By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Atiku Abubakar, one-time Vice-President of Nigeria, recently joined the “restructuring” train, pledging that if he were to be president, he would restructure Nigeria. First, that is a very large claim. No president can single-handedly restructure Nigeria. The only institution that can restructure Nigeria is the Nigerian Legislature – the elected Parliament of the Federation, working with interested parties, and pushing for the fundamental legal framework that would install a new Nigeria. Or a constituent Assembly, acting as that parliament. But whereas a parliament exists, in whatever form, it has the mandate of a Constituent Assembly, and can cause new Acts of Parliament to come to being, including an Act of the Republic.
The Indians did this in 1972, when it restructured the Indian Federation and enacted the law abolishing all monarchies thus making India a full republic. That was restructuring. Many blame President Buhari for not “restructuring” Nigeria according to the promise of his party, the APC, when it was campaigning for votes. But on this, I do not blame the president. The president does not have that kind of power to decree Nigeria into a new existence. He may have leverage within his party, and he may exercise that leverage through the leadership of the party with a majority in the National Assembly, and with them, work towards a bill restructuring fundamental aspects of Nigeria. But the constitution of Nigeria with its limits of presidential power does not permit Buhari to exceed the functions of his office. It is not within the power of this president or any other president, to restructure Nigeria.
It is the function however, of the elected parliament of the land. Those who are looking for political reform should pressure the party in power, and their representatives in the National Assembly. Only there does the legislative power of the republic reside, and only that institution can “restructure” Nigeria as a political program. The other means is for all the current constituent states, or regions, to withdraw their sovereign membership of the federation, declare secession, and be prepared to defend themselves until a restructuring of the federation is commonly agreed upon. But let us ask this fundamental question: what is restructuring? Many Nigerians now talk about “restructuring Nigeria” as the only means by which Nigeria would survive.
They put an apocalyptic spin on this issue, and juice it up a bit. It does seem that restructuring, and the haunting threat of secession are the means by which disgruntled and discontented groups assert pressure on Nigeria. When you are in power, you stop talking restructuring or secession. When you’re out of it, you suddenly remember that the foundations of Nigeria is weak, and must be restructured. Every group in Nigeria has used these threats, and has voiced these shibboleths, and yet, we do not know the actual meaning of these words, nor have we thought through their larger implication in the long run. So, what is restructuring? Certainly, there are fundamental issues in Nigeria as a modern nation state that must be resolved. Among the greatest threats to Nigeria today is the problem of its diversity.
This ordinarily should be one of its greatest strengths, but blind, hateful, and intolerant creeds, and ignorant people pushing these creeds have led to a massive level of national dissonance. Nigerians are no longer just “Nigerians” first. They have greater loyalty to their “traditional rulers” than to their national political leadership or institutions. This began with the North, of course, where the Emirs were once (maybe they still are) the most powerful brokers of power, and the West, where the Obas, working with the Action Group, formed a partnership called the “Egbe” which appealed more to Yoruba ethnic nationalism, than to the Nigerian national spirit.
The civil war “cured” the Igbo of their Nigerian nationalist consciousness, although more than likely, as a group, the Igbo retain that modicum of the nationalist spirit, simply because of their own unique situation, having spread out across the new nation. But the point is this: when people talk “restructuring” they do not mean creating a Nigerian commons, or strengthening that commonalty that can create a national spirit in a new Nigeria, they simply mean, each group “staying apart” and dealing with its own issues. Proponents of restructuring do not mean the deepening of individual liberty and equality promised under the republican ethos or spirit, these are right-wing cultural nationalists seeking a retention of the symbols of their “volk;” it is not about the ordinary or “common” Nigerians as we call them. It has nothing to do with real people. Just very highly interested few, protecting their own wickets. If there must be real restructuring in Nigeria, there must be a constitutional abolishing of the institutions of the “traditional rulers” and such other meaningless, primordial institutions that are irrelevant to the modern life of the nation, and to the principle of equality of citizenship guaranteed under this Federal Republic.
We must do what India did to achieve peace, otherwise, there will not be a coherent Nigeria governed under the rule of a single law of the federation. There will always be a disunited Nigeria with citizens or people hiding greater allegiances to their primordial authorities, rather than the authority of the Constitution of the Federal Republic. Nigeria as a modern nation was created from the deaths of these empires and kingdoms and principalities. But those speaking of restructuring are not talking about this. They are talking merely about how to share the pumpkin. But let me put it this way, all the restructuring that have happened in Nigeria since 1957, began as attempts to construct a nation. In 1957, two regions of what we now call Nigeria – the Eastern and the Western Regions -became independent. It was called “Home rule.”
Each of these regions could have gone their separate ways, but they chose to wait for when the North was ready in 1959, to join the rest in achieving independence together as a Federation of Nigeria. Discussions leading to that process began in London in that 1957. So, let me make this point up front for many Nigerians who are likely to be deceived by foolish secessionist talk: Nigeria is not Lugard’s creation. Nigeria is the creation of a man called George Taubman Goldie, who was given the imperial lease or charter to establish a trading monopoly from what was called the Oil River to the old Trade routes of the Sahara. He recruited a young Fred Lugard as a mercenary, who ran the North for him. Lugard consolidated that territory now called Nigeria, through the process of amalgamation. Yes, the foundation of Nigeria was for the benefit in trade, and exploitation of the resources of the area by colonial Great Britain.
But the modern nation of Nigeria, the successor nation to the colonial entity was founded by agreement of the leaders of Nigeria through the conferences of 1957/58. The foundation of Nigeria as an independent federation of three initial regions was consecrated from that conference, following years of anti-colonial agitation, by Nigerian nationalists. Compromises were reached, including those contained in the minority report by Willinks. The Foundation of a modern Nigerian republic was finally established by the Act of the Republic in 1963, by an elected parliament of Nigerians which declared Nigeria a republic, no longer subject under the Commonwealth, to the Constitutional monarchy of Great Britain. That was the most fundamental act of independence, and that was the foundation of Nigeria. The violation of that charter of the republic following the 1966 military coups is what has led to the continued crisis of Nigeria, where less and less of her citizens feel any kind of patriotism towards her, and more and more are therefore relapsing to ethnocentrism, the result no doubt of profoundly felt injustice and infidelity.
The unilateral creation of the twelve states without plebiscite by Gowon in 1967, destroyed the viability of the Nigerian federation. Any talk of restructuring without the restoration of the Republic and its 1963 charter will be hollow. That Act of the republic must be the staging post of all political reforms. To restructure Nigeria means more than granting autonomy to the regions. It is to clearly define the nature of Nigerian citizenship. As it is clear, many Nigerians miss the point when they talk about “Fulani herdsmen.” These Fulani herdsmen for as long as they are Nigerian citizens or lawful residents, have a right to move and settle anywhere in Nigeria. But they do not have the right to force people under arms and occupy their lands without consequence.
A Federal Republic of six regions might solve the structural problem of Nigeria, but it may not solve the dilemma of citizenship. Restructuring must mean broad changes in the charter of citizenship rights, on the structure of the Nigerian Military, the Police system, the judicial system, the system of the civil service, and the dismantling of pyramidal power which invests authority in extremis to individuals rather than on institutions. It can be accomplished by acts of legislation.