Restructuring: Going Around in Circles

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The renewed calls for the restructuring of the country offers no new solution to the governance challenges slowing Nigeria’s growth and development, writes Ojo Maduekwe

In an interview with ThisDay, lawyer Kayode Adeniji said, if you decided in 1999 to stop listening to Nigerian politicians, “you wouldn’t have missed anything.” He claims nothing has changed. “It is the same drama, the same issues of bloodshed, violence, incompetence, looting, political scheming, yet no outstanding personality and development.”

Take the conversations on restructuring for example. Election cycle after election cycle, Nigerians are inundated with headlines of “Prominent Nigerians call for restructuring”. Except for the sometimes change in personalities, the ideas are but the same; nothing new. It’s like we are living in a parallel universe. We may be in the year 2021, however, it feels like 1999.

At the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo lecture, “prominent Nigerians” including Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate; Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary-General; Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and Odia Ofeimum, public intellectual, dissected Nigeria’s current state of affairs and suggested solutions on how to move the country forward.
Started in 1993, the annual event features notable Nigerians whose views on national issues are supposed to be “robust and agenda-setting”. Except for some comments made by Mr. Soyinka, who was the lecture’s chairman, the solutions proffered by this year’s speakers on the theme ‘Whither Nigeria?’, was in no way robust or agenda-setting. Put differently, there was nothing that was said at the virtual conference that has not been said before.

Soyinka’s charge to state governors to deshackle themselves from their “centralist mindset” was indeed a breadth of fresh air. As he rightly put, it doesn’t matter how defective a contract the 1999 Constitution was, there’s still room for the governors to manoeuvre if they were genuinely interested in offering good governance to the masses. “Take in your hands any form of authority you can, if possible, constitute legal teams to advise you”, Soyinka said.

Also, except for the debate generated from comments made by some of the speaker’s, there was nothing new with the ideas that was put forward on the modalities that must be adopted in restructuring Nigeria. The suggestion by Anyaoku that the federal government and national assembly need to urgently initiate an “all-inclusive national dialogue” is an old one.

How many times will Nigeria have a national conference? There have been one too many diversionary dialogues over the years. Except for the 1958 London National Conference that birthed the Independence Constitution of 1960, the rest were used by subsequent governments to douse frayed nerves and steer the country away from the brink of war.

For instance, the Constitutional Assembly of 1989 was military dictator General Ibrahim Babangida’s way of keeping the country distracted from the happenings in his government. In the end, he placated Nigerians with the 1993 Constitution, conducted an election for national assembly members and state governors but retained his position as military head.
This pattern of giving a divided country an avenue to jaw-jaw rather than war-war, continued sometime in 1993 with the National Constitutional Conference; then the National Political Reform Conference of 2005 and the 2014 National Conference.

Agreed that we’ve had too many pointless conferences, relying on President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate one will be asking for the impossible. Buhari has never hidden his opposition to any idea that seeks to question Nigeria’s indivisibility. A dialogue on restructuring appears to the president that some sections of the country are out to balkanise Nigeria.

To expect a president who thinks that the sovereignty of a “mere geographical expression” (apologies to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo) is non-negotiable to call for a dialogue that questions that sovereignty, will be expecting fish to survive in the Sahara desert.

You can see that even the suggestion by Senator Shenu Sanni that the president could either choose to implement in full the report of the 2014 national conference, or some of it; donate the document to libraries, keep it in government shelves or shred and recycle it, and / or keep it in the national archives, saw Buhari choosing the last option.
In an interview sometime in June 2016, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, said that the Buhari government would not implement “an exercise that we thought was essentially diversionary and a sort of, maybe, a ‘job for the boys’”.

The president’s dismissal of one of the most representative conferences, the 2014 National Conference, as a waste deserving of the “so-called archives”, gives you a window into how he sees some of these efforts at national unity. Agreed that all of the previous conferences may have been diversionary and pointless, at least they brought a divided country back from the brink of war, by giving aggrieved ethnic groups an avenue to vent off steam.

It will be nearly, if not outright impossible, to ask a president that is known for his lopsided appointments and policies, and his averseness to criticism, to assemble a diverse and truly representative group of Nigerians to discuss the country’s future. Or should Nigerians rely on a national assembly whose principal officials they consider as a rubber stamp of the executive arm to initiate any idea that the executive is opposed to?
If Anyaoku knows that the current, as well the past national challenges bedevilling Nigeria, “cannot be effectively tackled under the present federal system of government,” he also should be aware that asking a president known for his divide and rule tactics to unite Nigerians, is like seeking for a solution from the same person that is the cause of your problem.

Nigerians will be going around in circles by expecting Buhari to restructure the country. It is a waste of time pandering to a president opposed to the idea of a national dialogue.
Anyaoku and other prominent Nigerians that want to see Nigeria permanently pulled back from the brink of war must provide the people with other workable options and actors.