One of the most contentious issues in the nation’s political history, restructuring, came to the fore again early this week, when eminent Nigerians from all divides converged on Lagos to deliberate on the issue subject ahead of the 2019 general elections, WALE ELEGBEDE reports
There is no doubt that the call for restructuring of Nigeria is as old as the country itself, but the agitation for it has lately dominated the political space. Like other contentious issues, restructuring has suffered from definition deficiency as it has no consensus definition, hence, different people define it differently to sooth their point of view. But, across board, advocates of the concept unanimously believe that it is time the country is restructured though they appear to be different on the approach it should take.
For advocates of restructuring, Nigeria is likely to disintegrate if urgent steps are not taken to address pertinent questions of autonomy for the states; fiscal federalism to pave the way for resource control by the states; equality of states and local governments among the six geo-political zones; state police, among other issues enshrined in the thematic discourse of restructuring.
The apostles of the concept averred further that the present federal system in operation is a disaster as it has only succeeded in creating a powerful Federal Government at the expense of the states and local governments. Others have queried whether Nigeria should continue to operate the presidential system of government, a full-time legislature, among others, in the face dwindling resources.
It was argued that the manner at which the executive and legislative arms of government take a large chunk of the nation’s budget is ridiculous. The high cost of governance at the various levels – federal, states and local councils – it was noted, is partly responsible for the country’s stunted development despite abundant human and natural resources.
The argument is that after deduction of running cost by the various levels of government, little or nothing is left for capital projects even as there are so many ministries and agencies of government with functions, most times duplicates.
There is another political school that advocates a return to regionalism as the present 36-state structure is no longer sustainable. Advocates of regionalism are of the view that the proliferation of states had continued to impede the country’s progress.
Reference was made to India with a population of about 1.2 billion people, but has only 28 states, while Nigeria with a population of about 170 million has 36 states that are mostly unviable as evident from their inability to even pay salaries of workers. Despite this, some individuals and groups are still demanding for new states.
Some, however, seem genuine given that they are inspired by the same concerns that preceded state creations in the past – minority fears, inequality and skewed development, demand for others are just to carve empires for their advocates.
There are also calls for a re-tooling of the Nigerian federalism by tinkering with items on the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative lists as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The argument over this, is that the powers of the Federal Government should be whittled down as it seems that it is the only government in place with the 65 items it has powers on in the Exclusive Legislative List.
The argument of some stakeholders in this regard, is that the unitary constitution/system of government presently in place under the guise of a federal system has failed to solve the country’s numerous problems, and therefore, the need for restructuring cannot be more urgent than now that the country is faced with agitations for self-determination as well as its unity under threat.
Some successive administrations prior tried to bring Nigerians together to discuss on national issues, but such talks failed to meet the peoples’ expectations and as a result, their reports/ recommendations ended up in the archives. Such discourse includes the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference (CC) by the regime of late General Sani Abacha and the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), convoked by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But the 2014 National Conference convoked by the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came up with several recommendations to restructure the country and put it on the path to greatness. Areas addressed included power-sharing formula between the federal and state governments as the latter have turned to mere appendages of the centre instead of component units. Interestingly, there is, however, a political school, which believes that the call for restructuring is ill-motivated. Members of the political school, who are mostly from the northern part of the country, predicated their position on the fear of disintegration.
Perhaps, setting fresh agenda for the various political gladiators that want to preside over the country in the next four years or thereabout on the reconfiguration of the nation, prominent Nigerians, including the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Major General Ike Nwachukwu; a leader of pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; President General of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo and a former Chairman of Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Prof. Anya O. Anya, among others, converged at the Muson Centre, Lagos,on Monday and unanimously agreed that restructuring is the panacea for the nation’s ailing socio-economic state.
For all these eminent Nigerians and others present at the parley tagged “Handshake Across The Niger,” with the theme: “Nigeria beyond Oil,” there is the need to move every part of the country forward regardless of zone or religion. Others, who also threw their support for reconfiguration of the country at the event, were Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo- Dosumu as well as presidential candidates of Young Progressives Party (YPP), Kowa Party and Youth Democratic Party (YDP), namely; Mr. Kingsley Moghalu, Mr Sina Adegbenro and Mr Victor Okhai. In his speech, titled: “Handshake Across History,” Soyinka noted that the high level of insecurity in the country as well as disregard for the rule of law, among others, asserted that the country needed to be reconfigured.
He maintained that for a country blessed with abundant natural resources to realise its full potentials, states must be allowed to have maximum control of their resources. According to him, doing this will allow them to set their priorities as to whether it would be on rice, an agricultural produce or religion even as he contended that the effects of playing religious card by the country’s leader were grievous.
His words: “Those who claim ignorance of what people mean by restructuring should either immerse themselves in those findings or recuse themselves from the debate since they clearly have no interest in it, only an interest in maintaining the status quo, whatever that is. I was part of what was perhaps the longest sustained exercise in that search – PRONACO.
Participants in that conference were threatened with arrest and trial for treason by the then government. “The Police even had the temerity to issue a statement forbidding a gathering of people to make propositions, in full conscience, and in full democratic freedom for the future of this nation. Some of us came into the exercise on the very account of that undemocratic threat – we dared the then government to make good its threat. We remained with it for nearly two years. A compendium emerged a Draft Constitution.
