Opinion: First Epistle to the APC Committee on Restructuring: A Case for Strong Centre, Good Governance, By Dr John Abhuere

As one who retired as Director NYSC after over thirty years working in different parts of the country including states’ capital cities and nearly all the local governments headquarters, I am often peeved about some of the arguments advanced today mby advocates of restructuring and how it should be done. Some of them such as a return to the pre-1967 structure betray ignorance and poor knowledge of substantial part of the country and the history that informed the present structure. As for me, there has been gross misdiagnosis of the Nigerian ailment and a misreading and misinterpretation of the Nigerian situation on parade.
Though a section of the Nigerian elite have succeeded in making political restructuring of the country to look as though country’s leading problem today -in fact the cause and cure of the nation’s problems- yet it is not. In spite of the many voices of the ‘big’ men calling for restructuring, still, it is not yet a popular demand with concise meaning. There is still no agreement on its meaning and content. It is an elite game on show in Nigeria. However in this epistle, I shall focus attention on why the country should not revert to pre-1967 regionalism .
Nigeria has been faced with deep seated crisis of development. Everywhere you go, you see poverty and underdevelopment staring society in the face. The country is truly faced with many problems including poverty, unemployment, under- development, infrastructural decay and deficiency, corruption, insecurity etc, But these are not caused by the present state structure but by poor leadership and elite’s failure over time. The problems are products of poor governance, mismanagement of resources due to absence of good hands on the plough.
Against the background of national history, social reality of today, obvious misreading and misinterpretation of history and misdiagnosis of the national ailments leading to some wrong prescription and elite’s illusion and delusion.
It is my pleasure to write this epistle to the APC committee on Restructuring or ‘True Federalism’. In particular it is meant to oppose the proposal to a return the country to pre-1967 regional structure having missed the opportunity of meeting the committee at any of its public hearings. In a word, it is against the physical restructuring of the country by collapsing the present 36 states to 6 or so regions as being suggested by some advocates.
For all intents and purposes, the present state structure which evolved from our collective experience has yielded better results in terms of stability, development and unity than regionalism. 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, rule of law, justice, fair- play and equitable distribution of resources .
Most of the criticisms of the present structure are unfair and misdirected. In the process the real cause of the national crisis, poverty, underdevelopment etc the political elites are spared. For example many have dismissed the 1999 constitution as a fraud and not representing the will of the people because according to them it was written by the military or their representatives. But foremost the military officers are Nigerians and there is never a time all Nigerians will be able to gather in one place for purpose of writing a constitution. Constitution writing is an elites’ affair and it would always be done on behalf of others by a select few.
So far the constitution has been tested and passed even difficult hurdles. For instance, it has ensured democratic change of political power from one winner to another, first within the same party – the PDP and later inter – party transfer of power from PDP to APC.
Also, it passed the religious test posed by political exponents of Sharia laws and sectarian agitation for theocracy. And in dire moment of political difficulty caused by a presidential failure to transfer power to Vice President through writing to the National Assembly to enable a VP act as Acting President, it served as as authoritative reference for the creation of position of Acting president.
However, my observation is that the ruling elite for petty but unhelpful ideological reasons had breached section two of the constitution since 1999 and my hunch is that such breach might have contributed to worsening the economic situation that brought about the recession from which we are just beginning to recover- a manifestation of elite’s failure. Today the high interest and exchange rate which for instance discourage borrowing for investment are blamed on the present structure, but in actual sense, they are not a structural problems but managerial.
Though advocates of restructuring give the impression that it would result in better Nigeria yet we know that not all reforms are good or done in the public interest. Indeed, there are grounds to feel that some of the calls for restructuring are not driven by holy intention or honesty but by some tinge of selfishness and insincerity. At least two items on the demand list of advocates of restructuring namely states police and six geopolitical zones were informed by narrow interests and not necessarily by altruistic consideration.
They are regional pet agenda of their sponsors but paraded as national imperative.According to records, the idea of the six geo- political zones was manufactured in the East allegedly to square up with the West in terms of number of states. The demand for state’s police is generally believed to have started in the West and was part of the issues rejected during the protracted negotiations for independence in the 1950s.
