In the political history of Nigeria, the practice of restructuring the country had always been highly and negatively politicised. From the creation of Mid West out of Western Region in 1963 to the creation of the 12 states (May 1967) under the Gowon junta, there had always been a spirit of giving or securing advantage at the expense of the others. It is this same spirit of calculating selfish political gains that seems to drive suspicion into the hearts of some current political leaders whenever the idea of restructuring Nigeria is mentioned. I am therefore outlining as ‘simplistic’ and simple as possible what it means to restructure Nigeria from a layman’s point of view.
In the cacophony of voices calling for Nigeria to be restructured therefore, it is apposite to state clearly what restructuring entails. To be sure there has been apprehension in some quarters about the whole idea of a restructure. Sometimes one wonders whether the apprehension is the result of ignorance or outright mischief. The first point to be made is that those calling for restructuring Nigeria believe that it is in the overall interest of Nigerians to remain in one political entity.
To restructure Nigeria means that all the states or regions would properly become federating units. A federating unit is a part or section of the Federation that has willingly agreed to be part of a federation. It would generate its resources, contribute to the national coffers through taxes and develop at its own pace. The different constituent parts would decide on how they want to fund education at all levels, the importance of religion, the importance of trade, and generate its own power. In the real sense, power would really be in the States or Regions. The artificiality of a Federal Government which dictates to the States would be gone.
It follows that the current practice of going to Abuja every month end to crudely share money would cease. It is an unhealthy practice; it destroys personal initiative and encourages official laziness. Under the restructuring, states are regions would concentrate on generating its resources in order to meet their dreams. States would be more vibrant. Governors would sit up. The people would have a better and greater say in local politics.
As a result of the points above, the Federal Government would have lesser financial commitments. It would concentrate on Defence, the national economy and foreign relations. In effect, the unhealthy struggle to become President of Nigeria would reduce considerably. The way the country is currently configured, whoever becomes President is extremely empowered to tilt things in favour of a region or a zone. In a real federation, regions could afford to ignore an inefficient or parochial or a permanently drunk or womanizing President.
A State or region could decide to make education free at all levels; nobody would lose sleep because such a constituent part must have or source for the resources to fund education. The state could decide to build more schools and universities and ensure that everybody in the territory gains access to education. If we restructure the country, a region or a state could decide to invest enormous resources on exploration of solid minerals in its territory. As a result, the natural advantages which the constituent parts of the federation have would be properly harnessed.
Except the National Assembly outlaws it, any state could proclaim their preference for an official religion. Thus, Zamfara could decide that Islam is its official religion. It could outlaw alcohol or any devices which Islam condemns. It could also decide not to share in the proceeds of VAT on such outlawed goods and services. But if ab initio the Federal Constitution rejects official religion in any state, Zamfara could be challenged in a court of Law by an indigene of the State or an official of the Federal Government in defence of the Constitution.
Restructuring does not mean creating more States or reducing the number of local governments which a State has. Indeed, in a restructured Nigeria, a State could decide to create any number of Local Governments which it can maintain through its own resources. This would also mean that there would be no reference to the number of States which the North has or the number of states in the South. This is because no State would depend on the Federal Government for its survival.
The Army will remain national in a restructured Nigeria. No ethnic group would be allowed to dominate or control the Armed Forces. Merit will be a strong factor in promotions. Also, the interest of the constituent parts of the Federation would also be crucial. This would not be in any negative sense. But in the sense of ensuring that anybody who qualifies to join the Army would be so admitted so long as there is vacancy.
In a restructured Nigeria, the States would have their own security forces. Crime prevention and control would be vested in the local authorities. The current situation where an IG sits in Abuja and pretends to control all the 36 Commands of the Nigeria Police would be a thing of the past. The Federal Government through mutual agreement would also legislate on crimes and offences that it could and must prosecute. The different constituent parts would have their own laws, regulations and conventions.
The pyramids of groundnuts will return to a restructured Nigeria. Cocoa or its equivalent would return. The Niger Delta would do with its oil what any sensible polity should do – develop infrastructure and invest in human capital. Refineries would be set up and Nigeria would stop exporting crude oil. The quality of life would increase in the region. Huge taxes would be paid to the Federal Government and with many hears of practice we would have a stable polity.
If these are the benefits of a restructured Nigeria, why are some of us apprehensive of change? The truth is that Nigeria as currently constituted and managed is an experiment on the impossible. The political structure is one of the vestiges of many years of military misrule when the Command and Obey structure of the Armed Forces was imposed on the civilian population of the nation. By restructuring Nigeria, we would be saying a final goodbye to military rule, its history and the deleterious effects of its decades of administrative misadventure in the political history of Nigeria.
It is better to initiate the discussions through a framework and platform that all stakeholders would agree to as early as possible. The present arrangement has not worked. It has bred laziness and increased dependence on one natural resource to the detriment of the immense potentials which God has given Nigeria. The only thing to fear is fear.