It is indeed interesting to see so many Nigerians today talking about restructuring the Nigerian state. This is heart warning on account of the fact that today we have come to appreciate restructuring as a necessity for Nigeria’s continued existence. This is a crusade I began almost three decades ago; a crusade that has taken me to prison and back. In the course of this crusade, I have had my younger brother, Engr. Victor Uzoma Nwankwo, brutally murdered in cold blood by agents of the state; I have had my residence turned inside-out by security agents brooding over my massive library like maggots rummaging the remains of decaying carcass. I have been cursed and discussed; analyzed and scandalized. The leeches of the Nigerian state are mad; and I am happy. The struggle rages on and that’s just the way I love it. My happiness is that my crusade has put Nigeria on notice and today we are all talking about it.
Even though it is a welcome development that we have been caught by the bug of restructuring, I am afraid not so many of us understand the true essence of restructuring. I say this because in recent times I have heard people talk about merging of states as a form of restructuring. I am afraid this is not restructuring by any stretch of the imagination.
The question is: What type of restructuring does Nigeria need? For the avoidance of doubt, Nigeria needs both political and fiscal restructuring. Politically, Nigeria must constitutionally define the federating units. For now there are six geo-political zones in the country. These geo-political zones should be constituted into the federating units with equal constitutional rights. The states as presently existing make up the zones.
Each zone will have its own constitution, which must not be in conflict with the federal constitution. The federating units should be in-charge of the states and LGS. The States’ Houses of Assembly will remain as they are but there will be Regional Houses of Assembly that will function as the highest legislative organ of the regions.
Each region should also have its own police, courts; and sustain its educational and other sectors. The powers of the central government should be significantly reduced to issues of immigration, currency, military/defense and foreign affairs. Power, in essence should devolve more to the federating units. Each region must have a premier who should coordinate the activities of the region and report to the federal Prime Minister.
On fiscal restructuring, there must be a comprehensive overhaul of the exclusive legislative list as contained in the First Schedule of the constitution. The regions must be in-charge of resources within their space. These resources are to be exploited by the regions and an agreed percentage paid to the central government. In other words, we must be ready to do away with the present revenue sharing formula. In terms of elections, INEC will remain to conduct federal elections, while each region will establish its own electoral body to conduct regional and municipal elections.
In concrete terms, these were the provisions of the 1963 Republican constitution which was suspended in the wake of the 1966 military coup, which paved the way for the usurpation of regional powers by the military. This type of restructuring would immediately address issues of ethnic and religious agitations and put a permanent stop to Boko Haram insurgency, the IPoB agitation and the conflagration in the Niger-Delta. It will also stop this monthly ritual of disbursing federal allocations to states.
It is because of the monthly allocations that states no longer strive to develop their internal economies. A through-going restructuring of the type outlined above will compel the regions and states to look inwards to identify and develop their internal economies and by extension the national economy. That is the best way for diversification.
In the First Republic, the North was famous for its groundnut pyramids, the West was known for its cocoa, the Midwest for rubber, South-East for palm produce and South-South for lumbering and fishing. In addition to this vast agricultural profile, which presently is lying fallow, each region has mineral deposits. With proper restructuring, each region will be compelled to develop its own mineral resources. I have written extensively on this issue and many of my books dealing on Nigeria’s restructuring can be found on the book shelves. That is the restructuring Nigeria needs now; not merging of states.
For the avoidance of doubt, the National Political Reform Conference of 2005 organized by the Obasanjo administration and the one organized by Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 recommended most of the foregoing. I recall that the only contentious issues were tenure for the president and fiscal federalism – issues which we advised should be subjected to referendum. Rather than implement the recommendations of those Conferences, the federal government has typically dumped them into the trash can.
Honestly, government’s medieval understanding of Nigeria’s problem leaves much to be desired. Among my people, a child is considered cursed when that child, instead of sucking the mother’s breast chooses to suck a bump on the mother’s body. Only a fool will see a straight route to a destination and choose to go through the bush path. The federal government has the answers to Nigeria’s restructuring in its hand. Why would the government not implement the recommendations?
