By Daniel Kanu
In the past, it was difficult to find a northern leader who supported restructuring. Those who did lacked the backing of the majority of the people. But following a two-day Northern Summit, held recently, Arewa elders and other concerned stakeholders in the North, who gathered in a crucial meeting and had an honest dialogue, decided to draw a communiqué of the inconvenient truth; that the region is now willing to throw its strength in support of the restructuring of Nigeria.
In their verdict: the North believes that restructuring the country is now a vital necessity for survival as one united entity and the only way Nigeria could realise its potentials for economic and political development.
Indeed, this is not the first time few politicians from the North have expressed enthusiasm for restructuring, but it has always ended up a political rhetoric, without any game plan towards working it out.
So, time will tell whether the North, going by the present declaration of interest to be part of the restructuring agenda for a better Nigeria, is serious or not. This is because the present structure is to their massive advantage.
However, it is obvious today that there appears to be no issue that attracts a greater and broader attention and consensus in the country than the need for restructuring the Nigerian Federation. Almost all ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural groups had at one point or the other cried out of marginalization, making some of them to make very strident calls for restructuring, and even produced agenda for it.
Of course, restructuring means many things to different people. Going by the dictionary meaning of restructuring, it is to reinforce or rearrange, alter or change a current structure with a view to enhancing its overall performance and efficiency.
Restructuring the Nigerian Federation will, therefore, mean a return to true federalism, a return to an era which witnessed considerable autonomy enjoyed by each region until the advent of the military that dislocated the system, and over-centralized everything, which resulted into a unitarised federal structure, that is perceived to be partial and in favour of the North.
Even the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2019 general election campaigns either publicly announced their positions on restructuring or made true federalism the focal point of their manifestoes for a better Nigeria. However, there is no agreement about the nature and content for restructuring.
Political analysts believe that by conferring the privileged power of a political veto on the Northern Region, Nigeria’s federal system in post-independence era encouraged and fostered the politics of regional rivalry, nourished and nurtured in mutual suspicion and morbid fear of Northern domination.
As things stand today, the fear of continued and permanent domination by the North of federal power and positions have been deeply resented by the South, leading to upsurge in agitations not only from the South, but also among other groups even in the North that felt marginalized.
The regions rather than the centre became the centres of power in the post-1954 Nigeria when the country adopted a federal constitution. This can be explained by the fact that the leaders of the (Northern People’s Congress) NPC, Action Group (AG) and the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) were the premiers of the Northern, Western, and Eastern Nigeria respectively. Other factor which explains why the pendulum of power tilted from the centre to the regions include among others the explicit language in Section 5(1) of the 1963 Constitution which states unambiguously that subject to the provision of this constitution, the constitution of each region shall have the force of law throughout that region, and if any other law is inconsistent with that constitution, the provisions of the constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
Kingsley Moghalu, presidential candidate, Young Progressives Party (YPP) and former deputy governor, Central Bank of Nigeria said that there is urgent need for restructuring, contending that the country is presently anchored on injustice.
Moghalu cautioned the Federal Government to do the needful by addressing the gale of agitations through engaging the people and ensuring that there is justice, fairness and equity in the system. And this, he said, is possible through constitutional re-arrangement and genuine restructuring of the country to give all groups a sense of belonging.
He told Sunday Sun: “Our country is currently anchored on injustice in many ways, and that arrangement won’t last forever. We can take that to the bank, for, as Martin Luther King so elegantly put it, ‘the moral arm of the universe bends towards justice’.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria and all our countrymen and women should, therefore, take the increasingly potent agitations by various groups in Nigeria with the seriousness the matter deserves.
“The Nigerian state must engage the agitations, address and redress, their root causes that lie in decades of self-evident marginalization that several groups have experienced in post-civil war Nigeria. These hurt feelings and the suspicions they breed have not just hampered the progress of nation-building in Nigeria.
“There is really no alternative to the constitutional re-arrangement of the Nigerian federation if we are to remain one country. Call it restructuring, reconfiguration, redesign or what you will.
“All that is required is that we bury the winner-takes-all mentality driven by ethnic and religious irredentism and design a structure that works for us all. This is doable with real leadership, political will, and commitment. Restructuring if well done will have a proactive effect of positioning the country for real development”.
