By Obasi Igwe
PREAMBLE: The general object of re-ordering the constituent units of political administration is either or both to solve the class question of power distribution between competing elites, or the national question for the self-determination of ethnic nationalities or sects within a polity. This means that whatever form restructuring takes, whether constitutive or institutive, it necessarily interrogates the fundamental issues of state formation, and sometimes even equivalent to it. In Nigeria, the specific reason is despite available resources to transform it into a just and prosperous state since 1970, people ended up impoverished, brutalised, divided and degenerating, due to criminal misrule, essentially but not exclusively of Northern origin, and in part service of external interests with no desire for a secular modern state anywhere in Africa.
Peaceful democratic revolution
Of course, the so-called “Northern interests” translate into little different from the post-1804 caliphate feudal assemblage, whose various liegemen are no less suffering than other Nigerians, and presumably share similar concerns in beneficent change. Therefore, there is no denying that restructuring, like the independence movement and many other progressive ideas, is of Southern origin, except that its benefits would likewise be of universal application to all Nigerians.
Restructuring is a choice for peaceful democratic revolution, instead of another bloody war imposed to sustain the sufferings of today. It is in the best interests of all to embrace this re-ordering over today’s cruel anachronisms, instead of prospects of a violent eruption, which might originate from anywhere. As a step in solving the national question, restructuring can no longer be vitiated by so-called devolution of powers, manipulation of legislative lists, or central “good governance” within the present system of things (none of which addresses the question of resource ownership and control), but aimed at self governance by various inward, instead of outward-depending units, for and on behalf of themselves, while contributing an agreed quota to the commonwealth.
Core issues in restructuring: The basic tasks in Nigerian restructuring are four. First are the units of political administration, whether states, provinces, regions, ethnic groups, whatever. If the first three, restructuring would mainly be mediating the conflict within the competing power elites, with sort of trickle-down effects upon the populace; if the last, which the 2014 Confab was not, it will address all issues, especially the national question. Either way, the LGAs will go or subsumed under constituent units. Restructuring doesn’t have to produce a federal system. In the USSR and USA, it did so; in the English-Scottish treaty of union it produced a unitary system; in the post-Soviet system it created a Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS confederation; while between the 1957 Steel Community/Treaty of Rome to the EEC and EU, it was a continuum between economism, association, integration, and security-political community.
Next is the military-security architecture. This must be democratised, beyond any sectional, ethnic or religious domination or abuse, as already drawing countless commentaries from across the country. With restructuring, no entity should any longer appropriate these institutions to threaten or enact a Rwanda outcome for others.
Third is resource ownership and control by constituent units. Till today, that remains the norm in Nigeria over all products and minerals of the North; themselves mostly powered by Southern monies since 1970, but greedily altered with respect to oil and gas, VAT, the ports system and other Southern resource, by mostly Northern rulers. With return to units’ ownership and control, the North would for a long time still be the main beneficiaries in at least two ways. Through oil blocks and other resource unlawfully cornered over the last 50 years, their elite snatched away trillions of dollars into their private pockets and public infrastructures which, if they truly love their people, as they claim they do, can be returned for the development of the North, while the South would for decades still be engrossed with the pollution, neglect and other atrocities left in the wake of the primitive accumulations of that misrule. Also, whereas the North had all the while lived mostly off the South, with return to units’ownership, the opportunity would be lost for the South to exploit the North in return. They would preserve their gains, while the “lady of means” cannot restitute her sacrifices, except that everyone would henceforth be opportune to develop at their own pace, thereby achieving peace by minimising claims of exploitation by others.
Fourth and last is the ideological basis of One Nigeria. On what foundation do we proceed with unity: is it unity for unity’s sake, or do we build it upon a nobler principle? For social democrats, Nigeria must be part of the modern free enterprise economy, not Arabian or other feudal system, with clear and unequivocal secularity of the state, including equal citizenship and domiciliary rights for everyone and democratisation of all aspects of public life and civil society. These are not privileges that any federal or state authorities would habitually from 1945 till date, sponsor some groups to insultingly quotarise, “suspend” or “withdraw” from other Nigerians, with threats of mayhem, and business and property “censuses”. As in the Western democracies that Nigeria claims to emulate, leadership of religious bodies, whether buddhist, christian, traditional, islamic, or whichever, must be by popular ballot, so that as in the CAN, a Habe, Kanuri, Yoruba, Tiv, Fulani, Igbo, etc devotee, can contest and become leader of the JNI/Islamic community, etc. No more divine or hereditary rights in anything that concerns more than one ethnic group.
