If President Muhammadu Buhari’s intention was to kill the restructuring debate with his January 1st broadcast, he succeeded in doing the opposite as more and more people joined the discourse after the broadcast, writes Christopher Isiguzo
Recently, restructuring which used to exist within the exclusivity of notable elder statesmen led by renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze SAN, became a mantra in the political landscape with politicians and non-politicians advancing different definitions of the word.
However, even at a point, the ruling party somewhat embraced it after realising that making it an anathema might result in colossal political damage especially with the then towering influence of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu who vowed to continue his agitation until his main goal of the rebirth of the Biafran Republic was realised. The ruling class saw restructuring as an alternative for the Biafran project and as such it became a buzz word. Apart from the three geopolitical zones of South-East, South-South and South-West embracing it, the North Central also embraced it. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) even went as far as constituting a committee to examine the concept. The Northern Governors’ Forum also began serious discussion on restructuring.
But, all those efforts somehow fizzled out in the aftermath of the operation Python Dance in the south east which culminated in the routing of Kanu and members of his IPOB.
But, in his new year message to Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari uncharacteristically reintroduced the topic in a veiled plan to possibly end the discussion but that appeared to have boomeranged as that has reignited the almost death topic.
The president had said: “I have kept a close watch on the on-going debate about restructurig. No human law or edifice is perfect.
“Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments. We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.
“We tried the parliamentary system: we jettisoned it. Now there are shrill cries for a return to the parliamentary structure. In older democracies, these systems took centuries to evolve so we cannot expect a copied system to fit neatly our purposes. We must give a long period of trial and improvement before the system we have adopted is anywhere near fit for purpose.
“However, there is a strong case for a closer look at the cost of government and for the public services long used to extravagance, waste and corruption to change for the better. I assure you that government is ever receptive to ideas which will improve governance and contribute to the country’s peace and stability,”.
But, beyond the president’s position on restructuring, a known advocate of restructuring and the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu had while delivering the Third Adada Lecture titled “Restructuring and the Nigerian Youth” at the University of Nigeria Nsukka insisted that time was fast running out for the country and as such the nation must quickly restructure or face the consequences.
At the event organized by the Association of Nsukka Professors, Ekweremadu said the continued resistance to restructuring was as a result of fear of the unknown, especially that of survival in the absence of free oil money. He however described this as ironical as, according to him, the same product was fast losing its value in global economy as many nations were already phasing out petrol and diesel-powered cars.
He said: “There is a gross misunderstanding of restructuring. There is the problem of political and ethno-sectional interests and sentiments. There is the fear of abuse of a decentralised police system. There is the fear of losing perceived advantages.
“Above all, there is the fear of survival under fiscal federalism. Some feel they are better off with free monies from Abuja, which could actually be pittances compared to what they could generate if they begin to access the bountiful wealth, such as solid minerals buried in their soils.
“Ironically, oil is fast going out of fashion. Many countries have found oil in large quantities, including those that used to patronise our oil.
“Importantly, it should worry us that many countries are already phasing out petrol and diesel engines. In July 2017, the United Kingdom announced plans to stop the production of petrol and gas-powered cars from 2040. As a champion of the efforts to preserve the earth, France has also unveiled plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Norway has what its former Minister of Climate and environment, Vidar Helgeson, called strong policy actions to ensure that zero fossil fuel cars is sold in the Nordic country by 2025.
“With the second highest concentration of electric cars in Europe, Netherlands is already targeting an emissions-free environment by 2030, which automatically rules out petrol and diesel-powered cars. In fact, it wants at least 200,000 electric cars on her roads by year 2020, which is only two years from now.
“The German Parliament, the Bundesrat, passed a resolution in 2016 seeking a ban on such engines starting from 2030. Although the resolution is not legally binding, Germany already had a policy to put at least 1million electric cars on her roads by year 2020. India plans to sell only electric cars by 2030, which is about the next 13 years.”
He noted that air pollution causes about 1.2 million deaths annually in the Asian country and cost the economy about 3% of GDP.
Denmark, Spain, South Korea, Ireland, Austria, and Japan, he noted were also in the race to phase-out petrol and diesel cars.
Ekweremadu urged the youth not to allow themselves to be divided on the subject of restructuring, but instead deploy their energies and social media skills to fight for their future by promoting a restructure of the country, which he said would promote good governance, employment opportunities, among others.