The fear of the West was that the the ruling party would use the police to rigging elections. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the democrat accepted the majority decision not to create state police and joined hands with others to win ‘independence of one Nigeria, one constitution and one law for all’. He had expected “statesmanship of the highest order to manage Nigeria” after independence but it was not be as forces of regionalism tore things apart so soon after. He even became a victim and was jailed.The fear of the West was confirmed. The Native Authority’s local police and NPF members became thorns in the flesh of those in opposition. Both the centre and regional elite have been guilty of misuse of security forces especially the police.
While we have all been guilty of misuse of security forces, advocates forget these salient facts of history with their narrow focus on the centre. However it should be observed that the misuse of the police is normally the case with any structure in the hands of bad people or the absence of good hands to do the needful. It is about men, their abilities, beliefs, values, attitudes and orientation, and not the structure per se. Our is a morally bankrupt society with high tolerance for evil and corruption. But with good governance things can change.For instance, when security men were allegedly wrongly used during the last Ekiti governorship elections, a young military officer with patriotic and moral sense of what is wrong and right blew the whistle.
This is important for it shows that with good hands a system can be made to be good while with bad hands the best system can be mangled. This has been the problem of the country- lack of good hands to do the needful for the entire country. Yet, we say we are interested in building a great nation. Each coin has two sides. The present NPF has its good and bad sides and litany of problems that affect performance. I do not expect the state police to be free of problems and to be more effective on security matters as long as there are no good hands on deck
The unimpressive performance of many of the quasi security forces in some states today should provide a mirror of things to come. Many states operate some quasi security forces today and experience with them do not offer great hope for better security in the country. Beyond providing more jobs for the youths , I really do not believe that state police will ensure better security as long as corruption has not been checked and as long as we lack the will and ability to equip the force well. As a matter of fact it is not really the desire for maximum security for citizens that informs the demand for state police, but the love of police power and its potential for misuse especially for electoral purposes.
In spite of the corruption label on the NPF, its major problem is lack of adequate funding, staffing and technological support to police the country effectively. Let it not be forgotten that the NPF is staffed by Nigerians from different parts of the country. It is therefore not because of lack of state control of the police force that insecurity is high in Nigeria.
In a word while honesty and collective national interest should inform and drive any reform today, there are reasons for minority groups to be suspicious about a restructuring move that seeks to return the country to its pre-1967 regional setting.
For many reasons the restructuring being argued today looks like a ploy by the big tribes with ulterior motives to return the country to that era of perpetual slavery of the minority groups and to resume old habits of savage regional cut-throat competition which inevitably ended in the civil war of 1967- 70
I shall never be tired of saying no to regionalism because I know that the present structure is not the problem of the country but acute leadership and elite failure over time to do good governance . Such approach will not resolve the resultant crisis of development that has engulfed the country over time. History shows that the present state structure has served the country far better in terms of spatial spread of development and stability than the regional structure of pre-1967.
Also, know that we are chasing shadows by emphasising restructuring. It is simply a diversion of attention from our social reality that is laden with developmental problems made so by human failure. We wasting time with very unnecessary abstract problem instead of being concerned with practical issue of what works. There is really nothing like ‘true’ or ‘false, federalism in the real sense of it. What we see in history is different forms of government including what works in some countries. Any effort at restructuring must aim to bring about a better country by solving problems that confronted the country over time. Then there is personal field experience to count on. Having travelled to nearly all corners of the country as former staff of the NYSC, I have no doubt that the present structure- if at all, is the littlest problem of the country today.
Thus we set out with some questions in mind: what has been the hardest nut to crack in Nigeria and why? What has been the greatest source of dissatisfaction, or cause of agitation for self determination in Nigeria? Our answer is the lack of able leadership and inept elite to implement dreams and spread meaningful development to all corners of the country. In short poverty and underdevelopment due to policy neglect and poor programme implementation had been the main cause of the many crisis of the country.
