Initially, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was unequivocally opposed to the country’s restructuring. â€ŽShola Oyeyipo wonders why the elder statesman has suddenly changed his mind
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in recent time appears to have become sympathetic to the call for Nigeria to be restructured. In the past, the former president was vehemently opposed to it. He even castigated those behind the agitation.
In August last year, Obasanjo, in an interview with Channels Television, said it was better to advocate for better management of the countryâ€™s resources. That instead of fighting for restructuring, people should concern themselves about inclusiveness and the restructuring of their minds.
He said: “I have spoken to six different people who talk about restructuring and the six of them gave me different points of view. The other day, some people came to me and what they were talking about didnâ€™t make sense.
â€œSo, what are we talking about? We have a country that God has endowed. The management of that endowment is what we have to work on. All hands must be on deck. Some of the people clamouring for restructuring are nostalgic about the countryâ€™s independence; thatâ€™s their restructuring and some of them are nostalgic about post-independence. Some of them are nostalgic about their tribes, and thatâ€™s their restructuring. I cannot be part of that.â€
But in January 2018, the man who did not want to be part of the agitation for restructuring suddenly became sympathetic to those making the call. Not yet a somersault though.
At the convocation lecture held in January, 2018, by the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), when he graduated among 14, 771 students, Obasanjo said it was wrong not to give listening ears to the calls for restructuring, noting that it will unify the country more as those who are crying will feel a sense of belonging.
â€œSome people have to lay it open. So, let us lay it open. And Iâ€™m happy this forum has laid it open,â€ Obasanjo was quoted to have said after the guest lecturer, Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, Eghosa Osaghae, spoke on a lecture titled: â€œRestructuring and True Federalism: Nigeria in Perspective.â€
Osaghae in his lecture had said:â€œFederalism is true when it is appropriate and able to serve purposes for which it is adopted and untrue when it is not able to do so.â€ Was the former president persuaded by the lecture? He did not say so but it may be inferred given the fact that he changed his position on the issue after listening to the lecture. If that is the case, it is not a bad idea.
However, there are those who think that he should have included the issue of restructuring in hs public statement in which he called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek a second term.
If Obasanjo’s call to Nigerians for a national coalition movement to rescue the country came with an assurance that the new leadership would address restructuring, he would have won over many restructuring enthusiasts.
Non inclusion of restructuring is a fundamental omission because some of the issues he raised will be better addressed if the country is restructured.
While Obasanjo’s allegations of “poor performance in government â€“ poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed â€“ if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality,” against Buhari are on point, they are issues that can resolved by devolution of powers as suggested by restructuring advocates.
To him, Nigeria is only constantly in motion but it’s not making any progress because the situation it is still where it was at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999.
Recalling how things were at the beginning of the fourth republic which he headed, he said: “The nation was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon. It was all a dark cloud politically, economically and socially. The price of oil at that time was nine dollars per barrel and we had a debt overhang of about $35 billion. Most people were confused with lack of direction in the country.”
According to him, most people are hopelessly groping in the dark as they saw no choice, neither in the left nor in the right.
He noted that Nigerians complained, murmured in anguish and anger.
What has really changed? Nigerians have remained in the darkness of poverty and underdevepment since the military altered the nation’s constitution.
The list of prominent Nigerians who have prescribed restructuring as a way out of all the ills afflicting the country is long and it is growing daily.
Former Secretary-General, Commonwealth of Nation, Chief. Emeka Anyaoku; Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; Professor of political economy and management expert, Prof Pat Utomi; South-south leaders, Chief Edwin Clark; Afenifere leaders, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Mr. Yinka Odumakin; National President, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo Jnr, the National Chairman, United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chikwas Okorie and several others have been persistent in their opinions that without restructuring, Nigeria cannot attain development.
Perhaps the reaction by Soyinka last year to then acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo’s statement that, â€œOur unity is not negotiable,” aptly depicted the mindset of those clamouring for restructuring in Nigeria.
