Asaba declaration

Truth is, restructuring is the defining issue of our time, the main issue in Nigerian politics, and the answer to Nigeria’s existential threat; Nigeria must adapt, be restructured, to survive!

By Olu Fasan

The historic demand for restructuring by governors of the Southern states of Nigeria at their meeting in Asaba, Delta State, on May 11, 2021 has significantly upped the ante in the long-running agitation for political restructuring in Nigeria. The bi-partisan and unanimous nature of the Asaba Declaration, as the governors’ resolutions are now called, shows that the governors expressed the collective wishes of their people – the people of Southern Nigeria. The governors’ resolutions now require a statesmanlike response from President Muhammadu Buhari in the national interest!

Prior to the Asaba Declaration, the Presidency, in a statement by President Buhari’s senior media assistant, Garba Shehu, described those calling for a national conference and restructuring as “unelectable”. Surely, when the 17 Southern governors, later joined by speakers of the 17 Southern state assemblies, put party differences aside and unanimously called for restructuring, the Presidency cannot dismiss, with its customary casuistry, the governors’ interventions as the “wailings of wailers”.

Secondly, if President Buhari rejects the collective wishes of the people of Southern Nigeria, he would give credence to the widespread view that he governs only in the interests of Northern Nigeria. It doesn’t help that Northern leaders glibly dismissed or mischaracterised the Southern governors’ demands!Also unhelpful was the ill-advised intervention of the Senate president, Ahmed Lawan,who hastily nailed his colours to the mast by condemning the Southern governors’ call for restructuring. Lawan, a Northerner, was parroting vested interests in the North who want to frustrate the South’s demand for restructuring.

But Nigeria needs a unifying president and a unifying Senate president, who can bring the North and the South together, facilitate a national dialogue, and help build a national consensus to move Nigeria forward. Sadly, President Buhari hasn’t been such a leader, and Senate President Lawan isn’t such a unifying leader either. Yet, the greatest obstacle to Nigeria’s unity is the deep polarisation between the North and the South. Without unifying leaders, the North-South schism risks undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Although rarely acknowledged, the underlying political reality of Nigeria is that the North and the South are fundamentally different. Take one mundane example. When President Buhari assumed power in 2015, his wife, Aisha, split the Governors’ Wives’ Forum into Northern and Southern factions. Her rationale was that the North and the South had peculiar issues and needs. The same rationale is behind the separate structures and meetings for the Northern and Southern governors. But when, despite such seeming bipolarity, the North has a hegemonic grip on the South and a veto over its aspirations and wishes, thus, its progress,national unity or cohesion will inevitably elude Nigeria.

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In Britain, political leaders openly describe their country as a “multinational union of consent”, which means that the country, consisting of four nations,cannot be held together by fear or force. In a recent article in the Financial Times, former Prime Minister John Major wrote that: “Scotland cannot be kept forever in an arrangement if her people wish to end it.” In other words, British leaders envisage the possibility of Britain breaking up in the future. Of course, they don’t want that to happen, but they don’t take Britain’s unity for granted!

By contrast, Nigeria, a multinational country, does not exist by consent. It was created with brutal force and it’s being held together by threat or use of force. Nigeria’s leaders declare that its unity is non-negotiable or that it is indissoluble. Yet, beyond sending soldiers to suppress separatist agitations in the South, government is doing absolutely nothing to win hearts and minds, to engender genuine unity and cohesion through negotiated political and constitutional settlements. Put simply, Nigeria’s leaders take the country’s unity for granted. They insist that Nigeria has an inalienable right to exist as a country.

Recently, in a statement by Garba Shehu, the Presidency justified Nigeria’s existence on two ridiculous grounds. First, it said: “This structure (Nigeria) has been there. They were certificated and praised for World War I and World War II.” Second, it said: “Nigeria stabilises the entire West Africa”, adding: “Without Nigeria, would there be Liberia in its present form? Would there be Sierra Leone in its present form? Even the Gambia?”

These are probably the most intellectually shallow and historically ludicrous justifications for the existence of a country. On the first, how many “certificated” countries have broken up since World War II? Is Yugoslavia still there? Is the original Sudan still there?Then, take the second justification, namely: Nigeria stabilises the entire West Africa. How can Nigeria stabilise its neighbours when it cannot stabilise itself? In any case, should Southern Nigeria continue to endure entrenched injustice and a structural stranglehold on its progress just because Nigeria must exist to ‘save’ countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone?

Let’s face it, no country is indissoluble. Empires have come and gone! That said, like most Nigerians, I want Nigeria to survive and remain one. But that may not happen without radical restructuring, without true federalism. Truth is, restructuring is the defining issue of our time, the main issue in Nigerian politics, and the answer to Nigeria’s existential threat. The phrase “adapt or die” is used for corporate organisations, but it applies to all organisms, including countries. Nigeria must adapt, be restructured, to survive!

In his book, Political Restructuring in Europe, Professor Chris Brown argues that no political structure has an ethical reason to survive unless it’s working; thus, every political structure should be open to reconstruction. Britain, a supposed unitary country, has been putting this dictum into practice. For instance, before 1999, there were no governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But they were created, along with several mayoralties across England,in response to agitations for devolution of power, and to save the union!

Sadly, strong forces, with self-serving agenda,are holding Nigeria in its current state; they’re resisting its reconstruction. They must be overcome if Nigeria is to survive. The Asaba Declaration is a good starting point!

Vanguard News Nigeria

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