In the past weeks, the call for restructuring grew by the day, with former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, lending his voice to the debate. In this report, JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH examines the issues surrounding the clamour.
The most popular term in the country’s political lexicon at the moment is restructuring. In the past few days, the issue dominating the media space has been how to restructure Nigeria. In the news, on talk shows and in the online media, the story has been the same. Analysts, public commentators and other close watchers hammer on restructuring of the country at any given opportunity, even though a good number of them have no inkling on how the country should be restructured.
Down memory lane, until 1966, Nigeria was practising a unitary government where every region was in control of its resources and were paying taxes to the centre. Then, every region was viable and growing at its own pace. The military incursion into politics, however, changed all that. The regime of Maj Gen Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966 suspended regional constitution, dissolved all legislative bodies, banned political parties, and formed a centralised federal military government.
Ironsi promulgated Decree Number 34 of 1966, which abrogated the federal system of government and substituted it with a unitary system. According to him, the military could only govern in this way. A decree was issued in March of the same year to abolish the federation and unify the federal and regional civil servants. States were created and since then, Nigeria has not returned to regionalism.
But in the past two years, precisely under the present administration, the calls for restructuring the country has continued to grow louder, with some Nigerians wishing the country return to regional structure.
Keen observers of the restructuring orchestra have opined that since the civil war, Nigeria has not been this divided. In the south-south, militancy is holding sway, while in the south-east, the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) are beating drums of secession. The country’s fault lines are being exposed by the day, just as the fabric of its coexistence is hanging loosely on the precipice.
Those calling for the restructuring of the country argue that it will solve all the ethnic agitations and put the country back on sustainable growth. In a bid to nip the menace of hate speeches and ethnic agitations that are generating tensions across the country in the bud, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, joined those advocating for restructuring of the nation’s political structure. Not mincing words, he said the time for doing it is now.
According to IBB, Nigeria cannot afford another civil war, hence all hands must be on deck to achieve a united Nigeria for the benefits of all her citizens. The former Nigerian leader said the fact that Nigeria has not fully realised her potentials as a great nation was not “enough reason” for her citizens to want to demolish the foundation of her nationhood or rubbish the labours of her heroes past.
He added that there is need to change “tactics and approach”, even as he noted that it was Nigerians’ collective responsibility to engender a reform that would be realistic and in sync with modern best practices for the development of the country.
Babangida said, “For example, restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states, while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defense, and economy.”
“Even the idea of having federal roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality.”
“Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile”.
IBB observed that the talks about restructuring the country entails that Nigerians have agreed on their unity in diversity and that they should strengthen the nation’s structures to make the union more functional based on their comparative advantages.
He continued: “Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having State Police across the states of the federation. This idea was contained in my manifesto in 2010 when I attempted to contest the presidential elections.”
“The initial fears that state governors will misuse the officers and men of the state police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in, and confidence to interrogate power”.
He pointed out that Nigerians cannot be detained by “those fears” and allow civilisation to leave them behind, adding that they must, as a people with one destiny and common agenda, take decisions for the sake of posterity in their shared commitment to launch their country on the path of development and growth.
Babangida noted that policing has become so sophisticated that the country cannot continue to operate with “old methods” and expect different results, just as he also appealed to the media to be more “circumspect” in their news reportage.
Specifically, he urged the media to always weigh the security implications of the contents of their news and the screaming headlines that stare the Nigerian public in the face every day, especially at a fragile period of the nation’s political emanations.
“The media play an important and remarkable role in shaping the flow of discourse. Their level of influence is also not in doubt, but as the fourth estate of the realm, it has a greater responsibility to moderate public discourse in a manner that will cement inter- and intra-cultural relationships”, the ex-president said.
IBB continued: “If Nigeria works, it benefits all her citizens; if it fails, it hurts all her citizens too. The media should be patriotic in its present engagements to berth a new Nigeria of our dreams. On a final note, I really wish we see strength, determination, commitment and confidence in our diversities rather than adversities.”
“As a heterogeneous country with flourishing skills and numerous endowments, we should dictate the pace in Africa and lead by example of what is possible amongst a people that are focused and determined to pursue common national goal.
“As a former military president who had the rare privilege to travel around Africa to sustain the African cooperation through peace-keeping operations, I have come to the conclusion that nations are driven by a common ideal and not by the homogeneity of their race”.
He cited Somalia, which he described as a homogeneous conclave yet one of the most troubled countries in Africa today, and South Sudan, which he said broke away from the old Sudan, as instance of countries that have allowed peace and stability to elude them.
Babangida further said, “Rwanda’s genocidal experience is not romantic either. But a president from the minority ethnic group has repositioned the country to assume its pride of place in the comity of nations. That a people share common identity, language, history, doctrine, culture, morals and values is not synonymous with development, growth, stability and peace.”
“I am therefore appealing to the sensibilities of all of us, young and old, leaders and followers, groups and organisations, that in the interest of peace and stability of our country, we need to sheathe the sword. At 76, I have seen it all. I have seen war. I have fought war. And I have survived war, even though I still suffer the pains and injuries of war, it is part of the selfless sacrifice to keep the union afloat”.
Not convinced about the former military president’s submissions, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) accused Babangida and the military of throwing the nation into its current state, which has led to the subsequent rise of agitation for restructuring.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday in a telephone interview, cerebral Professor and the spokesman of NEF, Ango Abudllahi, argued that Babangida and the military in general are responsible for factors that gave rise to current agitation for restructuring.
