n a recent interview with "The Sun" Newspaper, Malam Usman Yusuf, Nigeria's former executive secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), described the call for restructuring, and by implication renegotiation of Nigerian state's dysfunctional political system as well as the agitations for self-determination through referendum of oppressed indigenous ethnic-nationalities as "big nonsense." He cited recent happenings at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), saying it is a proof that restructuring or what some call confederation would increase corruption and injustice. He hailed the present unitary system of government, saying that what Nigeria needs is "a strong centre and leader (a.k.a. dictator) that will shake things up."
The submission of Malam Usman Yusuf is worrisome, especially, for a person of his calibre to dismiss as nonsensical the ongoing debate for political renegotiation of Nigerian state and dysfunctional political system. One would not have chosen to waste his time responding to Malam Yusuf in this article, but since he is not alone in that view, it is pertinent that we use this medium to re-emphasize once more, the point I made in my last article, titled, "Nigeria at the Dilemma of Absence of Unity of Spirit."
It is painful that instead of thinking of how to renegotiate the failed Nigerian state and correct the dysfunctional political system, politicians' only major interest and preoccupation nowadays is about winning the 2023 elections, and the debate on "immoveable presidency" vis-à-vis "rotational presidency." Sometimes I ask myself, are Nigerian politicians living in a different landscape? Do they really live in this country with the rest of us? Do they know what is happening at the grassroots level in the country?
Corollary, have Nigerian politicians ever asked themselves the basic questions about the reasons for a 'nation state? The reasons why people enter into a union with other confederating ethnic-nationalities to create a nation state? Does Nigerian state fulfil the basic requirements of a normal 'nation state'? Does Nigerian state as structured today fulfil those basic functions of a nation state to its citizens, especially, in the areas of "security, peace and prosperity?" Since its fragile political independence from Great Britain in 1960, can anybody say, in honesty and truth, that Nigeria as a nation state has known peace, security and prosperity in its domain? If not, why? These are the kind of questions, conscientious politicians, other leaders and elites in Nigeria need to be asking themselves today.
The question is, 'What really is in the minds of those politicians, who attack and intimidate anybody who dares call for renegotiating the Nigerian union?' Why are members of the ruling class, especially from the North, always against the call for restructuring; sovereign national conference; agitation of the oppressed indigenous ethnic-communities for referendum for self-determination of their people? What could be in the minds of these same politicians who have recently resorted to attacking those who speak of "rotational presidency"? What could be the reason for all these, if not that Nigeria as it is presently structured, was never intended to serve the interest of all Nigerians but only that of ruling Oligarchy from the North?
This has been the problem with the county, the major reason, why the ruling class and elites, have since independence in 1960, failed to work with unity of purpose and one mind for the regeneration of this geographical space called Nigeria. As I wrote in my last article, "The Nigerian problem is the inability of the ruling class and elites to return to the founding story of the Nigerian state, to the drawing board. To work towards addressing and fine-tuning the inherited colonial political system and arbitrary geopolitical configuration of diverse and often mutually hostile ethnic-nationalities logged together into one nation-state by the British colonial masters."
The challenge today is how to make this desire of the common masses for a renegotiated new society (even new independent states they can call home), come out of the present Nigerian state, to reflect the real needs of the people themselves. Because, everybody knows, if truth be told, that 'Nigeria as presently structured has never worked and will never work!'
The failure of leadership in Nigeria since independence in 1960 till date, to do the needful in this regard, is the major reason for what we have been passing through in the country all these years. Until something is done to arrest this question of Nigeria's renegotiation and regeneration, anybody talking of 2023 elections, or of "immoveable presidency" in the North' or of the so-called "rotational presidency", that person does not wish well the people of this country. As our people say, "Ana zotagodu ala tupu azoba ute" - (You first secure the land before fighting over where to place your mats). The English proverb equivalent could be, "You don't put the carte before the horse."
Therefore, our aim in the present article is to show that those who still hinge their political discourse on "immoveable presidency" vis-à-vis "rotational presidency", that is, on maintaining the present political system and status quo in Nigeria, are deceiving the people. Because political discourse on any of such topics under the present dispensation is nothing but a distraction to the main political problem confronting the country, namely, renegotiation of the Nigerian state and its dysfunctional political system.
No matter how many elections you conduct today in Nigeria, the result will always be the same. It would not only be fraudulent and massively rigged as in the 2019 elections in favor of the ruling party and the North, but will also be bloody as they have always been. Moreover, with such massively rigged fraudulent elections, Nigeria will never move forward. The country will never make any headway until the question of its renegotiation and new political system is addressed and resolved once, and for all.
