By Dele Animasaun
“Nothing in this world is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”—Victor Hugo, 1802-1885, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ.
Restructuring, true federalism, resource control etc all amount to me as quibbling with semantics. There is a meeting point in all of them. They all rest on the foundation that the existing Federal Republic of Nigeria and the 1999 Constitution on which it is based are unjust to a lot of us and cannot, or should not continue. Obasanjo and Tanko Yakassai, arguing that restructuring will result in disintegration remind me of those who when told that a very sick patient requires urgent surgery to survive object to that option by pointing out that the patient will die. How do they know – particularly when surgery had been done before?
Incidentally, when former military officers like Gown, Obasanjo and Buhari object to restructuring, they cannot possibly be talking from principle. Instead, they reveal selfish interests masquerading as national interest because the military class of 1966 till 1999 had engaged in more restructuring than any other group of Nigerians when it was to their advantage to do so. Let me briefly but quickly review how it was done.
When our founding fathers went to negotiate independence and agreed on a Federation, it was done on the basis of three regions – East, West and North. Shortly after independence, the North, East and illegitimate sons of Yorubaland ganged up to create the Mid-West region – which was not on the political map in the beginning. That was the first restructuring. Nigeria did not break as a result. In 1966, the second major restructuring occurred. Our forefathers handed us a constitution based on democracy as the guiding principles of governance. A small group of young military officers, led by Obasanjo’s friend, Major Chukwumah Nzeogwu, unilaterally tore up that constitution and substituted Nigerian government by ballots with government by bullets. If that was not restructuring, then what was it?
Six months after, the General Ironsi led government which emerged from the first coup, was removed by another set of armed men. Gowon became Head of State and very swiftly carved up the four regions inherited into twelve states. In short in a bewildering period of just six months, the military, including Obasanjo and Buhari, had altered the character of our country in two fundamental ways. Gone were leaders who came to power by asking for our votes; in were armed bands who, with total contempt for civilians, imposed themselves on the rest of us, seized the national treasury, plundered it at will and divided the nation into weaker political units more easily managed by dictators. Gowon, Obasanjo and Buhari profited from restructuring – one became Head of State, one Federal Commissioner, and the third, State Governor.
Not satisfied with butchering four regions into twelve states, Obasanjo was there again in 1975 when twelve became nineteen; this was followed by Babangida’s creation of more states to bring the total to 30 states and Abacha who brought the number to 36 and along the way fifty three (53) divisions left by politicians in 1966 exploded to 774 Local Governments. In all these processes, not once were civilians asked if they wanted them. Bloody civilians were told what they had decided to give us – as if the land was their own alone. Was that not restructuring?
Later, OBJ and General Buhari became Heads of State on the strength of bayonets held at our heads in Nigeria and later too, the two of them have become the only two to rule Nigeria twice. It is understandable that they would assume that wisdom regarding what is in the interest of Nigeria resides only in former satraps like them. It is not true.
At any rate, the quest for restructuring has gathered a momentum such that standing in its way might amount to standing on the rail line when a speed train is approaching. For Obasanjo in particular, it is the sort of hypocrisy which has become his trade mark. He unilaterally restructured Nigeria by giving away Bakassi.
Of the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, is more at risk. Stitched together, like the coat of many colours, from groups and individuals with different, often clashing ideologies, it benefited immensely from the widespread disenchantment with Jonathan’s administration. Its manifesto, hastily prepared, unlike the original PDP’s constitution, attempted to satisfy everybody. Time was on the party’s side. People unable to read the fine lines of the APC manifesto before the 2015 elections accepted vague promises about true federalism as commitment to restructuring the polity. “Mugus!”.
“It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.” O. Henry, 1862-1910. (VBQ p 239). Nigerians might not know it but a political swindle is underway. More than two years after election, the APC is just now setting up a committee to determine what Nigerians really want done. In charge of the committee is Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State as well as a few others who are on record for their opposition to the idea. That is like asking a Bishop or Chief Imam to start looking into legalizing prostitution. Obviously, the idea is an after-thought by the party leadership; it has been handed to a committee which will surely kill it; if not dismissed by committee, a “Conference” will be arranged late next year (like Obasanjo’s last minute attempt to review the constitution just to smuggle in “Third Term” and Jonathan’s 2014 Constitutional Conference) knowing that the recommendations of the committee could not be acted upon before the 2019 elections. Con men call that a swindle.
Generally, a swindle can be spotted when you realize that the most powerful person in the organization is dead set against an idea but collectively they know it is dangerous to ignore it. So, they set up a “Committee”. Buhari and his closest advisers are against restructuring in whatever form and the man has been honest enough to say so. It is the “party”; meaning those in the party Secretariat and especially Southerners who have a whale of a problem on their hands. Even the most foolish among them know that almost the entire South is in favour of the idea as well as a good chunk of the Middle Belt. That leaves only the Northeast and Northwest holding out against it. APC is starring into its own grave if it allows the matter to continue this way – with less than nineteen months to the next elections.
Indisputably, the biggest loss to APC in the 2019 Presidential Elections will be the Southwest, SW. In 2011 and 2015, SW voted for Jonathan and Buhari respectively. Osun state was the only SW state Jonathan did not win in 2011 – check it out. Yet, Jonathan proceeded to treat the SW shabbily until the dying days of the 2015 elections when dollars were sprayed on political deadwood in the zone. Jonathan’s Igbo Ministers, particularly Works and Aviation, waged war on Yoruba business people. The N132 billion judgment against the Federal Government in favour of Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney resulted from illegal activities of Ms Oduah, Chiduka and Chike Obi of AMCON. Nothing GEJ did in 2015 could have saved him from defeat in the SW.
However, the beneficiaries of SW disenchantment with GEJ would be making the worst mistake of their lives if they assume that SW has changed totally to APC. The romance ended on 2015 Election Day and the people have been watching ever since if they were going to receive a fairer deal from APC. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Instead, it is quite noticeable that very little has changed. The SW is still being short-changed in many ways.
Permit me at this point to use my state – Lagos – to illustrate what we mean by restructuring. The easiest and closest idea to it was provided by Obong Victor Attah, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State in his book RESOURCE CONTROL. My mentor, brother friend etc, etc had invited me to write the Foreword to that book. I was deeply touched and humbled. But, back then in 2004, I wrote that if the oil in the Niger Delta had been found in the Southwest, the Yorubas would have insisted on and received 50 per cent of the revenue derivation and not 13 per cent. Otherwise there would have been a secession. I still stand by it till today and I thank Obong Attah for opening my eyes to the injustice done to the Niger Delta till today. Restructuring starts from there….
To be continued..