Instruments of restructuring:
A country may be restructured in any of eight ways, with varying degrees of circumstantial utility. They are the constitutional conference, national conference, sovereign national conference, parliamentary/constitutional amendment, violent revolution or coup d’état, secession, disintegration, reintegration. There are almost infinite possibilities of any process either transforming into or acquiring some attributes of the rest. A constitutional conference needs a superordinate power, whether external or domestic,to coordinate, and to the extent of its impartiality, the other actors can be assumed to be equal players, and the conclusions reasonably acceptable, even as its advantage is limited by the interests of the paramountcy. Through this means, Britain granted Nigeria independence in a way most favourable to her caliphate allies. The national conference, which may still revert to legislative backing, is a little different for,theoretically, the convener is the domestic authority that can also manipulate the process and outcome. To survive, Nigeria must have a representative sovereign national conference or SNC; a constitutive or reconstitutive meeting of ethnic or similar groups to order or reorder a polity of their choice. To reconstitute a pre-existing polity, the SNC must first substantially de-constitute it to lay a different foundation for renewed society, with the groups as the new units. Like for the 13 American colonies, the SNC effectively addresses both the class and national questions and, once decisions on these fundamental issues are reached, which automatically have the force of law,the benefits last very long, given the consensual character of the process.
A constitutional amendment can also restructure a country if the parties and civil society so agree, as in the case of the Mid-West Region. Its major drawback is that it makes the dominant party an arbiter in its own case, with the possibility of reinforcing in the guise of restructuring, the very unjust structure being complained about. On the other hand, whereas violent change was in the 20th century thought to be a good way to reorganise society, Nigerians now know that most coups d’état had been very unpatriotic and reactionary, with their so-called restructurings (creation of states and LGAs, revenue and fiscal alterations, etc) merely serving corrupt sectional interests.
Secession is a unilateral act that alters the character of the state. It is an extreme measure with its own logic. In countries like India, Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea, Britain, etc,where it succeeded or was attempted, the outcomes were not uniform for all sides. Disintegration occurred in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, peaceful in the former, violent in the latter. Either way, a disintegrated polity may re-think the divorce and decide to re-unite upon a new foundation, such as the CIS, East and West Germany, tendency towards states mergers in Nigeria, etc. Such re-integrations, or reconstitution of priorly disintegrated polities, might seem rare, but the syntheses still occur.
In all the above, the alignment of forces within the polity and the international sphere, leadership and followership matrices, and issues of representation, play a major role in determining outcomes.
Choice for Nigeria: Nigeria will either peacefully restructure or disintegrate, at least regress unto a tyranny bent on maintaining the evil status quo. One constant element in the agitations is groups’ shifting or adjusting of positions – and, that is understandable. From the “mistake of 1914”, the caliphate shifted to araba, then One North, One Nigeria, no states creation, states creation, no restructuring, restructuring. From a homogenous Yorubaland without the Okun and Oworo in Kogi and Ibolo and Iseyin in Kwara, the Yoruba correctly now want all their kith and kin back to the fold. Middle Belters that used to be servile yes men to the caliphate are gradually asserting their individuality despite internal treacheries. Some Ijaw started with a homogenous Ijaw homeland and contiguous ownership (confusing it with presence) of the entire coastline (meaning the landlocking of everybody except themselves), but their elite appear now settled on Mahin River to wherever eastwards, and seemingly back-pedalling on resource ownership and control, while verging towards a South-South amalgam of various groups. Many Ogoni elite have almost silenced themselves on Ogoni self-determination, subordinating it to the same South-South .
The 600-year long modern Igbo coastal and maritime traditions is recognised in the Willinks settlement, and Her Majesty’s advice to all and sundry that “Ibo territory … divides Ogoni from Brass and Degema; thus those who are not Ibos are split into two parts physically”, and that “ the Ogoni Division is divided from the Brass and Degema Divisions by a broad arm of the sea which runs up to Port Harcourt, by a long stretch of Ibo territory which culminates in this town.” (pp. 37 & 51 of the Willinks Report).
For resource ownership and control, the existing states should provisionally be the constitutive units, but after voluntary mergers and referendum/s, six substantially homogenous regions are likely to emerge in the South: Igbo, Yoruba, Efik-Annang-central Ibibio-Ogoja, Ijaw, Ogoni-Andoni, Benin (maybe joined by the Urhobo-Itsekiri-Isoko).
*Prof. Igwe teaches Political Science at UNN .