BusinessDay

Why regionalism/restructuring Nigeria is vital

Regionalism has come back to prominence, as the political, economic, cultural and social meaning of space is changing in contemporary Europe. In some ways, politics, economics and public policies are de-territorialising; but at the same time and in other ways, there is re-territorialisation of economic, political and government activity. The “new regionalism” is the product of this decomposition and recomposition of the territorial framework of public life, consequent on changes in the states, the market and the international context. Functional needs, institutional restructuring and political mobilisation all play a role. Regionalism must now be placed in the context of the international market and the European Union, as well as the nation-state.

Since the inception of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, there have been calls for restructuring. This current system being practiced in Nigeria has failed the whole country. The whole country is on fire. What is the way out? Regionalism or restructuring is the answer. It has worked for us before but the only defect is that it promoted ethnic loyalty but on the contrary, regionalism brought development into the country. The three regions were highly competitive and this brought about rapid development.

The West till today enjoys the legacy regionalism gave the country. Majority of the residents of the West are highly educated which has and is still bringing unprecedented growth. The flairs of the type of regionalism practiced during the 1st republic should be worked on and Nigeria should be given an upgraded version.

This current system of governance in practice only makes the politicians lazy. Most of the states are in financial trouble because of the failure of past and successive governments to prepare for the worst. With an improved regional system, the problem of laziness would be curbed to a large extent. It was under regionalism that Nigeria was a pride to Africa. Do not also forget that when Nigeria was practicing regionalism, there was no oil yet discovered. Now that we are in a world whereby oil is falling; regionalism is the answer to Nigeria’s wake up call.

More so, restructuring is a song also on the lips of many Nigerians. It has trended for decades and seems to be an inter-generational topical issue in Nigeria. The persistent call for restructuring takes numerous dimensions, but particularly outstanding is in the dimension of politics. It is no surprise though, because the philosophy behind the existence of every state and the control of its resources bothers on politics. Therefore, when there is a damaged cog in the wheel of the politics of the state, it becomes imperative to politically restructure the state.

Nigeria as a sovereign state is one that has numerous ethno-tribal groups as matched with its vast territory, large population and enormous land mass. Each of the locales within the Nigerian territory is endowed with either one mineral, vegetative or other natural resources and/or a correspondence of resident human resources (population). In view of this, any knowledgeable administrative analyst would suggest the adoption of the federalist political structure, so as to ensure efficient administration of both the vast territories of Nigeria and its ethno-tribal heterogeneous population.

This is what has been administratively put in place as a political mechanism for governance within the Nigerian polity. The current Nigerian political structure which has its roots in the 1946 Sir, Arthur Richard’s constitution of Nigeria, right from its inception till now has shown symptoms of administratively sick system of government resulting from such issues as the issue of resources control, outcry of marginalisation, issue of ethno-tribal and regional discrimination, and issue of ensuring that every citizen irrespective of age, sex, religion, ethnic, linguistic, regional or tribal affiliation is given a sense of belonging to the country.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and the most populous black nation on earth. Yet, regional economic inequality and the lop-sidedness of Nigeria’s political system have led to a series of protracted conflicts. The country is currently embroiled in crises similar to the tumultuous time after independence in 1960, when regional and ethnic tensions erupted in a vicious power struggle.

Back then, following a coup against the northern-led government in January 1966, thousands of Igbos living in the northern region were forced to flee to their homeland following the outbreak ethnic clashes. In 1967, Odumegwu Ojukwu, an Igbo military officer, proclaimed the independence of Republic of Biafra, leading to Nigeria’s first bloody civil war, which ended in 1970. Over forty years later, desires for a breakaway still linger. Both the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) aim to restore the state of Biafra and challenge Nigeria’s current political structure.

Despite being a federal republic, Nigeria has a unitary constitutional arrangement in which the federal government wields overarching powers. Like the United States of America, Nigeria is structured as a federation with 36 states, one federal territory, and 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs), including Abuja. However, unlike the United States, the central government controls the revenues and nearly all of the country’s resources, especially oil and natural gas. Revenues accrue in the Federation Account, where it is allocated monthly to the states and the LGAs, by a federal executive body, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

The political structure has not always been this way. Prior to the creation of the present-day state of affairs in 1967, Nigeria had four regions under the 1963 constitution, namely Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Mid-Western Nigeria. Without federal government allocation or revenue from oil, export crops were central to shaping the economy of the four regions, and served as the country’s main source of foreign currency. Political federalism reduced the power of the central government.

Thus, national debate and calls for restructuring are nothing new, but they continue to grow amid economic stress, political uncertainty and recurrent violent conflicts across the country. Especially, ahead of the February 2019 elections, the push for restructuring of Nigeria’s political system is gaining momentum. Groups from the south, which have long championed the call for restructuring in defence of regional economic development, are particularly vocal in their demands for upending the current centralisation of political power.

One of the leading voices challenging the current political structure is current-president Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 election Pastor Tunde Bakare. Bakare emphasised that the time has come for decentralisation to improve regional capabilities and increase local abilities to generate revenues. Currently, Nigeria’s centralisation of political power distorts its political economy by encouraging redistribution instead of productivity. By themselves, most of the constituent parts of the country are not economically viable: Nearly 70 per cent of Nigeria’s state revenue comes from an oil-rich region about the size of Ireland.

While there is broad and general support for a new constitution in the south and the middle-belt, the north has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Fear that change would lead to political domination and economic collapse in the region has resulted in heightened tensions across the country. While the existing constitution is unpopular, especially in the south, rewriting it will not be an easy undertaking. What a new constitution might entail remains controversial and contested.

Yet, restructuring, in the form of political decentralisation and a differential economic model, is necessary, if not sufficient, for solving some of the country’s most vexing problems. To create a more economically viable and politically functional country, Nigeria needs to overhaul its political system. While such changes might, in the short term, trigger upheaval, upset entrenched power arrangements, and exacerbate existing tensions, in the long-term, political restructuring would be beneficial for both north and south. As former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida stated in 2017, Nigeria’s future is inextricably linked to restructuring its political system. However, political restructuring will only succeed if pursued in a democratically legitimated, participatory and coordinated manner.

The issue of restructuring Nigeria political structure is a topical issue that trends on the front page of the paper of every Nigerians or elite in Nigeria. No matter how one wants to elude it, this issue needs a quality look and an addressing touch. Therefore, all Nigerians and our leaders should stop playing the ostrich on the issue of restructuring the Nigeria political structure. A joint effort towards restructuring the Nigerian federalism will make Nigeria a better country where needless tensions and conflicts are minimal and where the sub-national governments are not reduced to mere appendages. So, urgent steps need to be taken so as to change the status quo to one that will work despite the multifarious ethnic-regional nationalities in the country.

Ademola Orunbon

Orunbon, a journalist and public affairs analyst, wrote from Federal Housing Estate, Olomore, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

He can be reached via: orunbonibrahimademola@gmail.com or 08034493944 and 08029301122

 

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