Advocates of restructuring are clamouring for it for different reasons. Many who claim that they are marginalised feel that restructuring will solve that problem. Others are for it because the centre is too powerful; so power should devolve to the regions. As the debate on restructuring catches on, Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examines the fundamental issues at stake and suggests what should be done to give every part of the country a sense of belonging.
THE number of Nigerians interested in the restructuring of the country is growing. The idea is not new, but the rate at which it is now gaining currency suggests that it is a compelling issue that should be confronted frontally, to avoid a damage to the body politicy.
The proponents believe the challenges facing the country should provide an opportunity to restore true federalism through restructuring. According to them, restructuring will address the allegations of marginalisation and injustice from different ethnic nationalities and groups across the country. It also believed that addressing the issue will dispel the cloud of tension and violence hanging over the country.
Analysts blame the current agitation on the military intervention that wiped out the federal structure handed down by former colonial overlords and foisted a unitary system of government on the country. Such analysts are of the view that the 1999 Constitution is anything but federal, because it does not allow regions to extract resources within their jurisdiction and pay taxes to the federal government among other things.
The current revenue allocation formula, experts insist, is skewed in favour of the Federal Government. The analysts recall that “before the advent of the military in 1966, the Federal Government was assigned only 20 per cent of the revenue, as against the 54 per cent it now receives. The Federation Account pays 50 per cent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the federation in respect of any mineral extracted in any region and any mining rents derived by the federation during that year from within that region. The remaining 30 per cent credited to the Distributive Pool is shared among the regions or states. That was the provision as contained in the 1960 Constitution until the military reversed it by decree.”
Observers say the major problem in the present constitutional arrangement is the over–centralisation of authority in the centre within the context of a political order that emphasises optimum sharing of power between the central government and the federating units. They argue that in a federal constitution there is always a compromise between the need or the desire for union and the rights and the responsibilities of the states forming the union.
A lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Monday Ubani, is of the view that no restructuring can be done as long as the 1999 Constitution remains in force, because it contains so many flaws. To him, it’s like building a house on a very weak foundation.
Ubani, who is the Second Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said: “We must first of all agree we want to stay together as a nation and what kind of relationship we desire. This question can only be answered by members of the Constitutional Assembly. It is on the basis of the answer provided that we will determine the type of constitution that will be drafted by members of the Constitutional Assembly elected by the people and not hand-picked by the government.”
According to him, the clamour for restructuring making waves across the country is a genuine cause, because without restructuring the country cannot make progress. He explained that there is tension all over the country because the country is not running a true federalism that allows resource control by the federating units.
He added: “Unless we sit down and agree on the need for devolution of powers to the states and local governments, we can’t have a balanced federalism. It is the over-centralisation that is making the centre too attractive for people to win presidential or National Assembly elections at all cost.
“We have to restructure our minds. We cannot run a country where people have divisive tendencies; we must have a common goal; we must agree we want to stay together and work together.”
However, veteran politician, Dr Junaid Muhammed, has taken a swipe on those agitating for restructuring. He said: “Many of them can’t define the concept; rather they are looking for a chance to cause confusion and mislead the people. Is it to redefine the components or give a sense of belonging, they should tell us what they mean by restructuring?”
Muhammed, a member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan convoked a National Conference towards the end of his tenure to cause distraction. It was an eighth-month talk shop. Not a single one out of the recommendations was implemented before he left office.
He added: “Those who arm-twisted him to convoke the National Conference could not hold him accountable for refusing to implement the report. Now, they have started again to heat up the polity, by making unnecessary demands. For instance, the Southeast pressed for additional state in their zone to be at par with other zones, which was part of the conference recommendations. They should hold Jonathan responsible for this.
“I think we should allow the real leaders of each zone to speak for their people. I know the leadership of the mainstream of Yoruba politics were against the last National Conference and they are not buying into the idea of restructuring now.
“Now, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has joined the fray of restructuring campaign. I don’t know what his interests are. Can he define the word restructuring? Is he doing this for the sake of popularity? I think political leaders should stop deceiving common people in order to have their way. You cannot say one thing today and say something different tomorrow and you expect people to take you serious.
“Those criticising the Federal Government for taking lion share of the Federal Allocation should remember that it has bulk expenditure to contend with. For instance, if the Federal Government hands off from primary education today that sector will collapse. How many local or state governments can afford to pay salaries of primary school teachers in addition to their own staff?
But, Atiku justified his position by saying restructuring is necessary to address injustice and grievances arising from the structure of the country. He premised his argument on the current state of insecurity across the country. Atiku said: “No doubt Nigeria is passing through terrible times. Radical Islam and terrorism plaques the North, there is massive onslaught against oil installations by militants in the Niger Delta and heavy fighting between army and militants in the Southwest. Also pro-Biafran sentiment has reached unprecedented heights since 1970 in the Southeast. These are caused by injustice and grievances, arising from the structure of the country.
