By Charles Onunaiju
NIGERIA’S public political discourse is currently at a high boiling point. The particular theme of political restructuring and its other associated derivatives as devolution of power, true federalism, fiscal federalism, resource control, etc are not really new but have recently acquired strident passion that no proper interrogation of its meaning and essence is really on offer. Now, a very emotional political rhetoric offered as an all time and final panacea to Nigeria’s numerous woes, its new dynamism and phenomenal profile in the current national discourse, may not be unconnected with the crusading voices lend to it, by key establishment figures like former military president, Ibrahim Babangida and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, both from the North believed to have traditionally cold-shouldered the idea of restructuring.
The resurgence of separatist agitations especially of the vehement Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB, is noted to have added urgency to the call for restructuring of the country. Nigeria’s ethnic and religious fault lines are said to have currently reached a breaking point that only a restructured polity, reflecting strong regional autonomy and ethnic identity would save the alleged fragile entity. The argument further stresses, that the overbearing and overwhelming central authority, would have to be considerably devolved to multiplicities of centres to contain the fury ethnic irredentism. However, each of the claims for restructuring contains potent paradox that negates its particular essence.
Firstly, the overbearing central authority for which restructuring is primed to bring to heels, is itself derived from the weakness of the Nigerian State. In the regional equivalents of the authority devolved to new political structures that would emerge from political restructuring, will also emerge a fiercer and more authoritarian hegemony, unconstrained by even a weaker Nigerian State, which would be free to trample on its new victims. The core challenge of contemporary States in Africa, and foremost for Nigeria, is the critical deficit of governance competence. Governance competence is essential attribute of State capacity and efficiency and unless this is considerably achieved, the idea of restructuring and a call to true federalism, would amount largely to federalisation of governance incompetence, which would sow schism at every levels of the federated structures, in advance to State failure with all the consequences of chaos.
There are so many attractions to restructuring as political slogan and rhetoric, but a close examination of the historical mutations of Nigeria’s polity, reveals that the exercise would be a veritable road map to a dead end. As at 1996 when the last exercise of political restructuring was carried out, the demand for 72 more states ended with 36 states and apart from the fact that more unproductive politicians have emerged and more sterile bureaucracies established, nothing in the quality of lives of ordinary Nigerians have changed for better. However, the call to revert, to the original six regions as federating units, which existed prior to the bazaar of State creations, appears to have given little thought as why the regions were broken up in the first place, which was essentially to accommodate the grievances of the then ethnic minorities who complained loudly of internal colonialism of their majority counter parts.
The weakness of the Nigerian State is the principal reason why the federal government or the central authority is overbearing, because the institutional certainty, viability and transparency that only a strong State can guarantee is appropriated by regime operators who evolve and perpetuate an opaque and unaccountable network through which they subvert and undermine public institutions. In the Nigeria context, experience over the years showed that this is fiercely truer in the lower political structure of States and local governments. At those levels there are very little semblance of public authority but the personal power of the governors who view any form of constructive dissent as treacherous mischief of an enemy.
The pattern of constitutional structure of power does not entirely reveal the power relations in the actual sense or its practical dynamics.
Constitutional formalism and its consequence of ultra legalism have been the bane of the active evolution of a competent and efficient State, with regime operators at varying times and circumstances, creating fudges and throwing clouds to confound further, the social ambiguities for which a weak State is mortally incapable of clearing. The social dilemma of a weak State and its political integrity deficit cannot be ameliorated by the multiplicity of petty sub-sovereignties, but by restoring its efficiency to basic challenges of governance competence. If governance competence is acquired by the mere homogeneity of exercising authority or even by its modest size then, our States and local governments would have been the outposts of excellence. But they are not.
The federalist ramification that is optimistically expected to issue from political restructuring as widely canvassed and advocated would be significantly vitiated by the deficit of material security to stabilise it. The broad question of triggering transformational productive activities and widening the economic base, for which a strong and competent State could create and maintain the enabling environment, would not necessarily happen in the context of political restructuring, because what will endure and even be reproduced would be the same weak State institutions, with the full compliments of dysfunction, repression, exploitation and parasitism at the levels of the federating units.
The new political chieftains in their new semi sovereign state would exercise in- ordinate authority, derived from the weakness of the state and fresh challenges to their new devolved authority would have a raw deal. What is apparent and very clear in the strident advocacy for restructuring is that it does not project a revolutionary or even reformist anti-state message, but merely to reproduce the static and dysfunctional state at another level. Even the separatist factions of the restructuring national orchestra only seek to reproduce, the hollow State in their geographic and cultural domains.
In fact as Pierre Englebert illustrated in his highly respected work, “Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow”, “sometimes, non-state actors experience difficulties in reforming the state because they do not appear to represent a credible alternative to its ways. They might even seem to embrace the logic of the state and mimic its authoritarian and corrupt ways. Perhaps, there is no place, this conclusion is apt than in Nigeria. There is no group that is more strident in the assertion of the sacredness of the State in its indivisibility, indissolubility than any incumbent, notwithstanding the earlier anti-state stance. The loud call for restructuring today is majorly coming from the army of those, who only recently were too comfortable with the state of affairs and were clearly ready and committed to perpetuate it. Today, they are radical hot heads for which Nigeria should either restructure or go to hell.
Even the conference organised by the former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, designed as mere decoy to conceal the more insidious plot for regime perpetuation is been touted as the grand road map to a new Nigeria.
Nigeria, notwithstanding the stalking ghost of political restructuring in is dire and desperate need of restructuring but of a different kind which contributes to building state capacity, improving its efficiency and generally rendering it to the democratic accountability of the people.
The central task of restructuring in contemporary Nigeria is to modernize the economy, through creating opportunities to bring many more Nigerians into productive and value-chain creating activities.
The critical construction of strategic infrastructures to bolster connectivity and create a network of integrated national economy would secure the national foundation upon which a federal structure would subsist and thrive, enabling the State to acquire a measure of governance competence.
A further consideration in the challenge of restructuring is to reform and rationalize the existing political institutions, on the basis of practical relevance and not on constitutional idealism, which may hold enormous political attraction but of little value in respect of popular political participation and mobilisation.
However, to the extent that, Nigeria’s dull political landscape has been electrified by the debate on political restructuring makes it, a worthwhile political discourse.
*Mr. Onunaiju , research director of the Center for China studies, Utako, wrote from Abuja.