Friday, May 11, 2018
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Enugu, Nigeria

he mode of governance in Nigeria is referred to as federal, hence the central government is referred to as the "Federal" government and Nigeria referred to as the "Federal" Republic of Nigeria. The preamble of the 1999 constitution states inter alia "We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding…… Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution.."

This preamble is at the heart of problem with Nigeria, for it starts with falsehood and the foundation based on falsehood is not sustainable. Our present constitution was not written by the people of Nigeria or subjected to a National referendum. This falsehood and deceit was carried forward to some other provisions in the constitution. It proclaims a federation while constraining the practice of federalism and promoting unitary form of government by expanding the exclusive list beyond issues of defence, foreign relations and immigration.

The first place to start the business of restructuring is to correct the falsehood in the preamble. I am surprised that the National Assembly has not acted to correct this. Instead, they have been insisting on constitutional amendments that do not have the capacity to make the constitution the peoples constitution. One would have expected the National Assembly to start the process of any constitutional amendment with a legislation that will allow the convocation of a conference of ethnic nationalities to discuss the basis of the purported solemn resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God. The constitution arising from this national conference and approved by a national referendum can them be referred to as our constitution, and Nigerians can then identify with the preamble starting with, "We the people of Nigeria…" The alternative to this approach will be for the National Assembly to pass a legislation reverting Nigeria to the 1963 constitution and thereafter propose any subsequent amendments reflecting the current imperatives. The 1963 constitution of Nigeria is a product of representatives of Nigeria's ethnic nationalities. This is unlike the 1999 constitution that was designed by the Military and foisted on Nigeria. Nigeria cannot progress until this lie is buried and a constitution truly reflecting the wishes of the federating units is born.

I am therefore in agreement with His excellency, Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai who while presenting the report of his committee on restructuring said, "If a fair and just federation must be achieved, all Nigerians "ought to set the agenda for what is desirable in creating a country where there are equal opportunities for all, and where peace and justice reign." The truth is that a Nigeria where equity, justice and fairness reign will be more attractive to all ethic nationalities including IPOB than disintegration into tiny entities.

It is a welcome development that the ruling party has joined the train for the restructuring of Nigeria, albeit late. But it is better late than never. And one hopes it is not a political ploy to facilitate a return of the APC come 2019.

The issue of restructuring has become very divisive, but this should not be so if we can take a deep breath and envisage the very many opportunities that could come with it. The current agitations by ethnic nationalities are products of inequity and imbalance leading to suspicions even where there is nothing there. I agree with Simon Kolawole, a columnist of This day Newspaper who opined that we are too conceited, too deluded, too bitter, too parochial and too blinded to see the opportunities in restructuring. We do not need to search far for the potential opportunities that can become available with restructuring. The short period when the 1963 constitution that was fashioned out by our founding fathers through a constitutional conference of ethnic nationalities was implemented is evident of the rewards of a true federal system of government.

During this period, the Western Region took a quantum leap economically and became the envy of other regions. This led to a healthy competition where the northern region through agriculture was able to establish development corporations that significantly boosted the economy of the northern region. The eastern region followed with its own industrialisation scheme leading to the eastern region being declared in 1964 by the World Bank as the fasted growing regional economy. It is not by accident that the Sarduana of Sokoto chose to remain the Premier of the northern region rather than become the Prime-Minister of Nigeria as his party won the majority seats in Parliament.

Sarduana's rejection of moving to the centre was informed by his conviction that his real power is in the region. The rapid development witnessed in the regions at this time were inspired by competition and shrewd management of resources. Agro-economy, groundnut pyramid, world class universities, viable industries, were all established in the different regions. Why then can we not go back to what worked instead of insisting on continuing with a structure that has failed us for over four decades? A child born in 1960 will be retiring from the public service in the next two years.

We should jettison the present model that is based on states going cap in hand to the centre for a share of the national cake to a model that promotes competition and productivity and that identifies latent income generating potentials. The benefits of restructuring emanating from devolution of power to the regions, fiscal federalism, meaningful autonomy to the federating units and self-sustaining units will be significant.

A truly run federal structure would reduce the existing ethnic tensions and would stem the ethnic colouration inhibiting unconstrained fight against corruption and obnoxious theft of public resources. More often than not, politicians and public servants have hidden under perceived ethnic persecution to avoid criminalization. With restructuring and more resources going to the regions, leaders and public servants who steal their collective resources will not have any place to hide. They will be identified for what they are, criminals. With a healthy competition, regions who demonstrate good governance will attract more investment and those lagging behind will incur the wrath of its people and will likely witness internal uprising.

Another area that could benefit from a restructured federation is security. Presently, the Governors are designated as the chief security officers of their respective states, but this is just on paper. How can one be a chief security officer when one has no powers over any statutorily recognised security outfit? While state police might have its initial challenges, its advantages far outweigh these challenges. The insecurities arising from Boko Haram insurgency and the terrorist activities of the herdsmen will not have festered as much with state and community policing in place. The tepid response of the Federal Government towards the activities of the herdsmen lends support to establishing state police. He who wears the shoes knows where it pinches most and therefore more likely to react appropriately and timeously.

It is unfortunate that in spite of the failures of the present structure and the past evidence of positive strides made from a truly run federal system, some elites and politicians including President Buhari are hesitant to embrace a true federalism as practised post independence. These elites include those who protested against a unitary form of government established after the 1966 coup. The opposition to restructuring has been largely from the northern elite. I make bold to say that these small northern elite are opposed to it not for any altruistic reason. They are afraid of losing the excuses they use to impoverish their people. With restructuring, the talakawas will realise that their problem is in-house and not elsewhere.

