Opinion: Why Regionalism is not Answer to Nation’s Problems, By John Abhuere

There are many reasons why regionalism is not the answer to the nation’s multi problems. For no other thing, the present state system introduced in 1967 has promoted a better Nigeria than the four regional structure disbanded the same year in terms of oneness, love , peace, tolerance and interaction, common ownership of wealth, national unity and wider opportunity for political participation for more Nigerians especially those from the minority areas. If nothing else, it has addressed the minority fear far better than the original structure replaced by the military in 1967.
Consequently, without any prejudice to any measures that could be taken to enrich and strengthen the present state structure, the purpose of this piece is to argue against the collapsing of the present 36 states to 6 or so regions as being suggested by some advocates of restructuring.
In the final analysis, solution lies in meaningful development of the country. Let us therefore stop walking on this destructive path to Armageddon. We must develop people’s capacity to solve problems in the national interest. While physical restructuring does not come in here, great developmental imagination and action and capable hands are needed to move the country forward.
My argument is based on a number of factors.
The present system is comparatively better than the four regional structure in terms of citizenry participation, stability, unity and progress of the country.
Physical restructuring to six or so regions will mean a return to the dark days of enslavement of minority groups by the big tribes,.
Not all reforms or restructuring are good or profitable. Restructuring as being proposed will not move the country forward. Advocacy of regionalism depicts a poor knowledge or superficial understanding of the problems of the country which include corruption, mismanagement of resources, poor governance injustice, absence of capable hands, inept leadership and self – centered elite These are largely leadership and management issues.
Collapsing of present 36 states to six or so will not solve the problems of the day as long as the old hands are still on stage.
The call is a diversion of attention from the corrupt elites and related real problems of the country. However at the bottom of all agitations against the Nigerian state since the 1950s to present day has been the desire for meaningful development and effective participation due to policy neglect. This was not met in the past and will not be met under the restructuring being canvassed.
Selfish Individual/regional interest rather than collective national interest is largely behind the call for restructuring. Some items on the restructuring menu for instance- six geo- political zone betray some ulterior motive- to serve narrow interests of some regional elites. In a word the demands for restructuring is not based on altruism.
Most of the arguments for restructuring are based on a wrong philosophy of development for Nigeria. Advocates want Nigeria to follow the path of the USA based on individualism as core value. However, this is opposed to African Philosophy of communalism.
Today’s problems are found in all parts of the country – local , state and federal as well as in each of the six geopolitical zones. For instance kidnapping, armed robbery, drug trafficking, terrorism, herdsmen incessant attack on other farmers, poverty, unemployment, under-development have nothing much to do with structure but more to do with poor leadership and management. Rejigging the country from 36 states to six regions will not make any difference
Demand for restructuring is an elite’s game. Though gaining more support from big men, it is by no means a popular demand. In fact given the 2014 National Conference’s report which recommended more states, the demand can be said to belongs to minority few vocal politicians and against the wish of majority
The lesson of history is that structure counts but far more important are capable hands to do the needful for society including the good use of available structure. As they say, a bad worker often complains about his tools. Empirical evidence shows that society that are successful today do good governance, justice, fairplay, equitable distribution of resources under able leadership with capable elite and large pool of capable hands. Good governance is the right path to thread today.
There are looking to of falsehood and lack of clarity that need to be addressed.
There is the need to make myself clearer at this point. First, every thing has its own season. So it is with regionalism- what many advocates call restructuring today. There was a time when the country had serious problem of structure- popularly referred to as lopsided structure.
We recall that at that time one region -the North – was larger in size and population than the other two regions combined. According to Northern Elders Forum, the Northern Region covers about 70% of the country’s landmass with 55% of the nation’s population (Sunday Nation 9-7-2017 p28). It was bad enough but the colonial administration that created the highly defective structure through the Richard’s constitution of 1946/7 did not care to correct things.
The Nigerian political elite who took over could not do much too about the unholy imbalance because of selfish consideration. And when some steps were taken to strike some balance, it was the Western region and not the Northern region that was affected. While Midwestern region was created out of Western region, the north and east were left intact. It would take the boldness and patriotism of the military to commence action to correct the historical imbalance by introducing a 12 state to replace the unfair four regional structure. In a word, the regional era had long passed.
