Refocusing the Debate on Restructuring of Nigeria

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The recent Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Lecture offers a political economist and entrepreneur, Obiora Okonkwo, an opportunity to offer fresh perspectives on restructuring, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren

Venue: Princess Alexandra Auditorium, the 2,000-capacity hall at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The hall was chock-full to capacity, with 20 professors, senior academic/non-academic staff members and students in attendance.

And by the time the lecture, which lasted over one hour, was over, the Guest Lecturer, an entrepreneur and political economist, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, received a thundering standing ovation from the huge audience.

With a military-drum-rolling-voice, Dr. Okonkwo held his audience down with insightful analysis of the topic: “The Value of Diversity: Restructuring to Save Nigeria’’ throughout the lecture. And taking all-inclusive look at the unfolding socio-political and economic happenings in Nigeria, he submitted that until the country is restructured — in way that delivers the best services to the citizens, it will not make any evocative progress.

The holder of Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Political Economic blamed the nation’s woes on inability to manage its diversity, saying the Nigerian diversity is such a huge pool of talent waiting to be unleashed in an environment that recognises and rewards talent and know-how.

Apparently making reference to the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and others, he said in the past, some political parties promised restructuring and even had it in their manifesto stating that the ‘’fear of the unknown’’ forced them to drop them.

“We cannot continue to live in fear of the unknown. Even the leviathan can, and should, be confronted. Nigerians must henceforth demand, and hold those they elect, accountable for the progress made, or not made, towards restructuring the country in a way that delivers the best services to them’’, the chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stated.

“My fears however, is that if we fail to do this, we shall still operate a system where leadership is for the fittest and mightiest. If we allow that to remain, we would gradually walk back into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is brutish, nasty and short.’’

He added, “None of us want to bequeath such a country to our children. We look forward to handing over a country where, like Hegel said, citizens are happy even to sacrifice their lives for the state. This must be a state where their rights are respected and defended and where they fulfil their obligations because they have found love within the borders.’’

Attracting thundering-ovation from the active audience, Dr. Okonkwo added that failure to restructure will mean ‘’annihilation’’, saying not restructuring will be akin to pressing down a spring, explaining further that the spring will remain down so long as you stay down with it.
Hear his anecdote: “If you let your hands slip, it springs up with such a force that may even blind you. If we fail to restructure therefore, we may have inadvertently worked for the eclipse of Nigeria by the next millennium. Like they say, a stitch in time saves nine.’’

Rather than a curse – as argued by some political experts, he stated that the ‘’Nigerian diversity’’ is such a huge pool of talent waiting to be unleashed in an environment that recognises and rewards talent and know-how, further explaining that failure to do these fuel the call for restructuring behind, which is the veiled call for appreciation of talents and unbundling of the systems that operate to free Nigeria and make her grow.

Amidst huge fear by some political leaders in the northern part of the country that restructuring would break up the country, the Anambra State-born politician argued that when Nigerians call for restructuring, they are in essence telling themselves that they do not understand why their country is not developing at the speed at which others are developing.

He added: “The 1960s is not the 2018s. In the 60s, the number of Nigerians travelling abroad was limited to a privileged few. In fact, going abroad then was seen as a huge achievement. Today, Nigerians just hop into a plane and fly out to foreign lands. What they see when they travel challenge them to ask why their country is not catching up.
“They come back home to ask questions and get no answers. How would any one explain the fact that the Dubai we all know today was a desert in the 1980s? Yet, the Lagos which experienced developmental touch much earlier is nothing near it?

‘’How does anyone explain to Nigerians that the good things of life that they enjoy abroad are not yet possible in their country? How do you tell younger Nigerians that governmental systems elsewhere work but their own cant?’’

He further argued that until the country unbundle the governmental system and unleash the powers of its diversity on development, the nation might not really achieve its collective dreams, while it will continue to struggle until it agrees to unbundle the federation and allows the component units, whatever it is called, to tap into their local talents and endowments to grow.
He said the country should remain a third-world nation if it does not appreciate the value that its diversity adds to the development and growth.

As a businessman, the guest lecturer further agued that restructuring is a process of ‘’rejigging a failing enterprise to bring it back to profitability.’’

Stressing that restructuring had become a national appeal whose time has come, he advised Nigerians to ensure that it is made a major campaign issue in the 2019 election.