He said, “It is they, the military and General Babangida in particular that promoted the fracturing of the Nigerian state through the political creation of divisions based on ethnic or regional basis. Therefore the problem Nigeria has in terms of restructuring had been created by the military and he was right at the peak of it.”
“So, if he wants restructuring, he should be humble enough to go back to the only structure we had in the independence which is regions because the military created all this bits and pieces of states that are responsible for the problems we are having now”.
NEF insisted that any genuine effort for restructuring should attempt to holistically correct what it referred to as mistakes of Lord Lugard.
“I want restructuring to take care of the mistakes Lugard made in 1914 because the argument is he made mistakes through the amalgamation of the north and the south”, Abdullahi added.
He insisted that the restructuring should take cognisance of the fact that what Lord Lugard did by amalgamating the nation in 1914 was a mistake and hence should be addressed.
Abdullahi said once that is done, the “South will take care of the restructuring that is best suited to it and the north will do same”, adding that “if we cannot correct Lugard’s mistake, we should go to 1960 and the regions- there were only three of them- they should go as regions”.
In the past weeks, governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have joined the call for restructuring. The progressive governors said the focus of the restructuring is to restore the principle of non-centralisation of power in the country’s federal arrangement being the defining element of a federal polity.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who had been at the forefront of restructuring, commended the APC Progressive Governors Forum for joining the call for restructuring and true federalism, noting that the issue transcends religion and ethnicity.
The former vice-president, who is also a chieftain of the APC, described as patriotic, the convergence of positions on restructuring by leaders and stakeholders from diverse regions of the country. In a statement by his media office, Atiku noted that the position of the APC governors and other stakeholders confirmed that he was not a lone voice in the wilderness over the need to restructure Nigeria for the good of all.
The former vice-president noted that the agitations for secession would not have arisen if the country had shown sincere readiness to address the underlying problems that fed the agitations by separatist forces.
Atiku said that the restructuring debate transcended the ambition of any single politician in Nigeria, and that any attempt to ignore the agitations could make a bad situation more complicated.
However, political watchers observe that most of the people calling for restructuring today are people who were in power for 16 years. While ruling the country, they kept mute about restructuring but found their voices when they were no longer in power. They argued that most of the people shouting restructuring today are using it as a blackmail tool against the president.
The thinking is that the North will be the loser when the country is restructured and since a Southerner, Goodluck Jonathan, was roundly rejected at the polls by Nigerians, restructuring and resource control should be used to destabilise the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Northerner. Some see the call for restructuring as corruption fighting back and a subtle way of commencing the politics of 2019.
Political observers posit that the problem of Nigeria is not restructuring but good governance. Proponents of restructuring give the impression that once Nigeria restructures all her problems will be over. They observed that no matter the kind of system being practiced, once there are no right people in place, it is doomed to fail. The argument is that good governance should be the key and not restructuring.
They aver that the system as presently constituted is not been utilised to its maximum potentials as the problem is not the system but the operators of the system. Every systems has it merits and demerits.
Some have also expressed the view that there is a thin line between restructuring and secession as most of the people calling for restructuring are actually calling for secession in disguise.
Political observers have called for Nigeria to go back to the 1963 constitution or implement recommendations of the National Conference which will in turn be the new constitution. The structure of Nigeria presently cannot sustain the country. It is a time bomb waiting to explode.
The APC- led federal government has, several times, made it clear that restructuring the country is not on its agenda at the moment. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, recently said restructuring is not in the front burner of the APC administration.
Meanwhile, lending his voice to the debate, former governor of Abia State, Chief Uzor Kalu, said restructuring would bring an end to several agitations in the country.
Kalu, who spoke in Aba, Abia State, shortly after delivering a lecture at the Aba branch of the Nigerian Bar Association Annual Law Week 2017, attributed the current structure of the country to the reason for hate speeches and agitations for secession in the country.
He said, “Hate speeches are coming from everywhere in Nigeria. It has been very terrible and it is not good for the country. People should speak about what will unite the country more. This country is in need of healing. If we are all committed, we can achieve it.”
“I’ve always supported restructuring, remember when I was governor, I called for state police. In my first year as governor in 2000, I called for state police when we were tacking the problem of criminal activities in Aba. I called for state police since we were not having enough men from the Nigeria Police Force. That was why Bakassi (Abia State Vigilante Group) was created and they went ahead to bring peace to Aba”.
Similarly, some elder statesmen from the Southern part of the country have also backed the clamour for restructuring, while opposing secessionist moves.
Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Christopher Kolade said, “It is imperative to build a stronger and viable Nigeria and there is need to have a peaceful, productive and progressive country and the only way this could be achieved is to stand in unity. We believe that staying together and working together is the only viable way to go.”
“There is no alternative to one Nigeria. As elders, we shall do everything necessary to keep the nation as one. Those that had witnessed war will never stay quiet when some elements are pushing the nation to the precipice again.”
On his part, chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Prof. Anya O. Anya said there was need to explore everything humanly possible to create a new foundation for Nigeria.
He said, “We need a Nigeria that would be fair to all, peaceful and where everybody, irrespective of ethnic background, would be free. We need a country that would put its citizens to work and not war and in which all will benefit and not few individuals.”
Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said time was running out for Nigeria to be restructured, “If we don’t get restructured between now and next year, we may lose this country. There is need to go back to the type of Nigeria which our founding fathers agreed on, that is regionalism and true federating units”, he added.
On his part, Chief Ayo Adebanjo encouraged those who are still skeptical about the trending relationship among the South-East, South-West and the South-South elders to see beyond their doubts, noting that the bond was not a gang-up as some people tend to believe. Rather, he said it will further make the country stronger to reform the present skewed system.