the North cannot be realistically expected to readily support fulsome reparation to federalism. Thus, emerging from the civil war, it was only the Northern region fraction of the Nigerian political elite that had a clear vision of its Nigerian agenda (Vis a Vis the other regions).

Mainly on account of a puzzling mystical belief in his manifest destiny to rule Nigeria, Awolowo was prone to remarkable political naivety that does no credit to his otherwise formidable intellect and strength of character. And it will require a generous suspension of critical judgment to absolve him of putting the cart of his Presidential ambition before the horse of commitment to federalism guaranteed political equality and parity in post-civil war Nigeria. After the war, If Awolowo had made the objective of sustaining federalism and political parity the core issue, the probability is that we will not be here 47 years later begging to be rescued from the underdevelopment conundrum of the extant mockery of federalism. Under similar duress, the Yoruba power elite reenacted the same mistake in 1998/99. In fairness, Awolowo might have projected that the fulfillment of his anticipated ascendance to the Nigerian presidency would afford him the best opportunity to redirect Nigeria back to federalism. Very much the same logic won the day in the Afenifere caucus 28 years later-of aiming to reform Nigeria through participation in a skewed and suspect arrangement rather than insist on restructuring as condition precedent.

In swaying a decisive Yoruba collaboration in levying the civil war, it was correct political permutation to expect that the Northern dominated federal government would feel indebted to Awolowo and hence support his political aspiration to govern Nigeria. Where Awolowo got it wrong was the failure to recognize the realpolitik that such a support would be conditional on his willingness to serve as proxy for Northern hegemony (or what is often dressed up as political flexibility) which unfortunately he was not disposed to do. In this regard, the political failure of Awolowo is the symbolic representation of the near insurmountable political challenge of any egalitarian struggle to redress the political imbalance inherent in the constitutional status quo.

To the consternation of many compatriots, I will reiterate that the problem with Nigeria is not so much the proprietary Northern hegemony, it is the gross abuse and mismanagement of such to the existential detriment of us all that has become desperately intolerable (refer for instance to the present Ibe Kachikwu lamentation at the NNPC). Northern hegemony does not have to be inconsistent nor at odds with the growth and development of Nigeria. After all, the hegemony was implicit in the British supervised independence constitution-in consonance with the bias of the departing colonialists. The material and consequential mitigation was the constitutional safe guard of federalism-with the practical purpose of minimizing the latitude of the federal government to constitute a cog in the wheel of progress of the component regions. If Nigeria is not rapidly regressing towards a failed state, the hegemony may not even be recognizable to any but the skeptical discernment of vocational and professional investigator of Nigerian politics.

To preempt any terminological ambiguity I need to clarify that Northern hegemony does not equate a President of Northern origin, it only implies that the political pace of Nigeria, for good and bad is dictated by the region. As a matter of fact, the most successful manager and prosecutor of this phenomenon is not a Northerner, it is Olusegun Obasanjo, who manages to disguise and deploy it as a nationalist ideology that, at an irreducible minimum level, can demonstrably foster the political stability and development of Nigeria. So far, it seems as if this skill is unique to him-suggesting that without a leadership of his description, Nigeria is bound to failure. The question then arise, will Nigeria’s salvation now be predicated on the replication of Obasanjo or any other individual? Since many Nigerians will be offended by a thesis of Obasanjo’s messianism, let me quickly suggest that he can be substituted with any other figure that captures the fancy but the argument remains that you do not predicate the viability of a nation on the expectation of the tailor to fit leadership.

Unlucky is the land without a hero and unhappy is the society that is in need of one, says Berthold Brecht. The genius of the German muse is his acknowledgement of heroic leadership as only a providential good fortune and not a necessity and it is thereby a fundamental non-starter to tie the prospects of a nation to the hope of a steady flow of good leadership-which brings us back to the argument that the problem of Nigeria is structural not elusive good leadership. And as I have severally argued, this is also the position of science-which anticipates the worst not the best case scenario-that while we hope for the best we should anticipate the worst. In medical science, prevention, immunization, inoculation and vaccination are all prioritized over cure.

I will conclude by drawing attention to the recently published position paper of Pastor Tunde Bakare. It is unique in the respect that it goes beyond making an eloquent case for restructuring to respond to the realpolitik fears and anxieties of those who, in the drive towards equity, may, potentially, experience a short term material shortfall.

“The ten-year window being proposed is meant to cater for the concerns of parts of the country where the notion of restructuring is opposed due to perceived economic disadvantages. Within the ten-year period, the six zones would have been aided to develop areas of comparative advantage. Therefore, in the interest of sustainable economic development over the next ten years, we propose a zonal economicmaster plan, and coordinate federal and state efforts towards transitioning into zonal economies within ten years, thereby harnessing the comparative resources of each zone to achieve globally competitive economies of scale and scope”.