Restructuring has been a buzz word in Nigerian politics for more than 40 years. It has remained in our national discourse ever since.
It is likely that the debate on restructuring would remain as long as we have a nation. It began before the geographical restructuring, which led to the creation of the three regions at Independence. In 1963, the Mid-West region was created as a continuation of the geographical restructuring of the federation.
When then Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon came to power at the beginning of the crisis that culminated in the civil war, he abolished the regions in 1967 and created 12 states out of the four regions, largely to frustrate the Biafra struggle at that time. If the strategy worked, it created new problems that continue to plague our polity till date.
With the abolition of the regions, the army-led polity gradually changed Nigeria from a federal to a unitary structure. Virtually all the main powers of the regions were appropriated by the succession of military regimes that seized power. This set the stage for the perennial struggle between the centripetal and centrifugal forces, which has dogged our polity.
The northern generals who headed the various military regimes gradually altered the structure of Nigeria to consolidate power at the centre until the country became a full-blown unitary state in operation but federal only in name. Of the six generals of northern origin who ruled Nigeria between 1966 and 1999, only Gen. Gowon was a Christian. The other four, Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, were all Muslims. Over the years, these leaders tinkered with the structures of government with their policies and appointment of northern folks into key positions, which invariably shifted power to the Muslim North.
As time went by, the Muslim faith of the northern military rules and the bureaucracy they empowered began to erode the secular structure of the polity, which is why Islam appears to enjoy a certain level of preeminence in the public life of Nigeria today. This was aptly demonstrated with the proclamation of the Sharia legal code by 12 northern governors who were elected alongside President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
The 12 Sharia states wanted to use Islam to checkmate the power of Obasanjo because of the fear that he wanted to break the hold of the northern oligarchy over Nigeria. The fallout was the introduction of the Sharia Brigade to enforce Muslim culture in parts of the Muslim- dominated areas of the North. Public lashing of primary offenders, amputation of petty thieves, wearing of hijab by women and breaking of beer bottles are the key components of Sharia law that are being enforced in some northern states today. All of these are happening in a secular Nigeria! The emergence of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen terror group, and bandits cannot be divorced from the Sharia environment created by the northern governing elite.
A much more serious reason for the present secessionist agitation in parts of the South was Gen. Babangida’s annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, which denied M.K.O. Abiola the presidency. The general thinking of many Nigerians then was that the election was annulled because some northern politicians did not want power to shift to the South.
The Yoruba response to the brazen assault on Abiola and his ethnic brethren was the emergence of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The organisation fought the military to a standstill with its strident agitation of power shift to the South, restructuring of the federation, fiscal federation and return to civilian rule, among others.
The NADECO struggle created the national awareness for the need for regional autonomy and self-determination groups like MASSOB, IPOB and Oduduwa Republic that have emerged to champion this agitation today. Initially, it all began as a protest against political exclusion. But with the emergence of President Buhari, the tendency toward secession has taken on a new dimension altogether because of his style of governance, his handling of the Fulani herdsmen’s attacks, political appointments and, now, VAT collection.
The raging VAT dispute is all about fiscal federalism and restructuring. We’re running a supposedly federal structure with the instrumentality of a unitary state. It just can’t work. It’s like trying to drive an aircraft with the engine of a car.
President Buhari inherited all the existentialist problems we are facing, he didn’t create them. However, he has aggravated our woes because of his poor management of diversity. He rarely speaks and when he does, he worsens matters. The problem then is about his leadership.
Part of the problem is his decision to favour those who voted for him with juicy appointments and give the rebel voter-regions crumbs as a form of punishment. It is this political treatment of the non-Hausa Fulani ethnic groups that has stoked anger against him across the regions by those who are feeling snubbed.
Any objective analysis of Buhari’s performance would show clearly that he has done relatively better than his predecessors. But his quest to bequeath a peaceful and stable polity as a legacy could only be achieved if he’s able to give us an acceptable template to resolve the restructuring dilemma.
Weekend Spice: Follow any leader with caution, as none is perfect.
Okay, thanks for reading. Take care, COVID-19 is still as deadly as ever. Stay motivated.
•Ayodeji, author, pastor and life coach. He can be reached on 09059243004 (SMS, WhatsApp, email, only)