Nigeria has become a very treacherous environment such that speaking about issues concerning restructuring of the country could easily be misconstrued and mischievously interpreted as felonious. But the truth about our situation is that we cannot avoid talking about a restructured Nigeria if there must be a tomorrow for us. There is no alternative route to this. Nigeria must be restructured urgently or it will die. This is not a doomsday prophesy. It is a statement based on the hard facts starring us in the face.
In the past three decades, I have maintained my position on this. Truth is that there is no nation in the world today, which does not strive for the attainment of full democratic ethos; and the material and spiritual empowerment of its people. However, as striving differs in the conscious realization of these ideals, many countries are still caught in the tragic web of hypocrisy and deceit. Such countries, Nigeria being a ready example, risk the danger of total disintegration and the pains of collective immolation. We cannot allow this country to suffer that kind of fate of which many states, which litter the pages of human history, are unworthy examples.
In the 56 years that have passed since the unilateral establishment of the Nigerian state by a colonial fiat, very little has happened to indicate the readiness or commitment of our leaders to weave a home-grown Nigerian nation from the welter of ethnicities and interests in the country. Indeed, time has, I think, reinforced rather than diminished the truth that the reality of Nigeria’s politics; the forces and factors at play, are irredeemably anchored on interests other than national interests.
The obviously unitary character of the Nigerian state, the incompatibility of the forces at play in our society; the continued truncation of the emergence of a truly Nigerian state so painfully struggling to be born; the antithesis between individual and ethnic property rights in the essential means of production and the fulfillment of democratic ethos; the thesis that the Nigerian rulership is historically reserved for select individuals and ethnic groups “destined to rule” and others “destined to serve”, the refusal by officialdom to embark on the process of proper restructuring and enthronement of true federalism in Nigeria; the argument that in any society, even when based on equal and universal suffrage, the existence of serious economic inequalities biases the incidence of governance against the majority; all these seem to me to have received explicit confirmation from the events of the last five and half decades of our political independence.
It has been said, and correctly so, that no theory of the state is ever intelligible safe in the context of its time. What men think of the state, always, is the outcome of the experience in which they are immersed. The continued massacre of people of southern Nigeria especially south-east and south-south outside and even within their homelands at the slightest instigation; the official marginalization and alienation and near exclusion of Ndigbo in the affairs of this country has given vent and verve to separatist agitations bordering on autochthonous control of resources; self-determination and loss of faith in the Nigerian project.
The annulment and outright cancellation of the June 12 1993 presidential election obviously won by the late MKO Abiola has set the Yoruba nation searching for the formula for social justice and to give the mental climate of their time the rank of universal validity. The determination of the core north for unhindered religious expression anchored on sharia law has ignited a regime of implementation of sharia laws in most states in the north.
The more critical the epoch in which we live, the more profound is the emphasis on cooperative federalism anchored on a restructured Nigeria. Men fight grimly for the status and liberties of their people lest other men deny them the experience they seek to validate. Our age in this regard is not different from the lessons of history. It is an age of critical transition in which, at the end, a new social configuration, superior in content and form, will be born. Our scheme of values is in the melting pot; and the principles of refashioning them have to be determined and urgently too. As always, at times such as this, men have had to go back to the foundations of history and politics to seek a new explanation for the nature and functions of the state.
WHY THE CLAMOUR FOR RESTRUCTURING?
Today, I stand before you at the crossroads of history; history festooned by the sweat and blood of our past patriots and founding fathers; who in a significant act of great foresight contrived and accepted the cooperating constitution of 1956, which midwifed the Nigerian state at independence. It is their sacrifice that has fostered Nigeria as a potentially powerful giant. Unfortunately, Nigeria has remained a lumbering behemoth; a clay-footed giant with bleak and gloomy future.
The return of the country to civil rule, as distinct from democratic rule, on May 29th 1999 was expected to herald the march of this country and her people to greatness. Almost 17years after; and inspite of the declaration of May 29th every year as Democracy Day, it is obvious that we are yet to take the first real step in our journey to the Promised Land.
This state of affairs is bound to continue unless and until we get our political arrangement and configurations straightened out. And we ought to be in a great haste to get this done. The truth about Nigerian politics is its ethnic and religious pigmentation. These factors are pivotal in understanding the character, nature, content and systemic organizations that shape Nigerian politics and way of life. No matter how the apologists and beneficiaries of the present system may try to explain away this reality, present events prove conclusive and evidential of this scourge. The ethnic and primordial character of appointments by the present administration only confirms this reality.
