By Douglas Anele
President Muhammadu Buhari, APC stalwarts and a handful of prominent northern politicians who utter the shibboleth that our problem is more of process than structure, that restructuring means different things to different people and, consequently, it might be impossible to reach a consensus about what it really means are, to put it mildly, insincere.
The situation is not as undecidable as they purport it to be, for the constitution of 1963 or even the Aburi Accord can serve as a useful starting point or index of what restructuring is all about.
Besides, people with real differences on any controversial or complex issue but who are genuinely interested in truth and fair compromise can always reach a common ground on it. Another dubious argument is that we cannot go back to regionalism because the system was jettisoned decades ago such that it cannot work right now.
But the challenge of reinstating “resource control” or “fiscal federalism” is not as daunting as that required to land a Nigerian in the moon or perform a delicate surgery to separate Siamese twins joined at the head.
The main obstacle is the hubristic pachydermatous attitude of the dominant faction of the northern power block and their egocentric collaborators from the south both of whom are benefitting from the current inefficient unitarist system.
The northern political-business-military elite and their southern lackeys buoyed up by the conservative emirate establishment are too bulimic and unimaginative to understand that the mixed-up federalist unitarism we are operating is inappropriate for a multiply plural country like ours. From an externalist perspective, the dominant ruling elite in Britain wants it unchanged because it believes, falsely as the colonial officials did, that that is the best way to safeguard British economic and strategic interests in Africa.
Perhaps, Britain wants Nigeria to remain her appendage perpetually, given that the idea of a technologically and industrially developed Nigerian nation premised on a decentralised federation in which the component parts develop their human and natural resources optimally would explode the white supremacist myth that Black people are incapable of organising a self-reliant society that can match the very best in the world. This might be one of the reasons why Britain led a coalition of foreign countries that destroyed Biafra.
Sometimes, I wonder why some prominent conservative northern leaders oppose the idea of decentralisation of power and resource control so vehemently. Maybe they accept uncritically Alhaji Ahmadu Bello’s outlandish demand that northerners must do everything possible to ensure that the north dominates other parts of the country perpetually. In line with this, Alhaji Maitama Sule in 1992 proclaimed that “Everyone has a gift from God.
The northerners are endowed with leadership qualities. The Yoruba man knows how to earn a living and has diplomatic qualities. The Igbo man is gifted in commerce and technological innovation. God so created us individually for a purpose and with different gifts. Others are created as kings, servants, teachers, students, doctors.” Maitama Sule’s theological justification of caliphate colonialism is not an isolated bizarre opinion of a prominent northerner.
In Caliphate Colonialism: The Taproot of the Trouble with Nigeria, Chinweizu argues persuasively that the most powerful segment of the northern civilian-military establishment has always been averse to the idea of ceding power to the south. So, let us face it: the strongest opposition to decentralisation comes from the north, more precisely now the north-west and north-east geopolitical zones. Therefore, the south-east, south-west, south-south and north-central geopolitical zones must work together to present a comprehensive blueprint or template for restructuring and negotiate with the two recalcitrant zones.
Since, as we have argued earlier, the consolidation of the north’s political dominance over the south has been actualised through control of the federal government and, most especially the army, the dominant ruling class there believe that restructuring will derail it. However, restructuring, properly understood and implemented, would have positive outcomes nationwide in the long run.
For one thing, it would reduce the ferocity in the quest for control of political power and resources at the centre; it also has the potential to motivate all parts of the country to mobilise available human and natural resources at the local level for productivity and wealth creation, which is a win-win situation for everyone. Implementing restructuring does not entail reinventing the wheel or a demand that we start ex nihilo.
Assuming we use the 1963 constitution as a guide, the first step would be to allow each geopolitical zone elect an agreed number of representatives (probably one for each senatorial zone) to serve in a constitution drafting committee backed by law that would put together a new constitution; a committee that would also comprise important stakeholders such as recognised trade unions, professional bodies, and non-governmental organisations that champion certain special interests (for instance, association for the disabled and pro-democracy groups). Important areas the committee can consider include reconstitution of the current six geopolitical zones into provinces or regions, each having the freedom to decide what the status of the states and LGAs within its domain would be in the new arrangement.
Boundaries of the regions can be delineated in such a way that linguistically and culturally connected communities should be located in the region where majority of their kith and kin are domiciled. For instance, all those aboriginal Igbo-speaking communities in non-Igbo speaking states geographically contiguous with the south-east should be placed in that zone.
The same should be done in similar cases relating to other ethnic nationalities. Fundamentally, the exclusive legislative list in the current 1999 constitution and the revenue allocation formula should be modified in line with the provisions of the 1963 constitution.
Other measures, such as a unicameral legislature at the centre, a leaner federal bureaucracy, a single term of seven years for the President and governors, and five years with a maximum tenure or upper limit of fifteen years for legislators, should also be considered. In my opinion, any process of restructuring that does not address adequately the issue of exploding recurrent expenditure is incomplete.
Restructuring all at once will not work, especially given the human tendency to resist change even if it is for good. What is required is a gradual or piecemeal approach, with feedback mechanisms built into the process so that unnecessary or serious mistakes would be avoided. Where there is genuine determination by the ruling power blocks to do justice to all component parts of Nigeria and eliminate the current inefficient system that breeds and rewards indolence and economic rascality among the political class, a lot of progress can be made within a reasonable time in moving the country towards the kind of power-sharing arrangement of 1954 to 1966 without compromising the principles of nation-building.
I repeat: President Buhari and all those who think that process not structure is the main problem with our country are merely kicking the can along the road, as the Americans would say. In the organisation of human society, structure and process are intertwined. But given the human element as the major premise, structure (that is, institutions created for the rational allocation of power and fiscal responsibilities) supervenes over processes because it determines which processes are appropriate and which ones are not in the pursuit of the public good. Now, some intellectually dishonest commentators have introduced confusion into the restructuring debate by claiming that we need economic restructuring, moral restructuring etc.
These are puerile distractions. Even so, those who believe as I do that the fundamental challenge facing us a people presently is how to reorganise the country along the lines of greater decentralisation must continue to agitate for it. While acknowledging the impediments posed by caliphate colonialists in the north and political chameleons in the south, the quest for restructuring is poorly organised.
There is no central figure, some kind of lodestar or great mobiliser like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela that can transform the quest into a strong social force and national movement. Besides, the south where the demand is more strident and persistent is disunited. For example, the lingering unwritten animosity between the Igbo and the Yoruba is yet to cease completely despite recent moves to end it.
If leaders of the south and north-central states are serious about restructuring, they must drop old jealousies and mutual suspicion and work together with northerners who also think that restructuring is good for the country. Overall, Nigerians that believe in restructuring at some point must refuse to be part of this grotesquely calibrated system and engage in peaceful civil disobedience to press home their demand.
Without unity of purpose, focus and determination to act the clamour for restructuring would be, as William Shakespeare says in Macbeth, a story told by an idiot, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Concluded.