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Why Nigeria must be restructured

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By Olu Fasan

I WAS recently interviewed by the Financial Times and quoted in its special feature on Nigeria as saying that restructuring “is the defining issue in Nigerian politics” and that “if it is not done, it will never go away”. I have long held that view. In my maiden article for this column, I concluded that:”Without restructuring this country, it will remain on a treadmill, stuck perpetually in the poverty and fragility traps!” Truth is, Nigeria is dysfunctional, deeply divided, with strong schismatic tendencies. It’s a country sitting on a ticking time bomb.

But why is Nigeria in such a dire state? Some blame leadership, some followership. Both are right. But, in truth, this country’s problems are more structural. They stem from its birth defects– the way it was “cobbled together”– and its flawed governance structure. As everyone knows, centuries before Nigeria was created, the different nationalities – the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Hausa/Fulani etc – had lived in their territories, almost independent of one another, each with a distinct history, culture and language. But in the mid-1880s, George Goldie, a buccaneering British businessman came with his “Maxim guns” and beat the different nationalities into total surrender.

Nigeria- map

Having defeated them, he constituted their territories into the Northern and Southern Protectorates. Goldie ran these protectorates until 1900 when he handed them over to the British government. Fredrick Lugard then took over the two protectorates and, in 1914, merged them together to form one country and called it Nigeria! Of course, neither Nigeria’s creation nor its name resulted from negotiations with, or explicit consent of, the nationalities that now form the country.

Each of the nationalities could easily have been an independent country. Had the British wanted, they could have constituted the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Hausa/Fulani, the Middle Belt and the Niger Delta into independent nations. But they did not. They wanted Nigeria to be a regional power, according a colonial official. Fair enough! But here’s the rub. If you want to keep different nationalities, each with a strong national pride, together in one country, you must make sure they enjoy equal status and feel the fullest autonomy of nationhood within a federal structure. As I told the Financial Times, “the idea you can have a federal structure with a very powerful centre and weak regions is a non-starter”.

The Eastern railways controversy

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nigeria’s pre-eminent federalist, wrote in The People’s Republic, published in 1968, that every multilingual or multi-national country “must either have a federal constitution, disintegrate or be perennially afflicted with disharmony and instability.” He said he came to that view after studying the constitutions of virtually all countries in the world. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, offered a similar view a few years ago when he said: “From my over 30 years’ experience of governance in over 50 Commonwealth countries, I believe that, given its history and pluralistic character, a truer federalism is a sine qua non for Nigeria’s achievement of its development potentials and enduring political stability”.

The British themselves recognised that reality. For instance, they withdrew the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 because it overcentralised governance in Nigeria, and created the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, which shifted power from the centre to the regions. The 1963 Constitution devolved even more power to the regions, enabling strong and effective regional governments. Then, of course, as we all know, the military came and reversed everything, creating a powerful centre and weak sub-national units.

Of course, Chief Awolowo was right. Any multinational country that is not based on a true federal structure would either disintegrate or be perennially afflicted with disharmony and instability. Which is why most multilingual or multinational states – India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc – have strong regional or provincial governments. But Nigeria’s centralised political system turns its sub-national units into vassals of a super-powerful federal government and fails to ensure that the different nationalities enjoy equal status and fair material treatment. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Nigeria is perennially afflicted with disharmony and instability?

Some say, blithely, that God created Nigeria. Fine! But no nation was more God’s creation than Israel. Yet, it split into two – Israel and Judah – because of disunity. Think of modern examples of God-created countries that disintegrated. Truth is, any union of nations must be perfected. Restructuring will perfect Nigeria’s imperfect union.

But restructuring Nigeria isn’t just about stability and unity. It’s also about administrative consolidation and economic efficiency. Surely, Nigeria cannot afford the multiplicity of government administrative structures, with a behemothic federal government and 36 state governments. Furthermore, the logic of economic efficiency, economies of scale and competitive federalismsupportsrationalising governance in Nigeria. The weak state structure should be replaced with fewer but strong regional governments.

Given the political, administrative and economic imperatives, I believe that Nigeria should return to regionalism. As I told the Financial Times, Nigeria should build on the current six geopolitical zones, create between eight and 12 regional governments from them and devolve considerable powers to the regions.

Nigeria can’t be stable or prosper without restructuring, without an enduring political settlement. It’s an imperative and the issue won’t go away!

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