President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year address afforded him the opportunity to reflect on the challenges confronting the country and communicate his views on several national issues. He expressed his indignation about the hardship caused by what he described as the “unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country.” He then dwelt at length on the efforts of his administration to reverse the country’s huge infrastructural deficit. He spoke optimistically about plans for railway lines, road maintenance and the funding of Federal highways.
He celebrated the fact that on December 8, 2017, the country achieved 5,155 megawatts of power. He also spoke about various power projects including the Zungeru 700MW Hydroelectric Power Project, and the landmark but long-postponed Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project which had languished on the drawing board for 40 years, but is now taking off. He assured Nigerians that his government was slowly stabilising and diversifying the economy. Rice imports, he said, will stop this year and local rice, fresher and more nutritious, will be on our dishes from now on.
The president’s optimism, however, vanished when he got to the political issues confronting the country. He averred that Nigerians “can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible.” He was dismissive of the clamour for the restructuring of the country, insisting that “our problems are more to do with process than structure.” His unflattering view of the overwhelming calls for a restructuring of the Nigerian federation, a discourse that traversed ethnic, regional and sectarian lines in the past 18 months, is unfortunate.
The President further obscured and obfuscated the issue, when he spoke of how the nation earlier “tried the parliamentary system” and jettisoned it, but “now there are shrill cries for a return to the parliamentary structure.” This needless confusion of the restructuring debate is, indeed, strange. The choice between the presidential and parliamentary systems of government is not directly related to the discourse on the need to restructure the federation. The question, essentially, has been: is Nigeria a federation or is it not? And the overwhelming verdict has been that since 1966 when the military intervened in Nigerian politics, the country has not returned to being a true federation. The absence of a real federal structure has bred all manners of political and economic anomalies and apprehensions and, in some cases, outright inter-communal hostilities and suspicions which, if not properly managed, might threaten the existence of the federation as a united political entity.
Those who insist that the nation must be restructured point to the original founding compact made before independence to which the three founding fathers from the different regions all subscribed after numerous conferences with the colonial overlords in London. The Independence Constitution (1960) and the Republican Constitution (1963) depict the consensus on a federal structure.
The unitarist structure was foisted on Nigeria ostensibly to reflect the command structure of the military. But, Nigeria was designed for a federation not a command structure, and that is why the discourse on restructuring cannot be wished away. Before the military intervention, the so-called Exclusive Legislative List probably had less than ten items – issues which only the Federal Government can handle. They include external relations, central banking, defence, economic policy and the like. That list has today increased to 68 items, which has created a great imbalance between the federating units and the centre. With that level of responsibility, the struggle for the centre became a do-or-die affair. Thus, each time an election timetable is announced, desperate politicians commence a desperate, war-like struggle for the presidency. The atomisation of the federating units, from three regions at independence to 36 states today, means that an overwhelming majority of the states cannot stand on their own and must receive monthly handouts from the centre to be able to maintain basic services.
We think the President’s approach to restructuring belies the present realities of Nigeria’s politics. It runs against popular opinion and against the grain of truth. The present structure does not and cannot support a fair governance of Nigeria and ensure harmonious national existence. The Constitutional Conference of 2014 had a dispassionate and informed discussion of this issue and recommended the restructuring of the country. This position was further reinforced last week as a conference of leaders from the South-West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt of the country, in Enugu, declared that Nigeria’s restructuring remains an irrevocable and irreversible project that must be achieved for genuine peace, unity, justice and equity to reign.
The President’s view that the issue has more to do with process than structure is putting the cart before the horse. We urge him to demonstrate courage and patriotism on this issue and put the country on the right course.