Soyinka said: â€œDonâ€™t tell me that Nigeria, as it is, is non-negotiable. To me, thatâ€™s a fallacy. The claim that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable is a false statement. The right of the people to determine their future is what is non-negotiable. Negotiation involves ensuring that thereâ€™s no marginalisation. Negotiation involves ensuring that the major components of the country are not feeding on the centre.”
Obasanjo, like Buhari, detested the call fo restructuring. In fact, he once cautioned Nigerians about the ambiguities of the word restructuring and its negative implications.
But other leaders such as Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN have always stood up to Obasanjo on the subject matter.
Another die hard advocate of restructuring is Adebanjo who explained that restructuring Â meant a return to the 1960 and 1963 constitutions when Nigeria consisted of three regions that is; Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria and Western Nigeria, with each region largely populated and headed by the dominant tribes thus: Hausa Fulani in the North, the Igbos in the East and the Yorubas in the West.
By 1966, when the army struck, Nigeria still had a federal structure and the parliamentary system of government and there were Â certain features that made the regions very powerful. Devolution allowed each region to control its resources to a large extent. The North had groundnut, West had cocoa and East had palm produce. In the area of judiciary, regions had appellate courts distinct from the federal appellate courts. Such was the state of the nation when the military intervened.
But with military intervention, Nigeria had unitary system of government because of the command structure of the military. So, by 1979, when the military returned power to civilians, the constitution had altered the arrangement of devolution of powers.
There was an enthronement of presidential system of government, which gives too much powers to the president at the centre, puts so many activities on the exclusive list to the detriment of the people and creates a system that favours a section against others, discourages healthy competition and sectional devepment. That is what Nigeria has been grappling with.
An important aspect of restructuring is devolution of powers to the federating units by decongesting the exclusive legislative list, which will permit states to take on more responsibilities and reduce the burden on the federal government.
Â It will translate to a re-modification of political and economic arrangements in all the 36 states of the federation and it will impact more positively on the citizenry because it will unlock the latent potentials of the nationâ€™s ethnic minorities.
Immeasurable wealth capable of increasing the current $6trn Nigerian economy to $60trn, which had been caged Â by decades of hegemonic rule will change the Nigerian narratives.
So, when the ex-president called out Nigerians to collectively save themselves through constructive and positive engagement and collective action, Obasanjo, in the 15-page letter, should rather have suggested restructuring, which has been the most prescribed solution to the myriad of problems bedevling the country.
The position taken by Obasanjo when he said: “One choice left to take us out of Egypt to the promised land. And that is the coalition of the concerned and the willing â€“ ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement. Change that will give hope and future to all our youth and dignity and full participation to all our women.
“We need a Coalition for Nigeria (CN). Such a movement at this juncture needs not be a political party but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong. That movement must be a coalition for democracy, good governance, social and economic well-being and progress. Coalition to salvage and redeem our country. You can count me with such a movement,” could be seen as an anti-restructuring movement just aiming to use Nigerians to actualise another agenda to oust a sitting leader and not necessarily address the core of the problem.
That economy feeds on politics and because Nigeria’s politics is depressing, the economy is depressing is no news, but whoever attains power to fix things on the platform of current structural imbalance will not only inherit a haphazard system, he would achieve very little in terms of development
Obasanjo’s vision of putting Nigeria on a “Path of development and the trajectory of development in speed, quality and equality in the short- medium- and long-term for Nigeria on the basis of sustainability, stability, predictability, credibility, security, cooperation and prosperity with diminishing inequality. What is called for is love, commitment and interest in our country, not in self, friends and kinship alone but particularly love, compassion and interest in the poor, underprivileged and downtrodden,” should have been aligned to the clamour for a restructured nation because each section will grow at its own pace.
Since Obasanjo has never hidden his disapproval for restructuring, his new coalition, if it eventually sees the light of the day, will not advocate it. This will therefore offer Â Buhari a breather; he could cleverly move to the side of majority of Nigerians who want restructuring to get vote supports for the next election
If the two former military leaders will remain adamant – refusing to heed the multiple calls for “reconfiguration” of Nigeria as Soyinka puts it, their common enemy, former vice president during Obasanjo, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is promising to bring about a restructured Nigeria will no doubt get significant support from voters.