It is interesting that one of the northern elites, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, who at best has been ambivalent on the issue of restructuring agreed that the present structure has failed. He was quoted by Soludo, the former Central Bank Governor as saying (Vanguard News Page 2 of 40 https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/03/hard-facts-rescue-nigerian-economy) "Nigeria's project is not working, after 50 to 60 years the Nigerian project is not working despite everything we went through, constitutional conferences, the country is at a standstill……It is unfortunate we are still where we were more than 50 years after independence and have not been able to move away from where our colonial masters left us".

The Nigeria project is not working because of disenchanted citizenry, primordial cleavages, mutual suspicion of the different ethnic nationalities and prodigality. The need for a new model is now as expressed by el-Rufai who stated that "Under the current constitutional order, a fair and just federation system could be achieved peacefully, now that almost all Nigerians are neither happy nor content with the 1999 Constitution, and virtually all the institutions of governance at the federal, state and local levels."

Prof Ango Abdullahi and his colleagues should therefore be championing the drive for restructuring so that the Nigerian project could work. The north will benefit immensely from a restructured Nigeria. The north has a large youthful population, vast arable land, significant stock of solid minerals that if well managed as the Sarduana government did in the era of true federalism, will lift the people of the north out of the present poverty.

Nnia Nwodo advanced a compelling reason why the north should not be afraid of restructuring but embrace a true federalism. According to him, "the Netherlands which is the 18th largest economy in the world earns over $100 billion from agricultural exports annually, contributed mainly by vegetables and dairy. Nigeria's oil revenue has never in any one year reached $100 billion. Northern Nigeria is the most endowed agriculturally in Nigeria. Its tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, cucumbers, tubers, grains, livestock and dairy feed the majority of Nigerians in spite of its huge reserve of unexploited export potentials. In a restructured Nigeria, Northern Nigeria, with the right agricultural policies, will be the richest part of Nigeria."

President Buhari, as a northerner, has the singular opportunity to make a name for itself by taking a strategic view of the situation devoid of any short-term ethnic gain. It is time to shed himself of this indifference and lay a foundation for a truly indivisible union, instead of hiding under this nebulous non negotiability of the union. In fact, the present union needs to be renegotiated, for it is in doing so, that a sustainable union would be born. President Buhari, being trusted by the conservative north is in the best position to dismantle the paranoia of the north. The north did not lag so much behind the south before 1966 and the natural resources of the north have improved significantly since then. Besides, he has the moral responsibility to implement the manifesto of his party which promised restructuring. Doing otherwise will further diminish his credibility and integrity which is being increasingly called into question.

The foundation for the fulfilment of this campaign promise is already laid with the report of the el- Rufai Committee. He now only needs to engineer it to its logical conclusion. In doing so, he will be fulfilling one of the fundamental promises of his party which states "As a change Agent, APC intends to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan for post-oil-economy in Nigeria. To achieve this laudable programme, APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the centre.'

The advocates of a restructured Nigeria have suggested different approaches. Based on the current experiences, a restructured Nigeria based on six and a maximum of eight federating units looks more attractive and sustainable. The current 36 states is a joke. The Federal government has on a couple of occasions bailed out states to meet their recurrent expenditure requirements. Less than 25% of the states are able to meet their recurrent expenditure from internally generated revenue. Hence, we agree with the view of Chief Emeka Anyaoku who advocates for the reconfiguration of the federation with respect to reducing the number of states to an economically manageable size. The emerging federating units must be self-sustaining and should respect cultural affinity in its delineation. The federating units will control their resources as was the case pre-1966 and pay taxes to the federal government.

The panacea of a restructured model is being dismissed based on the fear of potential dismemberment of the country. In fact, maintaining the status quo will hasten the realisation of this fear. The clamour for restructuring is hinged on the desire for fairness and equity, incorporating the interest of the diverse ethnic nationalities to advance peaceful coexistence as a people sharing a common destiny. This article will conclude by quoting Prof. Ben Nwabueze, one of the strongest proponents of a true federalism. He captured the true essence of the clamour for true federalism and therefore, worth advancing here in order to address the fears of the opponents of restructuring.

In justifying the call for a restructured Nigeria, he stated inter alia, "the widespread clamour among Nigerians was not aimed at breaking up the country but to ensure fairness and equity for all irrespective of tribes or religion, The clamour for re-structuring must, therefore, be seen as a clamour for the setting up of appropriate platforms or fora to renegotiate suitable governmental structures for the pursuit and realization of our common needs for development, good governance and national transformation. It is a call for Nigeria to 'make a new beginning' under a new constitution approved and adopted by the people at a referendum, a new politico-legal order that will cleanse the country of the rottenness that pervades it and enable it to 'chart a road map for its destiny' or what has been referred to as 're-structuring of the mind"

This clamour for a national transformation, needs the leadership of the President, as the elected leader of the people, with the divine mandate to cleanse Nigeria's closet and transform it from the present unitary practice to a state where power is devolved to its units 'with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the centre.' President Buhari must be conscious of leaving a lasting legacy behind and there is no better legacy than engineering a restructured Nigeria remodelled on viable federating units cooperating to realise the economic, social and political potentials that has eluded Nigeria since independence.