By Obadiah Mailafia
I BELIEVE it’s vital that we deconstruct the whole debate on restructuring in order to get our bearings across the wild spectrum of cacophonous bedlam. Restructuring itself has become a rather emotive term in our contemporary public discourse.
Some people, particularly my brethren in the north, are innately opposed to it. For some others, it sounds too close to the infamous IMF/World Bank-inspired structural adjustment programmes of the eighties, with their disastrous impact on our livelihoods, industry and human development prospects.
However, I don’t believe we throw away the baby with the bathwater. If the word sounds rather foreboding, we can substitute it with synonyms such as reconstitution, reestablishment, reform or reengineering. What it all boils down to is the need to redesign our constitutional compact to ensure it meets the needs of all Nigerians and advances the cause of nationhood, democracy and social progress.
In the long history of free societies, no constitutional compact is sacrosanct for all time. Whether it is the Americans or the British or the French, constitutional reengineering underpins the political evolution of democratic societies in their quest to expand the borders of liberty and the possibility frontiers of welfare. The aim, at the end of the day, should be to expand the eudaemonic happiness of all.
In the current debate, there are three main groups, all of them singing from different hymn books.
For lack of a better word, I would term the first group “the politicians”. This group have found in the restructuring bandwagon a perfect ruse for their own agendas which have nothing to do with the ultimate good of the Nigerian people. For them, restructuring is the continuation of opposition politics by other means.
They reason that the incumbent APC administration did their damndest in harassing and eventually overthrowing the PDP-led Goodluck Jonathan administration. They did make good their promise to make the regime ‘ungovernable’, going as far as Washington DC to scheme with President Obama to effect regime change in Abuja.
And they succeeded. Now is the time to pay them back in their own bitter medicine. Among this band are Biafrans and other closet secessionists who want to break away from the federation and ensure total control of the hydrocarbon resources of the Niger Delta.
It is in regard to this group that I am deploying the concept of the cunning of reason. According to the Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy, “We can call it the cunning of reason that the Idea makes passions work for it, in such a way that whereby it posits itself in existence it loses thereby and suffers injury.” On the face of it, the argument and logic sound unassailable. They come up with high-octane prosody about how the country is going to the dogs and how nothing is working and that without restructuring there will be no elections in 2019.
Underneath it all is a contrary spirit. Deep inside them is the belief that the rest of Nigerians are parasites or vultures scrounging on what should be their own exclusive patrimony; completely overlooking one of the fundamental principles of federalism, which enjoins that more prosperous regions have a moral obligation to subsidise impoverished regions so that no region is left behind. Most of the noise emanating from that group amounts to what the French philosopher Jacques Lacan would dismiss as a ‘discourse of error’. The cunning of reason is, ultimately, the cunning of the devil.
The second group are what I would term ‘the conservatives’. They are nearly as bad as the cunning devils. They are vehemently opposed to restructuring not only because of the perceived mischief lurking behind it; but ostensibly because this is the best of all possible worlds. If there are any issues, they reason, these can be settled through existing parliamentary and other institutions of government; ignoring the fact that even the composition of the National Assembly is skewed in favour of certain regions in a manner that would gridlock any possibility of reform.
They tend to favour the self-serving constitutional tinkering that in terms of the ongoing amendments to the constitution. This group refuse to believe that there are inconsistencies, mischief or inequities in the 1999 constitution; believing that the whining against ‘marginalisation’ by certain sections of the country is a dishonest enterprise.
Someone recently sent me some statistics of federal public service employees by state of origin. Southern states clearly dominate the federal service, with Ogun 4,669; Akwa Ibom 4,416; Anambra 3,576; while some of the impoverished northern states have the lowest, with Sokoto 732, Yobe 744 and Zamfara 543. Many in the north insist that it is they who are marginalised and not the south.
The third group are the ‘patriots’. This group believe that there is a genuine case for the reengineering of our federal structure. In the first place, there is the fact that the 1999 constitution did not emanate from the will of “We, the people”. Rather, it fabricated by unknown persons from the smoke-filled army barracks of General Sani Abacha’s brutal dictatorship. As such, it can only be of limited legitimacy.
A lawyer recently pointed out to me that as long as a constitutional document has been in use for sometime it is, ipso facto, the legitimate constitution of the land. My response would be that even if the 1999 constitution was the outcome of a genuine national compact, it would still not have been a perfect document. And because no constitutional document is ever perfect, a case can always be made for its reengineering.
The patriots insist that the 1999 document is neither legitimate nor perfect and therefore needs to be revisited in its totality. They point to the fact of inconsistencies and inequities inherent in the document. They believe that the northern dominated military oligarchy manipulated the federal constituencies and local governments in a manner that favoured the far north at the expense of everyone else. They also point to the fact that Exclusive List has given birth to an overbearing federal centre that smothers the principle of subsidiarity and autonomy for states and local governments.
There is also the problem of ‘wicked problems’. In the policy sciences, when we talk of wicked problems we are referring to challenges that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory or changing exigencies that may even be difficult to decipher. Wicked problems are virtually insoluble within existing parameters, short of redesigning the entire institutional framework in which the problems have arisen.
Many patriots fear that our country is not working. They also fear that, at current path dependence, if nothing is done, we may be heading towards disintegration. They point to the symptoms of political decay everywhere: the Boko Haram insurgency, collapse of the education system; disintegration of our moral values; hopelessness among the youth; nihilistic violence, rampant criminality, kidnapping and cultism; decaying infrastructures; insolvency of majority of the states; and collapse of national consensus regarding our common future.
My only quarrel with the patriots is intellectual laziness. Many of them have proffered no solutions on how we may go about restructuring in a peaceful and democratic manner. All they say is that we should go back to the regions as they existed in 1966 prior to the first military praetorian intervention. They seem to ignore the fact that the system collapsed precisely because that federal structure was untenable. A situation whereby the north overwhelmed the other regions defeated the very spirit of federalism as a system of government. Some would point out that the failure to implement the 1958 Willink Commission Report regarding minorities was the principal reason why the first republic collapsed in 1966.
The task of rebuilding Nigeria is only beginning.