The question to answer is, will restructuring as being proposed resolve the crisis of poverty, underdevelopment and associated unemployment that have ravaged the country over the ages? I am not sure because it seems to me like applying the wrong medicine to an ailment due to wrong diagnosis.Truly, the problem of the country is not the lack of appropriate structure but lack of ability to do the right thing including the effective use of available structure.
There is too much external influence on our thought process and actions. We are too quick in making reference to the USA, India etc. Contrary to the misleading impression created in Nigeria, there is no conference in the world where agreement was reached on one common way to organise a federal system. It is a subjective and relative exercise. The tendency to refer to the USA or India as having the ideal standard practice of federalism is wrong and unhelpful.
No two countries or societies are exactly the same and nations do not come into existence through one and same path. Historically, some came into being through voluntary social contract to form a union as we find in the USA or forced together to be one by military power as the case of Nigeria shows. It should always be realised that that Nigeria and the U.S. have different orientations informed by two opposing values.
While the American system is driven by core value of individualism- individual ownership, Nigeria’s system is based on value of quasi-collective ownership – brothers’ keeper stuff. One is not necessarily superior to the other.
However, the difference lies in the attitude of the ruling elites to nation building in the two countries.There might be some few lessons to learn from outside, but in the final analysis historical experience must define the kind of structure and institutions in place. Some countries might have run successful federal system but that does not confer on them the title of ‘best standard of practice’. At best they only have what has worked for them and the difference between success and failure rests with the ruling elite.
History serves as a guide and the goal or purpose is to put in place ‘what works best’ for your society. This is important to note because what works well for country A may not work well for country B. While this is where creative thinking counts, it must be recognised that the present structure is a product of our historical experience. As there is no agreement on what constitutes true federalism and its best practice, historical experience of each country should inform the components of the system in operation.
In this regard, it is needless to say that the present Nigerian structure under attack by some elite is a product of our history and it is certainly not the most biting problem of the country. Nigeria is faced with serious developmental crisis which has been around since before independence and persisted till date due to various forms of incompetence and poor handling by the Nigerian elites especially the political elite.
For me, this is the time to do development in the interest of all. With determination and commitment especially by the political elite, the present structure can serve the purpose of both individual and collective development of the country. What is evidently needed is high quality development programme for all and unrelenting commitment to it. 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.
Here able leadership is of greater importance than geographical collapse or shrinking of existing structure for purely selfish reasons of some elites. Only reason, planning and good governance can make the difference. This is where mental restructuring on the part of leadership and related elite is so necessary today. Now is the time for hard work and to do those things that make nations truly great. It is time to do the right thing rightly and not to be engaged with unhelpful abstracts or concepts. We must develop capacity to solve problems in the national interest. Unfortunately physical restructuring or regionalism does not come in here
In a word, Nigeria’s problems today are not caused by poor structure but by the absence of good hands to make available structure work effectively. Without giving due consideration to human factor in the development and unity of any society and the abysmal failure of the Nigerian elite and leadership over time in this regard, they sell the placebo that the regionalism that once failed us is now the answer today. Nothing can be more wrong or misleading. It is falsehood dressed in borrowed robes.
There are historical and empirical lessons to learn from: The country needs good hands to drive the present structure to fruition. Let us recall for instance that the first Republic was a highly lopsided structure. But the West was the lodestar. It shone and excelled far more than others including the North with vast land and population more than hers. The West excelled because of the leadership qualities of Awo and capabilities of associated elite, who were committed to implementing his vision.While we now have some states such as Lagos that are doing well, there has been gross mismanagement, corruption and poor governance in most of the states now and no amount of physical restructuring will make any positive difference if the governance, morality , management, corruption issues are not handled.
The brilliant performance of the Western region in the highly lopsided and thus discredited four regional structure over others was due to able leadership offered by Awo and his team and not because of the large geographical space. Were this to be so Nigerian vast geographical space would have been more developed say more than Singapore. Chief Awolowo was a visionary leader with highly development- conscious elite to drive the vision home. Good governance is the key and this appears the secret of the success story of nations and Lagos state within the last twenty years- steady improvement in governance. And these ought to be our focus and preoccupation today. Let the state enter into economic cooperation with others of their choice based on understanding and comparative advantage.