“In this regard, our advance toward the next general elections must take into cognisance the need to restructure our polity and make it work effectively for the people. This is where the people, me and you, who desire to live as members of this State, should begin to demand from their political leaders, strong commitment towards restructuring’’, he further submitted.

“This should now be the battle the people must undertake to create the sort of society that they desire. We must now demand that from our politicians as condition for being voted.”
Raising posers to guide those for and against restructuring, Dr. Oknokwo, like many other Nigerians, wants to know why the southeast for instance, has only five States, while the northwest has seven and all others have six each.

Worrying that a few people may all not be convinced about the import of his poser, he argued that in a representative democracy, it means a lot: five states for the south east translate to 15 Senators for the southeast. On the other hand, seven states for the northwest means 21 senators for the northwest, while other geopolitical zones have 18 each.
He stated, ‘’Is this the meaning of equity and balance? Do not forget that States are the basic units for sharing national revenue.’’

Going further a bit, Dr. Okonkwo added he was at a loss as to why of the 774 constitutionally approved local government areas in Nigeria, the southeast has a total of 95, while the northwest has 186 local government areas; the northeast has 113 while the south-south region has 125 and the south-west has 137 and the north-central region comes in with 112 local councils.

‘’Thus far, no one has explained to the southeast people why this sort of structure exists. Also, no one has been able to justify this reality. The pain of this situation comes home when one realizes that revenue allocation and development planning are often times, based on population’’, he explained.

‘’The simple explanation for the skewed revenue allocation that we currently have will be that the population is more in places where there are more local governments. It therefore means that if each local government in Nigeria were to get a primary school, the Southeast will get one that is not proportional to what the northwest zone gets.

‘’Yet, our constitution opens with the statement “we the people of Nigeria having agreed to… I ask, did the southeast agree to subjugate itself in this manner or some people agreed to subjugate it?’’

Bringing his argument home further, he said that in a recent recruitment exercise into the Nigeria Police Force, each local government in Nigeria was allowed only 10 recruits, saying the implication of this is that while Bayelsa State had only 90 recruits, Kano had 440 recruits.
His worry: ‘’If the numbers are pruned every year at 10 persons from each state, in nine years, Bayelsa State will have no person in the Police while Kano will still have some 350 persons. Why wouldn’t Kano have more candidates for consideration as IGP than Bayelsa? Do you see why we must restructure?’’

Speaking at the event, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Chukwuma Ozumba, saluted the insightful academic paper of the guest lecturer, saying the university had always intermarried social interactions with academics.

He thanked the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences for reminding them through the lecture series “the days of Profs Ikenna Nzimiro, Eteng, and Miriam Ikejiani-Clarke, when we used to abandon our lectures to go to listen to lectures delivered by outsiders here. At a point, they even brought Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.”

Represented by Vice Chancellor Administration, Prof Charles Igwe, he emphasised that in UNN they interface the town and gown to enhance everything about intellectualism.

The profile the guest lecturer shows that Okonkwo holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Political Science, with distinction, from the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Moscow.

He earned a Master of Science Degree in Economics, also with distinction, from the Russian Peoples Friendship University in Moscow. He made first class in economics from the Russian Peoples Friendship University in Moscow.

His thesis on The Role of Nigeria Civil Society in Transition to Civil Rule earned him his doctorate in 1999 and became a reference study at the Russian Academy of Science, Institute of World Economy and International Relations while his Master’s Degree thesis was on Corporate Strategic Planning and Methods. It was published in Moscow in 1994. He published Engaging the Nigerian Diaspora for National Development in New York, USA in 2005, with another work titled Turning the Nigerian Brain Drain into Brain Gain, which was published in Accra, Ghana in 2007. In 2013, he published yet another work titled Citizen Election and Expectation: The Role of Religious Groups in Politics.

An entrepreneur of repute, Okonkwo is the Chairman of The Dome Entertainment Center, Nigeria’s iconic entertainment and hospitality hub, among several other businesses in Nigeria and overseas with over 600 persons on his employ. He also sits on the board of several other blue chip companies. Okonkwo is widely travelled and honoured including the Knight of the Order of King Leopold, bestowed on him by the Kingdom of Belgium, Ugegbe Igbo, Dikeora Idemili and Inwele Ogidi Inwele amongst others.