The state structure effectively took care of the observed defects.That is why the middle belt youth could tell the so called ‘coalition of northern youth organisations’ that they were not part of their unconstitutional ultimatum of June 6, 2017. And that is why too the South- South youth could easily distance themselves from Kanu and IPOB’s agitation for self determination or secession. Above all it took great care of minority group’s interest especially of perpetual domination and enslavement by the big tribes.
As observed earlier, in spite of the many voices of the big men calling for restructuring, it is still not a popular demand with concise meaning. There is still no agreement on its meaning and content. However there is list of demands and grievances by advocates of restructuring which can be tackled to enrich and strengthen the existing structure for optimal performance.
What Nigeria needs most today are good hands and mental restructuring of the citizens especially the elite in order to be able to know how best to deal with the problems of the day.
For our purpose of discussion, restructuring is here understood as an effort in organising some thing better in a ‘new and different way’ with a view to getting a better deal or result. It requires careful approach to determine what to reorganise and how best to do it. It should not lead to disorganisation or even anarchy. I do not see how the idea of creating six regions out 36 states can help in achieving more harmony, progress and unity of the country than the present structure. In fact it would worsen the situation. There is much more that would be needlessly lost than otherwise: happiness, joy of those already in good positions, opportunities for growth and development, citizenry participation and sense of belonging, dreams, aspirations, employment and many more
We witnessed the jubilation which greeted the creation of say Ekiti from Ondo state, Zamfara from Sokoto, Akwa Ibom from Cross rivers, Abia from Imo. Delta from Bendel, Gombe from Bauchi, Bayelsa from Rivers State, etc. This was despite the fact that those separated shared sameness of culture including language. While I do not see these states accepting a return to the old life, there has been intense competition for political offices such as governorship, legislative, LG Chairmanship, etc. in each of the states. The people were happy for many reasons not least being the prospect of freedom and more opportunities for higher political participation and employment.
Today, we know that many Nigerians still feel a sense of oppression and exclusion from the development process of their state and so desperate for more states. There is therefore the endless demand for the creation of more states as could be gleaned from the report of the 2014 National Conference which recommended 18 more states. In other words the demand trend is not relapsing or vanishing but surging and soaring. One can only imagine the pains and wailing, the unhappiness and huge unemployment problem – in short the great calamity a collapse of present structure would create in the country.
It amounts to giving scorpion where one desires apple.In this sense, restructuring becomes a kill joy exercise for society. Yet, most of the items on the restructuring advocates’ list, including the revenue sharing formula, can be easily negotiated without breaking walls. We have run the present state structure for 40 years now with remarkable success -a success that is far superior to the regional structure it replaced. It will not be sensible and rewarding to destroy it today.
The country has come a long way from the dark, troubled, treacherous and oppressive days of the three/ four regional structure.Restructuring – I mean the collapsing of the present 36 states to six regions along the six geographical zones will only amount to unnecessary hasty destruction of a beautiful house only to replace it with an ugly and horrible one. It is a proposal to march us back to the era of darkness and long knives. It will lead to the revival of some the old dreadful habits, and associated ill- feelings, cultural mutual loathing, intolerance, financial hermitage and religious antagonism that led the country to a civil war in 1967.
Most of the contents of our constitution today are products of historical experience For instance, the creation of more states was effective response to the lingering minority fear of perpetual enslavement by the big tribes in each of the regions. The emergence of a strong centre was a response to to weak centre of the first republic which left the country wobbly and unstable most of the time. The federal government might have taken much more than necessary, but we definitely need a strong centre for the survival of whatever Union we wish to form. Reasonable degree of control is a critical success factor in any federation. We must therefore be careful not to throw away the baby with the bath water.The profanity of today was sowed in the regional structure of pre 1967. The selfish greed for political power and wealth, the promotion of regionalism, tribalism/ ethnicity, nepotism over nationalism and patriotism, the rigging of elections and formation of regional/ tribal political parties were products of regionalism of the first republic. Regionalism was the poisonous seed sowed into Nigerian politics by the colonial authority through the Richards constitution with regional party politics. It was responsible for the sharp divisions of Nigerians along regional lines.
