The sudden renewed calls for restructuring of the country in the mould of the old regions of the 1960s or confederation by a section of the Nigerian elite must astound serious students of development for many reasons.
Why now? What are the motives? Are things so bad that we have to start thinking of living apart with minimum interaction?
These are some of the questions in my mind as I ponder over the renewed calls for restructuring the country along the old regions of the past.
I shall concentrate on the weakness of the Nigerian elites based on the lessons of history in order to show why a thousand changes of the country’s structure will not yield the desired result.
The Nigerian ruling elite are generally self-centered and the lesson of history is clear here: Any country whose ruling elites lack the spirit of patriotism and altruism and who are often driven by selfish interest in the making of public policy normally ends up in deep crisis.
That was the case of General Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Empire he built. Recall the French empire he built collapsed and he ended up in exile first at Elba in 1814, and later in the remote Island of St Helena in 1815 where he died in 1821.
The same fate befell Joseph Sese Seko Mobutu of Zaire 1966-97, Idi-Amin of Uganda 1971-79, Sanni Abacha1993-8 and host of other bad rulers across the globe.
After years of plundering and massive looting of the treasury, Mobutu in grave sickness was chased out power by rebel forces into exile in Morocco in 1997 where he died in misery leaving behind a badly broken country. After a most barbaric rule that almost ruined Uganda, Idi Amin 1971-9 was forced into exile to Libya and later Saudi Arabia where he lived and died in 2003.
General Abacha who traumatized Nigeria and looted the treasury beyond pardon died suddenly in controversial circumstance with no tears to shed for him by the public of a highly fatally and morally wounded and psychologically shattered country.
While all these are examples of human failing- the poor management/leadership factor, because of selfish greed for power, it seems clear that public interest has a way of swallowing individual interest , but where the prevails society is doomed. The agitation for the return of the country to regionalism holds this prospect of doom because most of the callers –the political elite are not sincere.
It should be observed that in the final analysis it is not structures that build nations but human beings. As our history can show, Nigeria has experimented with many systems- federalism, unitary, military dictatorship, democracy but to no much avail.
Nigeria has had state/ local police force, and left the manning and funding of Local Government councils to the regions or states but found them unhelpful and so discarded and reformed them.
Perhaps as a result of poor recollection of history or mischief callers are bad-mouthing the earlier reforms of the police and local government as abnormal in what they call ‘true federalism’. They are wrong. The reforms of the police force and local government system were done based on the country’s experience and their presence does not make our federalism inferior to any other. The emphasis should be on what works best for the country.
I shall not vote for or against the state police forces today but I do not think that the absence of state police has contributed to the present state of insecurity. The force is made up of Nigerian from different parts of country and some of them can be made to serve in their own local government if need be.
I know that part of the reason the Local police force was dismantled was its misuse to terrorize communities and the like who were deemed to be political enemies. I also know that the local government suffered much neglect under the regional system. It was noted more for poor staffing and gross-under-funding.
But while I equally know that the NPF and the LG had not been spared of the corruption virus in Nigria, there are reasons to believe that the reforms of the past were done in the national interest.
Some recent events such as the clash between some Governors and Commissioner of Police as witnessed in Rivers state in 2014 make me to appreciate the wisdom of abolishing the local police system. I always wonder what would have been the situation in Rivers states if Governor Amaechi has had a state police force at his ‘beck and call’ to match the Federal Nigeria Police Force under then Commissioner Mbu.
My guess is as good as yours. I believe that it would have been bloody clash between the state and federal police forces with dire consequences.
There are forms local and state policing today in some of states to learn lessons from. Though not called police, they carry out traffic control, public watch and related functions and are given uniforms to wear to match. Their conduct is despicable.
At least I know one in Edo state for its notoriety. Any time I recall the nasty behaviour of that uniformed group in Benin- popularly known as ‘Oshiomhole Police’ because it was established by the Oshiomhole administration , I thank God there is no local or state force.
I learnt that it had been disbanded but it was uncouth, obviously untrained, law unto itself and very terrorizing when it lasted. Well this is an era of more determined job-creation and I would support any efforts to get the youths off the street of unemployment.
A well trained state police force might take few more youths off the unemployment roll but beyond that I really do not see the need for it. Those who are kicking against the present mode of funding of the Local Government should perhaps be asked to take another look at how some state governments have denied some Local governments of their statutory allocation from the centre and I am sure that they would have a rethink.
It is almost fifty years ago that we abandoned regionalism with its weak centre in favour of the present 36-state structure which began with 12 states in 1967. By now such matter should have become one of the settled issues in the country.
While one is truly surprised at this unnecessary revisionism, I see the calls as diversionary. I simply wonder how they think that the once failed regionalism can now change our world for the better just by merely proclaiming it.
I do not know where the new confidence and inspirations are coming from but what I see on ground in form of elites’ negative attitude and behavior are to the contrary.
In my opinion, there are no good hands yet within the Nigerian elites to transform society. And without able people to use structures effectively nothing better can be achieved. Able people and not structure account for the development of societies.
Thus, there is confusion in the fussy calls for regionalism: Which comes first- the people or structures? The impression one gets here is that the structure is more important than the people. While structures are important, there is nothing sacrosanct about any structure. So there is nothing wrong with doing away with unhelpful ones and replacing them with better ones.
However, regionalism or loose federation is not a better option today. For a fact I know that people’s efforts and the strong spirit of patriotism and strong national sentiment of citizens shape the destiny of any country.
