A Reintroduction to Restructuring 

By Akin Osuntokun 

There aren’t many subject-matters as extensively and persistently discussed as federalism. As a matter of fact, ‘in its original form, the federal idea was theopolitical, defining the relationship between God and man as one in which both were linked by covenant in a partnership designed to make them jointly responsible for the world’s welfare’. Properly understood and in the context of contemporary Nigeria, the restructuring we labour to define, is, in the first instance, the constitutional restoration of federalism, exclusive of geophysical alterations. The latter is not generalisable and can only be speculative at this stage. Who will determine the legitimate representation of proposed mergers and recreations? This problem hacks back to the  fundamental problematic of the Nigerian federation. As in the classic instance of the original thirteen states pooling together to foster the American federation, Nigeria was not formed by Nigerians coming together to form a federation. ‘Nigeria presents an almost classic case of the establishment of a state prior to the existence of a real nation’. According to Richard Sklar, the Federation of Nigeria is one of the few federal governments in history to have evolved from colonial unitary foundations. 

As a generic terminology, restructuring means the restructuring/redistribution of power relations between the two tiers of government namely the national and the coordinate subnational units and implies the abrogation of an autonomous third tier of government. These powers fall in three categories namely exclusive, concurrent and residual. The first category is exclusive to the federal government ie foreign affairs, military, currency etc. The concurrent category refers to those powers that can be concurrently undertaken by the national and the subnational governments, i.e. education, agriculture, communications, etc. Those that are not listed in either category constitute the residual powers and revert solely to the sub-national government. Since 1966, with the facility of military dictatorship, most of these powers have been centralised and are reflected as such in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions and landed us with the prevailing quasi unitary constitution.

Haven championed the cause of the constitutional restoration of federalism before he became the President of Nigeria, there is the renewed expectation that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be readily disposed towards giving effect to the realisation of this expectation. There is also the compelling backdrop of the anarchical security breakdown of Nigeria with which extant security architecture has woefully failed to grapple with. Doubts on his commitment to this restoration began to surface in the course of his Presidential campaign when in deference to the realpolitik of winning the status quo bound Northern Muslim constituency, he had to distance himself from the imperative of constitutional reforms.

The more categorical evidence of his latter stance was the recent instruction to his attorney general, Lateef Fagbemi, to seek the enforcement of local government autonomy as the third tier of government at the Supreme court. 

Instructively and ironically, this was a complete departure from the position he took as the Governor of Lagos over twenty years ago. The abiding rumour is that the fastest way to earn the status of a persona non grata at the Presidential villa these days is to find virtue with federalism. Given the associated pomp and pageantry and the near sovereign powers of the President in the extant Nigerian constitution it is difficult for any non sacrificial Nigerian President not to default on the side of preserving the attendant massive perks and perquisites during his incumbency. 

The bad news is that any proposal for restructuring without the active buy-in of the incumbent President is dead on arrival. The proponents of this constitutional reform are also not helping matters with their deficient advocacy. They give the impression that so-called restructuring is less about the redistribution of powers between the first and second tiers of government and more about inter regional boundary demarcation. In the context of the restoration of federalism, as earlier reiterated, what restructuring means is first and foremost, the restructuring of power relations between the first and second tier of government. If a constitutional amendment towards the devolution and decentralisation of powers were to take place today it can only be effected within the extant structure of the national and the thirty six subnational governments. 

As it is widely known, the constitutional procedure of creating regions or states is through referendum not external proclamation or military diktat. The 1963 prototype constitution, for instance, can only be restored in spirit, not in letters. We can not physically recreate the 1963 constitutional structure. Over the years, these powers have been redistributed  in a trend of increasing centralisation and are heavily skewed against the sub-national governments. A reversal of this trend is the goal of restructuring and geographical restructuring cannot be undertaken pari passu. It can only follow with the conduct of a referendum between/ among the states desirous of merger and recreation. 

The tendency ab initio of placing emphasis on geographical restructuring, therefore, amounts to putting the cart before the horse and plays into the hands of those reducing restructuring to a redrawing of the geophysical map of Nigeria. There is a constitutional provision through which this can be accomplished. Assuming the six states comprising the South West geopolitical zone are desirous of merger. The procedure is that a referendum, first, has to be conducted within the zone to ascertain their support for the merger. This must then be ratified by the 2/3rd concurrence of the rest of the country. You cannot slice and dice the country as it was the case under military dictatorship within which syndrome many of us are still mentally steeped. This mentality is understandable given that for the better part of the amalgamation of Nigeria, the country has been answerable to one dictatorship or another. Be it the dictatorship of colonial rule or that of the Nigerian military. 

