Calls for restructuring of Nigeria are not new. But the identification of state governors and other high calibre leaders with the demand, coupled with the current socio-economic realities, have, once again, brought the issue at the front burner of Nigerian politics. In this report, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, sought the views of some Nigerians on the way forward for the country
CALLS for a bold and deliberate restructuring of Nigeria have remained a constant decimal for decades. But in the days leading to and immediately after October 1, 2020, which was the 60th Independence anniversary of Nigeria, agitation for restructuring of the country’s political and economic structure gained more impetus. Well known leaders and state governors, who were not associated with this agitation over the years, openly demanded for it, warning that there is no alternative left for the country.
For ethnic nationality groups, socio-political organisations, activists, and some former leaders and political office holders, who have spearheaded the call over the years, this renewed demand marks a new dawn for the country.
But given the feelers from the Federal Government, observers wonder if the current wave of agitation would go the way of older moves?
Adeboye’s United States of Nigeria
One of the latest major campaigners for immediate restructuring of Nigeria is the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who, last Saturday prescribed an indigenous socio-economic and political restructuring that would result to what he described as the United States of Nigeria (USN).
The highly respected priest said at a symposium, co-organised by RCCG and the Nehemiah Leadership Institute (NLI) to mark Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary, that restructuring is the only solution to the persistent threats of secession by aggrieved component parts of the country. The symposium has the theme ‘Where will Nigeria be in 2060?’
Adeboye said “Why can’t we have a system of government that is 100 per cent Nigerian, unique to us? For example, we started on with the British system of government; somewhere along the line, we moved over to the American system of government.
“Can’t we have a combination of both and see whether it could help us solve our problems? In Mathematics, if you want to solve a problem, you try what we call real analysis. If it doesn’t work, then you move on to complex analysis and see whether that will help you. If that fails, you move on to vector analysis, and so on.
“I believe that we might want to look at the problems of Nigeria in a slightly different manner. Some people feel that all our problems will be over if Nigeria should break up. I think that is trying to solve the problems of Nigeria as if it is a simple equation. The problems of Nigeria will require quite a bit of simultaneous equation, and some of them are not going to be linear either.
“Forgive me; I am talking as a Mathematician.
“Why can’t we have a system of government that will create what I will call the United States of Nigeria?
“Let me explain: We all know that we must restructure. It is either we restructure or we break; you don’t have to be a prophet to know that one. That is certain: restructure or we break up.
“Now, we don’t want to break up, God forbid. In restructuring, why don’t we have a Nigerian kind of democracy? At the federal level, why don’t we have a President and a Prime Minister?
“If we have a President and a Prime Minister and we share responsibilities between these two, so that one is not an appendage to the other.
“For example, if the President controls the Army and the Prime Minister controls the Police. If the President controls resources like oil and mining and the Prime Minister controls finance and Inland Revenue, taxes, customs, etc. You just divide responsibilities between the two.
“At the state level, you have the governor and the premier, and the same way, you distribute responsibilities to these people in such a manner that one cannot really go without the other. Maybe we might begin to tackle the problems.
“If we are going to adopt the model, then we need to urgently restore the House of Chiefs. I have a feeling that one of our major problems is that we have pushed the traditional rulers to the background, and I believe that is a grave error.
“Without any doubt, we must restructure and do it as soon as possible. A United States of Nigeria is more likely to survive than our present structure.”
If we don’t restructure, it’ll consume us— Governors
Like Adeboye and other leaders that recently lent their voices to the debate on the national question, state governors have during the week also lamented openly that the present Nigerian structure is not working. They also warned that further delay will ‘consume’ Nigeria.
The governors of the country’s 36 states demanded the “devolution of more powers to the states with adequate funding to meet the yearnings of the citizenry, warning that the current structure is unsustainable and could cause calamity if not re-jigged.”
The governors’ position was conveyed by the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, during a chat with some journalists in Lagos.
Fayemi, on behalf of the other governors warned that “if we did not re-jig the polity to meet the yearnings of all of us, it will consume us because resource constraint is a challenge for every state.”
