Restructuring is a bye-word in our everyday political discourse. It features in conversations on the economy. Many are wont to say: How I wished we are free from the suffocating cage that is the unitary form of our government so the creative energies of Nigerians can be released for the good of all. Restructuring is a word buzzing in our ears. Before I come to the subject of restructuring, I want to state that I can sense some signals from the Presidency that we are about to be witnessing a change of approach in crisis management.
At the weekend, the Niger Delta Avengers announced their return to the creeks menacingly flexing muscle to cripple the nation’s economy by blowing up strategic oil and gas installations provided their demands were met. Among the demands were the development of Niger Delta and the restructuring of the country. They were also asking for a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission. Besides destroying oil and gas facilities they would also deal with politicians and public functionaries that they observed were collaborating with the Federal Government to thwart the interest of Niger Delta. The leaders of the region, too, had demanded the constitution of a substantive board. All along, ad hoc bodies have been running the commission pending the conclusion of a forensic audit report on the organisation.x
Four years ago, when the Avengers struck, the economy was gravely hurt driving it into a recession. The militants said in their statements: “This operation shall be coded ‘Operation Humble’ aimed at bringing down targeted oil installations in the Niger Delta capable of humbling the economy into permanent recession. This mission is also targeted at political actors who are collaborating with the Nigerian government to undermine the interest of the Niger Delta people. There is no doubt that the Nigerian government has continued to turn deaf ears to our demands and the rising challenges in the country because the pipelines that criss-cross our lands were left untouched, allowing dollars to flow into the federal treasury on a daily basis for mismanagement. We shall spare no single oil installation within our range of strategic targets marked for destruction in the coming days…Members of our strike teams across the Niger Delta are commanded to be on red alert awaiting precise strike plans as mapped by the high command of the NDA.”
This time, instead of the accustomed combative posture of the President, the approach he employed was conciliatory, saying the issues the Avengers raised had been thrashed with Niger Delta and Ijaw National Congress leaders when he met with them at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, just a few days earlier. According to his media chief, Femi Adesina, they discussed their call for restructuring of the country and the inauguration of the NDDC board. From his address to them, it can be seen that he received them warmly. He particularly rejoiced with Professor Benjamin Okaba over his emergence as the leader of Ijaw National Congress. He told the leaders of his concern about the rate of environmental degradation in the Region and of his interest that local content is injected and local hands are engaged in Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project in Ogoni. International oil companies are to ensure they comply with international standards to reduce oil spill and new occurrences are prevented, he assured them check-up. “I completely agree with your call to allocate operational licences for marginal fields to Ijaw people…” Such approach is soothing; it is as it should be. It is even been speculated that he postponed his medical trip to the United Kingdom so that he could have a one-on-one chat with Nnamdi Kanu.
From the meeting with the Niger Delta leaders it would appear his rigidity on restructuring is easing as well. He said he would do the needful once the National Assembly position is brought to his desk. This is a shift from his hard-line posture in which he was reported as describing those clamouring for restructuring as naïve and dangerous. What do they want to restructure? The new thinking is what accords with his position on restructuring in 2013. In his campaign promises, he had said: “If you nominate me in December 2014 and elect me in February 2015, my Administration will:x
Initiate action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states in order entrench true federalism and the Federal spirit;”
In item 3, Buhari had said: “I will attract the best and brightest of our sons and daughters into our politics and public service by aggressive recruitment of private sector people, academics and professionals within Nigeria and in the Diaspora through internships, fellowships, executive appointments and special nomination to contest elective offices.”
Item 6: He promised to “Restructure governance for a leaner, more efficient and adequately compensated public service sector, while promoting effective participation of the private sector for more robust job creation programmes to employ the teeming youth.”
Item 11 dwelt on Security and Conflict Resolution; On National Security and Defence. And Buhari said:
“I will urgently secure the territorial integrity of the nation. I will never leave the defence of the nation in the hands of hunters, children and civilian JTF through the following:
*Urgently address capacity building mechanisms of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality as this is critical in safeguarding the security of lives and property;
*Establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals driven. Serious Crime Squad to combat insurgences, kidnapping, armed robbery, ethno-religious and communal clashes, nationwide.
