Can there be change without restructuring?
Retired Army General and civil war hero Alani Akinrinade, Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Emeka Anyaoku and Bishop Matthew Kukah are amongst those clamouring for President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) to either facilitate fundamental restructuring of the nation or immediately implement the 2014 National Conference report. Restructuring was an integral part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) manifesto, but both PMB and Vice President Osinbanjo appear to be retracing their steps and disavowing the need for anything other than good governance. Their decision not to revisit the report of the 2014 National Conference is a tragic acceptance of the havoc wreaked by military governments whose ill-considered purges, financially disastrous state creation exercises, and defective 1999 Constitution placed us in this mess. Failure to grasp the need for fundamental restructuring is a failure of statesmanship.
It’s a failure to understand that a total disconnect has developed between government the governed due to the quite unnecessary over-centralization of power. Nations are supposed to evolve by creatively rethinking their processes based on their experiences. Experience has shown that Nigeria as presently structured and managed isn’t working and can’t work. Since independence our nation has been restructured from 4 regions to 12, then 19, and now 36 states while the federal capital was relocated from Lagos to Abuja. This superficial restructuring failed to end political instability, mass poverty, pervasive corruption and gross insecurity. This is because our consistently poor standards of governance are the result of defective institutions combined with political structures that encourage scoundrels. PMB is correct in concluding that all the petro-dollars over which there is so much bitter acrimony have failed to uplift the majority because unrestrained greed, undemocratic practices, lack of ideology and lust for power dominated the thoughts of our political class. Be that as it may, a successful anti-corruption war cannot in itself solve the nation’s problems. It’s the height of wishful thinking to believe that any centralized leadership, even one of unimpeachable integrity, has the capacity to solve problems of diverse people with varying languages, culture, religions and world outlooks.
Quite frankly it’s dishonest to refer to “one” Nigeria. Our differences do exist and they do matter. The oneness of the country as presently structured is an illusion which is being shattered by the Fulani cattle problem, the actions of ethnic activists, and the utterances of political and religious leaders. Something is definitely wrong when after over 100 years of amalgamation and fifty years of independence we are still disputing the terms of our coexistence. It’s pertinent to remember that there was no country called Nigeria before the British colonized various selfgoverning mostly homogeneous ethic nations and merged them by fiat in 1914.
In preparation for self-governance in 1960 it was agreed that federalism was most suited to facilitating the peaceful cohabitation of the nation’s various peoples. In 1966 the illegal military central government forcefully high-jacked the nation, confiscated the sovereignty and resources of the federating units and imposed a unitary system. Acknowledging that the situation needs rectifying, various governments set up one form of National Conference or another but tragically failed to act on any of the reports. As a result, the basis of our nationhood is still hotly disputed, and an ever increasing number of ethnic minorities are identifying themselves and becoming activists.
The stark reality is that it will be increasingly difficult to keep Nigeria peaceful the way it is presently structured and managed. It’s clear that the way out of our mess is by reducing the benefits of political office to emphasize sacrifice rather than reward and discourage charlatans from seeking office. In addition the revenue allocation formula must be revised to favour local government over state and federal. Internal migration and its attendant problems will only end when all Nigerians are able to make a good living in their locality. It’s preposterous that elected local government officials who are in the best position to address issues directly affecting people’s lives are handicapped by paucity of funds. Local Councils are reduced to begging State Governments who in turn beg Federal Government while scandalous amounts are embezzled in the federal capital under the guise of national unity. Despite Soyinka’s assertions, breaking up the nation isn’t an option.
Our situation boils down to a choice between federalism and the unitary system which got us into this mess and can’t provide solutions. Unfortunately the National Assembly is eager to preserve the status quo because of the stupendous self-granted benefits which accrue to them from operating a centralized government. Their small mindedness neither appreciates the transience of power, nor the fact that nations are not built by materialism. As Atiku pointed out our current structure and the practices it encourages have been a major impediment to our economic and social development. If PMB truly wishes to effect lasting change before he leaves office, financial restructuring and a return to true federalism is the way forward.