Before the wrong impression is created, let it be stated that this writer appreciates the importance of good structure. Doubtlessly, good structures are necessary for goal realization . But no matter how good or important structures may be, they can not be better than the men and women that operate them. With good builders on site some good results can derive from a poor design. This is the challenge of the ruling elite. The present state structure has served us far better than the regional arrangement it replaced. While it can be strengthened or enriched, it should not not be collapsed into bigger regions. We do not change a winning formula just for the fun of it.
Those pushing for a return to regionalism of the past should be reminded that they are moving against the tide of the time. Following the response to the 2014 National Conference which even recommended the creation of more states, it is clear that the demand for it is not decreasing but in fact increasing. We really cannot put a halt to more demands or create more states indiscriminately.
However, because society is dynamic, we must set criteria especially numerical strength, resource base for economic viability etc which must be meant for more states to be created in future.
Structures do not do development by themselves.Only humans do. While regionalism is not a necessity, there is list of demands and grievances which can be tackled to enrich and strengthen the existing structures. These include eradication of poverty, unemployment, under-development, insecurity lack of patriotism etc through the institution of culture of good governance, justice, fairness for all in the society.
We must therefore be determined to deal with poor governance, mismanagement of resources, corruption, injustice that have been the bane of the nation including the states. Prevalent poverty of knowledge and wealth, underdevelopment due to years of elite failure, corruption and intolerance learned from leaders’ body language rolled into one by the steady manipulation of some elites in all regions of the country have ravaged the nation – state almost to a state of stupor.
The present structure is not as bad as often projected by advocates of restructuring. In the ordinary sense of the word, restructuring is ‘about doing or organizing something’ say company in a ‘new and different way’- of course with the hope of getting better results . This presupposes that the original one is so bad that the only redemption is system change. It also assumes the existence of a crop of capable and dedicated personnel to do the needful about the desired change. While as already observed the present structure can serve our purpose, as we write, there are no such people, no change in the attitude of the elite, no patriotic commitment to the idea of one Nigeria, good governance, Justice and fairness for all
Most of the Nigerian elite lack the right attitude to nation-building. In most cases they are regional in thought and action. They are tribal and religious-biased in judgment. Right now there is no elite’s consensus on what is to be restructured and how best to go about it. Yet the task of nation building including the fostering of national unity and development belongs to the elites especially the political elite.
Thus, the failure of Nigeria so far is basically an elite failure. Human failure understood in terms of poor governance culture, mismanagement of resources, corruption, incompetence and injustice had been responsible for the unviable nature of some of the states. Size is not the issue. No system is perfect or better than those who operates it. We need good hands to operate any system and without capable men and women we waste our time with restructuring.
Restructuring means different thing to different people. In the absence of consensus, we can only caution against rash action and costly mistakes. We should not do change just for the fun of it. We should be concerned with what will work well in the national interest. For instance there is no law that say wrong appointments should be made or public funds should diverted to private pockets.
But such things happen because of human weakness. In other words, some of the issues on the restructuring demand list such as marginalisation, skewed appointments require moral judgement. Others such as state police, regional structure once failed the test of practice and so rejected. While most of them ignore the historical experience that informed the present state structure, solution would come from able leadership, committed development oriented elite and good governance.
There are some illusions and falsehood and delusion about restructuring to contend with. For instance, the perception of restructuring as always a good exercise in all circumstances is false.
Contrary to that impression, not all reforms are beneficial. We are yet to to get over the problems associated with the Structural Adjustment Programme of the 1980s. At least the Naira is yet to recover. The impression that restructuring will lead to El dorado is wrong, misleading and delusional. The idea that the moment for instance we returned to regionalism, established state police etc, the country would become better, conflict would disappear is not correct. It is illusion and delusion taken too far. We tend to forget that each state or local government area has its own portion of conflicts and crimes to contend with today.
We do not need to break down the walls to solve many of our problems including revenue sharing formula, state police, local government status. Some honest dialogue could produce good results. History ought to serve as guide to strike a satisfying compromise. The imperative of effective nation building should be upper most. Truly, poor leadership, greed, ineptitude and unpatriotic attitude of the political elite have been the main problem and greatest obstacle to national unity and development. Any attempt that ignores the huge leadership failure and elite deficit in Nigeria will fail no matter the type of structure in place.