On Conflict Resolution, National Unity and social Harmony. He was going to:
* ‘‘Establish a Conflict Resolution commission to help prevent, mitigate, and resolve civil conflicts within the polity;”
* ‘‘Bring permanent peace and solution to the insurgency issues in the North East, the Niger Delta and other conflict prone states and areas such as Plateau, Benue, Bauchi, Borno, Abia, Taraba, Yobe and Kaduna in order to engender national unity and harmony.”
*Consult and amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to create city, local government and state policing systems, based on resources available to each level, to address the peculiar needs of each community. I will therefore work with the National
Assembly to set and revise, when needed boundaries of operations, for federal, state and local government policing units, through new criminal justice legislation to replace the Criminal Code and the Police Act.”
I am leaving out some other laudable promises but which are not directly connected with restructuring. For instance, he had in Item 7 of the campaign promises stated that he would “Require full disclosure in media outlets of all government contracts over N100 million prior to award and during implementation at regular intervals.”
Item 8: He would reform and strengthen the Justice System for efficient administration of justice with Creation of special courts for accelerated hearing of corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism and similar cases of national importance;
Item 9: He would fully enforce the Freedom of Information Act so that government held data sets be published on a regular basis.”
Item 10: “Amend the Constitution to require local governments to publish their meeting minutes, service performance data, and items of spending over N10 million.”
The promises on the economy, social welfare programme and infrastructural developments are also not featured. In road construction Buhari’s performance is commendable. Noteworthy as it may be, however, it is not so much the vexed issue in the land , an issue widely believed would accelerate development and enhance oneness as all federating units would be coordinates and would swing and work together like five fingers of a hand. Restructuring therefore, is an issue which time has long come.
The El-Rufai Committee set up by APC of which Buhari is the leader, to collate the views of Nigerians on restructuring, found that Nigerians everywhere settled for it. The then National Chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun, while receiving the Committee’s report from Governor Nasir el-Rufai on January 25, 2018, said that it represented the party’s true position on issues of true federalism and restructuring, He received the report with such optimism that he said “…it has given the basic foundation for the building of a new nation and a new way of doing business in this country.”
El-Rufai speaking to the content of the Report in part, said his committee proposed an amendment to the Petroleum Act to allow states control their mineral resources “except when it affects offshore oil.” It recommended the scrapping of local government as third tier of government. The position of the committee, according to him, is that having three tiers of government is an aberration. It recommended state police and independent candidacy to contest elections.
A fellow columnist, Gbogun Gboro, wading into the debate on what Restructuring means on June 29, 2017 wrote on the benefits to the country when it had a three-region structured and practised federalism as it should be done. “Hopefully, our states will resume the competition which used to exist among our regions in the 1950s up till 1966. As a result of that competition, the Western Region’s Government worked closely with the region’s farmers until they made Nigeria the second largest exporter of cocoa in the world, the Northern Region’s Government worked closely with the region’s farmers until they made Nigeria the largest exporter of groundnuts in the world and the Eastern Region’s Government worked closely with the region’s farmers until they made Nigeria the largest exporter of palm produce in the world. Cocoa earned the biggest income and made Western Region our richest Region and supplied most of federal foreign exchange. This is what development means—developing resources to generate money for further development.”x
He went on in the column featured by The Nation newspaper: “No Federal Government can do all these things from one centre. By 1965, Nigeria exported 675,000 metric tonnes of groundnuts. By 1984, after the transfer of all resource control and development to the Federal Government—gradually from 1966—Nigeria exported only 25,000 metric tonnes of groundnuts. By 1984, Nigeria had ceased being a serious exporter of these products.”
Several national leaders have pressed for restructuring, from former President, Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, One-time Secretary to the Government of the Federation and a former Presidential candidate Olu Falae and former super Permanent Secretary, Ahmed Joda, all voting for a restructured country. In the words of Atiku, “It is disingenuous if not outright dishonest to say that the system is not the problem. If the problem is just the operators how come we have failed for 50 years to produce the right people? A look at our 1999 Constitution, specifically Section 7…has 83 legislative items as against 15 for the state (which the Federal Government can also override) shows that there is a huge problem with the system. I challenge anyone who is against restructuring our federation to show me another well-funded federal system in the world with that level of lopsided central dominance.”