Or does the government think that the answer to Nigeria’s problems lies in murdering defenseless Biafran agitators or sending Nigerian Army to crush Niger-Delta Avengers or Nigeria soldiers roaming the length and breadth of Sambisa forest in search of phantom missing Chibok girls on pretensions of fighting Boko Haram. Nigeria is indeed dancing the ghoulish Surugede without knowing the Surugede is the dance of the spirits. Igbo folklore has no record of any person who ever survived the Surugede dance.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is presently threading a very dangerous path. In truth, events of our recent history, bothering on all facets of our national life, are enough to consign all of us to sober reflection on how we got to this point of socio-political and economic inertia. One has never stopped reflecting on the question: Why has Nigeria degenerated to this level of rot? One’s opinion about this is that if a house is built on a poor foundation, when the wind comes it will destroy the house and the ruins of that house will be great.
We cannot be talking about putting furniture in a house that has no foundation. Issues like “best security, economic and ground-norm creating processes for national cohesion and stability” are like furniture designed for a poorly constructed house like Nigeria. A house must be properly constructed with good architectural design and on a solid foundation so that the furnishing of the house would have meaning and essence.
Consider these posers: Would you think that the emergence, sustenance and the killing spree of innocent Nigerians, especially southerners and Christians in the northern part of Nigeria by Boko Haram is merely politically motivated or has it any bearing to the proper restructuring of the Nigerian state? Is it proper to dismiss the militancy that has engulfed the Niger-Delta in the last couple of years as mere externalization of frustration by a section of the youths of the region or as a wake-up call for a properly restructured and negotiated Nigerian state? What lesson or lessons do we have to learn from the existence and activities of such ethnic-based and separatist organizations like Arewa People’s Congress, O’odua People’s Congress, MASSOB, Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPoB) and Ijaw National Congress on the need for restructuring? Why are our leaders afraid of restructuring the country?
What relationship, for instance, has resource control and allocation, corruption, collapse of public institutions, citizenship questions etc with the call for restructuring? And can national cohesion and stability be achieved outside the framework of a restructured and renegotiated Nigeria? The truth is that no country achieves national cohesion and stability in isolation of its historical and structural evolution. The problem our leaders have is that they are becoming more politically correct and more historically incorrect. If you think this is a hard line stand, can someone please explain why we have not learnt anything from our history or even why we cannot, with the benefit of hindsight; learn from the histories of other societies?
Can someone explain why in the past 17 years or so, we have witnessed high incidence of fraud and violence in our electoral process, the collusion of INEC and security agencies in rigging elections; the tendency of the political class for primitive accumulation of wealth and the obscene display of such ill-gotten wealth. How can millions of Nigerians live in such crushing poverty in the midst of plenty in this 21st century?
All these point to one conclusion: that this country is sick and terribly so. This sickness did not start today. It is a sickness inherited from birth. Just prior to the inevitable civil war in this country, there were obvious and clear warnings that Nigeria was on the path of destruction. Many patriotic Nigerians within and outside our shores tried to warn the forces of appeasement to no avail. In my understanding, an appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile in the futile hope that it will eat him last.
Today, the same warnings are present, and in the age of internet media, more obvious than ever. Numerous groups, some driven by religious fanaticism; spouting hateful, ethnic and religious vitriol have taken over our land. Many people are watching the denigration of our rights and trying to wish the ugly situation away. Every time the call for a truly negotiated Nigeria is raised, you will hear the leaders saying with definite authority “the unity of this country is not negotiable”. In truth, if there is anything to negotiate in this country, it is the basis of our “unity”. The Nigerian state must subject itself to a thorough-going process of restructuring as a basis for the continued existence of the country as a corporate entity.
We really do not have any alternative to this process. Any person or group who thinks we have alternative to this process of renegotiation is deluding himself or herself. The endpoint of such neglect and hallucination would be catastrophic. If this fate eventually befalls Nigeria, it is not because she was not sufficiently warned but because her leaders, like the children of Shoal, choose to be stiff-necked. Therein lies my vindication as a patriot and elder statesman.