As condemnation justly followed the kaduna ultimatum of 6 June 2017, for people of eastern extraction to quit Northern Nigeria, friend of mine from one of the big tribes called and said: “John you see why restructuring of the country is so important and necessary today”.
Restructuring? I asked in amazement. “Where does it come in?” I inquired and continued: “I thought what was on stage was the ghost or apparition of poverty of knowledge and wealth, underdevelopment due to years of elite failure, intolerance learned from leaders’ body language, rolled into one by the steady manipulation of the youth by some elite in the north as response to the shadowy and irritating moves of their counterparts in the south”.
But my friend was not alone in drawing the wrong conclusion from the Kaduna Youth outburst. Many Nigerians especially the big men have since renewed the needless argument for restructuring by which they mean the collapsing of the present 36 states to 6 or so regions.
For instance, to Professor Anya ‘the current structure has not served us well…. Nigeria needs a new foundation…’ To Opadekun ‘Nigeria is a lie….we must attend to …., respond to agitations of Nigerians through national restructuring by revisiting the 1963 constitution abrogated by the military…. ‘ To him ‘all the current agitations be it resource control , MASSOB, IPOB, Arewa Youths…are all a call to return to where we were before 1966….no alternative to restructuring…
In similar manner Sara-Igba insists that ‘restructuring is the only way to stop the country from collapsing…. Ours is a call for resource control’. To Atiku Abubakar former Vice President, restructuring will ‘promote economic and social development ‘ . And he elaborates: ‘The country is truly at a crossroads and things are made worse by the cocktail of economic, social, political problems . Our beloved country is in the throes of severe and debilitating social and economic problems…and we will likely continue to grapple with such problems unless we get the structure of our federalism and governance right ‘.
According to IBB, former Head of State, ‘restructuring has become a national appeal whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of power to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the federal government … oversees our foreign policy, defense and economy’. His rationale is past failure: ‘If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results, we need to change tactics and approach and renew our commitment’…..(the Nation on Sunday 9-7-2017 p28)
But as many more elite emphasised the need for restructuring and pointing to a return of the country to regionalism of the pre1967 era, it then occurred to me that many people are very confused today about the real nature of the problem of the country including youthful actions.
There is definitely a misunderstanding of the problem leading to wrong definition and prescription. The problem is not a struggle between regions but between elite- the ruling class versus non-ruling elite on the one hand, and exploitation of the ordinary citizens by the elite through bad governance across the country.
There appears to be a conspiracy of the elite to shift attention away from the real problems of the day such as corruption, insecurity, unemployment, poverty to regionalism. It is like papering over cracked walls. It won’t work. While most of the advocates of restructuring do not talk of elite’s mis governance, corruption, developmental neglect and such ills of the moment, the Kaduna outburst was not a product of poor structure but one of poor management, mis-use of structure and prolonged mis-governance of the country over time. It was also the immediate result of the body language of the Nigerian elite that depicts mutual hatred and loathing for ethnic/ regional reasons.
Why are our elite so forgetful, deceitful and diversionary? Is there a mental fatigue or memory lapse? The Nigerian elite have a penchant for embarking on meaningless change and to jump from one system to another but without developing the skills, ability and patience to make any of them to work satisfactorily. By now we should be tired of jumping from one system to another. History shows that the country has experimented with many systems- confederal, federal, unitary, Westminster, presidential and moved from 3-4 regions to 36 states without satisfaction. But what we have not done sufficiently enough is hard work and good governance.
For me, now is the time for hard work and to do those things that make nations truly great. Nations grow to be great by doing good governance based on principles of justice, fair play and equitable distribution of resources. Nations grow by creating opportunities for citizenry participation in the development process. Nations grow by developing capacity and courage to solve problem.
There are many real problems confronting the country today. Some of these are corruption, weak institutions, bad governance, unemployment, poverty, under- development, sagging patriotism, regionalism, nepotism, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug and human trafficking, ritual killings, mismanagement of resources, inept leadership, self- centred ruling elite, injustice, insecurity, huge infrastructural deficit. Thus much more astounding to me was the tendency of the Nigerian elite to gloss over these serious problem and began to talk of the littlest of them – restructuring. But how do they think the creation of six regions or so would solve all of these problems- say corruption, kidnapping insecurity, etc?
Restructuring is an elite game- a pass time that makes little or no meaning to majority citizens. Instead of finding ways to solving these problems, the Nigerian elite are preaching restructuring as though the return to the old regional structure that failed us once.
For instance will a restructured Nigeria manufacture unity and progress without a committed set of elite to do good governance? How will restructuring of the country to six regions stop say corruption, kidnapping when the present institutions are too weak to punish the corrupt or arrest and prosecute criminals to a successful end?
For me, the Nigerian elite are playing a game with the destiny of the country. Having messed her up so far and obstructed all measures to check corruption and promote good governance, it seems to me that they are about to deal a final blow on the nation through a return to regionalism, a code name for internal colonialism.