“ Charging Nigerians to mobilise themselves in order to transform governance in the country, the Nobel Laureate said that it was time to do so collectively as they could not do it individually. “And so, to the electorate: these past years, you have watched erstwhile political contraptions re-invent themselves, again and again, only to implode and disintegrate, sink into deep contradictions. I merely state the obvious, I am no undertaker to walking corpses. For that handshake, stretch your hands across partisan lines but – do not restrict yourselves to the behemoths that have so far dominated the scene. There are new faces, new energies in the neighbourhood – take a good look! Study the terrain and walk off the beaten track.
“The ball has been kicked back to the people’s court. You have a responsibility – if you believe in the necessity to withhold your votes from those who say ‘No’ to re-configuring. It is a duty to yourselves and to posterity. But, considering all that has gone before, and threatens to kill the future of this nation, you have a responsibility to go further and say, ‘Enough’ of unchangeable casts of mind whose possessors only re-cycle themselves either directly or by surrogation. “It is time to disarm the entire political scene and re-arm the visionaries.
The nation needs new players, new minds. It is time that a united opposition seizes the bull by the horns and make a determined effort towards total transformation,” he said. Chief Adebanjo, who insisted that restructuring was the best for the country to realise its full potentials, asserted that there was nothing confusing about it as being made to believe in some quarters. The Afenifere chieftain, who went down memory lane to the 1954 Constitutional Conference attended by the country’s founding fathers, including the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, stated that it was based on its outcome that regions were allowed to run and take possession of resources in their areas under a true federal system.
He said this was responsible for the developmental strides recorded in the then Western Region and why Awolowo was able to implement the free education programme without borrowing a penny. He said: “Chief Awolowo had a free education because the resources were in the region. Don’t let anybody confuse you, if the president cannot understand restructuring because of his educational deficiency, it is going back to what we practised before 1966.” Also speaking, General Nwachukwu, who was the chairman of the event, averred that the timing of the parley was auspicious, given the many challenges confronting the country.
He said: “As Nigerians zero into the 2019 general elections to elect our political leaders and representatives for the next dispensation, the preservation of Nigeria’s unity in diversity, cultures, different linguistics and religious faiths and sects, and its sovereignty, to my mind, should be paramount. “People might differ in their understanding, conditions and methodologies of achieving this, but the corporate existence of Nigeria as a nation and its survival is work in progress.
“I dare say, contrary to the general belief, that no state in Nigeria is unviable. In fact, none is without human and mineral resources nor is any bereft of land. Therefore, there isn’t any state without the basic requirements for economic and human capital development. “Some states may have more of such resources than others just as it is in the international community.
However, successful nations have used their abilities, through the right political and economic policies, to make themselves wealthy and powerful. “They are now referenced points to others which failed to harness their resources and develop them for the common good of their people. Should we return Nigeria to a proper federal constitution that allows the federating units to use their resources unabated, it would be amazing to see the boom in human capacity development, economic and scientific transformations that Nigerians will witness in the shortest possible time. What is lacking and holding us down, therefore, is the freedom to develop those basic requirements to achieve phenomenal growth and development.” Nwodo, in his submission, argued that the restructuring being demanded must be one that would give sovereignty to states on education, health, mineral resources, among others.”Our model of sharing must go for a growth model, we must transfer more responsibilities and powers to states,” he said. On her part, Dr. Awolowo- Dosunmu, who is former Nigeria’s ambassador to The Netherlands, said that the leadership that modern day Nigeria requires is one that understands and appreciates the problems and challenges of a future of the country beyond oil as global demand for fossil fuel continues to drop. She added that there was no way the kind of development that was expected could be realised under the current system.
The country, according to her, would have to devolve powers to allow the states to have control over their resources the way they wanted it. “What we are talking about clearly is the future of our children, and our grand children and great grand children. In our usual manner, we pray that it will be better for our children than it has been for us. “We have been told here today that the future without oil is likely to be fraught with all sorts of difficulties if we don’t start planning now. We have been told that only the countries that developed their human capital do well economically. And we have been told that the future will belong to those who train their children, who teach their children to be innovative. The future is going to belong to technology.
“We need a leadership that understands and appreciate the problem, the challenges that we face as a nation. We need a leadership that is forward-looking; we need a leadership that is knowledgeable. “As we have heard today, for me the issue is restructuring, and restructuring, and restructuring. There is no way that we can deliver the kind of development that we look forward to efficiently and appropriately with the current system that we have. We have to devolve power, we have to allow the states to have control over their resources, and have total control the way they want to go,” she said. For the presidential candidate of YPP, Moghalu, who is a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the best form of restructuring, would be to allow federal and regions operate as the only two levels of government.
He contended that states would be out of it as many of them were not created for economic purpose but on religious and ethnic grounds. Declaring that Nigeria is not yet a nation but a broken one, Moghalu promised to retire those who brought the country to its present sorry state from politics if he wins the 2019 presidential election. He also promised to put an end to what he termed the worship of oil in the country, declaring: “It is human capital development that should be the priority.”
On his part, Fagbenro, who is contesting the 2019 presidential poll on the platform of KOWA Party, said the reason why Nigeria has not worked as expected is as a result of concentration of power at the centre to the detriment of the component units.
He said: “The reason why our federalism has been fractured is because power is concentrated at the centre. And the people always say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you concentrate power at Abuja, why are you looking for corruption? Fagbenro insisted that restructuring means decentralisation of power and responsibility, while ensuring accountability. The YDP candidate, Okhai, said restructuring simply put, is a situation that resources would belong to the people where they are found.
“I say every state in the country can be viable if resources are allowed to be tapped by the states.” He added. Clearly, the forum did justice to restructuring as a concept by constructively interrogating the nuances associated with it and setting the discourse in motion. And with the momentum generated from the parley, it is believed that the subject of restructuring is only a matter of when and not if.