History teaches that the elite lead in the development of any society. The leader may set the vision but the elite with like-mind help to drive and actualize it. Depending on prevalent values and orientation the elite help to provide the able hands that transform a society from a low to high point. This is the case no matter the system in place- monarchy, democracy, unitary or federal. The trouble is that nothing good seems to come from the Nigerian elite.
Generally, they have not often been associated with honesty, hard work, seriousness or altruism in such matter. Rather they have been cunning and self centered and are dominated by love and greed for power and misuse of influence for their own good only. They have proved themselves unequal to the task of nation-building over time.
For selfish reasons, the Nigerian elite play the forth and back game of shadow chasing. While they are good in distorting historical facts, the Nigerian elite have been fond of playing game with the destiny of the nation. Except few of them, their record of public service has not been clean or ennobling. The Nigerian political elite cannot be trusted to do a good proposal in the national interest: they are a highly manipulative group from across the country. They are shameless set of people with anti- nation tendency and are united by profane values such as corruption and senseless hunger and greed for power.
For this they fan the embers of ethnic and religious differences without end. It is their joker for sustaining their power, influence, relevance and easy access to corridor of authority and wealth. Their call for regionalism must be treated with suspicion especially given the well-known ills of that system in the past.
The Nigerian elite are experts in pursuing only those things that advance their narrow interest. To them, time is stagnant, history offers no lessons, and nothing else is important other than their narrow self interest. For this reason, they are ready to preach falsehood and divert attention to inanity. Their current call for regionalism is revisionism of sort.
For them to be taken serious, they first need to do self–cleansing. Otherwise such is their execrable attitude to nation building that no system would ever thrive with them in command. So let’s do the first thing first- elite’s penance and exorcising of their anti-nation and selfish spirits
The increasing calls for regionalism present some dilemma: first is the essence, the second is the time. How could a section of the national elite be clamoring for something known be so bad in the past? What has changed to warrant such clamour now? One of the problems is that the Nigerian elite cannot be trusted today because of their highly deceitful past. Still they cannot be ignored because of their wealth, influence and easy access to power.
As regards timing why now and what is its relevance to the task at hand especially the fight against corruption, poverty and under-development, insecurity? As already suggested, the calls appear to be diversionary. For instance, on the one hand the country is fighting corruption with stoic determination ever, tackling unemployment and insecurity and planning and introducing measures for economic recovery some of them to the consternation of some foreign interest and local associates. On the other hand, there are diversionary calls by some elite for restructuring as a basis of moving the nation forward instead of working together on what is on the table to lift the country out of the doldrums. This is unkind and unfair.
For all the hype about restructuring – the nostalgia and romantics about regionalism, we seem to miss the point. There is a deep crisis of development across the land. As I observed in my book-Power of Youth and Other Essays— of all wars today, the most urgent is the war against corruption, unemployment and poverty.
Consequently, a focus on regionalism is a waste of time and a diversion of attention from more serious national problems such as insecurity, corruption, poverty and underdevelopment including large scale infrastructural deficiency and widespread high rate of unemployment. It is akin to mistaking the symptom of an ailment for its cause. The present system is not the bane of the country but poor management of resources and inept leadership over time. With good hands, the present system can take us even beyond the moon.
The calls raise more questions than answers. For instance is it because of lack of federalism that we have oozing corruption all over the country, unemployment, huge infrastructural deficit, moral degradation and unethical conduct in our public life? Is it because of the present structure we have ghost workers on our pay roll, diversion of money for war against terror to private pockets of some leading elites-civilian and military alike? Is it because of the present structure we, hate and distrust other Nigerians on ethnic and religious grounds, we abandoned agriculture, infrastructure etc? Or failed to save during time of oil boom and became so broke so soon after many decades of bountiful harvests? With regard to agriculture, except in Bakassi area, has there been a shift or reduction of our geographical space and its contents such as people, nutrients etc to justify the dismal decline of agricultural produce? Which is worse- deformed structure or moral bankruptcy of society?
We can go and on, but the truth is that we have gone too far on the wrong road when we focus on returning the country to the federalism of the 1960s. We must be suspicious because Nigeria is a country that has been misled several times by her elites. They failed to do what should be done to make our country great. They promote corruption and do misgovernance for selfish reasons. And the cause of their colossal failure is not the present structure but the perennial lack of capable hands on the saddle over time. There has been a gross inability and incompetence in the management and administration of the country by the ruling elite.
So after many broken dreams and woeful failure to make good any system, the Nigerian elites cannot be trusted to do anything good in the national interest. They have been driven more often by narrow interest than patriotism and genuine concern for the well-being of majority citizens. Unfortunately, there is nothing yet in the offing to suggest a healthier approach to nation building on their part. In a word we are much more worried by the fabled cunning nature of the Nigerian elite who are helping to find solution to our problem when in fact they are at the roots of the problem. As they say in Esanland one never finds a stolen item if the search team is led by the thief who stole the item in the first place.
Nigerian elite have been fond of preaching one thing and doing the opposite. They failed to do development for all and so cannot be trusted. While their negative attitude, incompetence and ineptitude in governance had left the country in perpetual state of poverty, underdevelopment and backwardness, they use their manipulative power to divert attention away from their unpatriotic antics and related weaknesses. Their call to return the country to the federalism of 1960s with the present six geo-political zones as federating units is highly suspicious, misplaced and ill-fated for the country today. It should therefore not be accepted.
Ahuere is the founder of Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.