This cannot be otherwise given the fact that after over fifty years of political independence, the Nigerian project still thrives on the illusion of unity even in the absence of binding ethos. Thus, the nature of the Nigerian state has sustained the entrenchment of political power groups defined by ethnic and religious rather than national goals. As the post independence events have shown, the various political parties since independence have followed this pattern of ethnic determinism in their evolution despite our pretensions to the contrary. This is because of the centrifugal forces at play in our polity.
A little flight into history will authenticate this assertion. In 1949, the northern political establishment founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) with the philosophy of “One North, One People, and One Destiny”. The Yoruba nation followed suit in 1951 with the formation of Action Group (AG), with a rallying cry for the protection of Yoruba interests in Nigeria. These parties, with their limited ethnic horizon, expectedly inflicted grave wounds on the pan-Nigerian pretensions of the NCNC, which progressively assumed the toga of southeastern political party. No matter how any person may try to explain away that fact in retrospect, it was the beginning of the denigration of the birth of a truly Nigerian state.
The emergence of these parties further proved the point that from the very beginning, the various ethno-linguistic configurations in Nigerian had wittingly voted for self-determination. As a further proof and assertion of its vote for ethnic determinism, the Northern Regional House of Assembly on May 23rd 1953 passed a resolution calling for confederation on the principles of regional cum ethnic autonomy, with a loose central government.
The significance of the foregoing is that all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria had always yearned for a Nigerian state anchored on ethnic self-determination. Why restructuring on these terms today should constitute a problem leaves much to be desired.
The understanding of Nigerian political and social process from the prisms of ethnicity and religion has always led to questionable manipulation of census figures in Nigeria. Is it not worrisome that since independence Nigeria has never had a credible head count? Nigeria’s actual population even today is subject to estimation.
Even the history of party formation in Nigeria has largely followed the trajectory of ethnicity and religion. A close look at the formation of political parties especially after the civil war reveals a peculiar trend of formation. Most of the political parties that emerged in this country since after the war have always been decreed by the military in the same way that they manufactured and imposed constitutions on the rest of us without our input. The military has always decreed the conditions for the formation and registration of political parties; one of which is “national spread”; a very expensive condition usually sold as the need to “promote national unity and integration”. But in reality, these parties were designed to play predictable subterfuge.
Having destroyed our federalism, the military introduced unitary system and systematically appropriated the national economy under a central command structure and suitably empowered their cronies to effectively take control of the ensuing political regimes. The parameters for participation were designed to actualize the aims of this conspiracy.
Thus, emboldened by this vicious plot oiled by the confiscation of the national wealth, the hegemons successfully reduced our people to minions in the Nigerian project. The reduction of the Nigerian people to servitude and beggarly existence is not accidental. It is located in a cold-blooded systemic conspiracy at the highest levels in Nigeria by forces of repression signified by the successive military regimes in this country.
Our existence under this inequitable production-distribution-consumption pattern is a history of injustice, exclusion, pathological and criminal as well as brutal exploitation and appropriation of our resources. Indeed, our plight reads like a parchment on the scroll of mindless iniquities orchestrated by those who are deluded to think that others exist in Nigeria to serve their narrow interests.
If you cast your minds back to the sad chapters of our history, you will see in our broken history of tears the pains of a people long subjected to iniquity on account of our distorted federal structure. The wealth of this country has been confiscated and we have been reduced to economic serfs and second class citizens in our own political space.
I want to say that our call for a restructured Nigeria is anchored on the many atrocities we have suffered in Nigeria; and let nobody be deluded into thinking that the passage of time has dimmed our sense of history. Today the former south-eastern region lies prostrate and desolate. The brutal assault of soldiers under this Republic has left Odi town smouldering in total ruins; painted the firmament of existence with blood and survivors scampering for safety. Rampaging soldiers, acting under the instructions of the state debased the dignity of many women in Choba town in Rivers State in one moment of madness. Renowned writer and environmentalist, Ken-Saro Wiwa was killed by the State in a judicial murder to stifle the resolve of the Ogoni people to self-determination. Nimbo town in Enugu State was over-run by herdsmen and hundreds massacred in cold blood. Our environment has become despoiled and degraded while our people groan in pain, agony, deprivation and grinding poverty. Successive Nigerian governments have left our people without a voice and a future in the proceedings of government. This brief historical excursion is necessary to enable us understand the need for a negotiated existence among the various interests in Nigeria.
written by Mazi Arthur Nwankwo