Restructuring: This Too Shall Come To Pass By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The new lingo in the nation’s political lexicon is ‘restructuring’. I reckon with the obvious structural defects and unworkability of the federal system we run; after operating a particular model without much success, it needs to be tinkered with.

However the sing-song which the idea has become makes you wonder whether restructuring can be a ‘fix-all’ panacea for our country. What’s more, the proponents of restructuring have such divergent views and definitions that it may take eternity to arrive at a consensus and a blueprint good enough to serve as a working document for restructuring Nigeria.

The word ‘restructuring’ is now so ‘confusing’; it is used interchangeably to mean different things with different connotations, depending on the emotions, political and ethnic inclinations of the user. Its so confusing that even the ruling APC which has set up a committee to look into the issue could not appropriately marshal their terms of reference.

In a paid advert in some national dailies, in which the party called for memoranda to ‘make your voice heard’, it said “the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, recently constituted a committee on ‘true federalism’, with a mandate to review all the ideas variously referred to as “true federalism”, “restructuring”, “devolution of powers”, “regionalism”, “resource control” etc…”. So, if the party which made restructuring a campaign mantra (it had earlier denied it) does not know what it is looking for, how much more the rest of us? Have you also observed that the Presidency is keeping mum over restructuring and its party’s seeming charade in the on-going zonal conference.

The independence speech of the president was an opportunity to make public the government’s stand on the issue, but we only heard snide comments and the thorough bashing of agitators. Ask yourself, who will implement their recommendations? I hope this will not be another exercise in futility?

The party’s committee itemised issues around which submissions from the general public, political parties, professional associations, faith-based and civil society organisations should revolve, such as “creation/merger of states”, “derivation principle”, “devolution of powers”, “federating units”, “fiscal federalism and revenue allocation”, “form of government”, “independent candidacy”, “land tenure system” and “local government autonomy”. Others are “power sharing and rotation”, “resource control” and “type of legislature”.

By the time the party exhausts discussions on the ideal definitions and issues to find a common ground, streamlines and passes these over to the executive, which certainly will sit on it, the tenure of this government would have elapsed. It will also transfer the burden (of the Nigerian question) to the next government, just as ex-President Goodluck Jonathan failed to implement the recommendations of the confab he set up, and so the cycle continues. This is who we are as a people and this is what we have done as a hobby since independence. A first time visitor to Nigeria, reading the newspapers, listening to the radio stations and watching analysis on television stations won’t be far from concluding that Armageddon is here and now. Easy; this is what we know how to do best — talk, accuse and insult one another, patch up things and move on. No problem actually ever gets solved here.

Don’t get me wrong, restructuring or whatever name we call it is long overdue. Why not? What with the enormous powers concentrated at the centre under one man called the president, who wields so much power he is expected to intervene in community squabbles in far-away Southern Borno and Gembu in Taraba (both are closer to Cameroun than even their state capitals) and do the same in the Southernmost parts of Bayelsa State (close to Gabon and the Gulf of Guinea), yet we claim to be running a federation? How do you explain 36 governors coming to Abuja to share resources found in the creeks of Niger Delta, while the local people suffer environmental deprivation?

Why should the federal government bail out states governed by governors who promised during their campaigns to turn their states into Eldorados, knowing most of them cannot produce a pin? Why should a federation run a unitary system, a hangover from our military experience? Why do we have 68 items on the exclusive list for Abuja and only 30 items, most of which are subject to provisions in the exclusive list, devolved to 36 states that hold at least 96 percent of the population? What is wrong with state police in a federation, even when state governors have them in different forms and shapes and use the same just for the purpose of winning elections? Why should everyone look unto Abuja for succour? Why? Why should we have legislators from all the nooks and crannies of the country converging in Abuja to discuss inanities and frivolities, including wardrobe allowance, same sex marriage and fight over largesse or allowances? Honestly, our system of government is sickening and it doesn’t make sense.

In the agitation war, there are the funny, the serious and the absurd. Imagine a South-West group recommending the return to the 1963 constitution! Although it was generally seen as the best home-grown consensus constitution, we nevertheless overlooked it in the talks leading to the 1979 constitution, midwifed by the military government, jettisoned the parliamentary system, which is more cost effective and opted for the presidential system which has now effectively crippled us. Invariably, a constitution, no matter how beautifully crafted, does not make a nation, considering the fact that the British have no written constitution, yet the system works for all, as they all respect the rule of law and have unalloyed allegiance to the country.

Notwithstanding these observations, that the merry-go-round called restructuring today, a sovereign national conference and constitutional conference etc. will change nomenclature the next time around is annoying. Besides, the more we clamour for change the more things remain static. The agitations appear louder now than before, not because of Buhari’s aloofness and perceived marginalisation, though it is part of it, but because the president has given the agitators the cold shoulder, as different from previous governments.

The usual way out for the government is what we call “settlement”. Obasanjo settled the Niger Delta with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and subsequently got the VP slot for Goodluck Jonathan who went on to become president. Yar’adua settled them with the Amnesty Programme and Jonathan settled the Igbo and Hausa with juicy appointments and contracts. So you see, when they make noise, settle them, but with the “no settlement stand” of Buhari, the wailing is getting louder by the day.

Therefore, restructuring or whatever name it is called is just a phase politicians and sometimes non-state actors apply to hoodwink others. Remember Senator Ahmed Sani Yeriman Bakura’s introduction of sharia law, when he was governor of Zamfara State which triggered the violent religious conflicts that rocked the entire nation then. Sharia has since fizzled out, while Yeriman Bakura is still politically relevant and graduating to a kingmaker/godfather. The same way Dieprieye Alamieseigha started the Niger Delta struggle; there was PRONACO and such other clamours leading to better deals for the individual actors and their zones.

Meanwhile, October 1 has come and gone, the Northern youth, IPOB, and all the mountains made out of molehills have remained what they are — storms in tea cups. Nigeria is still standing, and the current calls for restructuring, just like those before it, shall come to pass.


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Categories: Column, Opinion

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