He said: “The youth should have a patriotic mind of their own to fix a broken federal system. The hardship, poverty, and retrogression, which our disjointed federal system imposes on Nigerians, have no tribal or regional marks. The man from Jigawa bears the brunt of the failures of the past 50 years just like his counterparts from Enugu, Oyo, Bayelsa, and Gombe.
According to him, unless Nigeria does something drastic and substantial to address its problems, the ensuing damage may be generational”.
The President General, Association of Nsukka Professors (ANP), Denchris Nnabuike Onah, said Nigeria was at a crossroads and standing on a precipice currently.
He said: “There is insurgency everywhere, crime rate has assumed frightening proportions and insecurity is pervasive. Pocket groups of various ethnic nationalities have metamorphosed, some armed, and others not armed or not so armed, clamouring for self-determination and/or resource control. Sections of the country were annexed and declared a Caliphate by a group and in other cases, war songs reached a crescendo, resulting in various dances of either the python or the crocodile.
“Divergent potential solutions to the Nigerian malady have been advanced by equally divergent persons and opinions: disintegration to the component ethnic nationalities, sovereign national conference, constitutional review, jettisoning of the military imposed constitution, return to parliamentary government, restructuring etc etc. Of these, none has been so recurrent, and perhaps more generally accepted, although interpreted differently by different people and sections, than restructuring.”
Also, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum as well as the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. John Nwodo, disagreed with the president’s stance on the restructuring of the country, saying that the only way to go is for the federal government to restructure the federation and devolve powers to the states.
In a statement signed by Yinka Odumakin for the South-west, Senator Bassey Henshaw for the South-south, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu for the South-east and Mr. Isuwa Dogo for the Middle Belt, the forum insisted that powers must be devolved to the states.
The group said: “We cannot become a productive country under a 1999 Constitution which keeps 68 items on the Exclusive List including mineral resources which abound all over the country but which the states whose governors are constitutionally vested with authority over land cannot touch.
“We need to give authority to the federating units over their resources for self-sustenance and paying all necessary dues to the federation to sustain common services. We must devolve more powers and authorities to them to have effective state administrations. The federal police has shown it lacks the capacity to deal with crimes in a multi-ethnic society like ours, the imperative of state police has never been more urgent than now.
“Restructuring means nothing else than the above. It is a call for the return to a Nigeria that worked under federalism as against the failing state we are becoming under a unitary structure. Nigerians must organise, mobilise and work towards building an inclusive andproductive country in 2018 using all democratic and peaceful means.
“It is a year to battle for the soul of the country by the forces of federalism and upholders of a suffocating unitary system.”
The forum said the president could not resolve Nigeria’s problems by either running away from it or ascribing it to the wrong source.
It said: “Unfortunately that is what we are doing as a country by playing down our crisis of ‘structure’ while on a wild goose chase about ‘process’.
“This is akin to a man going to Benin City while driving towards Benin Republic. The faster he runs the farther he is away from his destination.
“The truth of the matter is that our nationhood crisis has peaked and there are no further opportunities to guarantee opportunities for our citizens no matter the good intentions of leaders or even unrealistic promises packaged to offer them false hope.
“In 1983, when the Shehu Shagari administration was overthrown, its budget for a country of 80 million people was $25 billion. Thirty-five years after, the Buhari government has just proposed a $23 billion budget for about 180 million people! “The above clearly shows that there is no way out of our systemic crisis except we resume productivity which was our hallmark in the years that we practised federalism as an entity.
“We have exhausted all possibilities of a rentier and sharing economy and all that is left is unemployment, hunger, gnashing of teeth and conflicts among nationalities over shrinking opportunities,” the forum added.
On his part, the Ohanaeze President-General, Nwodo warned that the world’s demand for oil was receding and that it might even further decline substantially in the next seven years, with implications as the main stay of the nation’s economy.
“Unless we begin to develop alternative sources of revenue our country will cease to exist. The only way to avoid this is to release our potential by devolution of powers. Until the government is nearer to the people and the people take their destiny into their hands the country cannot progress. We never agreed to be a country where the federal government will be a united policeman for the whole country.
We are not running a federation, we are running a unitary government and we cannot escape this,” Nwodo said.
We are not running a federation, we are running a unitary government and we cannot escape this