It provoked tribal renaissance in a people who before then fought for independence as Nigerians with one voice and one goal of freedom of Nigeria from colonial bondage. Regional political parties with strong ethnic bias did not only emerge, also the then only national party receded to a regional party dominated by one ethnic group. Ever since Nigerians who hitherto spoke with one voice began to speak with many voices along regional and tribal lines with all its adverse effects of mutual suspicion and hatred on co-existence. And since then, inter ethnic and regional relations had remained sour and strained in Nigeria like that of cat and mouse.
The proposed physical restructuring will thus have devastating effect such that would make today’s hate preaching look like a child’s play. It will return the country to the dark and horrible days of the jackals, raw and unhealthy competition for everything especially political power. It will leave in its wake political instability and mutual regional hatred and antagonism. Such restructuring will take the country to no where forward. Rather, it will harm her and take her many miles back to the age of darkness and woes marked by hatred, internal colonialism, political exclusion, and state terrorism especially at the grassroots .
We do not need such hurtful and unrewarding reform today. There are better methods. A greater part of the items on the restructuring list require moral judgement. Some are confusing and contradicting and therefore need refinement and understanding. Others are political and thus need sincerity and compromise. While most of the advocates often ignore the historical experience that informed the present state structure, solution would come from able leadership, committed development oriented elite and good governance.
Nothing much is new today about the country. What restructuring advocates often ignore is that the present structure which started to evolve since 1967 when the four regional structure was dismantled and replaced with twelve states solved among others the then very disturbing problem of discrimination against minority groups in Nigeria. It addressed minority fears by giving them political space for greater participation in the development of the country.
Also, it has allowed for larger spatial development, sustainable peace and stability in the country. Thus it was not surprising that as observed earlier, the 2014 National Conference recommended 18 more states to peg things at 54 states. While this writer does not believe that we need as as many as 54 states today, however there are still some states where minority groups are excluded from political power to address. A collapse of the present structure to six will be against the wishes and aspirations of the people for political self determination. As the wise man would say ‘Rivers don’t flow up the mountains but down it’. It is always advisable to give to Caesar his dues.
There are other reasons for me to reject a return to regionalism of the old. Apart from its obvious uselessness and irrelevance to the development and unity of the country, a foremost reason is my place of origin in Nigeria. I am from one the the minority tribes and areas and I have sad memories that make me suspicious and fearful today of any political regional arrangement that squeezes the minority groups into the conclave of the big tribes. For sure, I know where the shoes pinched most in the past and I am certain that collapsing the 36 states to six or so states will not serve the interests of the smaller ethnic groups in future.
Most of those who belong to minority ethnic groups were political lepers or at best mere pawns in the political chessboard of the big tribes in the first republic. Compared in terms of quality of life, the minority groups have found life to be far much better under the present state structure than the regional structure of pre-1967. In terms of spatial development the state structure also had been more favorable. While development was concentrated largely on four centers- regional capitals, the state structure has spread development to at least thirty six centers and even more.
Political participation is the highest and most fulfilling form of participation. This underlines the clamour for democracy. The essence of independence was freedom and development. The old regional structure denied the minority groups maximum opportunity for effective participation in the development process of the regions when political independence was won in 1960. It was only since 1967 when the present state structure was introduced that the long suffering, oppressed and neglected minority groups began to experience some molecules of freedom, development and greater opportunity for effective participation.
The hermitic tendency inherent in regionalism of the old will not help. Besides that, democracy is about citizenry participation. But democratic election is a game of number and there is no way a minority group in a region dominated by the big tribes can win elections given our tribal inclinations – unless perhaps democracy is diluted say through rotational arrangements.
Note that the call for restructuring is today spearheaded by the major tribes perhaps with a hidden agenda to recolonize the minority groups and keep them in perpetual servitude and exclusion from participating in the political process of the regions as was the case before 1967. When we build strong regional walls for the big tribes to lord it over the minority ethnic groups we are making ourselves strangers in our country and laying the basis of incessant crisis in the polity
As a student of Development studies- I trained at the well known world class Centre for Development Studies, University College, Swansea, Wales, I know that that there is a serious crisis of development in Nigeria. The lack of meaningful development has been the major cause of anxiety, resentment, and wild protests across the country. Development is a tricky ongoing business in which one problem solved tends to generate its own set of problems.