“We don’t have the resources; we need to devise sustainable means of addressing these issues. As chairman of the NGF, this has been on the front burner of our work. We hope Nigerians will be able to push the argument further to a point where the resources and the powers that reside in Abuja can be devolved effectively to the states, with the revenue also devolved to take the responsibilities at that level,” he said.
He added: “We have always asked for fiscal federalism. Even those who are reluctant before are being confronted daily with these challenges in their states and they have begun asking themselves, ‘how long can we continue to do this? Am I elected to just pay salaries? It is not just devolution of powers but also the enabling environment to attract investments.”
North prefers referendum, says ACF scribe
In its latest reaction to the call for restructuring, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the North, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said the north is not afraid of restructuring but will prefer a referendum to determine whether everybody still wants Nigeria.
The ACF Secretary-General Alhaji Murtala Aliyu, was quoted as saying in a recent interview that “The North is not afraid of restructuring. What we want is to define what it is that we want? If we want to be in Nigeria and if we don’t want to be in Nigeria, let’s sit down and agree.”
On the option that currently appeals to the North, Aliyu said: “We can restructure. We can become a confederation. We can devolve powers. We can have state police and all that we want. But I can tell you that the thinking of the North now is that we should have a referendum if we want Nigeria or not. If we want Nigeria, then, we must sit down and see how Nigeria will work.
“If we need the country, let’s sit down and decide that we need the country first. Then we can now sit down and decide on how our country can work for all of us. If we decide that we don’t want the country as it is, then, I mean, countries have gone apart, Czechoslovakia and quite several other countries, including Sudan, have gone apart. We don’t want to go to war.
“The North is not going to be intimidated again to accept anything. We have to sit down and resolve whether we want this federation or this country as it is.”
Ohanaeze, Afenifere, others…
It would be recalled that before the renewed demands, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation and Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, have led other groups and ethnic nationalities in the country in the call for restructuring of the country.
These calls have however led only to some forms of conferences whose resolutions are yet to be implemented by the Nigerian government.
FG frowns at renewed demands
In its reaction, the Presidency said President Muhammadu Buhari will not “succumb to threats and undue pressure” being mounted by advocates of restructuring of the country.
In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the government frowned at “the recurring threats to the corporate existence of the country with factions giving specific timelines for the President to do one thing or another or else, in their language, “the nation will break up.”
Shehu said: “This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the COVID-19 health crisis.
“This administration will not take any decision against the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of health crisis.
“The President as an elected leader under this constitution will continue to work with patriotic Nigerians, through and in line with the Parliamentary processes to find solutions to structural and other impediments to the growth and wellbeing of the nation and its people.”
Why we must restructure
The Presidency’s position notwithstanding, most Nigerians who spoke to The Nation during the week maintained that restructuring is the only way to go.
Prof. Hope Eghagha of University of Lagos told The Nation that the current federal system must be restructured. As he puts it: “Within the context of the current political framework, there is the need to restructure the terms of engagement between the federal government and the constituent parts of the federation. When we talk about restructuring, we mean there should be a devolution of power from the federal to the states, the current federating units and that the exclusive list is too loaded now in favour of the federal government which has become inefficient in running the country that is as huge geographically and ethnically diverse as Nigeria is. It is a practical suggestion for the federal government to reduce exclusive lists and this can be done by the Ahmed Lawan-led NASS in preparation for a reconfiguration of the constituent parts. Most of the states currently are not economically viable. So, there is the suggestion that we should reconfigure the political arrangement and I support that suggestion that we should return to the regional arrangement or the six-geographical zones that former Vice President Alex Ekwueme proposed in the 80s. There are two options; one is to go back to the old regions and the other is to adopt the six-zone structure. I believe the more realistic option today is the adoption of the six-zone structure. This is because the old regional arrangement will create the same problem we have; they will be too big; so, let us adopt the six-constituent parts and the federal government that will simply look after defence, currency and external relations. The six zones would be allowed to develop whatever natural resources that they have and to pay royalties to the federal government just the way Zamfara is currently doing. People are getting angry that whereas in the southern parts of the country, the resources are shared, we are now saying Zamfara that discovered gold should sell the gold to the federal government, are we actually running one federation? So, we should adopt the zonal system and allow the zones to develop economically, financially and to compete. It does not mean when there is power failure in one part of the country; there must be power failure in all the other parts of the country. No! When there is competition, some zones will do better than the others and then the weaker ones will copy from the stronger ones.
