Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
It was quite interesting that a renewed call for the restructuring of the Nigerian State came from a former Vice President of the country, Atiku Abubakar.
In his well chosen words, “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. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.”
This call is not new but one in a series of clarion calls by eminent and well-meaning Nigerians. Mr. Independence, Chief Anthony Enahoro of blessed memory, made a renewed effort through his Movement for National Reformation and the Pro-National Conference Coalition (PRONACO) to restructure the country and even came up with a people’s constitution. The United Action for Democracy also had a draft constitution for the country. These were against the background of the effort of the Alao Aka-Bashorun-led National Consultative Forum (NCF) under the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida and later the Beko Ransome-Kuti-led Campaign for Democracy (CD) and the Pa Ajasin-led National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which made the call for Sovereign National Conference (SNC) one of its cardinal programmes in the fight against military dictatorship.
Nevertheless, what is significant about the current call is that it is coming from a man who hails from a section of the country which has persistently perceived the call for restructuring as translating largely into the balkanisation of the country. Indeed, the renewed call has received a rousing accommodation from prominent Nigerians, including Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Tanko Yakassai, Junaid Mohammed, General Ishola Williams and importantly, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth who had backed the call for restructuring right from the National Political Conference era in 2005 and most recently at the inauguration Conference of the Ibadan School of Public Policy and Governance. The emerging pan-Nigerian support for the idea of restructuring means that the standpatters are coming to terms with the fact that the country has been living a lie for more than half a century.
Whereas the compromised federal structure at independence endowed the three regions and later four regions with a considerable measure of autonomy and consequently engendered growth and development as well as healthy competition among the federating regions, resource allocation was also based on 50 per cent.
This was, however, dealt a blow by the centralising dynamics of military regime. The present structure has bred identity politics of ethnocentrism, undermined national unity and patriotism, institutionalised corruption, violation of the rule of law and a dehumanisation of the people. These antinomies have also led to state-led violence and enduring separatist impulses on the part of many nationalities that make up the country. Not a few agree today that Nigeria is not working. Nigeria’s federalism, as it exists today, encourages parasitism, dependency and laziness.
Stupendous oil wealth which drove the centralisation impulse is gone and restoring the resourcefulness of the state would be invaluable. It is perhaps time to ponder the concept of federalism and what it should mean in the context of Nigeria’s particularisms. K. C. Wheares’ classical definition of federalism sees it as division of power between central and regional governments in a manner that provides shared independence in their respective spheres. Its meaning is to be found in the nature of society, not in the constitution. Nigeria by nature is multinational, linguistically and culturally diverse and its component nationalities are territorially segregated. What is erroneously called the Nigerian federation has been governed by principles that are anything but federal – a centralising bureaucracy, a heavily skewed three-tier structure not based on social contract but created by administrative fiats – and has continued to expand domination with a corresponding societal disorder.
On the contrary, federalism ought to mean that states should survive on their own. Each state should unlock its potentials. It means real resource control, that is, ownership and control of the resources by the people so endowed who should decide who to share it with. The country is simply living a lie, hence the imperative for restructuring.
The incumbent government is not interested in the 2014 National Conference report and is dismissive even of its gains which its predecessor spent an estimated N9 billion to organise. Although some people may not agree with all the recommendations of the conference, it did provide avenue for Nigerians to air their opinions about the nature of the Nigerian state, disagree and agree on some ways forward. A genuine path to restructuring should not dismiss outright the outcome of that conference. The outcome of the conference still remains substantial in the main. Without federalism this country is doomed.