“The agitations and dissenting voices are growing strong. It started with Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Radio Biafra and now Niger Delta Avenger (NDA). These groups are waxing stronger and more resolute than previous ones and the Federal Government has shown its inability to stop them. Radio Biafra is still blasting despite jamming attempts and Nnamdi Kanu doesn’t look like he is joking, even in prison. Avengers have halved oil production and pledged to step up attacks in the coming months. The Federal Government has to borrow to augment budget deficit. Even if the Federal Government decides to use force, how can it succeed against a faceless militant group using guerrilla methods? Now, if it continues like this, can the country survive one more year?
“We have over the years responded to these agitations in a variety of ways and with a variety of measures. These include the creation of states from the earlier three and later four regions to the current 36 states; a civil war and other military operations in different parts of the country at different times; federal character principle; changes to revenue allocation formula; National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), federal take-over or establishment and management of schools, universities, hospitals, and huge federal presence in the economy as an investor. Others include the excessive centralisation of power at the federal level and the weakening of the federating states; and amnesty for repentant ex-militants of the Niger Delta.
“Unfortunately, these measures have not worked adequately to enhance national integration and the sustenance of our democracy. If anything, our unity has been fragile, our democracy unstable, and our people more aggrieved by their stay in the federation. We have always responded with the suspicion of the ‘other’ in trying to deal with these challenges to our integration and democratic survival.”
Former Chief of Defence Staff, General Julius Alani Akinrinade, blamed the problems Nigeria is confronting today on the military that disrupted democracy shortly after independence and introduced a centralised federal structure as against the regional arrangement.
Akinriade said: “Before military intervention, the three regions: the North, West and East; then the Mid-West carved out of the West later, were competing among themselves. Some of the infrastructures they created have not been replicated. Most of the roads, you see in Nigeria today were built before the military regime. If there was anything that was added after 1966, it was when we started giving command everywhere, it was during Gowon’s time and a little more thereafter.
“It was during Murtala’s era that we created the greatest havoc that put paid to development in Nigeria by disorganising the civil service. We didn’t just disorganise them, we also demoralised them. You can trace part of the corruption that we are fighting today to that era. People don’t have security again. What they thought was their future didn’t exist anymore. This must be part of the reasons people started stealing, amassing wealth and keeping it for their future.
“When the APC put up its manifesto, they said they were going to look very closely at the constitution and they were going to do a restructuring of the country. In the past two weeks, we have heard people trying to retrace their steps, the Presidency saying there is nothing like restructuring. I am not sure whether the last conference answered all questions. If it didn’t, this is another opportunity for us to do something. What I expected from this government is a declaration to say this is the step we are determined to take. And I think people will accept it. But, to tell us there is no restructuring, we are not going to take it. Nigeria is not going anywhere without restructuring.”
To the Arewa Consultative Forum, a northern socio-cultural organisation, the call for restructuring is unnecessary. The group advised those promoting the idea to have a rethink, because in their view the current federal structure is the best for the country and should be preserved.
Its spokesman, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim, said restructuring a complex, big and diverse country like Nigeria is a serious business that must take account of the view of all citizens, and not just of those that shout the loudest or issue threats, intimidation or blackmail. He said most of the discussions are taking place without regard to decorum or civility, as the issues are often presented as demands by one group or the other.
Ibrahim noted that groups and individuals should present their agitations through their representatives in the National and State Assemblies.
But, former Minister of Communications, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, disagrees, saying until Nigeria is restructured, the country will not experience true democracy.
He said: “There must be devolution, but before that there must be restructuring, so that the oppression of the minority within a unit can be stemmed. I want the restructuring of the Nigerian federation to be a priority of the current administration. My people in Kwara State want to be part of a Yoruba nation within a federation. So long there are such desires, they must be addressed and if it is not addressed, the people will not be happy.
“It is a matter of choice for each people where they belong and what role they play in government and who rules them. I was the Secretary of the Movement for National Reformation and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). These groups were all about the struggle for the restructuring of Nigeria. So, restructuring is crucial.”
On the way forward, Atiku said: “An honest reappraisal of the motives and principles behind existing solutions to our national integration challenges and their efficacy under current circumstances. Such an appraisal should not be shaped by which political party we belong to or any expected political benefits to individuals.
“An honest and clear-headed look at better working federal system in the world. Those system will reveal among other things a greater devolution and autonomy for the federating units, less interference of the centre on local matters such as local government administration, including local policing, central governments that depend on taxation of resource extraction and other economic activities rather than rent for their operations.”
Ubani suggested unicameral legislature for the country. He also wants the number of lawmakers be reduced for effective management and as a cost saving measure.