Restructuring: Is Nigeria getting to a tipping point?
Obviously, the debates and calls for restructuring of Nigeria are nothing new; they have been sustained in different forms since independence.
Over the years, the calls have continued to grow amid economic stress, political uncertainty and recurrent violent conflicts across the country.
For many, who have sustained the calls, restructuring is necessary now because the present system of government in Nigeria has failed the whole country.
Ademola Orunbon, a public affairs analyst, believes regionalism or restructuring is the answer to Nigeria’s poor administrative system, which has always favoured a few, bred unproductivity, and most importantly, retarded the nation’s growth since independence.
“It has worked for us before, the only defect is that it promoted ethnic loyalty, but on the contrary, regionalism brought development to the country”, the public affairs analyst said.
Speaking further, Orunbon noted that during the short-lived regionalism, the regions were highly competitive, resulting in 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 practised during the First Republic should be worked on and Nigeria should be given an upgraded version,” he suggested.
Reviewing the booming economies built by the regional governments in the First Republic, Goodness Unegbu, a Political Science lecturer at Abia State University Uturu, noted that federalism has made political leaders lazy, as they all depend on allocations from the Federal Government, which comes with a price.
“It was in the First Republic that Nigeria was called ‘Giant of Africa’ because of its booming and self-sustained economy boosted by diverse sources of income; cocoa from the West, palm oil from the East and groundnut from the North. There was no oil then, yet the economy thrived,” Unegbu said.
According to the university lecturer, the issues of militancy in Niger Delta, Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, moribund refineries, dependence on Lagos seaports and concentration on business in one part of the country, among other indicators of lopsidedness and underdevelopment in the country, would have been solved if we had sustained regional government.
“If we had sustained regional government till date, Nigeria would have truly been the giant of Africa because of the fierce competition that would exist among the regions in effort to outshine others in all development indices,” Unegbu disclosed further.
Baring his mind on what must be restructured, Starman Ebiere, a maritime practitioner, noted that the system of running the economy must be restructured to give other parts of the country even opportunity to participate.
“I am from Niger Delta, but as a maritime person, I cannot carry out my business in any of the ports in Warri, Port Harcourt or Calabar. I think there is a conscious plan to suffocate other regions despite having deeper seas than Lagos. It is unfair and must change,” Ebiere lamented.
Considering the fact that oil price is falling and the economy is no longer sustainable with oil revenue, Ebiere noted that regionalism would force governments to think out of the box on how to raise revenue for the development of their regions, as well as, being better in handling their crisis or challenges than interventions from Abuja, which always come to divide the people.
On the other hand, Unegbu thinks that power should be decentralised, autonomy given to the regions to run their affairs, and revenue sharing formula restructured to allow the owners of natural resources to earn more from their God-given wealth.
The university lecturer noted that the constitution should be rewritten with input from all regions, and current employment structure, appointments and all forms of nepotism that have neglected the ‘Federal Character’ should be restructured. “We are not safe when a country’s security agencies are dominated by some tribes, other tribes should be evenly represented. If we have regional government, other regions will safeguard the lives of people from other regions because their own people will be at risk in other regions as well”, he said.
Agitators say that the current structure was no longer feasible, while blaming it for the nation’s woes.
At independence and during the First Republic, Nigeria had a regional structure and parliamentary system of government. The country was structured into regions; Southern, Eastern and Northern regions with each headed by a premier.
Observers say that the structure of the country started to change after the unification decree of 1967 by Aguiyi Ironsi, after he assumed power in the nation’s first military coup in 1966. The unification decree subsequently led to a gradual destroying of the federal structure of the country, moving the country to a unitary system.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, political leaders have consistently condemned the nation’s 1999 constitution and its structure, demanding a return to true federalism agreed by the nation’s founding father before independence in 1960.
“What we mean by restructuring is going back to the Independence constitution which our leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959. It was on that basis that the three regions agreed to go to Independence as one united country. So, it was a negotiated constitution.
“This is because, if the three regions were not able to agree, there would not have been one united independent Nigeria. But because the three regions at that time negotiated and agreed to package a constitution, that is why they agreed to go to Independence together.
