Restructuring: Post 2019 Election

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

A unique quality of the 2019 general election was the voter behaviour of the South-west electorate. The behaviour was clearly against the run of the ‘tribalism’ (my brother right or wrong, son of the soil political culture) scarred history of pre and post-independence politics of Nigeria. From what we now know of the grand subversive manipulation of the election by the APC political consortium, the probability is that the ruling party must have fared worse in the South-west (as elsewhere) than the results announced by the INEC. The South-west repudiation of the APC is against the background in which the running mate on the APC presidential ticket is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and all the six states in the zone were under the governance control of the Party.

In the run up to the election, a tendentious meme making the rounds on preponderantly Yoruba social media platforms was that ‘Omo eni o sedi bebere, ka fi ileke si idi omo elomiran (no matter how ill-fitting the fashion item suits your child, you don’t gift it to another man’s child)-this was an exhortation to a tribal rally and solidarity in support of the APC Presidential ticket featuring a Yoruba son as running mate. In opposition to this appeal to crass tribalism is the analogous incentive to positive behaviour to the effect that ‘Bi egun eni ba jo daa daa ori a maa yani (if your masquerade excels in its dancing vocation, you are commensurately buoyed with pride). In the circumstance, the choice of the former as the appropriate rallying cry in support of Osinbajo is a left-handed salute to the relative failure of the office he pairs with his principal.

Many of the worthy Yoruba personages who endorsed this inherent tribalism did so in resignation to the Nigeria development futility syndrome-that the free fall of Nigeria is irredeemable anyway-so the realistic position to take is grab whatever you can before it all bottoms out. It is what I call the ‘Nigeria is not worth it’ politics. Make hay while the sun shines; everyone for himself, God for us all; turn by turn Nigeria limited; are the other cynical epithets characterizing this despair. More troubling is that it is this self-abnegation of passive collaboration with the degenerate status-quo that has become the new definition of Nigerian patriotism and nationalism-see no evil, hear no evil…..Orun n yaa bo, kii soro enikan (the apocalypse discernable on the horizon should be no one’s particular concern); If you cannot beat them, you join them. And those who dare call the charade by its proper name (and thereby give value to the investment Nigeria made on your educational and intellectual upbringing-by proffering rational and honest prognosis of Nigeria’s deteriorating health status) are reminded, in Orwellian ‘84 fashion, that Nigeria never had it better.

If there are moments that can be cited as an instance where the followership appears to be ahead of the political leadership, it is the voter behaviour presaged by the Osun State governorship election in 2018. Given the arsenal of political power and intimidation deployed by the APC including the almighty federal might (euphemism for turning the security agencies into the enforcement team of rigging) Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s incumbency, the Tinubu factor etc, the victory of the PDP candidate, Ademola Adeleke, in the governorship election was nothing short of remarkable. It was this Osun State antecedent that was generalized into a Pan Yoruba political behaviour in the 2019 elections. This general trend was nonetheless boosted by localized supplementary factors. Thus there was the element of payback time (of deep seated disappointment and resentment at Governors Aregbesola and Abiola Ajimobi of Osun and Oyo States) at play in the downturn of fortunes for the APC.

Yet, given the self-inflicted alienation of the PDP from the South West (symbolized in the denial of the Party chairmanship to the zone) reinforced by an inadvertent preclusion from the Atiku-Obi Presidential ticket, there is no gainsaying in the qualification of the regional behaviour pattern as unique-within the context of the cleavage ridden politics of Nigeria. Indeed, in terms of the general efforts expended by the PDP presidential campaign, the highest return on expectations was secured in the South West. (Recall that the PDP Presidential campaign did not even visit Ogun State)-Which brings us to the utility and recurrence of the overriding but needlessly wedge issue of our national existence-restructuring.

The 2019 election has demonstrated the capacity to generate consensus among the Yoruba and commensurately rewarded the PDP presidential candidate for his steadfast commitment to the policy. So much so that the ACF secretary general Anthony Sani attributed Atiku’s ‘poor’ performance in the far North to the position he took on the restructuring debate divide. ‘In the extant case, the forum was of the view that in spite of some shortcomings of the APC, the ruling party, it is still the best for the country in the circumstance; more so, that the main opposition party (PDP) made restructuring of the country and sale of the government assets its campaign mantra. This is against the fact that this country has undergone different kinds of restructuring, such as political, economic and geographical; and any further restructuring may be unhelpful’ said Sani.

