The RESTRUCTURING debate is a smoldering topic that has continued to gain ascendancy in public discourses as the search for a magic formula to cure Nigeria’s several incapacitating ailments continues to gain momentum.
It cannot be overemphasized that Nigeria is in dire need of immediate structural reconfiguration. The challenges of unequal political representation, skewed revenue allocation regime, worsening insecurity, uneven physical development, parasitic financial dependence of states on the center and sundry other inherent pitfalls, which are logical consequences of the country’s discomfiting structural challenges can only be arrested if the existing structure is comprehensively revamped.
The refusal of successive administrations to recognize, with intent to practically redress, the undeniable visceral deformities in the subsisting structural arrangement, is partly to blame for the country’s stunted development and the incessant volatility in the polity, mostly defined by widespread accusations of marginalization by estranged groups, forging of political alliances on the basis of ethnicity, religion and other primordial considerations, and resource based conflicts between federal and state authorities etc.
No one captures the country’s desperate need of a reconstructive surgery to re engineer and move her forward – consequent to the highly jumbled up, hugely contradictory, grossly deficient, malevolently unjust tilt of the current arrangement – more passionately and eloquently than ace columnist Dr. Rueben Abati who in a highly instructive article in Thisday (Tuesday July 4, 2017. 40) titled “The Nnamdi Kanu Phenomenon” posited that:
Nigeria remains an unanswered question, more than a century after the amalgamation of 1914. Before and after independence, virtually every government has had to deal with this same question, viz, the national question. Brought together in an unwieldy, unequal and uneven union by the British, Nigeria’s about 400 ethnic nationalities have been unable to transform into one nation, one union, a community of people and communities driven by a common purpose – to create a united, progressive nation, under the umbrella of patriotism and the common good.
However, it must be pointed out that the country’s principal afflictions are not solely its disjointed, conflict prone structural configuration, nor its weak institutional base, as has been repeatedly argued over the years by the acolytes of restructuring, who have postulated several practicable strategies (Sovereign National Conference; State Creation; Loose Federation; Federal Character Principle, which was entrenched in the 1979 Constitution and later reaffirmed in the 1999 Constitution; Quota System; Fiscal Federalism; Devolution of Powers; Constitutional Reviews; Secession; Plebiscite etc) that are supposed to address, with intent to redress, these systemic anomalies. Neither should we subscribe to the seductive arguments of the school of thought that blames it all on the systems of government – whether Federal, Parliamentary, Unitary, Military, Diarchy etc – the country has intermittently adopted and operated in the course of her checkered history.
While it is true that some of the aforesaid challenges constitute significant aspects of the systemic pitfalls stunting the country’s transformation into a fluidly functioning nation-state, the LEADERSHIP QUESTION remains the most critical elemental teaser that must be urgently addressed before the country can begin to transcend its persisting state of dysfunction. Once Nigeria gets it right at the level of leadership, all other missing parts of the Jigsaw Puzzle will ultimately fall into place. Without responsible, responsive and objective leadership, no structural arrangement or system of government can endure, no matter how well conceived and constructed. Whether a country rises or collapses is determined by the quality of leadership it has.
Pontificating on the need for the enthronement of responsible leaders to run the affairs of a restructured Nigeria, the late human rights activist cum columnist, Yinka Odumakin, of blessed memory, in an explosively expository article titled “In Search of a New Political Class”(Vanguard, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. 17) asserted that:
Nigeria will go under if we don’t restructure. But I am now fully persuaded that a restructured polity also needs noblemen and women to run its affairs.
In the same manner that no ship can successfully embark on a long, tempestuous voyage without the guidance of fearless and skilled sailors, no nation can achieve success without the guidance of committed leaders, no matter how solid its architectural blueprint is. The great countries of the world are doing well because they have patriotic leaders running their administrative machinery, not necessarily because they operate perfect structures. In fact, no system is perfect. Most outwardly perfect systems have inbuilt mechanisms for crisis management, a critical aspect of nation-building. Nigeria’s subsisting structural arrangement has seemingly failed largely because its successive operators have lacked the requisite commitment and know-how to properly manage it.
