The need for an urgent restructuring of the Nigerian federation has never been as expedient as it has become of late. The escalation in the volume of secessionist agitations in the country’s South-East and parts of the South-South spearheaded by the Nnamdi Kanu led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); the vacation notice served on Igbos living in the North by a coalition of Arewa youth organizations; growing tensions in the Niger Delta where militant groups have upped the ante in their struggle for supremacy with state security forces; and increasing animosities amongst the countries indigent groups, are surface symptoms of a more visceral, potentially debilitating sore that must be given urgent attention.
This piece examines the growing calls across the country by the champions of restructuring for an overhaul of the subsisting arrangement on the grounds that the 1914 amalgamation of the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria was an unmitigated gaffe – an avoidable mistake.
There is no doubt that the processes that culminated in the creation of the Nigerian State were faulty. As has been consistently argued by a retinue of both academic and casual analysts over the years, the British Buccaneers did not consult with the original owners of the lands that were arbitrarily yanked together to constitute contemporary Nigeria. This deliberate oversight by the British is one of the principal background factors responsible for the age long Jekyll and Hyde relationship among the country’s constituent units. Thus restructuring is widely considered the panacea to the debilitating challenges stalling the smooth functioning of the Nigerian State system.
The need for Nigeria to undergo reconstructive surgery in order to reengineer and move it forward, due to the highly jumbled up, hugely contradictory, grossly deficient, malevolently unjust and unviable tilt of the current arrangement was captured by ace columnist Rueben Abati (Thisday Tuesday July 4, 2017. 40) in a highly instructive article titled “The Nnamdi Kanu Phenomenon”:
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, despite the urgent need for a structural reformation of the system as currently constituted and operated, 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; to make the geo-political subdivisions chief components of the federation with constitutional recognitions; or a consensus in principle that it is pertinent to reconfigure the subsisting structure) be managed, 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 country’s subsisting state of stagnancy are likely to still be in charge of the new arrangement?
The truth must be told that Nigeria’s major 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 and partitioning, who have postulated several practicable strategies (Sovereign National Conference, State Creation, Loose Federation, Fiscal Federalism, Devolution of Powers, Constitutional Reviews, Secession, Plebiscite et al) that are supposed to address, with intent to redress, these systemic anomalies. Neither do I subscribe to the seductive arguments of those who blame it all on the systems of government – whether Federal, Parliamentary, Unitary, Military et al – the country has intermittently adopted and operated in the course of her history.
While it is true that Nigeria’s structural challenges constitute significant aspects of the systemic variables stunting its transformation into a fluidly and lucidly 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 shame. 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. Speaking in related vein, veteran human rights activist and ace columnist, Yinka Odumakin in an explosively expository article titled “In Search of a New Political Class” (Vanguard, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. 17) avers 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 voyage without the guidance of committed 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 machineries, 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 lines of bifurcation in the country. 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 Igbos, Hausas or Yorubas.
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, 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 all levels of leadership. Those in control of state apparatuses, through which values are authoritatively allocated, must have the right orientation and mindset 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 interest must be upheld at all times.
Again, for any restructuring exercise to have legitimacy in Nigeria, every Nigerian – regardless of tribe, tongue, religion and class – must be carried along. The criminally closed, curiously restrictive practices in the past when the political elite routinely convened to hash out constitutional formulas for sharing the booty 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 transparent, 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.
Hear Reuben Abati’s (Ibid) views on the necessity for any future conference to discuss the shape 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.
A legitimate Federal Republic of Nigeria can only be founded on the authority of Nigerians themselves, not on the shaky, unstable, asymmetric sand-base the current skewered structure rests upon. The popular will, which should naturally 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, and the foundation on which a proper Constitution and Bill of Rights should be produced.