“We agree with Jide Osuntokun that “whilst the factors of history and geography more than anything else determined the constitutional evolution of Nigeria, these factors did not determine the shape and form of the Federation that the British helped to create in Nigeria”. What then are the factors that determined the shape and form of the Nigerian federation? 

Federalism as Tragedy 

Much of the argument and debate on the “Restructuring of Nigeria” has followed from the confusion, arbitrariness and illogic attendant on the emergence of Nigeria as a country. Other than the concern with the bureaucratic administration of a large expanse of an African territory, a war booty, that accrued to the British from the Berlin conference, the British colonialists had no vision or template whatsoever for the sociopolitical development of Nigeria.  What had happened to Nigeria in the interim is what is largely understood in the Internet age as ‘cut and paste’. Following this irrationality, (the mistake of 1914) discussions on the constitutional development of Nigeria has had little to do with reason or rhythm. I have forgotten the Latin expression but the English translation is that you cannot build something on nothing. Thereby, the originating tragedy of Nigeria is that those who conceived Nigeria and brought Nigeria into being knew that it was an ill conceived child. 

Over the years, the tendency in the debate over the restoration of federalism is the adversarial communication between those in support and those opposed in a situation in which the ayes need the collaboration of the nays to realise the objective. This adversity is integral to the foundational amalgamation of Nigeria where Frederick Lugard adopted one half of the country as its protégé while his relationship with the other half was governed by malice and exploitation 

This was how Lugard described the Southern genetic in the Nigerian baby they had given birth to in a letter to his wife on 9 December, 1916: “These people here are seditious and rotten to the core… the people of Lagos are the lowest, the most seditious and disloyal, the most prompted by pure self-seeking money motives of any people I have met.” Lugard would further characterize Nigeria as a marriage between the “rich wife of substance and means” (the South) and the “poor husband” (the North) would lead to a happy life for both. Subsequently, this fundamental bias was the answer towards which the constitutional development of Nigeria was dedicated

Consistent with this ideology, ‘the final date of independence was fixed not only to accommodate the Northern Region in respect of its own date of self-government in 1959 but also to enable the leaders to agree to certain provisions in the Constitution whereby the Northern Region has been assured of a predominating voice in the Federal Government…Accordingly, the Northern Representatives in the Federal House of Representatives are in a numerical majority (174 out of 313 ). The constitution safeguards adequately this numerical superiority since a constitutional amendment to alter the regional boundaries or to create new states would require the virtual consent of the whole country and in particular the people most intimately affected. In other words, the constitution cannot be changed to the disadvantage of the North without its consent”. The late distinguished international legal scholar and first attorney general of Nigeria, Dr Taslim Olawale Elias made the point on the floor of the Nigerian house of representatives in 1962-“I think I would remind you that the only region, perhaps in practice not in theory, it may be difficult for the house to secure a two thirds majority to deal with is the Northern region”

‘The creation of the Midwest region in 1963, while giving satisfaction to ethnic-minority aspirations in the old Western region, intensified the overall imbalance in the structure of the Federation”. Were the Northern Christian minorities to have been carved out of the Northern region; the Eastern minorities extracted from the Eastern Region and the Yoruba minorities that preponderantly populate Kwara and Kogi restored to the Western region, the cause of parity would have been better served. In the event, the Northern and Eastern regions collaborated to weaken the Western region. “This imbalance played a large role in bringing about the collapse of the First Republic and the imposition of military rule in January 1966” 

Ideally, Nigeria shouldn’t have been a country to begin with but if it must, the irreducible minimum is a robust federalism. It is with particular regards to instances like Nigeria that Federalism is construed as ‘tragedy’. ‘Identifying Federalism as tragedy is intended to make the point that it is a response mechanism to political conflict not an optimal strategy. It is a suboptimal compromise in the effort to defuse real and potential situations of conflict and ensure that such situations degenerate into less attractive possibilities’¹ 

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