By all accounts, the most serious problem over which many have expressed the greatest concern is resource control and revenue sharing formula. The consensus is that we return to the pre-1966 status but that arrangement made the centre to be too weak. As history has shown we cannot afford to have a weak centre. This calls for care, patriotism and compromise. Luckily the 2014 National Conference paid considerable attention to this problem and reached what seems to be an acceptable formula.
Here there must be a upward review revenue sharing formula and devolution of power and resources in favour of the states and LGs. In short, I support the idea of more resources to the states and by implication the LGs. In particular the laws guiding mineral resources should be reviewed to enable the states and Local governments and individuals to have considerable measures of control and access. What truly stops the states and LGS from investing in oil production, power generation and distribution, large scale farming?
The present structure is a product of our historical experience. Chapter two of the1999 Constitution defines the path to thread to economic buoyancy in Nigeria. More specifically it expects the state to play the leading role in driving the economy. Unfortunately the ruling elite have breached this aspect of the constitution since 1999. They have not only sold out our common enterprises and materials of wealth also they have refused to do state investment in infrastructure, industry etc under the wrong notion that the state has no business doing business even in poor and backward economy such as ours.
The state must wake up to its economic and social responsibility. It must invest to reduce poverty, unemployment and under-udevelopment while at the same time promoting healthy and active private sector participation. Here, all strictures or obstacles to state, local governments, individual investors must be removed to allow anyone willing and able to easily participate in the economy.
Most of the problems are administrative and not structural. They require positive action by those in charge- the political and administrative elite. Thus, I do not support the establishment of state police, withdrawal of local government autonomy or changing their status as contained in the 1999 constitution. We must learn to solve problems and not run away from them. Basically the problems of the NPF have been under funding, under- manning and of course corruption . As for the Local Government Council, the problem is non-release of due allocation and misuse of available resources. Isolate the problems and solve them in accordance with the law.
There is the need to caution against two dangerous tendencies or beliefs. First is the belief that Nigeria must of necessity follow the USA model since she practices the presidential system. The second is that desired results can only come when tribalism/ ethnicity is ordained, elevated and celebrated to high heavens or when people of the same tribe or religion are made to work. These beliefs or assumptions inform most of the clamor for restructuring. They are wrong and misleading and do not help in building the Nigerian system. The real problem here is absence of national ideology to life people above these primordial values.
For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians can work together under transparent condition of justice, fair play and equity for all. The secret is in good governance. We should check this excess craving for everything American. The American mentality in our elite has attained a crippling level of alarming proportion. The secret is hard work, patriotism and dedication to national unity and development. Americans worked hard to develop their world, and are constantly working hard to have a better society or more perfect union. Let’s have faith in our system and work hard to develop it in order to have a good society of our dream.
We must be serious with the task of nation building and be committed to it with all our hearts and might. One of the standard ways of building a nation is central hold on certain institutions such as the army, police and others. It is the right way to go. Advocates of regionalism argue as though structures work themselves to alter social reality for the better. This is not true because men change society. There have to be people with skills and knowledge in governance to use whatever structure in place. So far Nigeria has been heavily deficient here. While we must intensify efforts in promoting and producing good hands in governance, we must guide against recreating a weak centre.
The country needs a strong centre today but the latter has taken too much of what is available . It must be made to give up a part of its powers and resources to the states and local governments, but not to a point of its impotence. I vote for a strong centre that can enforce its laws justly. This is not to say that the Nigerian structures cannot be enriched or strengthened say through devolution of power, among others. This requires honest dialogue with national interest upper most in mind.
The economy must be made freer such that anyone able and willing should participate in the economy without let or hindrance.
The way forward is not going back to regionalism, but moving forward on the path of Good governance, justice, fair play, heightened citizenry participation, equitable distribution of resources, effective consequence management, zero tolerance for corruption, good management, able leadership, dedicated elites to the cause of nation building, patriotism and nationalism.

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

Author: News Editor

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