Those who debate on any other political issues in Nigeria today outside this issue of renegotiation of the Nigerian union, are only trying to distract from the main problem. We need to busy ourselves and fill Nigeria's political landscape with the debate on how to dismantle the current political structure that has brought on the people of this country a lot of pains, hatred, resentment, political instability, violence, wars, bloodbaths, terrorism, genocides, ethnic-cleanings, election rigged governments, 'supreme court made president, governors, and legislators', lopsided administration and Jihadist government, etc. Renegotiation of the Nigerian union is the new challenge for political debate in Nigeria today. It is the only way forward for the country's regeneration and future.
Nigeria's Misplaced Political Debate
Back to Usman Yusuf's attack on those calling for renegotiation of Nigerian state and its dysfunctional political system. He describes such calls as "big nonsense." In its place, he proposes, what he calls "strong centre and powerful leader" that could strengthen the present dysfunctional political system. That is, he wants the present political structure to continue, with emphasis on a "strong centre and powerful president (a mini-tyrant/dictator, or at best a monarch?)."
This is the crux of the matter! What Malam Usman Yusuf might not have realised is that what he is advocating here, is a feudal monarchical and dictatorial system of government. Unfortunately, this is the mind-set of most of his colleagues, especially, the ruling class from the Muslim North. This is the type of political system these individuals are advocating and sustaining in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigerian state in this 21st century? They see nothing practically wrong with the present dysfunctional political system in the country. That is, the 'liberal representative democracy', operative in Nigeria today - a political system that has gradually, transformed itself, especially, under the present administration, into becoming over-centralized feudal (Islamic type) system of government. This is happening in a country with over 55% Christian population and only 43% Muslims.
In other words, critics of the call for political renegotiation of the Nigerian union see nothing wrong with the present dysfunctional political system that has alienated ordinary citizens of Nigeria and most of the federating ethnic-nationalities from the Nigerian state. Instead of rejecting wholesale this dysfunctional Nigerian political system, Usman Yusuf and his colleagues from the North are busy, advocating of strengthening it with the so-called 'strong centre and powerful leader." In Yusuf's criticisms of those calling for political renegotiation and regeneration of Nigerian state, he said, among other things:
"All these divisions - restructuring etc. are just nonsense, it is your own people that will cheat you. We need a strong centre, a leader that will shake things up; things are falling apart in this country … I tell you that the ordinary person has more than he realises"
Malam Usman Yusuf went further to ask:
"All these talks about restructuring, confederation; do you think they have impact in the life of the common man? It is just politicians who want to carve their own empires … Look at Niger Delta, look at what is happening in the NDDC, money we never knew existed, trillions, billions of Naira to clean up their land, build schools for their children, develop their area, was looted. There has never been any agency, any ministry that has been allocated this so much money." (Thecable.ng (August 1, 2020).
Again, what Usman Yusuf refuses to say is that it is precisely because Nigeria runs a 'strong centralized federal government', controlled by one ethnic group, with a constitution that invested 'absolute powers' on the president, that is why all those corruptions and lootings are taking place in the country, whether at the federal, state or local government levels.
Furthermore, he could have asked what is the rationale behind the establishments of all those 'corrupt' regional bureau federal agencies that are not even recognized in the 1999 Constitution. Not even the so-called six geopolitical zones, e.g., Niger Delta, North East, etc., are recognized by the 1999 Constitution? What then is the rationale for creating those parallel federal bureaus and the non-constitutional geopolitical regions that are foreign to Nigeria's governance structure? Of course, the only reason one can deduce, in the light of all these revelations of lootings of public funds at NDDC and NEDC, and in other federal agencies and ministries, is that those bureaus are parts and parcels of structures of corruption on which the present Nigeria's political system is built.
Yes, one can argue that the President has constitutional prerogative to establish federal agencies like the NDDC or NEDC to serve a specific purpose. By the way, it was President Obasanjo who established NDDC. But the question is, were the people of those areas (state by state), consulted through referendum before these agencies that took over some major functions of their respective states and local governments were created by the Nigerian central government? The answer, of course is no. Yet, the Nigerian central government and its 'strong leader (president), unilaterally, decided to create those bureaus of "bribery and corruption", as parallel organs to what should by law be the function of state and local governments' administrations.
The question is, 'why bypass state and local governments to create parallel organs or bureaus of disbursing public funds meant for developmental projects and welfare of the people in an area that has its state governors and local government administrators?' Therefore, even the idea, conceiving such agencies like NDDC or NEDC, is questionable.
