Restructuring Nigeria Beyond the Bile and Politics of Non-negotiability of National Unity

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

“Restructuring Nigeria: Implications for Identity Struggle and Nation-building” was the theme of the 3-day International Conference of the School of Communication and Liberal Studies of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, Lagos. The conference was held from Wednesday, 13th to Friday, 15th December, 2017 at the School of Agriculture Auditorium, Ikorodu Campus. The organisation and theme of conference, which is the third in the series, is important for various reasons.

First, the Dean of the School, Barrister Adebayo Adekunle Alake, noted in his welcome address that the rationale for the organisation of the conference at the tail end of the year was clear: ‘preparing and positioning all the stakeholders for a prosperous new year 2018.’ More important, he said there was the need to ‘de-structure, restructure and structure the national yearnings for restructuring Nigeria.’ And perhaps, most importantly, there is the need to ‘proffer practical solutions to some of the various challenges of our nation-building in line with the culture of polytechnic education and international best practices across the globe.’

What is particularly noteworthy in the welcome address of the Dean is his hope for a better Nigeria to come in his life time. This is a hope that is not likely to come true, because political governance is largely predicated on the promotion of dishonesty by condoning and rewarding it. This is one major and critical rationale for the quest for restructuring. As Barrister Alake put it, ‘I am waiting for a day, when Tega, my son from an Ijesha father, born to (an) Urhobo mother, can contest and win governorship election in Kano State without any form of barriers. That’s the Nigeria that can be called a nation. It is very possible in our life time.’
We cannot agree more with this hope if the political will is there to sustain it. It is good to dream dreams but it is not good to dream and over-dream, when there are well-known institutionally built obstacles. This problematic necessarily explains the goodness in and timeliness of the organisation of the international conference.
Second, in his address to the conference, Mr. Samuel Oluyinka Sogunro, the rector of the polytechnic, who was represented by the Deputy Rector, Administration, Dr. Ola Olateju, at the conference, said ‘building the Nigeria-state is dependent on a strong structural foundation and, as a society seeking socio-political and economic development as a nation, we cannot continue to hope for a more prosperous nation with a weak or jaded structure.’
More important, Mr. Sogunro noted that ‘at the heart of all the agitation about restructuring in the country today is the question of competition for resources, hunger for development, the fight over access (opportunity) in the Nigerian space…The issue of restructuring has been discussed extensively to be perceived as resource control or devolution of power. However, some scholars view restructuring as equality of access to political and economic power. Needless to say here that there is no consensus on what restructuring is but there is clear agreement on its desirability.’

Importantly, the rector further submitted that ‘in the reorganisation of a society to achieve its full potential, it is fundamental to consider the option of developing its human capital’ and that is why the Lagos State Polytechnic, the Polytechnic of Excellence, is to ensure delivery of its mandate of producing enterprise graduates, that is, ‘all categories of students must require, at least, one relevant entrepreneurial training through the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Skills Acquisition (CESA) various programmes, which are strategically thought out to produce job creators rather than job seekers.’

One cannot agree more here with the rector that the promotion of education requires greater emphasis in any attempt at restructuring. Restructuring means different things to different people. Even, at the level of national and international politics, the conception of restructuring is not the same thing even though the ultimate objective of restructuring remains the same.

Internationally speaking, restructuring is coterminous with reform or review, revisit, reconsideration, or amendment. Africa’s quest for the reform of the United Nations, especially at the level of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) clearly illustrates this point. The misuse of the right of veto by the Five Permanent Members (P-5) of the UNSC was a major dynamic of the calls for reform and international concern, particularly during the Cold War era.

However, the P-5 has not shown any keen interest in any reform that will deny them the privilege of veto. Besides, as provided in Articles 108 and 109 of the United Nations Charter, the requirement of unanimity or consensus of the P-5 before the Charter can be amended, is to prevent any reform that will not be in the interest of the P-5.

In the national setting, restructuring can lead to territorial separation but cannot in the international arena, as the politics of perestroika and glasnost has pointed to in the former Soviet Union. Restructuring can enhance nation-building if well-handled and it can undermine it if not well-conducted and managed.

