The solution is not in restructuring
Recently, President Mohammadu Buhari took a verbal swipe at the agitators and proponents of restructuring. He characterized them as “naďve and ignorant”. The president’s scoff at restructuring and its advocates irked many Nigerians; and elicited their criticisms of him. The generality of Nigerians are passionate supporters of restructuring Nigeria. Without much understanding of its significance and specifics, they are singing its praises, extolling and touting it, as something of a panacea to all our political and social problems.
The restructuring of Nigeria will not provide a solution to our innumerable and immeasurable problems because the wellspring of our problems is attitudinal, not constitutional. It is our perverted attitude towards the law – our entrenched penchant for breaking the law – that is the hemlock of the Nigerian society. Most of our national problems and maladies are direct consequences of lawlessness. And they can only be resolved or significantly reduced by an attitudinal change towards the law, not by endless tinkering with the constitution. With our culture of lawlessness, any constitution, irrespective of how exquisitely written, and the ideals it embodies, will be violated and abused. So, until Nigerians learn to respect the rule of law, no constitutional arrangement can work effectively in Nigeria.
Our law books abound with magnificent laws. If we obey these laws, our present constitution, even, with its obvious flaws, provides the basis for building a peaceful, democratic, secured and just society. With obedience to the law by the generality of Nigerians, the political class will seize to be corrupt, fraudulent, election-rigging, grasping, and money-stealing panjandrums. They will become public servants, completely subject to the will and legitimate aspirations of the people. Inevitably, Nigerian citizens will rise from pawns and stooges in an elite power game to become the focus of the interest, concern and actions of their elected and appointed government officials and every institution of government. Are these not the essence of a democratic, secured and just society, irrespective of the specifics of the constitution?
While there is a need to restructure Nigeria, we have placed much emphasis and misplaced hope on it. The devolution of more powers and fiscal responsibilities to the states will not automatically elevate our societal morals and ethics. “Characters are not so easily changed as laws”. So, a restructured Nigeria will not automatically relieve our moral and ethical surrealism; our moral squalor and ingrained proclivity for lawlessness will persist.
All tiers of government will still be run by the same iniquitous political clique matchless in their official brutality, arrogance of power, and buccaneering despoliation of the country. Invariably, the system will remain what it has always been: anarchistic and unjust. Without an attitudinal shift towards the law among Nigerians, no constitutional arrangement will appreciably improve the Nigerian situation. She will remain a disorderly country steep in corruption, social injustice, official brutality and mass poverty.
However, it is somewhat perplexing that President Buhari unequivocally denounced restructuring. After all, it is one of the planks of his political party’s (All People Congress) platform. It is obvious that despite their lip service to restructuring, the Nigerian power elite are averse to it. The former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is now a fervent advocate of restructuring, did not restructure Nigeria in his eight years of presidency. And our Christianized, congenial, gentleman president, Goodluck Jonathan, also failed to do it.
The yarn that with the exception of those from the Northeast and Northwest geo-political zones, the senators are all for restructuring is suspect. With three senators from every state, the four geo-political zones that supposedly support it have a majority in the senate. Why have these senate aficionados of restructuring, with their majority in the senate, not started the legislative process to restructure Nigeria? Simple, irrespective of tribe, religion, zone and party affiliation, the power elite do not want to restructure the country. They are very comfortable with the status quo; and will not countenance any momentous change to it.
In the same speech that he condemned restructuring, the president made a strong and pertinent case for the financial independence of local governments and state judiciaries. In their greed and hypocrisy, the governors are opposed to these because they want to continue to emasculate the local governments, expropriate their funds, and manipulate, and even, scuttle their elections. They also want to retain a financial choke on the state judiciaries, and continue to bend them to their personal wills.
From the dishonesty and equivocation of the Nigeria political class on restructuring, President Buhari stood out: he stated his unambiguous position on the matter. Secondly, against the opposition of state governors, and even, the federal legislators, he is resolutely advancing the financial independence of local governments and state judiciaries. Unfortunately, his demonstrated virtues of honesty and courage are anathemas in the unpromising conundrum of Nigerian politics.