By Bisi Lawrence
In this climate of change, or the clamour for it, two words often come up to describe aspects of the desired new order. They are restructuring and diversification. They are no doubt different in their meaning, although an overlap may occur in their execution.
It seems to me that we should be clear in our minds about what we mean by each, and what each means to us. When we talk of restructuring, as far as it concerns our life as a nation, we are referring to how we can change the shape and space allotted to some people and various activities within this assortment of nationalities known as Nigeria.
The intent is to create a pattern of co-existence which adds value to the lives of all the elements for the reason that they are a part of the structure. This would suggest—in fact, declare right away—that the present situation needs to be ameliorated through re-adjustment or replacement of the components of its arrangement. Most important of all, would be how we relate to one another. We would need to unite in order to live peacefully together.
Therefore, the factors that would militate against our unity would have to be expunged from the equation of our lives. A measure of satisfaction must be guaranteed here, satisfaction as to the rightful position of each group as it is acceptable to those who are directly involved in any item of imbalance that may crop up. When no part feels disrespected or short- changed, the loyalty of all members of the group is assured, and mutual regard flows through the system. Thus the spirit of oneness, that is unity, is engendered.
Our country today cannot be said to be united. Discontent strolls through our neighbourhoods; resentment lurks in our street-corners; and open violence has become rampant all over the land. Our problems, which we lightly call “issues”, demand that we seriously consider what is crooked that should be straightened, and what lies askew that should be balanced.
We know what the “issues” are, of course. They are mostly concerned with what some sections see as an unfair allocation of the resources of the land, while others see claims that verge on sheer greed and self-centredness. It is a situation that calls for “giving a little and taking a little.” But steely intransigence on all sides will not yield to flaccid persuasion, unless a new structure can be devised and accepted by most of the contending units. Only restructuring can foster reconciliation, and reconciliation can come only through negotiation.
It may be said in a way that ”the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable” but, without courting unnecessary controversy, it has to be admitted that what does not exist cannot be negotiated anyway.
The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo on his part, has attempted to substitute diversification of the economy for restructuring. As observed earlier, the execution of one overlaps that of the other in some areas. Diversification, as we know, implies the extension of activities into a variety of areas neglected earlier. That, in itself affirms that some structures in the arrangement of the operations must be re-adjusted. This is a major challenge to the growth of our economy at the present time.
The notion has been bandied around as though it were a novel feature in our economic life. As a matter of fact, the exercise was with us at the dawn of the making of this country. We were a thriving people all over the country. To the South were the cocoa farms which prospered stretches of village areas. There were palm products and rubber in abundance for export. There were also fruits like mangos and oranges which could have been processed domestically for our own consumption. And we also had groundnuts and cotton, which provided the North with nuggets of prosperity.
The “groundnut pyramid” sounds like a mythical structure today, but it was a real phenomenon. Of all the products we have lost in Nigeria, its case is about the most pitiable. This was an economic activity that engaged young people for less than half of the year—an eventful period tagged, “the season”—and yet provided for their needs for the whole year. Looking out from the railway train from Kano to Kaduna around Challowa, passengers beheld stacks of groundnut bags arranged in the form of towering pyramids. It was an awesome sight now encountered, probably, only in dreams. They just seemed to have disappeared.
But they can still be revived, and that to a state beyond that of their former glory. So also can the cotton, a priced commodity which had its centre of organizational activity in Minna. They can all be recalled to life, and in no time at all. Our good old Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, missed the mark when she attempted to compare our situation with that of Dubai which took some three decades to diversify. We are not diversifying into new streams like industrialization.
We are, so to say, picking up from where we dropped our act. For instance, the Kano groundnut pyramids would take no more than three years to regain their stature, if we worked at it, and the cocoa plantations are ready to bloom in several areas within two years. All this is possible in this day of technological advancement in agriculture, and that has been earmarked as our first target for diversification already.
One claims no expertise in these matters, but it would be difficult to fault the direction in which our attention should be vigorously directed if we have to break the evil spell of “single cell” economy.
Beyond that, or within it, some aspects of our social structures might also have to be examined with the view to resetting them, as it were. An example that stares us in the face is our judiciary system,particularly the problem of the courts of equal jurisdiction. We are all witnesses to the logjam produced by contrary decisions given by courts of equal powers in the governorship entanglement in Abia State, and also the imbroglio in the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party.
A simple way out would be a law forbidding any case that has seen the light of day in one court from being heard again in a court of similar powers. The litigants that are not satisfied in the judgment should then feel free to appeal to a higher court. This is no farther than a non-legal mind can pursue the matter; a professional lawman would doubtless pursue it much further. But some measure should be taken. And, if you please, it is all a part of restructuring. It falls squarely into the area of a re-organization of our manner of ensuring a measure of adequate justice in our nation.
Now we have talked about all of this enough. It is time to see some plan, some action, towards achieving what we are so unanimous about.