By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN,
The call for restructuring Nigeria has been the subject of discourse by many stakeholders who, over the years, have lent their voices, heard and unheard towards revisiting the institutional, socio-economic and political structure of Nigeria.
Without a doubt, diverse reasons exist for the call for restructuring Nigeria. While some advocate that it will foster autonomous economic advancements, others have sworn that the issue of insecurity in Nigeria will be laid to rest if the nation is restructured. Indeed, the presence of a myriad of voices in Nigeria, and in the diaspora, calling for the restructuring of the nation underscores the more-than-before realisation of the fact that majority of the nation’s ills can be cured by restructuring.
It has been noted, and rightly so, that Nigeria can be likened to a calabash floating on a lake and although it may not sink, it has no definite direction or destination.
For the longest part of Nigeria’s political history, the clamour for constitutional reviews, amendments, conferences, national question, restructuring, among others, have partly dominated the public discourse. The nation’s political atmosphere also remains heated from time to time with elections, military interventions and transitions, opposition parties, marginalised politicians, members of the public, geo-regional confrontations, ethnic and religious diversities, among others.
Despite all these, the subject of restructuring is, more-often-than-not, enveloped in fear, anxiety, hope and despair. Nevertheless, the benefits which restructuring Nigeria will confer on the respective geo-regional entities far outweighs the uncertainties associated with departing from the present structure.
Call for Restructuring by prominent Nigerians
Recently, the mainstream media reported that former President Olusegun Obasanjo called for the restructuring of the country. According to him, the need for restructuring is premised on issues, including insurgent attacks, cattle rustling, kidnapping and insecurity.
He noted: “My personal conviction is that, with the experience, we have had operating the current Constitution where we have seen some important aspects of the Constitution being breached willfully and wantonly, and with the centre seemingly being overwhelmed by the issue of security, with crying need from different quarters for reform of the basic structure of Nigeria’s federating units, there is need for the repositioning of our country for the purpose of unity, equity, competence, good governance, security, stability, healthy competition, justice, fast socio-economic development and making Nigeria undisputed regional leader… I leave out the economy, which is in the doldrums, and fighting corruption where you see more heat than light and which is festering like a bad sore.”
The club for a restructured Nigeria congratulates Obasanjo. The club has become richer. With his support, a nation called Nigeria will certainly emerge. Expectedly, the former President is not the only prominent Nigerian who has lent his voice to the cause of restructuring.
Others in the club include former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and ethnocultural institutions such as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, among others. It was reported that the Founder of Gregory University, Uturu, Professor Gregory Ibe, at a debate for national unity organised by the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation in March 2020, noted that the present system was a clear departure from the federal system bequeathed to the country by its founding fathers and Britain.
He further noted that most of the power centres that would have aided the development of states and local administration had been unduly looped in the Exclusive List of the Federal Government, thereby denying the other tiers of powers to operate. Finally, he called for urgent restructuring to reverse the current political lopsidedness in the land and create the path for national peace, unity and integration.
At the First Memorial Lecture of His Majesty King Abbi Amachree IV, the Amanyanbo of Kalahari titled “Nigeria in Search of a Nation”, which I delivered on November 4, 2001, I noted as follows: “We have lived together for over 100 years. It pays us to remain in one country.
To avert avoidable disaster, the restructuring of this vast country of many tribes under which each tribe can develop at its own pace, its resources, practise the religion either of its forefathers or acquired religion and be happy. Let us have a constitution that will make the centre less attractive with only a few common services for the Federal Government to which each state shall make an appropriate contribution”.
Nigeria’s regional system between 1960 and 1966
Between 1960, when Nigeria attained independence, and 1966 when the first military coup occurred, Nigeria practised a system of government which is being clamoured for today. This is known as Federalism and it is sometimes referred to as the regional system of government.
It generally entails a system in which governmental powers that exist in a country are shared between the central government and component region. It connotes the system of government in which governmental powers are shared between the component units and the central government, i.e. the Federal Government and its components (state and local government).
When Nigeria operated the federal system of government, power was shared between the federal and the four regional governments being the East, North, West and Mid-West. In reality, the four regions were constitutionally more powerful than the central government that was limited to less and specific exclusive legislative powers.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria witnessed her greatest and fastest economic, political, social and educational development under the regional system of government. Each of the regions was largely autonomous and could legislate over a number of items which have, today, been taken over by the Federal Government. It was during this period that each region began its own regional developmental efforts and the period occasioned mutual, healthy rivalries to compete for development.
Some of the developmental projects witnessed by the Western Region during this time include the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, now known as the Nigerian Television Authority – the first in Africa. Others include the Cocoa House, the University of Ife, the Western Nigerian Development Corporation, Western Nigerian Marketing Board, the National Bank of Nigeria, the Liberty Stadium, among others.
Conversely, the government of the Eastern Region established the University of Nsukka, the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. In the North, developmental projects include the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, the Ahmadu Bello University, the Bank of the North and the famous groundnut pyramids of Kano.
Senator Victor Umeh, a former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, aptly commented on the giant strides recorded by Nigeria when it operated the federal system of government. He noted as follows: “Nigeria was running a regional system of government – a parliamentary system of government – and the regions were pursuing development aggressively devoid of any problem.
We had Eastern, Western and Northern regions. We also had the Mid-Western region which was later created. And all these regions were developing at their own pace with the resources available to them. They were contributing royalties to the Federal Government. You could see that the speed of development was quite high. People controlled the resources available to them in their various regions… The Western Region did very well under Obafemi Awolowo. Under Michael Okpara, so much development was recorded in the Eastern Region. Most of these regional governments’ achievements were based on the agricultural revolution.
They relied on agric produce as the major source of income at that time. Nigeria was mainly an agrarian economy in the Northern, Eastern and Western regions. The Western Region had cocoa. The North had groundnut, cotton and other agric products, including cattle. The Eastern Region had palm produce, cassava and other agric produce. So, the economy then revolved around agriculture. Things were a lot better”.
The level of development which Nigeria witnessed is almost entirely now in the realm of fantasy to Nigerians who were not born at the time. However, the advent of the military changed the narrative and Nigeria was redirected from federal to unitary system of government which culminated into the Presidential System we have today.
Next week, I will further discuss, among others, how the unnecessary intervention of the military dismantled the erstwhile workable governmental structure and replaced it with a system which best suited the whims and caprices of the military, to the detriment of a greater Nigeria.