BY TUNDE OGUNTOLA
Restructuring has become one of the most discussed subjects in public discourse. While some prominent voices in the nation uphold that Nigeria can perform better when it is restructured, others have described such call as a tool for blackmail to gain political relevance ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The advent of the military in politics made gobbledygook of the nation’s federalism since 1966 through the Unification Decree by the late Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi-led government. Based on its hierarchical command structure, the central military government became so powerful while the states are relegated and subordinated, like the Soviet Federalism of old to mere administrative units of the central government. The federal system of government is the direct opposite, the coming together of different entities for the good of all but not the loss of their respective independence.
Let us not get it mixed up, “restructuring” and “federalism” have become the most misrepresented words even by those who should understand and work for their actualization of the system in the interest of peace and progress of Nigeria. Mischief makers have chosen to see the call for restructuring to gain political relevance and as a weapon to break up the country to garner support ahead of the next presidential elections and also so that others would not have access to the oil and gas resources.
If properly harnessed true federalism will help curb corruption at all level of government. For instance, with greatly reduced income at the national level profligacy is bound to fall. At the state and local levels also once everyone realize that the resources are gotten from their local capitals, which are accessible, rather than just the national level.
However, the call for restructuring in Nigeria has elicited several mixed reactions and thus generated critical debates by both scholars, political jobbers, politicians, journalists, commentators and of course the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta Region, the list is endless. Conversely, the debate to practice true federalism in the country or not is well beyond political rhetoric and ethnic polemics.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his campaign manifesto, promised to “initiate action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties, and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.” In all fairness, President Buhari never used the word, “restructuring”.
This current administration must summon the courage to make hard choices, especially the choice to practice a true federalism and the choice to embrace the necessary self-sacrifice that precedes economic recovery.
Consequently, as the calls for restructuring gathers steam, there is a corollary; the gnawing fear that equates restructuring with the break up Nigeria. Technically, Nigeria has been restructured several times. True federalism should be pivotal as the present demand is to make the Nigerian entity and its integral parts, more efficient, more acceptable, more productive, more functional and above all, more equitable. Nigeria arrived at the present juncture, first, because of entrenched distrust of the political leadership and second, because Nigerian leaders pathologically loath political and academic analysis pointing them to vexatious national questions.
Reacting to frenzy and calls for restructuring the country to a united nation; Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has expressed his strong opposition to such calls in the country, saying there was nothing wrong with Nigeria to warrant the raging clamour for restructuring or dismemberment.
The former president who spoke at the palace of Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli, when he paid a visit to the monarch said that what needs restructuring is the mindset of Nigerians. He averred that “there is nothing wrong with Nigeria, but a lot is wrong with Nigerians. We need to correct what is wrong with Nigerians and you become an accomplice if you fail to say what is right”.
Obasanjo noted that there is nothing wrong in asking for more share of the national cake but it is unacceptable for anyone to say that the only way out of the current challenges facing the country is restricting or separation.
According to him, “We can solve all our problems through dialogue, debate, discussion, conversation. I participated in the civil war. It was gruesome, destructive and deadly. Those clamouring don’t know what war means. I swore never to be part of it again. They say in my place that he who sees Sango (god of thunder) fighting; destroying with fire will never want to see Sango in his element again.
“The answer to most of our problems is mindset change and change of mentality. It is our diversity that make us a great country. I won’t want a Nigeria where we dance same juju, or wear same attire. Our strength is in our diversity. Some progress is being made in spite of our difficulties and problems. We need to make greater progress than we have made before. If we do that, we will have good governance.
‘’There should be no impunity; everybody must have a sense of belonging, a stake in this project called Nigeria. Dismemberment of Nigeria is not good enough.
Recall that former president, Ibrahim Babangida, recently added his voice to a plethora of others striving for restructuring of the country. He decried the “ongoing altercations and vituperations” in the country, which he feared could lead to war, and reminded Nigerians of the miserable conditions of war-ravaged African countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Rwanda.
He said although the country has survived a lot of crisis in the past, restructuring can no longer be wished away..
“Restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the federal government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defense, and economy,” he stated.
Babangida who lent his weight to the many calls for the political restructuring of the Nigerian federation while admitting that restructuring and devolution of powers would not provide all the answers, he explained that they would help to reposition the mindset of Nigerians to generate new ideas and initiatives that would make the Nigerian union worthwhile.
He suggested the devolution of more powers to the states while the Federal Government should be vested with the responsibility to oversee our “foreign policy, defence, and the economy.”
The former Vice-President and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar also argued that states that were not financially viable should be collapsed into those that were viable.
“There is no doubt that many of our states are not viable, and were not viable from the start once you take away the federation allocations from Abuja. We have to find creative ways to make them viable in a changed federal system”, said Atiku.
For sure, there are those who would want to dismiss Atiku for many reasons. One, he was vice-president for eight years and he never raised this issue. Two, it is an open secret that he nurses presidential ambition and may have in fact started his campaign. While these are true, so is the fact he has been consistent on this issue of restructuring since 2010.
The All Progressives Congress (APC), national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu recently proffered true federalism as the only way to drive democracy in the country.
Tinubu said Nigerians must begin to ask questions on why the country has remained underdeveloped despite passing through the oil boom and so many opportunities to become a great nation, adding that Nigerians must break away from its negative past and focus on a brighter future if it hopes to achieve the nation of their dream.
The APC leader also said that more powers and resources need to be devolved to the states, adding that the federal government is taking too much.
The Jagaban of Borgu who is also a consummate political strategist noted that as a nation, Nigeria cannot flourish with over concentration of powers at the centre.
Apart from using dialogue to solve the myriads of challenges facing Nigerians, mental and attitudinal restructuring should precede physical or fiscal restructuring as a defective mind cannot offer progressive thoughts. A mind that sees issues from the angle of ethnicity, tribalism and other narrow consideration is considered anti-developmental and not capable of making meaningful to efforts geared at nation building.