On Adeboye’s suggestion of a possible United States of Nigeria, Eghagha, a professor of English, playwright and former Commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, said “most of the states are not viable. But if we adopt the zonal arrangement, in some of the zones, the bureaucracy of the states therein can coalesce into one to save that region; of course they could be shedding of human resource to make it more compact, develop the private economy so that people will go into agriculture; the kind of approach the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had in the Western Region in the 1960s. It is still possible particularly in the 21st century with all kinds of resources, human, material, technology and all.
Reminded that opponents of restructuring have always expressed fear that it will aid a secessionist agenda, Eghagha said, “There was a secession attempt in 1967, was it because we had a loose arrangement? The answer is no! If there will be secession, there will be secession. It was in fact, the creation of the 12-state structure that was the final straw that made Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu to declare the Biafran Republic. The fact that we are running 36 states now does not mean there is no disenchantment. There is disenchantment; there is injustice in allocation of resources; in allocation of political appointments, there is. So these are the things that are steering up dissatisfaction with the centre and it’s very intense now; feelings are raw.”
For Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, the Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly, “the question isn’t whether we should restructure; the question now should be if it isn’t too late?
We have moved beyond where we would be begging anyone to restructure Nigeria.
We are at the point where it is imperative and inevitable. We may choose to lie to ourselves, as usual.
There’s no way Nigeria will survive, grow, develop and excel under the unitary 1999 Constitution.
We may choose to deny the reality until something gives,” he said.
He added, “President Siad Barr chose the same pattern of stubbornly refusing to organise a national conference, so the people of Somalia will choose how to live together 30 years ago. He preferred crackdown and show of force. When the marginalised and oppressed regions took up arms in 1991, a memo on President Barr’s table said the least the angry regions wanted was a national conference on a new constitution for Somalia. President Barr, the strong man, rejected the plea for a conference and a new constitution, saying he would crush the dissidents. Well, the rest, as they say, is history.
Barr died in exile in Lagos and Somalia finally held the conference for a new constitution which Barr rejected, only a few years ago, and are now struggling to rebuild their country after decades of senseless destruction.
In our own case, it will be impossible to bring Nigeria together again, any day more zones like the Niger Delta or Middle Belt announces their own secessionist movements, or any day any of them takes up arms. God forbid.
Time to save Nigeria is now. Delay is dangerous. Nobody is begging anybody to restructure Nigeria. Nigeria must restructure or perish. It is simply inevitable. Those bragging that Nigeria will survive without wholesome restructuring are either ignorant, blinded by hubris or both.
Only about a quarter of the 36 states can survive without monthly allocation from Abuja, oil is gradually losing its pride of place in global trade due to the sourcing of other sources of fuel and energy.
Our economy is sick, unemployment rising by the day. Over a third of the 36 states owe a backlog of salaries and pension. We all know that over centralisation of power aids corruption, the system just isn’t working. Anger, fear, bitterness and hatred reign.
Coupled with the hunger in the land, how can anyone say that this structure is working? Some people are simply placing their ethnic dominance and hegemony agenda over and above national survival. That’s all.”
On the right structure for Nigeria, Uko said, “The format should be decided at the constitutional conference. Six or eight regions would be more like it. The people should decide how they want to live together like our founding fathers did in the 1950s.
Uni-camera legislature should be on the cards, may be a return to parliamentary system. This current system is too expensive; so much money is wasted on the welfare of politicians and their aides. The masses starve whilst the officials live like movie stars. The conference will debate and adopt a new system. The people should decide.”
On what he considers wrong with the current system, Uko said “everything is wrong with the current structure. It encourages sleaze, it allows unbridled nepotism. It breeds mediocrity; it makes leaders indolent and dependent on monthly allocation.
Everything is wrong with this unitary system. It’s not practised anywhere. Not in the UK, not in the USA, not in India, Canada, Germany, Australia, Switzerland etc. It’s unworkable and absurd. Next time you see an American, tell him that in your country the system demands that the states of California, Georgia, Florida, Texas, New York etc., head to Washington every month for allocation to pay salaries and run their governments. He will think you are insane.”