By Olu Fasan
AGITATIONS for restructuring Nigeria are long-running, recurring and persistent. The clamour is, in fact, so persistent that, since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, no government or ruling party has been able to ignore it.
Yet, despite 20 years of intense public discourse, with a large body of knowledge assembled through inclusive national consultative fora, progress remains elusive. But why?
Well, let’s remind ourselves of the significant, yet futile, political interventions on the restructuring issue, for at the heart of the failed interventions lies the real obstacle to positive change in Nigeria: dishonest politics! In 2005, amid intense calls for political restructuring, President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the National Political Reform Conference, NPRC. Over N1 billion was spent on the conference, but Obasanjo effectively binned its report.
About ten years later, faced with similar agitations, President Goodluck Jonathan set up the 2014 National Conference, believed to have gulped up about N7 billion. The national conference also produced a comprehensive report.
In 2015, President Jonathan got the Federal Executive Council to approve its implementation, but lost power in that year’s general election. His successor, President Muhammadu Buhari, described the national conference as wasteful and vowed he wouldn’t read its report or that of Obasanjo’s NPRC or, indeed, convene his own conference.
But the issue won’t go away. Agitations for restructuring became so vehement that Buhari’s party, All Progressives Congress, APC, couldn’t ignore them. In 2017, the APC inaugurated a restructuring committee, headed by the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai.
The el-Rufai committee traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, held public consultations in the six geo-political zones and received contributions and support from prominent Nigerians, including some governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, such as Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, who played an active and enthusiastic role in the committee’s fact-finding work.
In January 2018, the el-Rufai committee submitted a four-volume report to the party’s National Working Committee. So, within the span of 15 years, there have been three comprehensive reports on restructuring Nigeria, produced after extensive and inclusive consultations. Yet, all to no avail! No serious country would expend enormous time and resources, human and financial, on any issue of national importance for 15 years without advancing it in a positive way.
In Britain, the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair created devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a mayoralty in London, within two years of coming into power in 1997! That’s what happens where politics is responsive and accountable, where it is honest and in the national interest.
But not in Nigeria. All the three interventions on the restructuring issue were motivated by political expediency. Obasanjo’s NPRC was an anchor for his third-term agenda; Jonathan’s national conference was a pitch for the South-West vote; and the APC’s restructuring committee was a self-serving attempt to avoid being outsmarted by the PDP. As the then APC chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, said at the time: “We must take charge of this debate”, adding: “If any group can claim ownership to the principle and the need for true federalism, that group is the APC”.
Yet, the APC had no intention of implementing any reform on political restructuring. In May last year, President Buhari’s senior media assistant, Garba Shehu, said that Buhari would implement the el-Rufai report once his party approved it. “Once the report is approved by the party, the President, as a loyal party man, will implement it,” he said. But he was being disingenuous for he knew that the APC would not approve the report, being fully aware of Buhari’s strong opposition to restructuring.
In November last year, President Buhari said in France that “there are too many people talking lazily about restructuring in Nigeria” because “they couldn’t define what they meant”. That was a gratuitous insult to prominent Nigerians who have long articulated the form that restructuring should take. But leaving that aside, wasn’t the el- Rufai committee tasked with defining the issue?
Why not, at least, start with the report of his committee? Frustrated about Buhari’s attitude, Governor Seriake Dickson said last year that President Buhari “missed a golden opportunity to become a great statesman by vehemently rejecting restructuring”. Truth is, Buhari is not interested in such a legacy!
But if President Buhari’s antipathy towards political restructuring is grating, what about the fickleness of South West APC leaders who, as NADECO leaders, vociferously clamoured for political restructuring but, now in power, are singing a different tune? All of them have gone native, but take Chief Segun Osoba, former Ogun State governor. As early as 2017, he told The Guardian newspaper: “Only restructuring can guarantee Nigeria’s survival”. In another interview, he said: “There can be no negotiated unity (in Nigeria), but only negotiated devolution”.
But last week, he was quoted in this newspaper as saying “restructuring is a lie”, advocated “by a chosen few”! What kind of self-interested, value-free politics is this? Some present a false dichotomy by saying that Nigeria needs socio-economic restructuring, not political restructuring, betraying appalling ignorance of the fact that you can’t have socio-economic progress without an enduring political settlement.
Sadly, such dishonest or misguided politics is prevalent in Nigeria, and it is precisely why positive change, badly needed transformation, continues to elude this country!