Another fallout from Malam Usman Yusuf's submission is that he did not tell his audience that, addressing the basic needs of ordinary citizens, as such, never existed in the minds of those who foisted on the country the 1999 Constitution that privileges this type of over-centralized federal government and 'powerful' president at the centre. What was uppermost in the minds of authors of 1999 Constitution (which of course, was a handiwork of one-man, a Northern Fulani scholar employed by Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami), was a constitution that will enthrone "strong centre and powerful leader", and which must by all means, favour the North and its ruling Oligarchy. Everything else is subordinate to this goal.
This is the reason for all these corruptions and lootings at the highest echelon of Nigerian government at all levels. It is also the reasons for the unbearable state of insecurity, mediocre leadership, economic recession, poverty and hopelessness pervading the land today.
Any country with this type of "strong centre and absolute leader", like what we have in Nigeria today, will always thrive in corruption and looting of public funds by government officials, in an uncontrollable manner, unchecked. Again, all this is so because the system of government Nigeria is running as in many other African countries, is not built from bottom top but rather from top bottom.
The system of government operative in Nigeria was never intended to serve the people at the grassroots level. It was also never intended to promote or rather encourage popular participation in governance of the country at all the levels of the three-tier system of government, federal, state and local government. It is rather a kind of makeshift kangaroo system of government, meant to serve the interest of the ruling Oligarchy and collaborators contracted from different parts of the country to serve the same hegemonic feudal interest, and not that of majority of Nigerian people.
Government with 'strong centre and strong leader' is a dictatorial government detached from the people at the grassroots level. It has no regard for the people, either. This is why ethnic-cleansings of people of a particular ethnic-nationality and Christian communities in the country by the Fulani killer-herdsmen or Boko Haram Islamic terrorists may be going on, yet, neither the president (a Fulani), nor the state governor will bother to visit the scene of the incident to see things for himself, and commiserate with the victims.
For the same reason, each time the masses come out on the streets to protest non-violently against obnoxious government policies, negligence, or against the non-performing public officials, the central government would immediately mobilize security and law enforcement officers, order them to go and unleash mayhem on the unarmed protesting crowd.
When people feel alienated from the centre, they also feel alienated from the government itself and whatever that government may be doing has no meaning again to them. This is the situation of things in Nigeria today. Most of the things government claim to be doing has no bearing as such to the concrete situation of the people at the grassroots level. Because even when government says it has budgeted so much money for developmental projects in an area, government itself is aware that it is an official way of enriching its own politician-collaborators from that area who might have helped them during elections. The same thing happens when government awards contracts for developmental projects to politicians and business tycoons from different parts of the country. Such contracts are awarded to certain individuals to serve a particular purpose and not the interest of the masses at the grassroots level.
Even when the government knows, that those contracts were never executed and that the politician in question has pocked the money; it is only when it serves a particular purpose, such as political vendetta for an opponent, that such fraud comes to the open. In all this, the interest of the people is secondary, that is, if it counts at all.
Nigeria's Feudal Liberal Representative Democracy
We can now understand why the ongoing corruption probes of the NDDC at the National Assembly, has provided a new platform for gatekeepers of Northern Sunni Muslim Oligarchy centralized government of Nigeria to continue with their feudalistic and deceptive narrative type of government that has been responsible for Nigeria's backwardness, sixty years after political independence. These advocates of centralized unitary system of government in Nigeria have continued to advance their retrogressive arguments, in order for them to sustain current feudal kind of liberal representative democracy cum Sharia system of government, Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami's 1999 Constitution imposed on Nigeria.
However, what they forget to tell their audience is that the corruption charges in the NDDC on which, for instance, Usman Yusuf had based his argument, is not the first of its kind in Nigeria, at least, in the life of the present administration and others before it; neither will it be the last. In fact, what took place at NDDC is a chicken fee compared with what happened at the North East Development Commission (NEDC), where a former Secretary of the Federal Government from the same North East was at the centre of it all in that most embarrassing and scandalous corruption charge and embezzlement saga in Nigeria's recent history. Unfortunately, the man is walking freely today in the streets of Abuja and Maiduguri after embezzling and pocketing billions of Naira meant to rehabilitate the Internal Displaced Persons (IDP), victims of Boko Haram terrorism in the North East zone of the country.
We are yet to come to terms with the recent revelations of massive fraud and lootings taking place at the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs under the watch of a young Fulani lady called Sadiya Umar Farouq, which was tripled of the money looted at the NDDC. Yet, not a single person has been called to book for the lootings at that federal ministry. Usman Yusuf knew of these loots, but he chose to speak only on NDDC, which provides him the narrative to rubbish people from Eastern Nigeria coastal region and to reposition his theory of sustaining the current dysfunctional political system.
