FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
[email protected]
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
WILL 2019 ELECTIONS SAVE NIGERIA?

"As we have repeatedly noted here, 'restructuring' is an idea whose time has indeed come. The conclusion of the whole matter is that unless Nigeria is restructured to effect organic federalism, outcome of any presidential election will always be like a Shakespearean tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Any elected president, young or old, will be always be bogged down by the negative effects of unitary system, which has always served the rent-seeking, selfish and greedy power elite who detest the people of this country." - The Guardian Newspaper, Editorial, September 5, 2018.

he above citation from The Guardian Newspaper's Editorial of September 5, 2018, echoes with strong words, what many eminent citizens and various groups across the Nigerian federation have been saying all this while: Without restructuring the present over centralized federal government and political system of Nigeria, the 2019 elections will be effort in futility. And if those at the corridors of power today fail to rise to the occasion, the truth is that ultimately their successors, yielding to the will of the people would do so.

The Newspaper went further to reiterate the fact that a call for restructuring Nigeria is not synonymous with political disintegration. It is simply a call for re-examining how we develop and allocate our natural resources. So far, we have been encumbered by restrictive thinking and rigid regimentation, which we inherited from the years of military misadventure in power. It is a call for revisiting the current federal system, unitary in practice, which we operate. Simply put, the commanding nature of the political system is not healthy. Nowhere else in the world is the anachronism, which we operate, tolerated. No member of the Canada-based Forum of Federations, is run like Nigeria:

"Restructuring Nigeria means ensuring the federating states will tap the resources in the geographical area and make contributions to the national coffers. It means that policing will be left in the hands of locals. It means that each region will concentrate on developing its infrastructure at its own pace. Restructuring will also ensure that the Federal Government will concentrate on defense, currency and foreign affairs. It also means that the monthly jamboree, which takes place in Abuja in the name of sharing the national wealth, will come to an end. Each state would develop its natural resources and effectively guarantee the good life for its people." - The Guardian Newspaper, Editorial, September 5, 2018.

This leads us to the main thrust of the present article, summarized in the following question: 'Will the forthcoming 2019 general elections save Nigeria?' That is, if the clarion call of eminent Nigerians and groups for restructuring are ignored, will the 2019 elections be of any benefits to millions of shattered Nigerian citizens scattered home and abroad? I do not think so.

Our contention in the present article is that restructuring could be the beginning forever of not only moving the country forward but especially, of righting the wrongs of the past in Nigeria. These are the past mistakes successive governments have all along suppressed but at the same time, have remained the single matter that weighs heavily on the progress of Nigeria as a modern nation state. They have bogged down the country so much so that today in Nigeria nothing moves in the right direction in its political landscape and leadership echelon.

There is urgent need therefore, for restructuring Nigeria before embarking in any Presidential election in 2019. This is the only way the 2019 elections will bring out the desired result all of us are clamoring.

Presidential Election 2019 and the Call for Restructuring

The call for restructuring Nigeria, to return to our founding story as a nation state, was the main thrust of Chinua Achebe's classical book, "There Was A Country." In the introduction of the book, Achebe writes:

"Africa's postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves. We have also had difficulty running the new systems foisted upon us at the dawn of independence by our "colonial masters." Because the West has had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understand what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution. A meaningful solution will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share the weight of Africa's historical burden." - Quoted from Chinua Achebe's "There Was A Country."

Chinua Achebe's "There was a Country" (2012), was the literary giant's everlasting, timeless legacy to Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world. In this most important book of the 21st Century, Achebe in his usually characteristic of frankness and courage, tells us that to put Nigeria back to its lost path of recovery and greatness, we must go back to the drawing table, to our founding story as a nation state. There we shall discover from where the 'rain began to beat us' as a nation state, and do something urgently to correct the mistakes of the past.

Restructuring is a call to return to our founding story as a nation state if we mean to rebuild Nigeria again. This is for the interest of all, including our foreign observers and partners. Nobody benefits from the story of Nigeria as a failed nation state. This is why all hands must be on deck to restructure it so that it meets the yearnings of all its citizens, irrespective of differences in religion, culture and ethnicity.

When we begin to take seriously our founding story as a nation state, we start afresh the reconstruction work towards building a new Nigeria all of us will be proud to call a home and country. This is because there is nothing on the ground today to suggest that Nigeria, in which we live presently, is a home or a country to millions of its citizens. Millions of citizens don't feel again any emotional link with the Nigerian state.

Many Nigerian citizens, home and abroad, nowadays see themselves as "stateless" people. This is the greatest tragedy of Nigeria as a nation state. It is the highest manifestation of a failed political leadership of the country in the past few years alone.

The political elites and ex-generals, who have been running the affairs of Nigeria since 1970, behave as if the country is their personal property. They set aside all the ideals of the founding fathers of Nigeria for their selfish and secretive interests. Nigeria is now a country run without any clear-cut ideas or agenda by its ruling class. In this way, the political elites and ex-generals have not only destroyed the country but have converted it into their personal property.

The Nigerian leader, whether in army (kaki) uniform or civilian "agbada", who seizes power either with gun or through rigged elections and rule by repression and whim, come from the same class of people. There is no loyalty to the state itself, let alone to development of the people. Polarizing the people along religious and ethnic lines is one of their strategies of maintaining their clinging to power at all cost.

Again, the Nigerian leader, whether in kaki or agbada uniform, rules with very "low IQ" and mediocracy. For instance, the Nigerian leader would send security agents to a particular region of the country, militarize the zone not because the life for the masses is intolerable but where there is competition for resources or an opposing voice and figure that needs to be "silenced." Owning the state is the only true ambition of many Nigerian leaders.

Furthermore, the Nigerian leader, whether in kaki or agbada attire, would even empower the foot-soldiers of his kinsmen and tribe, equip them with AK47 and charge them to go and terrorize people of other ethnic and religious groups living in the Middle Belt and Southern States of the country. All this, with the purpose of maintaining power at the center. As the marauding militants invade villages and farmlands of people from other ethnic groups in the Middle Belt and Southern States of the country, killing innocent citizens, the federal government and its security agents will be looking elsewhere.

Any wonder none of the Fulani herdsmen militants, till date, had not been arrested or called to book. This is in spite of thousands of innocent citizens killed by them in the last three years alone. The question, 'who is equipping and protecting members of this terror group', remains unanswered.

What of the Miyetti Allah, the national umbrella of the Fulani Cattle Breeders Association? The Miyetti Allah group have time without number, through their pronouncements, proved to be the engine wire coordinating the killing spree of innocent citizens by the Fulani herdsmen militants.

The fact that the present federal government and security agents have never rebuked or arrested any of the officers of the Miyetti Allah, gives credence to the allegation that the group is the "cabal" that have hijacked the present federal government of Nigeria. Otherwise, how come it government officials are often times the ones defending the Fulani herdsmen and justifying the reason the government refuses to declare them a terrorist group.

This is in spite of all heinous crimes against humanity, the Fulani herdsmen are committing on daily basis in various parts of the country, especially, the ethnic-cleansing being carried out by them among the indigenous populations of the Middle Belt and elsewhere in Southern states of Nigeria. This is the sore situation of Nigeria today under the present dispensation. For anyone to think that a free and fair election could be conducted under such unhealthy situation in Nigeria today, is a wishful!

Furthermore, since after the civil war in 1970, Nigeria remains an unreconciled nation state. There is too much ethnic-hate and suspicion of one another because of our differences in religion and ethnicity. There is nothing on the ground today to show that government is serious in addressing this national malady. Rather what is obvious is that those at the corridors of power manipulate these divisive elements in culture for their political and narrow interests.

Our political elites and ex-generals who executed the civil war have been behaving as if everything is well with the Nigerian state. The use of military intimidation and imposition of the federal mighty on the victims of the civil war as well as the recent victims of the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militants' terrorism, are not reliable strategy. No government has ever won the heart and soul of its citizens with military intimidation and imposition of federal mighty.

The Fundamental Question!

The question is, 'Can any Presidential election, worth its name, be held today among the people who suspect one another on the basis of religion and ethnicity? Will such Presidential election if held, be of any benefit to their welfare as a people and nation state?' Could we say that Presidential election held under such unhealthy and tensed atmosphere as we have it in Nigeria today, will benefit majority of the citizens?

Furthermore, who knows how many Nigerian citizens have been missing in the last three years alone at the hands of the country's military, police, customs and other security outfits? How many people have they killed extra-judicially in the last three years alone, without anybody accounting for them? How many unmarked mass graves of victims of our security agents' recklessness and impunity, are hidden in various parts of the country? How many innocent citizens are left to languish in various prisons and detention centers of security agents located at different parts of the country, without recourse to the law or anybody accounting for their whereabouts?

What of the plights of Nigerian migrants in different countries of the West and the Asian giants: India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, etc.? The migrating Nigerian youth trapped at Libya, drowned in their hundreds as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea with balloon ships? The Nigerian migrants killed almost on daily basis in South Africa and other places without any tangible assistance from the Nigerian state to come to their aid.

What of those Nigerian traders recently molested in the neighboring West African country of Ghana? What assistance have they received so far from the Nigerian state? These are helpless citizens doing their legitimate business in Ghana but hounded because they have nobody to come to their aid. They have no "state" back home upon which to fall upon in moments of difficulties in foreign lands.

This is the plights of thousands of Nigerian citizens living in foreign lands today. Again, it is like saying that Nigerians today, are treated as if they are a "stateless" people. This is the most tragic aspect of the failed Nigerian state. A nation state that could not perform the basic duty of providing security of life and welfare of its citizens ceases to be meaningful again as a responsible state. Today, there is no gain-saying the fact that Nigeria is indeed at the crossroads, beckoning for redemption.

These are just a tip at the iceberg of the present Nigerian reality under which the 2019 Presidential election is going to take place. They are the unresolved Nigerian scenario and political reality. They are parts of the issues that need to be resolved before any Presidential election today in Nigeria could be meaningful.

