By Ochereome Nnanna
FROM Action Group to UPN, to NADECO to PRONACO, the agitation for restructuring is concentrated among the South West people of Southern Nigeria. The whole aggression originated form Action Group, and the intention was to deny the North the benefit of the population and land mass. It is therefore a gang-up to deprive the North the benefits it is getting for been richly endowed…this agitation is not driven by patriotism, rather its driven by hate and envy and this campaign started with some politicians in the South west way back in 1959.” —ALHAJI TANKO YAKASSAI, NORTHERN ELDER
WHAT is “restructuring” in the context of the Nigerian political discourse? In simple terms, it means removing the centralised, “federal” system put by the military political class in our constitution in 1979 and 1999. It means allowing the federating units to have more of the economic, social and political powers currently concentrated in the Centre. These powers made the Centre so powerful as to confer quasi-colonial authority on those who control the centre. Yet, it rendered the Federal Government so inefficient and indolent as to turn Nigeria into a state that does not work; a virtual failed state in spite of its humongous potentials.
There is growing evidence that restructuring is the only way to save Nigeria. Many of its former opponents even among Northerners, such as General Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have signed on to the call for restructuring (though they have not spelt out what they have in mind to enable us see whether it jells with ours).
Why, then, would anybody call “restructuring” an “aggression” …”intended to deprive the North the benefits of the population and landmass”…”a gang-up to deprive the North the benefits it is getting from being richly endowed”…”an agitation not driven by patriotism, rather it is driven by hate and envy…” What rational justification can Pa Yakassai and those who peddle this school of thought proffer for the venom contained in this statement?
Let me reiterate that no Nigerian group came into an independent Nigeria with the intention of living in internal colonial bondage, which the current centralised federalism portends for most groups. When the negotiations for the independence of Nigeria were going on by leaders of various Nigerian groups under the supervision of the British colonial officials in Ibadan and London in the 1950s, the major concern of all groups was to ensure that they would not be disadvantaged when the colonialists left.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, whose kinsmen (the Igbo) were already in large numbers all over the country (especially the North) advocated for a united nation where all Nigerians would forget their differences and live as one people. In fact, he propagated Pan-Africanism, where all Black people would share a universal aspiration. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, instead, preferred a federation where the various ethnic groups (including the Minorities) would be accommodated in their respective federating units, living their lives according to their cultures and economic circumstances in a united Nigeria.
On the other hand, the North with Sir Ahmadu Bello as its arrow-head wanted a Nigeria where the imperial Islamic heritage of his ancestors (the Sokoto Caliphate) would not be tampered with or subsumed under the Westernised outlook of the South. It was either that or they would rather stay out of Nigeria when the British left.
They bargained hard, and with the backing of the British colonialists and the impulsive zeal of Azikiwe for Nigeria to quickly gain its independence, the North was allowed to use its landmass and contrived “majority” population to grab geopolitical advantages that effectively put independent Nigeria under its control, either through the ballot or bullet.
In other words, the Southern groups unwittingly (as usual) transferred their servitude under British colonialism to Arewa internal colonialism. The Minorities ended up under the subjugation of their Majority neighbours in the Eastern, Western and Northern Regions. The struggle for “self-determination” has continued from then till date, manifesting in the coups, counter-coups, the Biafra-Nigeria war, the rise and fall of NADECO, PRONACO, Ogoni MOSOP and the resurgence of Ijaw/Niger Delta militancy, Igbo MASSOB/IPOB and what have you.
These struggles have lasted for 56 years, and will continue to trouble this nation until restructuring – the only peaceful antidote to preserve the future of Nigeria – is put in place.
Pa Yakassai is correct in asserting that the North is benefiting from its landmass and sham majority population, but at the expense of other Nigerians; and he thinks that those who feel it is unjust are being “aggressive”, “ganging up”, showing “envy and hatred” against the North! This is clearly a language spoken in favour of parasitism.
What is a parasite?
A simple Merriam-Webster dictionary definition puts it this way: “a person or thing that takes something from someone or something else and does not do anything to earn or deserve it”; or, “an animal or plant that lives in or on another animal or plant and gets food or protection from it”.
It is a cold, empirical fact that Northern domination sowed a parasite syndrome which has now taken over the whole country. It is no longer just the North that is parasiting on Nigeria, it is now a shared national culture.
With their obvious landmass and cooked-up population majority, the North, capitalising on its control of the military political leadership for nearly forty years, split Nigeria into states, local governments and electoral constituencies making sure it reserved the lion’s share for itself. Virtually every village with 5,000 people or above in the North is a local government area.
It allocates revenue which comes mainly from the oil resources of the Niger Delta to these units, also keeping the greater share for itself while stiffly resisting all attempts to give back something to the oil producing states or communities. But in spite of this, the North’s grassroots are the poorest and most destitute Nigerians.
This syndrome has spread to all parts of Nigeria. Our political leaders no longer think constructively, or do any work. They wait for the end of the month to go to Abuja and share the rents from the oil resources of the Niger Delta. Poverty that used to be “a Northern phenomenon” as former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Charles Soludo once put, it is now a Nigeria-wide malaise. The North is blest with vast arable, fertile land, with unquantifiable amounts of solid minerals that can make it even richer than the South. But the likes of Pa Yakassai don’t want restructuring because it will force them to think and work hard to extract the riches of the land – too tedious when the oil rent is there for easy pickings.
The call for restructuring is neither evil nor is it a product of envy. Contrary to what Pa Yakassai said, it is actually a patriotic call; a call to make Nigeria (particularly the North) great again. When the Regions were in existence and every region depended on its own resources for its sustenance, the North was the wealthiest region because of its great agricultural endowments. The West came in a close second because of its cocoa and easy access to the world out there.
The East was on the verge of taking over from them through their burgeoning oil resources, but Britain and the North capitalised on the Nzeogwu coup and assisted the North-dominated military to force the East into a war it was ill-prepared for. They rallied the rest of Nigerians, defeated Biafra and started rewarding themselves with the oil resources of the former Eastern Region.
Restructuring will give powers to the federating units, enable them to work for their upkeep while paying taxes and royalties to the Centre to look after us all and guarantee national coexistence. It made Nigeria great in the past. It is the only way forward.