POLICY INTERROGATION, DISCOURSE AND DEBATE BY OSELOKA H. OBAZE
Restructuring Nigeria; Not When, But How
Nigeria is at risk unless it finds the courage to restructure. A nation in dire straits, Nigeria has a choice, to restructure by plan or by default. A planned restructuring will be collaborative, systematic, and redesign Nigeria, yet keep it whole. A default restructuring, will happen, certainly not by choice, but definitely like an uncontrolled experiment with attendant risks and indefinite outcome. The challenge confronting Nigeria now, is that the long overdue restructuring will happen, when the cost of not restructuring far outweighs the cost of restructuring.
Nigeria’s federalism remains so only in name. As such, the debate to restructure Nigeria or not is well beyond political rhetoric and ethnic polemics. President 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, Buhari never used the word, “restructure”; but it was implied. As the debate on restructuring gathers steam, there’s a corollary; the gnawing fear that equates restructuring with the break up Nigeria. Such concern is unfounded and the notion defeatist. Nigeria has been restructured several times, without negative consequences. 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. Shamefully, Nigerian leaders only react to violent agitations; always belatedly and mostly, in very crass if not heinous manner.
Since the civil war, Nigeria has never been as polarized as it is now. Restructuring Nigeria, is therefore, naturally compelling for reasons, which may include the desire to tweak management, ownership and operational or administrative modalities, with a view to achieving equity and efficiency. Restructuring sometimes arise from crisis situations or the need to preempt political catastrophe. The latter is a core premise for Nigeria. Regardless of what opponents of restructuring think, Nigeria must restructure or risk self-destruction. What matters is whether Nigeria’s leadership can seize the moment and save the nation. But what matters most, is not when, but how to restructure peaceably. President Buhari’s manifesto also recognized the need to “Bring permanent peace and solution to the insurgency issues in the North-East; the Niger Delta; and other conflict prone states and areas such as Plateau, Benue, Bauchi, Bornu, Abia, Taraba, Yobe, and Kaduna in order to engender national unity and social harmony.” Along these delineations, a casual line matrix connecting all the flash points in Nigeria will reveal a nation steeped in deep crisis.
The crux of the problem is that citizen alienation is rife nationwide; to the extent that every ethnic jigsaw component of Nigeria feels sufficiently aggrieved, marginalized and therefore, seeks equity via restructuring. Paradoxically, before now, the call for restructuring was one-sided. Now, restructuring calls emanate tellingly from the east, west, south and north of Nigeria. Eminent Nigerians canvassing for restructuring include, Ben Nwabueze, Atiku Abubakar, Balarabe Musa, Wole Soyinka, Alani Akinrinade, Edwin Clark, Emeka Anyaoku, Ishola Williams, Tanko Yakassai, and pan-sectional groups like Ohaneze Ndiigbo, Afenifere, Movement for National Reformation and The Patriots. An inescapable addition is a slew of agitating and emergent armed groups, including Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, MOSSOB and MEND.
Northern stakeholders seem averse to restructuring. However, Adamu Ciroma in saying “I don’t agree that the North is afraid of restructuring," tampered that disposition. Gen. Yakubu Gowon supports restructuring, albeit within established parameters; “We can restructure within one Nigeria context.” Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State does not favour restructuring as "panacea to the nation’s current socio-economic woes"; rather he prefers restructuring of “the national mindsets” aimed at returning Nigeria to "the path of progress."
The motives behind restructuring vary, yet it's well understood that restructuring can't be orchestrated on a sectional, basis, except by force of violence. It’s that singular realization and the need to avoid violence that propels the clamour for a formalized restructuring of Nigeria. The clamour is underpinned by Machiavelli’s mantra of “the powerful influence of necessity”. Ironically, entrenched suspicion is still rampant that any call for restructuring is insidious and masked with ulterior motives; primarily to Balkanize Nigeria. In truth, the thirty-six state structure does that support that theory. Moreover, investments by a huge cluster of wealthy Igbo elite outside their southeast home base have made most Igbo elite embarrassingly taciturn on restructuring issues - read fear of economic reprisals. Yet such reticence is misconstrued, as the Igbo desire restructuring badly, so their enterprises can continue to flourish in a united Nigeria.
If there is a common denominator for restructuring, it's that broad segments of the nation feel justifiably marginalized. The south-south claim continued deprivation and blight from oil pollution, despite being the hub for the nation's oil wealth. The south-east legitimately gripes that nothing will change the history of the Igbo being divested of some of their properties and wealth after the war and being handed only twenty pounds each; and that fifty-six years after independence, the Nigerian presidency continue to elude the Igbo. The North has valid gripes too. Most of Nigeria's insolvent states are in the North; the broadest swathes of underdeveloped Nigeria are in the North and the largest numbers of uneducated and unskilled youths are from the north. Because northern states are not oil producing, they also lose out on preferential derivation from oil. These differing claims tally with Atiku Abubakar's recent summation: "Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach it has not served my part of the country, the North well." However, the natural argument that follows is that the North’s problems are self-inflicted; if Nigeria’s misrule has negatively impacted the north, the blame lies with Northerner’s who have predominantly ruled Nigeria.
Certain realities must be borne in mind. Post-independent Nigeria had four regions, which without the benefit of oil created wealth, were self-sufficient in food and production of various cash crops and other exportable commodities. The regions contributed effectively to bankrolling the central government. Today, the reverse is the case. While across board, segments of Nigeria’s population continue to express “feelings of marginalization, of being short-changed, dominated, oppressed, threatened, or even targeted for elimination,” what is most bothersome to them is being subjected to involuntary “dependency” arising from overwhelmingly centralized powers. So long as Nigerians feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the commonweal; so long as Nigerians feel dependent, vulnerable, somewhat disenfranchised, and are tugged by emotions- betrayal, disappointment, frustrations; the clamour for restructuring will persist.
Because Nigeria is so politically polarized, rallying the nation to a consensus on restructuring is fraught with difficulties. Yet two points must be made emphatically. Nigerians must accept that the phobia against restructuring is misplaced, more so when linked with a breakup. Secondly, restructuring need not be a one-off or a this-day event. Hence restructuring must be handled the same way one seeks equity; everyone is obligated to come to the table with clean hands; meaning tolerance, openness and accommodation. Nigeria’s restructuring jives with Buhari’s ‘change” agenda and campaign promises. The process calls for frank dialogue; the dialogue proper, though unshapen, commenced with the 2014 National Confab, imperfect as it was. Meaningful strides are possible starting with the implementation of select recommendations of the 2014 Confab Report and setting modalities for tackling the longer-term agenda. This approach offers several dividends; it will buy the nation time, assuage frayed nerves and convey a sense of inclusivity to Nigerians.
Finally, President Buhari having boxed himself into a corner, by consigning the 2014 Confab report to the archives, without the benefit of reading it, must correct that policy and governance flub. He needs to rescind that decision and embrace the Confab report in principle, thus tacitly supporting the restructuring agenda, while fulfilling his campaign promise. Thereafter, he can offer his template for restructuring Nigeria.
Obaze, is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd.