Nigeria'a President Muhammadu Buhari
ABUJA (PUNCH NEWSPAPERS)--At two meetings last week, concerned political leaders took up the battle for Nigeria’s restructuring once again. They insisted that restructuring along the line of (true) federalism was the panacea for the current political farce hobbling the country. As a newspaper, we support the ideals of federalism, being that Nigeria is a country with a rich diversity.
First, participants at the 10th Abraham Adesanya Memorial Lecture, including Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; Ayo Adebanjo; Zamani Lekwot; Banji Akintoye and John Nwodo, argued that without restructuring, Nigeria was headed for an uncertain future. “Given our diversity, restructuring is the way out, because the present structure is not working,” Lekwot said. Others who see ominous lights flashing bright red all around include Enoch Adeboye, the influential head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Yakubu Gowon, a former military head of state, who saw the country through a bitterly-fought civil war between 1967 and 1970. Adeboye warned, “Unless these killings stop, there may be no election next year.”
The national leaders are all concerned about the sectarian killings in the North-Central and other forms of insecurity like kidnapping, Islamist insurgency and militancy that have set the country on edge on Muhammadu Buhari’s watch. A few days after the Adesanya lecture, political leaders from the South-West, South-South, North-Central and South-East, at a meeting with the leadership of the Senate, urged the National Assembly to review the constitution and devolve power to the federating units. “You can prevent further bloodshed in this country. You can prevent further drift into ethnic crises. We want you to revisit the devolution of powers,” Nwodo, their spokesman, said. Strikingly, the four regional representatives called for restructuring before the 2019 general election in February.
Indeed, the time to prevent the break-up of this artificial entity is growing short. The agitations for restructuring started with the 1995 political conference the late maximum ruler, Sani Abacha, initiated. The summit divided the country into six geopolitical zones. Elected President and governor were recommended to serve for a single term of five years; just as rotation for the offices of Governor, Vice-President, Deputy Prime Minister, Senate President and Speaker was to be entrenched in “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1995 (with Amendments).” These, among others, were not to be, as Abacha had a different agenda.
From Abacha to Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, the story was the same. The 2006 political conference of the Obasanjo administration programmed it to achieve his third term in office, by an amendment to the 1999 Constitution. But the National Assembly scuttled it and threw the entire report to the rubbish bin.
In spite of these deceits and slip-ups, Nigerians still fell for the Jonathan carrot in 2014. Inaugurating a 492-member conference on March 17, he enjoined them to “…articulate and synthesise our peoples’ thoughts, views and recommendations for a stronger, more united, peaceful and politically stable Nigeria.” And they did just that. The recommendations are contained in a 762-page main report; and another 360-page document with amendments to the 1999 Constitution. Key recommendations include state police, devolution of powers, delisting of the 774 local government areas from the constitution, removal of immunity clause, among others. But the Jonathan administration never implemented any aspect of the report, including those that required only executive fiat, until he was voted out in the 2015 elections.
The Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government is up to the same shenanigans. Though the APC in 2015 had restructuring as its main campaign issue, nothing for now suggests that President Buhari is persuaded that the country he runs is dysfunctional.
Interestingly, the current bid by the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution would be the fourth. Its efforts so far amount to scratching the surface. The Seventh Senate used billions of naira to amend the constitution by organising public hearings and consultations. In the end, Jonathan withheld his assent, pointing out 12 errors, which included usurpation of presidential powers; imposing free primary and maternal care services on private institutions, among others.
It was out of this hollowness that the APC in 2015, promised during its electioneering to restructure the country. But Buhari is not on the same page with his party. Nothing could be louder on the issue than his latest disapproval of state police in a VOA Hausa Service interview, during his recent state visit to the United States.
Yet, all of the ingredients for Nigeria’s disintegration remain in place. One of the great myths underpinning the Nigerian federation is that of oneness: a false assertion of “unity in diversity,” translating to shared values, aspirations and common purpose. Repeatedly, this has proved to be false; instead, the descriptions of the country as a “mere geographical expression” by Obafemi Awolowo and as the “mistake of 1914” (in reference to amalgamation) by Ahmadu Bello have proved to be more prescient.
Unmistakably, Nigeria’s diversity is so striking. Until the British forced them together, the geographical space carved out as Nigeria was occupied by various kingdoms, states and statelets, some of whose people never had any formal contact. Among the over 250 ethnic nationalities, those of the South and the North-Central states, as well as the North-Western and North-Eastern minorities, cherish the liberating influence of Western education, secularity, liberal democracy and equal rights of the sexes. Typically, they empathise with, and look to, the West for mutually beneficial ideas and shared values. Religion does not divide them generally nor do they elevate it above human development. But the dominant Fulani, Hausa, Kanuri-Shuwa and associated groups of the North-West and North-East are radically different: the elite look eastwards – to Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia – for fraternal relations. Worse still, the competitiveness among regions that hallmarked pre-and post-independence crumbled under the weight of military-imposed skewed federalism.
States don’t fail overnight. The seeds of their destruction are sown deep within their political institutions and over a long period. The 2017 Fragile States Index ranked Nigeria as the 13th least stable country in the world. Its ignoble peers include South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Yemen, Sudan and Syria. Others that Nigeria is competing with are Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and Guinea. What bind these countries together are bloody wars and poor human development indices. For Nigeria, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, unemployment and general human misery rates are exacerbated by the opposing pulls of the centrifugal forces that keep the country in a perpetual state of underdevelopment.
It is obvious the present political structure is no longer sustainable. The current political class still has a unique opportunity to save the country by carrying out a restructuring that takes into cognisance the cultural, religious and ethnic differences of the hundreds of ethnic groups and nationalities and how they can live together in the political entity called Nigeria. Failure to do it now will be tantamount to delaying the evil day and laying a foundation for events of grave consequences for the country in the future. Any union with such diversities as ours is a natural federation or confederation: the Swiss confederation was first forged in 1291 and endures till today, unshaken by false talk of unity; the Belgian federation united under a monarchy in 1848 has reformed itself as a federation, freeing Walloons, Flemish and German nationalities to actualise their dreams.
Making Nigeria a functional state again should not be left alone to politicians. Nigerian voters should therefore make sure that they register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards, which will enable them to have a say during the next elections. They should also ensure that only parties and candidates that can be trusted on restructuring are voted for. The alternative is grim indeed. The reality is that Nigeria should either be restructured and power devolved to the constituents or the country should be prepared to go the ways of countries like Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia or even defunct Yugoslavia.
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