According to Moghalu, “restructuring is opposed by two main kinds of people: those who are ignorant of what it really means, and therefore are susceptible to arguments that cast the idea falsely as a ‘breakup’ of the country, and those who know the truth, but are welded to vested interests and self-serving agenda that have nothing to do with Nigeria’s real progress”.
Elder statesman, former Federal Commissioner of Information and South-south Leader, Chief Edwin Clark said that the country’s hope can only be redeemed through restructuring, particularly the constitution. For him, Nigeria at present is a failed state, insisting that the 1999 constitution Nigeria is currently operating is a scam.
He said that the people of the Niger Delta have suffered most under the project he termed ‘Nigeria’.
“My region, South-south are the breadwinners of Nigeria, nobody can dispute that fact. But we do not control our resources. What we people of Niger Delta want is pure restructuring through true federalism,” he told Sunday Sun.
According to him, “a situation where we can control our resources and pay tax to the centre is what we want, other regions have enjoyed this before. So, we have suffered the most in Nigeria, we are not saying we should have everything that belongs to us, but we the people of Niger Delta believe in restructuring through federalism.
“Nigeria is a failed state, failed state in the sense that nothing works anymore. Bring the best expert to come and manage Nigeria under the 1999 Constitution it will not yield any result because the 1999 Constitution is a scam.
“The last constitution we had in this country was the 1963 constitution, the 1999 constitution was dictated by the military and handed down to Nigeria and that is why nothing works. Some people who run Nigeria were beneficiaries of the 1963 Constitution, beneficiaries of true federalism. Nigeria is gradually going, we must do the needful, restructure.”
Also, Afenifere leader and elder statesman, Ayo Adebanjo said that restructuring was the only way the country could get out of the present quagmire.
Concurring with what Clark said, Adebanjo insisted that the 1999 Constitution was fraudulent and did not articulate the collective will of the people, having been imposed on the nation by the military.
He counseled that the country must return to the 1960 Independence Constitution when the regions had autonomy.
He told Sunday Sun: “My take on it is that the 1960 and 1963 constitutions gave us more freedom and autonomy which we are all agitating for. Why we are agitating for restructuring now is because the 1999 Constitution is fraudulent, it does not represent the choice of the people.
“Interestingly, when we talk of restructuring some of our friends from the North will say they want to break the country. But anyone opposed to true federalism which is restructuring is the one who wants to break the country.
“Anybody talking about the election without changing the constitution does not love the country. It is the 1999 Constitution that has made Northern Nigerians believe if they don’t support anybody, he or she cannot be president. There is injustice projected in the present structure and we cannot survive under it.”
In his reaction, John Nnia Nwodo, former President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, said that unless there is genuine restructuring Nigeria may not survive the consequences of the present lopsided structure.
He told Sunday Sun that the first place to begin is with the constitution, which is the grundnorm that will guide other fundamental issues.
“The 1999 Constitution overthrew the sovereignty of the regions over their natural resources and domestic security and brought about a fall of education standard, economic wellbeing and rise in insecurity nationwide.
“We must do all we can to restructure before the next election in 2023 because the level of dissatisfaction in the country as evidenced by the last EndARS protest gives one the impression that any delay may lead to a mass boycott of the next elections to a point that we may have a more serious constitutional crisis of a nation without a government.
“To restructure Nigeria, we need a constitutional conference of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. The action of the constitutional conference will be subjected to a plebiscite in which all adult Nigerians will have the right to vote. To use the National Assembly to make a constitution for the people as we are doing presently is out of it. It is not the way to go,” Nwodo said.
Also a retired Director in the Defence Ministry, Frank Anyasi, argued that Nigeria is conceived in compromise, nurtured in aggressive geo-ethnic competition and sustained by hegemonic blackmail.
For him, there is the need for the practice of true federalism and to resolve all the knotty issues hampering the Nigerian project.
“The 2014 National Conference failed to resolve two major issues which have created much uneasiness and engendered much acrimony among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities namely fiscal federalism and political restructuring.
“The truth is that, Nigeria’s federal system in the post-independence era was a negation of a fundamental requirement of federal practices,” Anyasi said.
Quoting Kenneth C. Wheare, he warned: “It is undesirable that one or two units (in a federation) should be so powerful that they can overrule the others and bend the will of the Federal Government to themselves. There must be some sort of reasonable balance which will ensure that all the units can maintain their independence within the sphere allotted to them and that no one can dominate the others.”