However, whoever pontificates on the ongoing corruption charges at the NDDC, must also mention similar revelations of lootings of billions of Dollars of public fund - symptomatic of all that is wrong with the Nigerian state, that have recently been reported of other federal agencies and ministries. The fact that Malam Usman Yusuf knew about these other loots of public funds involving politicians from Northern part of Nigeria, but choose instead to lampoon only those from the coastal region of Eastern Nigeria, is at the very heart of all that is wrong with Nigerian union.
Thus, President Buhari would tell us, immediately after his election in 2015, that his allegiance is first, and foremost, to the 97% that give him their votes during the elections and not to those from the regions he described as "five-percenters." Unfortunately, this is what his administration has been doing ever since then, polarizing the country with lopsided appointments and awards of developmental projects that favours a section of Nigeria and discriminates against the other, in a way never witnessed in our recent history as a nation state.
Is this not the type of "strong centre and a leader that will shake things up", Malam Usman Yusuf is sustaining and advocating in his interview with "The Sun" Newspaper? Again, Usman Yusuf forgets to tell his audience that politics in Nigeria as presently structured, is not only fraudulent in structure and in its foundation, but is above all, meant to serve a parochial and clannish purpose of whoever is in power.
Nigeria as presently structured is a 'winner-take-all' kind of business deal country. Everyone knows that Nigerian politics, from independence to date, is structured in such a way as to favour a particular region, the North - the so-called Hausa-Fulani Northern Oligarchy; and whosoever (renegade), that may be contracted from other ethnic-nationalities in the Middle Belt and Southern parts of the country to use against his/her own people, to serve the same purpose. In this way, the North will continue to hold unto power at the centre in perpetuity. I believe this is what Usman Yusuf meant by advocating "strong centre and powerful leader that will shake things up."
This is exactly what late Malam Ismaila Isa-Funtua meant when he declared publicly at national TV chat with journalists, that 'Igbos will never be president of Nigeria; that if they (Ndigbo) want to be president they must first of all belong!' (Perhaps, by 'belong', he meant, 'Igbo people must first of all accept to be Islamized and Fulanized before anybody from their region or ethnic-nationality could be considered qualified to be President of Nigeria?). In addition, Isa-Funtua said in the same TV chat, that, 'president of Nigeria is not "turn-by-turn" Nigeria limited." He was against the so-called "rotational presidency", but in support of "immoveable presidency", domiciled in perpetuity in the North.
This means that for a gatekeeper of the Northern Oligarchy like late Isa-Funtua, 'Nigerian presidency' is domiciled forever in Northern Nigeria, and there is nothing anybody can do to change it. He cited the 'building of bridges' across ethnic-lines, North and South-West, which, according to him, the late M.K.O Abiola was able to 'achieve' in the build-up to the infamous June 12 elections of 1993. However, Isa-Funtua forgot to mention similar "intra-ethnic" political alliances between Buhari and Bola Tinubu (former governor of Lagos), that legitimized the election of Buhari as President of Nigeria both at the 2015 and 2019 elections respectively.
There is another thing Malam Isa-Funtua did not tell his audience. That is, why is it that, despite all those bridges he claimed, late Abiola built across Nigeria to win the June 12 elections of 1993, and of Abiola himself being a Muslim, why is it that Northern Oligarchy did not allow him to be declared the winner of the June 12 elections? Moreover, what became of Abiola himself after all these? Malam Isa-Funtua never mentioned that to his audience during that TV chat at Channel TV.
Again, one had thought that Isa-Funtua would have said something about the state of health of the political alliance Buhari and Bola Tinubu entered into in the build-up to 2015 Presidential election, about 'rotational presidency'? How far? Is that alliance still in intact? Will it still apply in 2023, at the end of Buhari's 8 years in office? Will the North honour their part of the alliance, as the South obliged them in 2015 and later in 2019 presidential elections? If so, why the recent propaganda against "rotational presidency" and restructuring from the Northern Oligarchy politicians? The system through which Buhari became President in 2015 and 2019, thanks to the political alliance he entered with South-West politicians through Tinubu, based on the so-called "turn-by-turn presidency"?
Perhaps, what Isa-Funtua was telling us is that the North used "rotational presidency" slogan in the previous elections' campaigns and political alliances, just to deceive the gullible politicians from the South? Because for him, only when a southerner is president, that the so-called "turn-by-turn presidency Nigeria limited" is necessary for the North to reclaim what they believed is their birth-right - "born to rule mentality." The moment, presidency returned to the North, "rotational presidency" ("turn-by-turn presidency Nigeria limited", becomes anathema. What a deception?