Third, political governance in Nigeria is currently fraught with many threats to national security and political stability. In fact, calls for restructuring have been on the increase. The Southern Senators Forum has met to discuss the issue. The Northern Senators Forum also met last week in Katsina to discuss the issue. In fact, the issue of restructuring retained the focused attention of the 2014 National Conference, as shown in its Main Report, particularly in the section on devolution of power (pages 99-107).

For instance, the Conference recommended 68 items under Section 5.4 on devolution of power for the Exclusive Legislative List. They included defence, including arms, ammunition and explosives; banks, banking, exchange control, bills of exchange, currency, legal tender and promissory notes; census; citizenship, naturalisation, and aliens; federal trunk roads; extradition; military, meteorology, public service of the federation, nuclear energy; railways; prisons; trade and commerce; weight and measures; and public holidays.

The main problem with the foregoing recommendations, however, is that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is not interested in any of the arguments of restructuring. As he has put it, Nigeria’s unity is not ‘negotiable.’ This simply means that, like Gowon’s war slogan, ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done,’ Nigeria will be kept united by all means, including the use of force and whatever the circumstance. Most unfortunately, however, as noted above, the environmental conditionings of political governance are not favourable to the hard stance of PMB.

In the face of current inclement environment, the federal government is still much saddled with how to permanently nip in the bud the challenges posed by the Boko Haram and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). In addition to this, is not only the new dimension of public interpretation of the Fulani herdsmen-farmers saga, but how the situation of the country is generally seen.

It is argued that we cannot be doing the same thing the same way and expect any change for the better. Opponents of restructuring are considered selfish as they simply want to be collecting easy money from the centre and be expending it without accountability. Many people believe that the country is not and cannot move forward unless there is preliminary restructuring.

For instance, Nigeria is said to be very rich in natural resources. The reported resources are mostly on the exclusive legislative list. But, most unfortunately, the federal government is yet to take much interest in them. The constitutive states of Nigeria in which the mineral resources are located want to have the possibility of exploiting them for their own development. However, the rigidity that has come to characterise policy-making under the administration of PMB has been a major source of the political bile in the country.

In fact, the serious concerns generated as a result of the political situation in the country are to the extent that various strata of society have now been insisting on the urgent need for restructuring. To a great extent, the proponents of restructuring cannot be wrong. In the first case, unity is not and cannot be imposed. It can only be desired and worked for. When it is imposed, it does not last. Many cases in international practice have clearly shown this. Even when it is desired and negotiated for, the right of withdrawal is always still provided for. And even when it is not provided for, fundamental human rights of freedom to exist and associate or not to associate with any group of people is still there. Freedom is the most important pillar of democracy.

Explained differently, with the items recommended to be put on the exclusive legislative list, and for which PMB is showing little or no concern, the likelihood of restructuring may not be for the immediate future. In fact, the non-attention can only strengthen the existing national discord on the matter. It can only strengthen the armed struggle for self-determination by the IPOB and the MASSOB. It can only create new opportunities of strength for the Boko Haram as government cannot but be faced with fighting in different battlefields.

We also strongly believe that restructuring, if it takes place, has the potential to generate adoption of principles of self-reliance, particularly in terms of initiative-taking, reducing excessive dependence on others for survival and generation of development plans. Self-reliance gives birth to self-pride and self-projection. With all this, it is self and national identity that will be promoted in the long run. However, in the event restructuring leads to disintegration, national identity and nation-building cannot but be more seriously impacted upon. Consequently, it is now a desideratum to seek to go beyond the bile and politics of restructuring and therefore deal squarely with the issues in restructuring.

In this regard, the School of Communication and Liberal Studies’ conference identified more than 20 issues for discussion. They included national industrial policy for purposes of national development, crisis of citizenship, constitutionalism, psychology of identity in nation-building, entrepreneurship in restructuring small and medium enterprises, role of online media in restructuring, resource control, re-inventing true federalism, role of radio in restructuring rural education, and restructuring the language of politics in Nigeria.

