Why we must restructure Nigeria

For the better part of the year 2017, one topic that has dominated the national discourse is the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria. Several groups have debated this very important matter at different fora but no consensus has been reached because most of the arguments have been motivated and signposted by primordial, self-enlightened interest. Unfortunately, if wisdom is not applied, these disparate and dangerous views might drag the nation to the precipice.  On October 1, 2017, during the 57th Anniversary of our Independence, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a dawn broadcast, added his powerful voice to the roiling national debate on restructuring. He was rather combative, tense and emotional. It was very obvious that our dear president was not on the same page with the advocates of restructuring. Not unexpectedly, after President Buhari’s speech, some presidential aides tried to amuse us by dismissing those clamoring for restructuring as jobless, favour-seekers.Before these hardline, scorched earth policy pushes us deeper into the miry depths, it is imperative to clear the dangerous cobwebs blurring our vision to national cohension and compromise.

 Advocates of restructuring are not jobless; they are not favour-seekers, they are clear-headed thinkers, patriotic and selfless citizens who want Nigeria to succeed and soar like the eagle. But success must be based on justice and fairness to all regardless of race or religion. The current “non-negotiable” mantra being imposed on everybody by some of our elected leaders is retrogressive, sectional and dictatorial. If we want peace to reign, then, there should be nothing under the sun that we cannot negotiate or debate. According to a popular singer, Peter Tosh, everyone is crying out for peace but no one is crying out for justice, without justice no nation can have peace; without peace, there will be no growth or success. Our country, Nigeria, is stagnant and stunted today because those who we entrusted with power and leadership are nepotic and parochial; comfortably wallowing in the murky waters of tribalism, partisanship and selective justice. Some northern governors forbid the selling or drinking of alcohol in their states yet they get the lion share from the VAT money accruable from the sale of alcohol in other states. This is sheer hypocrisy and greed. This is why restructuring has become a desideratum.

When we restructure and practice true federalism, each governor would be contented with the resources in his state. In a true federalism, no leader will appoint only his relations and cronies into highly sensitive and lucrative positions to the utter chagrin and disadvantages of other sections of the country. In a restructured Nigeria, there will be nothing like “Federal character”, “quota system”, “catchment area”, and “disadvantaged states” etc. These are clever ploys to manipulate the system to favour a particular section of the country. In a true federal government, each state will have its police, judiciary, resource control, education, salary model and financial independence, among others.  When we restructure, the central government will not be sending dancing pythons and smiling crocodiles to intimidate federating states. Contrary to the pretentious propaganda and backward mindsets of primitive purveyors of lies, restructuring is not about secession, balkanisation or disintegration. Restructuring will engender healthy and constructive competition among federating states; it will encourage creativity and promote rapid social development.  It is selfish and myopic of opponents of restructuring to think that they will lose their entrenched privileged positions in the new order.In the current political dispensation, state governors are treated like vasals of the President.  That is not true federalism; that is primitive feudalism. Restructuring will eliminate dependency and cronyism.

Restructuring will open up opportunities and new ideas. Each federating unit will be self-sufficient. We practiced the system between 1960 and 1965. And, if opponents of restructuring are arguing that all states cannot be equal, that is all the more reason why each state should be allowed to develop at its own pace and capability.  There is no need for the current unprofitable, exploitative uniformity. According to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who recently chaired the South-West conference on restructuring in Ibadan, “This country is too complicated, too large with so many tribes, traditions and cultures, to be governed under this present arrangement.  Our founding fathers realized these problems and this is the reason why they deliberately fashioned a constitution which allowed each section of the country to develop at its own rate.  That constitution was abolished by the military and they brought a constitution which concentrated powers on the centre”. This view was supported by a former Ondo State governor who argued that “True Federalism is desired in this country to put an end to agitation for tenures for the executive at the federal, state and local government levels.”

Also, a renown academic, Professor Godini G. Darah, observed that “Kano State that contributes nothing to the Federation Account has 44 councils and gets the largest share at all times.  But Bayelsa State that is a major oil-producer has only eight councils and receives the least among the states. Lagos State has about the same population as Kano State according to the national census, but Lagos has only 20 local government areas.  Most of the local councils were created by military fiat in the 1990s and the exercise like that of creation of states, was manipulated to favour the 19 states in the north of the country.  Thus the local government is another conduct through which Niger Delta wealth is siphoned to finance the administration of sections of the country that do not generate revenue for the country.”  Professor Darah added: “Nigeria is the only country in the world where the areas that are richest in oil and gas are also the poorest and most neglected by government”. In the peculiar, absurd brand of federalism we practice in Nigeria today, every move, every idea, every initiative of governors to lift their states out of doldrums and abject squalor must be sanctioned by the President.  That is not true federalism.  Such relationship does not promote self development. It is backward.  It stultifies growth and wealth creation.

The current variant of presidential system of government being practiced in Nigeria under the guise of “non-negotiable” unity is a clever device for sectional exploitation, thievery, corruption and flagrant promotion of feudalism. Before the January 1966 military coup, each region developed at its own pace.  We want Nigeria to be restructured so that each state will develop and grow at its own rate, think and carry out governance, using its own God-given resources for the welfare of its people.  Each state must be free to take care of its workers. The current embarrassing situation whereby states crawl, cap-in-hand, every month to collect allocation in Abuja is bizarre, unproductive, primitive and insulting.  Now, Abuja is doling out “bail-outs” to governors, which some of them will embezzle, anyway.  Let every state create its own wealth.  The current spirit of parasitism should be rebuked and done away with.  It should not be our portion to be permanent beggars in the midst of boundless resources and opportunities.   The current unitary government imposed on us the military under the guise of presidential federalism is a veritable tool for acrimony, suspicion, hatred, intolerance, tension and ethnic rivalry.  This is why every election to the position of President always brings fear and deadly fights – just to control the centre and the accruing huge patrimony.  As we can all see, 2019 is knocking on the door; and the vultures are already circling in the air.  There is so much violence and bloodshed in the land.

Only the timely restructuring of the country can put a halt to the current malady.  What the opponents of restructuring do not realize is that Nigeria has been under gradual restructuring since the NPC-led federal government under Prime Minister Balewa decided to create the Mid-Western Region in June 1963 because of political expediency.  From four regions, Nigeria was divided into 12 states in 1967, and gradually up to the current 36 states. Those opposed to restructuring today are merely reenacting the conservative absurdity of 1953 when Nigerians wanted freedom from colonial rule and vociferous section of the feudal north vehemently opposed the call for independence giving spurious reasons at the time; but sanity eventually prevailed and we got our independent in 1960.  If we fail to restructure the country now, we will only be postponing the inevitable.  We must restructure Nigeria in order to banish the hangover of reckless, unitary, chain-command mentality from the governance of our nation. Despite the fierce opposition from a section of the country to restructuring, it is heart-warming to note that a seasoned politician and influential voice from the north, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has insisted that power and resource should shift to states.  Atiku, a strong advocate of restructuring, made his views known at a two-day conference on “The north and the future of the Nigerian Feeration” organized by Arewa Research and Development Project.

Atiku, who was represented by Dr Awwalu Anwar, said: “My idea of restructuring is devolution of power to states with the resources.  The Federal Government should only be bothered about the economy while the states should be left to provide education, security and build roads. To me, if a state is given the responsibility of providing security, state police will better secure areas because they will be familiar with the nature and peculiarity of their security challenges.  In the whole of this, the north has nothing to fear because we have the land, we have the population and we have the resources. The north has nothing to fear because oil will soon become history.”  It is well.

  • Omotoso, a writer and journalist, is based in Ibadan, Oyo State.