Not long after Sani’s restatement and posturing on the position of the ACF, the Afenifere renewal group, ARG, and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State responded with a counterpoint. Aligning himself with the prioritisation of the restructuring agenda by his ARG guests, Fayemi rightly underscored the problematic nature of building a national consensus on the agenda. The governor was reported as saying ‘the Yoruba race needs to be more tactical if it is indeed desirous of actualizing its desired restructuring . “There are those who entertained fear on this issue of restructuring and whether this is legitimate or not, we must reach out to them because we are not an island onto ourselves. “We don’t need to be shouting on the roof tops before we get it, but if we want to do it alone, the agitation will fall,’’

I doubt Fayemi actually used the words ‘Yoruba race’. Given his intellectual profile I find it difficult to believe he will indulge in such loose and pandering language. As a matter of fact he would be answerable to his own admonition of the need to bridge the communication gap in the campaign for restructuring. Personally I have accepted the burden of tireless explanation, expatiation and clarification in my outreach on restructuring. When you are propagating the policy to those who can be persuaded on the merit of your proposal, you do yourself no favours with the employment of emotive and isolationist language of exclusion such as Yoruba race. For that matter I have not come across any definition of a race that qualifies the Yoruba to that identification.

To reiterate and clarify once again-Restructuring merely refers to the restoration of the foundational federalist framework of Nigeria’s independence constitution. It is the correction of the abnormality of restructuring Nigeria from four regions into 36 states. Therefore, any opposition to restructuring must begin with opposition to this original sin of those who took us to the present configuration without our consent and approval. Whereas the establishment of the four regions of the first republic was predicated on the consent of Nigerians, the subsequent distortion into 36 states is an imposition of fanciful and whimsical military dictatorship. Normalisation of Nigerian politics requires a wholesale repair of the damage wrought by this accident.

A recent testimony as to the rationale by the initiator of the assault on Nigeria’s constitutional structure, General Yakubu Gowon, is instructive. He said the North was originally opposed to the creation of states (which amounted to a break-up of the regions) in 1967 and he had to cajole the support of the region by marketing the policy as one that will result in the appropriation of more national resources to its coffers; that more states means more money. More or less, this sharing of booty philosophy remained the basis for the subsequent balkanization of the regions by the military dictator successors of Gowon. This is the wherewithal of the unviable feeding bottle 36 states comprising Nigeria today. It is with a mind to preclude this kind of dysfunction that the creation of states was made a constitutional obstacle race-to ensure it satisfies the conditions for semi-autonomous self-reliant capability.

The argument that keeps recurring is that Nigeria can somehow chart a way forward regardless of the prescription of the restoration of federalism (restructuring). This argument begs the question-what then was the rationale behind its adoption as the central plank of the independence constitution? Why is it difficult to see a correlation between the socio-economic degeneration of Nigeria and the extent of its deviation from federalism? What other constitutional prescription do we have that has the potential to compel the re-socialisation and reorientation of Nigerians away from the prevailing social and moral bankruptcy? There is even the irony that the most assured path towards the official sing song of economic restructuring is constitutional restructuring. Both are governed by the principle of comparative advantage, division of labour and complementarity. Thus you had the regions of the first republic specializing in their distinct areas of economic comparative advantage.

The good and bad news on restructuring is that you require the cooperation and consent of those who are presently opposed to it to get it done. The good news is that its realisation compels consensus building and mutual goodwill among Nigerians. The bad news is that the opponents can hold Nigeria to ransom because you require more than a simple majority of Nigerians to effect a constitutional change. A denial of the constitutionally prescribed support of two thirds majority of parliamentarians in the national assembly is all that is required to kill it-not to talk of the concurrence of two thirds of 36 states. In the final analysis, let it be known that restoration of federalism in Nigeria (aka restructuring) is inevitable. It is a matter of how and when not if. We can do it proactively as proponents have urged for years on end or we can wait till it is imposed on us by political implosion or comprehensive economic collapse.