Therefore, Nigerian political elites and ex-generals have no love neither for the country nor for the people at all. They run a politics of stomach and cluelessness in leadership, using religion and ethnicity as instruments for manipulating the sentiments of the poor masses. But in reality, they are neither convinced adherents of their religious affiliations nor bona fide representatives of their respective ethnic-configurations.

Unfortunately, this is the Nigerian situation and caliber of political elites gearing-up for election or reelection in 2019. For them, it is business as usual. The blood of innocent citizens killed in the last three years alone by the two terror groups, Boko Haram and marauding Fulani herdsmen militants under the watch of the present federal government, meant nothing to them. In normal circumstances, and assuming such a thing happened in developed countries, both the President and members of his cabinet would have since resigned from office.

But here we are: the Nigerian government that has been presiding over the murderous massacre of innocent citizens by the Fulani herdsmen militants, decided not to call the killers to order, is still in power in the country. Not only that, it is also doing everything possible to remain in power after the 2019 Presidential election. Another tragedy of Nigeria.

This is the crux of the matter: 'Can anything good come out of the 2019 Presidential election if we do not, first of all, put our house (Nigeria) in order? Personally, I am of the opinion that the Presidential election 2019 may complicate the Nigerian problem unless, we first of all, fix certain things before embarking on anything called election at the federal level.

Elections at the state and local government levels may take place, at least to maintain certain level of governance at the grassroots. But as for the Presidential election, I am of the opinion that certain issues need to be settled first. Top on the list, is the question of political restructuring of Nigeria. Again, many eminent citizens and various ethnic-nationalities have been voicing this out, that is, the need to return to our founding story, as a nation founded on true federalism anchored on negotiated autonomy of regional governments, each with its federating states.

Previous regimes, beginning with General Abacha, and then, Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan, had conducted a kind of "National Dialogue or Conference", each of which had suggested political restructuring, a return to the kind of political arrangement we had at independence in 1960. It is now time for the present Nigerian government to give restructuring a chance.

It is high time the present federal government decides to dust off from the archives the reports of the previous national conferences and dialogues on political restructuring of Nigeria. Put forward the machinery with the National Assembly and Judiciary to give Nigeria a well-thought out and objective political system in the light of our experience so far as a nation state. Anything short of this, will be playing on God. This is because no Presidential election conducted in Nigeria today under the present system of overcentralized unitary government will be acceptable by majority of the people.

The Way Out!

We need to go back to the drawing board, our founding story as a nation state, and revisit the political structure with which the founding fathers of Nigeria negotiated the country at our political independence in 1960. The "rain" which has flooded us all today, started to beat us as a nation state from that moment in the mid-1960s, when the military took over the leadership of Nigeria, decided to do away with the political structure upon which the country was founded at independence in 1960.

That is the beginning of the "original sin" of Nigerian political elites and ex-generals. That is, all those who presided over the rupture of Nigeria's political foundation as a nation state without doing anything tangible to restructure the country from 1966 till date.

It is from this backdrop that we have called for political restructuring of Nigeria before the country could embark on any Presidential election in 2019. Even if it means postponing the slated election 2019, it is worth it. Dissolve the present federal government. In its place, the National Assembly would assume the responsibility of Constitution-drafting (Constituent) Assembly for the emergence of a new restructured Nigeria.

Members of the present National Assembly would constitute the 'transition government', with the Senate President as the Chairman, and a representative from each of the current six geopolitical zones serving as Vice-Chairmen. That is, in the style of Switzerland political system of Confederation, at least for the transition period. With it, the National Assembly (now, transformed into a Constituent Assembly) will begin work to formalize the legislative framework for the restructuring, taking into account all the suggestions of previously held National Conferences and Dialogues.

Whatever will be the outcome of the framework for the restructuring, and the new constitution that will emerge from the National (Constituent) Assembly legislative machinery, must be subjected also to national referendum, by which each region is expected to approve both the new constitution and the restructured system itself. This is the only way sanity may be restored to Nigerian body polity. Since after the civil war, Nigeria has never been governed with a referendum-approved constitution. Any wonder citizens do not feel any emotional link with the Nigerian state and its government ever since.

Conclusion

To the question, 'Will the 2019 election save Nigeria?' The fact is that the reality on the ground today points to the negative. No Presidential election held today under the present political climate and structure of Nigeria will yield any positive result. In other words, without true political restructuring of the country done out of goodwill and all honesty, we should not hope for any positive thing to come out of 2019 Presidential election!

Eminent Nigerians, various groups, in fact, many knowledgeable people are pointing out today, that unless Nigeria's past mistakes are addressed and altruistically fixed through political restructuring, no Presidential election will ever transform the country to the Eldorado we all desired! Nigeria's burden of history will always weigh down on any Presidential election conducted in the country today until we sincerely address the past wrong done to the victims of the Nigerian state sponsored wars and terrorism.

Restructuring done with open heart and sincerity, may be the beginning of the healing process and healthy political climate, Nigeria needs urgently today to address the mistakes of the past.


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