Collapsing the present 36 states to six is a clumsy and uncreative destruction with no much benefit. Nigeria may not recover from the mad and unreasonable proposal if accepted. The key to the problem of Nigeria is not in return to regionalism but in doing good governance and meaningful development for all citizens and all areas of the country. As elaborated on above, Nigeria is faced with serious development crisis. This has been so since colonial times leading to the rise of nationalist movement for independence and modernization of the country. Lack of meaningful development or the desire for it has been the cause of all agitations dating back to the 1950s to the present day – from the move by the west and north to leave the union to declaration of Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Boro in 1966, declaration of Biafra in 1967 and the search for theocratic government and declaration of a caliphate and flying of flag over some areas by members of Boko Haram.
At times I wonder why we are so neglectful of the real problems of the ordinary citizens, so cunning and dodging of real issues that affect us badly as a people and so afraid to do those things that make nations truly great especially good governance.
Why do we bend the truth always? Why are we so cowardly to confront our rapacious elite that have ravaged the national and state economy over the ages? Why are we shying away from having a strong centre, able leadership, a committed development -oriented elite. A weak centre of the pre1967 mould would not have been able to win a civil war as we did in 1970.
This is not to say that the Nigerian structure cannot be enriched or strengthened -say through devolution of power, funds within it as suggested by IBB. The 2014 recommended the rotation of political power from the North and South and among the six geographical zones and the making the Legislature a part time business. But we do not need to break down the territorial walls of the present states to solve many of our problems including revenue sharing formula, state police. Some honest Dialogue could produce good results. And those states who want to enter into inter state cooperation are free to do as Lagos and Kebbi states are reportedly doing in the agricultural sector.So let us do the first thing- good governance for all. As Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN) has advised let’s ‘confront and defeat corruption and other social problems for a better Nigeria.
The problem is who will bell the cat? As they say in Esan land, when someone who stole your item leads the search team for it, then that item is as good as being lost forever because the thief would never lead you to where the stolen good is hidden. This to me is the problem of the country. Most of the elite helping to find solutions to Nigeria’s problems do not see corruption, kidnapping, etc as problems to be frontally tackled for reasons best known to them.
Thus I laughed when in what seems to me as moments of exasperation, disappointment and genuine concern for change, Ajibola former Minister asked: How did we manage to get here? Why do we always resort to hate speeches, strident agitation for breaking up the country…? What happened to all the potentialities and possibilities of a blessed country?” For me it is due to elite’s failure.
For him the answer is corruption. As he puts it ‘people in the position of trust and their cohorts eventually stole and robbed the country into recession….Money meant for infrastructural development and planning has been shared by people with access to the national purse while the plight of the common man went from bad to worse.
Unfortunately advocates of restructuring often ignore this serious failure of human factor. Corruption is both the federal and state governments’ levels and it cannot be eradicated simply because the structure has been renamed regional.
Part of the problem is our mental orientation that does not see anything wrong with corruption. It is largely due to poor socialization of the citizens to the core values of the country. The result is that many of us are unable to kick against evil and to identify with the national cause beyond our personal, ethnic and regional interest. Let us do more patriotism and nationalism and good management of resources in Nigeria. What we saw in Kaduna was the failure of the Nigerian elite- the lost of love and faith in each other. It was the well written script of some unpatriotic elite being staged by some youth gang named ‘coalition of northern youth organizations’.
It is actually a good reason for rejecting the idea of returning the country to the old regional structure today. The hermitic nature of the old region helped in sustaining the idea of being a stranger in one’s country-the settlers versus indigenes palaver as contained in strange bed fellows thesis of some of our fore fathers in Nigeria. It made a resort to war much easier. At least when the Igbos mixed with others, they did not think of secession. But things changed the moment majority of them relocated home. As it were, the coast was clear to throw missiles at others and vice versa.
The impression by advocates of restructuring that everything about Nigeria is bad today is not correct. With able men and women recruited to do the job, the present system can take us to the moon. There are some good aspects to cherish and bad areas to fix. Nor is it also correct to say restructuring will turn the country into a golden one. This assumption ignores the critical role of man- the necessity for good hands to do good governance. This is in acute shortage today in Nigeria.
Most of the profanities of today have their roots in the regional structure of pre 1967. Having been trained to look at the world from the prisms of leadership, management, value-orientation and the role of the elite and the state, what I see is a wide gap between dreams and reality in our development efforts, embarrassing management deficiency and prolonged policy neglect resulting in grinding poverty and crippling under-development everywhere. What is evident is leadership failure and elite’s inabilities to do the needful over time.
Still the present structure can be enriched and strengthened to correct some injustice and allay fear of domination and exclusion. For instance the revenue sharing formula will be reworked to give more resources to the states and local governments in a way that would empower them but still leave the federal government strong and rich enough not to be a puppet. Related here is power sharing. Participation in political development process is the highest and noblest form of participation in any society.
The tendency to monopolize power has been a great source of irritation to many and thus cause for agitation for self determination. This is why rotation of power between north and south and among zones is so necessary today.
Dr. Abhuere FNIM, is the Director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development (CCYD), Abuja.