Nigeria needs devoted and skilled captains to sail her ship of state. Nigeria needs true champions of the popular will to operate whatever structural arrangement or system of government it eventually adopts. Nigeria needs concentric arrowheads who can inspire true followership across all – real and imagined – ethnic, religious, political, class and other primeval boundaries. Restructuring and other desperately desired, extremely necessary reforms must go hand-in-hand with the enthronement of a Utilitarian system of government that caters equally for ALL Nigerians, whether Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Christian, Muslim, Animist, traditionalist, manor woman, rich or poor, belonging to a ruling political party or the opposition.
Despite all its much-trumpeted advantages, restructuring will not automatically engender good leadership. It will not put a sudden, wholesome end to the cancerous challenges of compulsive greed, asinine nepotism, cronyism, internecine ethno-religious bigotry, crippling poverty, official corruption, inane criminality, intractable conflicts and other avoidable social vices, which are largely the symptoms, as well as consequences of poor governance.
Restructuring can only work if there is a corresponding ATTITUDINAL RESTRUCTURING at the leadership level. Those in control of state apparatuses, through which values are authoritatively allocated, must have the right orientations and mindsets to governance. They must see themselves as servants, and not masters. They should see their offices not as exalted positions, but privileges accorded them by the benevolence of the popular sovereigns whose collective interests must be upheld at all times.
Again, despite the urgent need for a structural reformation of the federation, the standout question is, after restructuring, what next? How will the emerging structure (whatever form it assumes: whether from states as federating units back to regions; or to make the geo-political subdivisions chief components of the federation with constitutional recognition; or whatever) be managed, and by whom? How would the palaver to discuss the shape of the new federation be constituted, and by whom? Will it not be business as usual, considering the fact that the same crop of uncouth leaders who are responsible for the current rot, and who are in the vanguard of those raucously screaming for restructuring, might still be in charge of the new arrangement in their constituencies?
Thus, for any restructuring exercise to enjoy popular legitimacy, every Nigerian – regardless of tribe, tongue, religion and class- must be carried along. Such an exercise must be preceded by a genuine “Sovereign National Conference”, a transparent palaver where all the multifarious groups constituting the Nigerian union can assemble to thrash out all the knotty issues stagnating Nigeria’s development and chart a new course forward for the country.
The criminally closed, curiously restrictive shady practices in the past when the political elite routinely convened to hash out constitutional formulas for sharing the booties of power within its ranks under the guise of NATIONAL CONFERENCES, without the active involvement of the common people, must be jettisoned for a more translucent, all-inclusive exercise that is representative of all the classes and interest groups in the country.
Unlike the 1977/78 Constituent Assembly whose discussions culminated in the 1979 Constitution, the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference, the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, and the 2014 National Conference, all of which were confabulations where modalities for the sharing and distribution of political power and economic resources among the country’s political elite were worked out, any future palaver must be people centered. This is the best way moving forward.
Hear Reuben Abati’s (Ibid) take on the necessity for any future conference to discuss the future shape or structure of the Nigerian federation to be all-inclusive:
Those who have always blocked or hijacked the people’s conference must by now realize that we are close to the point of no return on a review and rephrasing of the Nigerian question, in order to make every Nigerian feel a part of the Nigerian project. The alternative in an all possible shapes appears ominous.
Speaking in similar vein, a nonagenarian, Chief Sam Igbe (2014), the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, and a retired Commissioner of Police, affirms that:
To find answer to this (national) question today, all the 389 ethnic nationalities, or groups of the ethnic nationalities as constituted by they themselves, must talk.
In conclusion, a legitimate Federal Republic of Nigeria can only be founded on the supreme authority of Nigerians themselves, not on the unstable, marshy foundations the current skewered structure rests. The POPULAR WILL”, which should ideally be geared towards providing for the COMMON GOOD, must be the driving force behind any attempt at restructuring this polity and establishing a new Nigeria. This is the best way going forward.
God bless my country!