For instance, investment in health and education had produced healthy men and women without jobs- unemployment for short. The task is thus to be constantly working and searching for correct answers to societal problems. Thus able leadership, and sincere commitment of the ruling elite to national unity and development are critical to the well being and progress of any society. In the absence of such people, one million times of restructuring will not yield the desired goal.
Let us do more meaningful development of the country and stop preaching the falsehood that the collapse of 36 states to 6 or so regions will lead us to el dorado. As elaborated below I know that poverty, underdevelopment, policy neglect and lack of opportunity for participation in the political process have been responsible for the many threats to national unity dating back to 1950s to the present day. It has been at the roots of agitation for more states, resource control and incessant threats to national unity since colonial times to to present moment. The British failed to create more regions to spread political power and development to the people and allay fears of neglect. The Willinks Commission believed that good governance would do the trick especially for the minority groups. The succeeding Nigerian elite failed to do development for all.
The desire for meaningful development or dissatisfaction with the quality available has given rise to what Professor Ademolekun calls “Nigerian proclivity for secession”. He noted that each of the regions had threatened to leave the federation. For instance the West and Northern regions attempted to so in the 1950s, the Eastern region and Niger Delta area went beyond threats to actual declaration of secession in the 1960s. Of course they were forcibly brought back to the Nigerian fold.
It is important to observe that neither the so called true federalism of the first Republic nor the military government was able to check the elite’s inclination towards division or separation. The ruling elite were not able to meet development standards or expectations of the people. The renewed disturbances in the Niger delta area since 2004, the growth and expansion of militias in the country, the MASSOB agitation for inclusiveness, and Boko Haram’s demand for theocracy had roots in poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment of the country. Crimes such as corruption, armed robbery, kidnapping are not abating because of lack of appropriate technology, infrastructure and thus the capacity to check them. Such is the debilitating effect of the crisis of poverty and underdevelopment that no one feels safe and secure in any part of the country today. This ought to challenge the elite to look for more creative ways of dealing with problems of the day than embarking on a goose chase of making six regions out of thirty six states. Is the problem spatial? or gross inability to use the rich space available?
And I know that there are many approaches to nation building but I am certain that the creation of six regions is not the answer to our multiple problems today. The best approach is to solve the problem of developmental imbalance, then Nigeria will begin to know peace, stability and prosperity. The imbalance is seen in all regions today. A major hindrance here is corruption of mountainous proportion. The inability to do development for all, deliver good governance based on justice, fair- play and equality for all citizens and all regions, check corruption and waste has been the bane of the country.
It is the failure in the development scene that has created all the tensions of the past and present in the country leading to frantic calls for restructuring – more specifically return to the old regional structure. But nothing good can come from it as long as corruption is tolerated and there are no good hands to do the needful. Thus, able leadership is of greater importance than geographical collapse or shrinking of existing structure for purely selfish reasons of some elites. In the final analysis, structures are often not better than the people who use them.
I know therefore that with good hands, the present state structure can be made to deliver the good for all citizens.Wearing a developmental and management’s lens, I know that the present structure is actually not the problem and restructuring is not the answer to the many problems facing the country now. While the present structure is open to enrichment and strengthening, a six regional structure is not needed to move the country forward. It is actually diversionary or waste of time.
The argument for physical restructuring is often hinged on a wrong philosophy of selfishness and for the wrong reason- to be like the Jones. The idea is that each region should hold what it has and pay tax to the Center as it ‘is done in the USA’. But Nigerian is not America and certainly does not have the same rule enforcement capability. America was built on the philosophy of individualism as opposed to Nigerian/African communalism – African idea of being ‘your brother’s keeper’. There is nothing wrong with having a common treasury, of carrying your brother along, of no cheating and embezzlement, if there is honestly of purpose.

Dr John Abhuere, FNIM, is the Director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development (CCYD), Abuja.

Author: News Editor

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