“When the military came in 1966 and threw away the constitution, they threw away the negotiated agreement among the three regions, which was the foundation of a united Nigeria.
“So, the military did not only throw away the constitution but a political consensus negotiated and agreed by our leaders of the three regions in those days.
“When we say restructuring now, we are saying let us go back substantially to that constitution which gave considerable autonomy to the regions. For example, each region at that time collected its revenue and contributed the agreed “proportion to the centre. But when the military came, they turned it round and took everything to the centre. That could not have been accepted by Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe or Obafemi Awolowo,” Olu Falae, a foremost Yoruba leader said.
Successive administrations since 1999 have consistently waved the agitations aside. Despite being a key campaign promise of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari has dismissed the calls for the country to be restructured into regions, saying that the problem with Nigeria was with the way of doing things and not the structure.
But amidst renewed clamour for the restructuring of the country by some prominent individuals, socio-cultural groups including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Afenifere, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, after the nation’s 60th independence, Buhari again maintained that he cannot be stampeded into taking a decision that is not in the interest of the country.
Speaking through his media aide, Garba Shehu he said his administration would not succumb to threats and undue pressure over the matter.
According to him, “This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the Covid-19 health crisis.”
“Repeat, this administration will not take any decision against the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of health crisis”.
However, political analyst, Wunmi Bewaji said the current problems were a sign that the country could no longer stand and must be urgently restructured, while need for a dialogue on its current status had become inevitable.
According to him, “The way forward now is for us to discuss, restructure, let go back to regions; you cannot rule the people like a conquered territory. Nigeria is a republic; may be, Muhammadu Buhari has forgotten two things are outstanding in our name; the word federal and the word republic.
“The word federal means there are component units, they came together to form Nigeria in 1914.
Of course, we know, for example; we have Yoruba and Igbo land and they have their territories. Anybody can settle down in Lagos that does not mean Yoruba land is not Yoruba land, or Igbo land is not there if you can and settle there.
“We need to come back to the table, if the British can bring us to the table to talk how much we ourselves? It appears we can’t do that, or maybe we are afraid. And some people would say because they are at an advantage so at the moment they are not interested in talking. You can see that the country gradually is disintegrating under their noise”.
Restructuring, the last chance
Even by the time the Goodluck Jonathan administration accepted and began feeble steps to restructure, it was becoming too late. No administration has come in with restructuring agenda. The way it is now, even if President Buhari is pressured into starting restructuring, it would not gain traction when he would be leaving.
The next point is that restructuring means changing the existing structure. The question is, who is complaining, and who is in power? The present structure is gainful to some sections of Nigeria. If it is that section that is in power, how would anybody expect them to change the structure to the benefit of the other side?
If the south-east has only five states and is the only old province still with less than six states, who is angry, who should change it? If the east has fewest number of local councils, who is complaining?
Blame the south
The north controlled the country for most of the period that states were created, local councils were given as gifts to officers, when federalism was diluted to unitary (though they say that was why Aguiyi Isonsi was killed), and when appointments went to one side. Now, the south ruled for 14 years and did exactly nothing. Many have wondered why the north is still being blamed.
It has been said that it can never be the Army General that conquered a people that would repair their wounds; that once a General has viewed a people through the eye of a gun, he would always see them as target for shooting. This may be why many people do not expect any restructuring in Buhari’s time.
The issue is, restructuring may never come voluntarily. It may have to take threats of disintegration for those in power to shift their stand and go for the lesser of the two devils.
Restructuring will bring rapid development and harmonious existence when each unit will focus at home and give help to another zone.
For now, centralism seems to operate like communism where citizens gain more by doing less instead of like in capitalism where the more you work and innovate, the more you reap profit, and the more motivated the society would be.
The last chance for peaceful restructuring may be now because a trip round all of eastern Nigeria and most of south-south and south-west shows that many now cheer whatever will make Nigeria crash. When patriotism becomes a taboo, the end is near.
IGNATIUS CHUKWU (Port Harcourt), OBINNA EMELIKE and INIOBONG IWOK (Lagos)