Babangida said and his words: “If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results we need to change tactics and approach and renew our commitment…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, defence 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. The talk to have the country restructured means that Nigerians are agreed on our unity in diversity, but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on comparative advantages. Added to this is the need to commence the process of having state police across the states of the Federation.”
Audu Ogbeh, chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has met with the Northern caucus in the House of Representatives to draw their attention to the readiness of President Buhari to sign the bill on restructuring if the National Assembly passed it into law. Ogbeh said the ACF would meet and present something to the caucus on which they should dwell.
It is difficult to see why the foot dragging on the restructuring of the country has taken this long, particularly by Buhari. It is plain to see that a family is as strong as members that constitute it are. Nigeria can only be strong only to the extent of the strength of the states that constitute it as federating units. It is the law, immutable laws of Creation violation of which must lead to dire consequences. Nigeria is a country of diverse peoples. Out of ignorance of the mechanisms that govern life, strenuous but predictably futile efforts have been made to ignore the diversities in most countries under the delusion that they do not matter, they are accidents of birth. It is good that we have tasted the bitterness. Hopefully, it will enable us to grow if the right lessons are learnt and we throw conceit and all-knowingness out of the window.x
There are no accidents of birth. Everyone is born where he deserves and needs for his spiritual maturity. It is a choice made a long time ago in the inalienable exercise of our free will. A majority of the people in countries of the world have their concepts upside down of what makes a nation and how communities are formed. The weaving of the carpet of fate through choices made is buried in obscurity. The leaders and the led are unable to decipher what lies behind what, why and how societies or communities are brought together, sometimes by force, coercion or cajoling. In doing so, certain fundamental principles are glossed over.
People in different countries stand at different levels of inner maturity and radiance which fashion the outward development and gives rise to societal cultures, values and goals. Usually the goals of the component parts of a country are not properly ascertained by those who carve out nations out of crass ignorance, or desire for power and influence or acknowledgement of having done a great thing. Every people are separated and put in different towns, clans, villages, zones, etc. in accordance with their homogeneity so that in the Wisdom of the Creator no one community disturbs the other in its development. It is in the course of their development that they determine their goals and priority. Each people are endowed with the resources they need at a particular time for their development. Out of material consideration, however, nationalities who have nothing in common are brought together to form a nation, thus tampering with the natural order in the name of progress and civilization. The consequences are that their cultures are ignored and trampled upon; an alien culture is foisted on the weaker set. Their goals are set aside and there is disequilibrium which leads to society disharmony, threats of war and war. One party insists everyone in the large family must eat from the same pot. A mother says her child is malnourished; noisy, sometimes violent acrimony ensues in the family. There is endless search for equity and fairness in the sharing of resources. Consider when all members have cultivated their strength, they are independent and prosperous; none stands in the other’s way. There is joy and happiness; there is peace and pride. In a diverse country each people manifest their goals in their aspiration and they defend their values instinctively with all their being. It should sound strange that these truths of life are not recognised.x
No people, no race is superior to the other. In accordance with the mediated Truths now spreading on earth, they are indeed expected to stand side by side, respect one another, take that which they find useful of values of the other community but not seek to dominate, or make all peoples uniform in the name of unity. One party will be dragged down and lower one will not be lifted up. It must bestir itself and grow by its own effort. Diversities are primary and should be allowed unlimited flourish. Communities arise out of the Law of Homogeneity that only those of the same tendencies make for greater harmony and progress.
Chief Falae said in a statement he issued on July 4, 2018: “There were four constitutions at independence—the Federal Constitution, Western Constitution, Eastern Constitution and Northern Constitution.” That was how independent the federating regions were and every region had an ambassador in London: “The ambassador for Nigeria called High Commissioner was M.T. Mbu; the ambassador for eastern Nigeria was Jonah Chinyere Achara, Western Nigeria was Omolodun and for Northern Nigeria, it was Alhaji Abdulmalik. That was the kind of arrangement we agreed to but the military threw it away and gave us this over-centralised constitution. We say this is not acceptable anymore; we must go back to the negotiated constitution.”
It is hoped the National Assembly would note this and Buhari will strive to write his name in gold by rising to support and give life to the endeavours to restructure the country for its peace and progress. It is then the nation will stop going round in circles and getting to nowhere in particular.