During Obasanjo presidency (1999-2007) and later, that of former President Goodluck Jonathan (2011-2015), Northern politicians hinged all their political rhetoric, extolling the 'virtues' and advantages of "rotational presidency" for Nigeria. In fact, they insisted that after Obasanjo's, the presidency must return to the North. When eventually it returned to the North in May 2007, however, after the death of former President Yar'dua in office, the same Northern politicians mounted a corrosive anti-Jonathan campaign, aimed at frustrating the then vice president Jonathan from succeeding his late boss in office. At the end of that interim period, Northern politicians said it is only on the condition that President Jonathan would not contest second term in office would they allow him to continue and finish his first term.
Was this not one of the reasons why they made all attempts to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan, and why they entered into an 'unholy alliance' with Bola Tinubu, colluding with some foreign powers who have neo-colonial interests in Nigeria, to intimidate and rig former President Jonathan out of office during the 2015 elections? They used also such influential figures like former President Obasanjo and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka as well as the frontline Ladies, organizers of the foreign heavily funded "Bring-back-our-girls", to make sure that President Jonathan did not win the 2015 presidential elections.
The famous Lagos based NADECO and other civil and human rights organizations, all based in Lagos and Abuja, were in the forefront of making sure that President Jonathan would not come back for second term in office. These in turn mobilized the mainstream media houses in the South-West zone - Lagos-Ibadan axis media tycoons that control Nigerian media and modern means of communication, to demonize former President Jonathan, and to paint former military dictator, Major General Buhari as the new "messiah" most suited to govern Nigeria today. All these groups hinged their campaigns against former President Jonathan on the principles of "rotational presidency."
Now that the presidency has returned to the North since 2015, and the eyes of politicians fixed on the 2023 Presidential elections, the same Northern politicians that preached and campaigned with their South-West friends, 5 five years ago for "rotational presidency", are now telling us that, "Nigerian presidency is not turn-by-turn limited." And that for someone from the South East region to qualify to be president of Nigeria he must accept to be "Islamized and Fulanized?" This class of politicians have even started, as usual, to recruit some influential journalists, writers, editors of popular Nigerian Newspapers and media tycoons, who now speak in favour of the present dysfunctional political system; they criticize all those who insist on respecting the agreed 'rotational presidency' formula, and those calling for renegotiation of Nigerian state and political system.
In addition, few days ago, Malam Mamman Daura, nephew of President Buhari, allied himself with the same sentiments of anti-rotational presidency and anti-restructuring or anti-renegotiation of Nigerian state of late Isa Funtua and other gatekeepers of the Northern Oligarchy political dominance of Nigeria's centre of power. During BBC Hausa service interview recently, he lampooned all those from Southern Nigeria advocating for return of "Presidency" after eight years of Buhari regime to the south. He accused them of missing the point. Just as he disagreed equally, with those championing the calls for renegotiation of the Nigerian state and restructuring, including those clamouring for self-determination of their indigenous ethnic-nationalities through the legal means of referendum.
Surprisingly, some senior journalists and Newspapers proprietors in the country have started to use their platform to defend Mamman Daura's feudal ideology, especially, his anti-rotational presidency paradigm. But they forget that Nigeria is an unequal union; that what we call "representative democracy" is in actual fact, a feudal system meant to favour, in perpetuity a particular section of the country, while marginalizing others. That, even the so-called six geopolitical zones do not translate into equal representations of all the zones at the national assembly. Neither do they guarantee same at both executive and judiciary arms of the federal government.
Thus, the North, a priori, was favoured as they were allotted with over surplus population figures and exaggerated landmass compared to other parts of the country, through British rigged pre-independence census of 1953 and boundary adjustments. This means that the North will always dominate the rest of the country from the centre. With that, they have continued to dominate the National Assembly, judiciary, and especially, the executive arms of the federal government. They dominate in the areas of federal appointments, allocation of infrastructural developmental projects. Above all, they dominate military service chiefs, security - military and police enrolments, admissions into federal institutions and universities, federal employments, etc.
All this implies that any presidential or national elections in Nigeria will always favour the North at the detriment of other federating units, especially the most short-changed zones, like the South East or South-South (Old Eastern region), as well as the South West and Middle Belt. For all these reasons, conscientious people and groups are today advocating for the renegotiation of Nigerian state and political system.
There are enough reasons to justify the renewed calls and agitations for political renegotiation of Nigerian union. Because apart from those glaring evidences of structures of injustice and imbalance in the present political system and government machinery, Nigeria is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious nation state, with varied marked conflictual value systems.
The existence of structures of injustice, imbalance in Nigeria's present political system and differences in value systems of different federating ethnic-nationalities, are enough to impel the politicians to do the needful. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!