On the issue of citizenship, for instance, Martins Arogundade of the Department of General Studies argued that ‘one of the major issues that confront the nation-state building project in Africa today is the post-colonial crisis of citizenship,’ and that ‘the constitutionally set criteria for and the notion of citizenship to primordial attachments (such as indigene, non-indigene, native settler divide) to local communities undermine the prospect of nation-building.’

Michael Sonayon of the Department of Political Science of the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education submitted that the ‘1914 amalgamation that culminated in the emergence of a state called “Nigeria” was not actually done to promote’ unity and that the constitutional efforts made by the colonial master were unable to sufficiently lay the foundation for a viable state,’

Onwuliri et al not only reminded in their paper on resource control of K.C. Wheare’s argument that financial autonomy and independence is required in guaranteeing ‘true federalism, but also advised that every state in the federation of Nigeria should control and manage the natural resources located within its territory. What is obvious from the various papers presented, as well as from the general debate in the country, is that no one has openly come out in favour of disintegration of the country. Virtually all contributions were made along the path of a stronger and united Nigeria. But the approach is what is yet to be well articulated. This, again, has been made more difficult with the position of PMB, and particularly by the politicisation of it.

Beyond the Bile and Politics of Restructuring
The notion of restructuring is complex and generally misunderstood. Restructuring is a process and can therefore be explicated as an objective to be attained, method of attainment of the objective, and as a solution or outcome. In whichever way it is looked at, restructuring as an act is not really Nigeria’s problem. It is the attitudinal disposition to issues in political governance. Without doubt, all the issues involved in restructuring are well known but, again, it is not the issues involved that are the main sources of Nigeria’s problem. It is how the issues are perceived and evaluated for purposes of decision-taking that matters.

Consequently, the current generation of political leaders in Nigeria is a major obstacle to national unity and nation-building. The operation of a presidential system of government is another obstacle. The attitude of the people is another. On the basis of these obstacles, no amount of restructuring can make Nigeria free from political chicanery and dishonesty of purpose.

If, as I have noted many times in this column how the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) destroyed the institute beyond repairs; if both the Supervisory Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Presidency opted to keep quiet about it; if I applied to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation for a second furniture allowance in my fifth year as Director General of the NIIA and it was not only approved, but also directly paid by government, and the same Office of the Accountant General would later accuse me of fraud; if what I did to project the execution of the NIIA mandate, which was acknowledged internationally, but which prompted the Governing Council’s incited protests against me; if what some staff accused me of are precisely what the same accusers are capitalising on to survive at the institute as at today; if there were petitions against me and I responded to them and the only thing the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council could decide was to say ‘Noted,’ without being able to determine whether the petitioners were right or wrong, or whether my defence was in order or not; if various projects on which a lot of government funds were expended were destroyed by my immediate successor with the knowledge of the supervisory authority and without query under the pretext that there should not be any Akinterinwa legacy; and perhaps most interestingly, if I built a new international conference centre at the NIIA which none of the members of the Ike Nwachukwu Governing Council, either individually or collectively did not see or inspect but will only complain about its finances and due process and which I asked the Council and the supervisory authority to investigate me, but to no avail; the future of any restructuring cannot be bright.

There is no need for anyone to cry wolf about the need for national unity or restructuring without first addressing how Nigeria is governed. If Nigeria is restructured today and the mental attitude is not, it cannot but be a change in continuity.

It is when PMB decides to do what is right in terms of fairness and justice that Nigeria can know and have peace. Dinah Maria Mulock Craik once argued that ‘the secret of life is not to do what one likes, but to try to like that which one has to do.’ I cannot agree more with her. In the same vein, Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) has posited that ‘vive pius, moriere pius,’ that is ‘live righteously, you shall die righteously.’ I also do agree with this. In the context of Nigeria, let PMB try and govern righteously on the basis of fairness and justice, not by manu militari, and he will see that Nigeria will not die but survive righteously.