Again, the restructuring debate
The debate about the structural health of Nigeria has continued unabated in a context, which state actors lack the political will to act in remedial ways. But this year’s celebration of June 12 as the country’s democracy day opened the floodgate for the frontliners and agitators for a just federation to push once again to the front burner the issue of the lumbering Nigerian political structure. Those who add their voices to the resolution of what has become a major national question included President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. John Nwodo; elder statesman and Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko; former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; the second republic governor of the Old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and former chairman Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, among others. These public figures have all called for the urgent need to reset the country on a structural equilibrium for it to move forward.
Dr. Nwodo viewed the 1999 Constitution as a military document that was imposed rather than being constituted by the people in a process-led approach, thus it was high time the government took advantage of the current lockdown brought about by the corona pandemic to make hay about restructuring the country to eliminate the illegality of the 1999 constitution and re-order the country along the article of faith that the founding fathers of the country had with the British in the countdown to independence in 1960. That article of faith was to run the country on a regional federal matrix. The backsliding on it and the consequent skewed federal structure has triggered national instability among Boko Haram insurgency, the paralysis of military and the spiralling national mistrust among the various component units.
Chief Adebanjo, who lent his voice, stressed the point that the present grundnorm is deceitful to the extent that those who midwived it were unsure about its content. He, therefore, called for what he called “true federalism” while noting that the present administration was not interested in keeping the country together because it had gone against all the constitutional equilibrating clauses to make Nigeria a functional federation. The chief also took exception to those who claimed that the proponents of restructuring have not clearly defined what exactly they want, noting that such claims were baseless as they had always marshalled out at various important historical forums such as the 2014 Constitutional Conference of the Jonathan administration.
Mimiko who noted that restructuring was an idea whose time had come concurred with both Nwodo and Adebanjo. He argued that if the country must be kept together, there was need to restructure. Anyaoku spoke in the same vein. He noted that if Nigeria “is to face its serious current challenges effectively, it has to restructure its governance system. I am strongly of the view that, in order to live more effectively with the challenge of development, corruption and insecurity, we need to begin to build a truer nation of more viable federating units that would have responsibility for addressing these issues.”
Balarabe who was blunt said, “Let us go back to the regional arrangement, where we had Eastern Region, Northern Region, Western Region and later, Mid Western Region, and we saw more sense of responsibility in the leadership and we also saw coordinated progress, so, let us go back to that arrangement. Let us restructure the country and go back to the regional arrangement, and so, should abolish the states and go back to regions.”
Jega, who superintended the elections that brought to power the current administration, restated the urgency of a process to restructure the country for functionality. He noted the contradictions of the extant grundnorm. As he puts it, “In reality, the 1999 Constitution has concentrated too much power and resources in the hands of the Federal Government, as a comparison of the exclusive and residual lists clearly shows; in this regard the uniqueness or exceptional character of the Nigerian federal arrangement is glaring. Powers, which are traditionally the preserve of the federating units (states, regions, provinces) are in Nigeria handed over either exclusively to the Federal Government or are shared concurrently by the Federal Government and the states.”
In his argument contained “Towards Restructuring of the Nigerian Federal System: Contribution to a Discussion,” a contribution on webinar on restructuring held earlier this month, he acknowledged the separate impulses in the polity, and dismissed the arrogant claim of the indivisibility of the country while acknowledging the need to re-arrange the country along the principle of justice and on a federal matrix that adheres to best global practices. According to him, there is need to renegotiate the strengthening of the federation through devolution of power, resources and responsibilities than to go the route of “separation” and secession. His preference was a two-tier federal system but not a reversion to the regional structure of the immediate post-independence period. As he put it, “Nigeria should revert to the two-tier system: Federal and States (LGAs subsumed under the states). It would be unrealistic, if not impossible to revert to a regional structure similar to what was in Nigeria’s past history. The pressures that led to the creation of states would not tolerate collapsing or regrouping those states to regions.” He, however, disagreed with the concept of “true federalism” because “Federalism is a lived experience, continuously changing and seeking for improvement.”
What is of interest in all these is that there is a convergence of opinion on the unworkability of the present structure. The dithering of state actors due to the absence of political will is worrisome and has done more damage to the polity. Today, the country’s ills have multiplied and are nudging the country towards an implosion. This is no time to bicker about what is “true federalism.” Those who employed this phrase do so to convey a sense of an equitable federation; it is by no means an expression of static notion of the motion of society.
We have argued several times on this page that the problem with our country is not the absence of solutions but the will to act. The 2014 Constitutional Conference with its limitations was a milestone in trying to bring about national consensus on the contentious issues of the day. The leadership, which convened the conference did not act timeously to remedy some of the ambiguities of our federation over which consensus on moving forward was reached.
The present administration campaigned with the issue of restructuring of the country among others. Notwithstanding, since assuming power in 2015, it has been one of motion without movement. We are of the conviction that if we do not make haste to renegotiate the structure of our polity, we would be consumed by the foreseeable consequences of our recalcitrance to do the needful.
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