By Muyiwa Adetiba
President Buhari poured cold water on the fire of pro-restructuring movements in his last speech on the burning subject.
In doing so, he tried to smoulder the tongues of flame that were leaping in different parts of the country on the contentious structure of the country. But he did not extinguish the fire because he did not, or could not, deny it of oxygen.
Although he made it clear that he did not have too much regard for structural agitators and separatists, he said it was not up to him and that he would sign the bill should it come to his desk from the National Assembly. He was right that it was not entirely up to him.
We are in a democracy after all. But it was a campaign promise which his party has reneged on even if he as an individual was never that enthusiastic about restructuring. To be fair, no sitting President – including Southern ones – had been enthusiastic about restructuring. And not surprisingly, very few Northerners had shown much interest until now.
The answer seems pretty simple. Restructuring in its most basic form is about realigning the wealth of the country. It is about re-relinquishing control – fiscal and coercive – on the part of the centre. Power, control and access to funds are some of the main reasons people seek the highest office of the land. Very people cede these even if it would result in the greater good.
Very few people will sacrifice their today’s advantage for the tomorrow of their country. So it is not surprising that no President – North or South – had supported restructuring during their tenure. It is for the same reason that most of the Northern elites had not been enthusiastic about restructuring. The present structure had always served their interest even if it was short term as the situation has now shown.
A casual observer of the Nigerian polity will likely see a polarisation of views on the state of the nation along geographical lines. The hardliners in the South clamour for separation while those in the North want the status quo to remain. Neither is willing to give a quarter. On the surface, the North seems more patriotic and more concerned with the unalloyed unity of the country while the South seems tired of a united Nigeria and can therefore be seen as less patriotic. In reality, both are after the resources of the country.
One thinks the status quo guaranties income which a restructured Nigeria might not give it while the other thinks a change will lead to a deserved income. One is afraid of losing the key to the candy store while the other wants greater access to the store. Both have a sense of entitlement that is detrimental to their long term growth and the growth of the country.
The way I see it, the North can have all the resources of the country and still not be better off than it is now because of its attitude to the generation and sustenance of resources, current or future. The South is probably just marginally better. It too can have all the resources of the country to itself and still not have the abundant life it is currently assuming will fall on its laps. Nigerians, North or South, rich or poor, have acquired an indolent, beggarly attitude to resources – it is probably why we defer to those we think have money. We think only of resources inside the ground without acknowledging that greater resources are off the ground.
We have also perfected the blame game. We blame everybody but ourselves for the state of the nation and indeed the state of our individual well-being. We don’t seem to realise that the change we so desire starts from us. It is not necessarily physical.
I grew up with self-help communities building Town Halls and wooden bridges across streams to make access to farms possible. I also knew of the period when communities, as poor as they were, built schools. Now, every community waits for a Senator or a Governor to hand a shopping list to. Now, a mega church where the owner has a jet and fleet of cars waits for government to tar the road to the edifice called church.
He can afford luxury cars but cannot afford to fix the roads that lead to his place. He can afford a couple of luxury jets but cannot afford rural electrification for the deprived environment that accommodates his church. That in his self-centred mind, is the job of government.
I was introduced to the late Pius Adesanmi who became one of my favourite columnists through an article he wrote several years ago. Titled the ‘Parable of the shower head’ the article encapsulated the culture of an average Nigerian enterprise. Pius was a much travelled man – he died in a plane crash – who knew what hotel services could offer around the world. So he complained when his shower was not full in a Nigerian hotel.
The attendants felt he was making an unnecessary fuss. After all, there was water even if it was in trickles. He had the same experience in neighbourly Ghana. Only there, the attendant apologised and promised to change the shower head. Same problem, different attitudes. This attitude of entitlement and lack of commitment makes it difficult for a Nigerian to manage an enterprise without the presence of the financier.
The same attitude that makes a boss to live beyond the health of his organisation and employees to do as little as possible while stealing as much as they can. We complain about disappearing businesses. Yet every diasporic entrepreneur or indeed every foreign investor has a bitter story to tell about a business environment made near impossible by this attitude of entitlement and lack of commitment. From ‘omo onile’ to government officials, Nigeria has a very hostile business environment.
I am an advocate of restructuring. Done properly, it should lead to competitiveness and re-evaluation of priorities among other things. But we need more than fiscal or even physical restructuring – what we can see. We need a mental restructuring as well. We need to change our beggarly mentality as individuals and as a country.
We need to change the attitude of entitlement which makes us lethargic and indolent. We need to develop a greater commitment to our jobs, our country and to causes beyond self or the moment. We need to learn to make lemonade out of the lemons fate and geography hand to us. We need to have that self-belief which like the poet, says ‘I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul’. That way, the North need not depend on the resources of the South. Or South the North.