■ Arewa leaders sing discordant tunes over restructuring
By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
FOR the combined effects of the general despondency and lack of future assurance, a vast majority of the populace is increasingly losing faith in the unity of Nigeria as a nation. And to stave off the looming danger of a forceful break-up, some critical stakeholders have been engaged in a sustained campaign for a restructuring of the present federal structure. Their strident agitation for a reconfiguration of the polity is anchored on two major premises. One, some proponents of the change of the old order strongly believe that a review of the system in favour of stronger federating units would lead the country out of the woods, as it would engender more competitive development among the constituent units.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that devolving powers to the grassroots would reduce the current wave of separatist agitations and ultimately ensure continued existence of the country as a united entity. Power devolution, they further argue, would not only promote participatory democracy, but also guarantee public accountability and good governance. Another argument in support of enhanced political power for the grassroots is that people would more easily be able to check the profligacy and prodigality of those in public office. The debate is still raging.
While various ethnic nationalities in the South have maintained a united front in their quest for a change of the status quo, their counterparts in the North are sharply divided into pro and anti-restructuring groups. Traditionally, the North is known for speaking in one voice, especially on matters that border on their collective interest and aspiration. However, that common unity of purpose seems to have momentarily eluded the region due to political consideration. Thus, as some prominent figures throw their weight behind the agitation; other concerned stakeholders view those supporting restructuring with suspicion, and accusing them of nursing selfish political ambition. In between the two sides of the divide are the moderate elements who maintain a subtle position, saying that it is better for the constituent units to go their separate ways peacefully than for the country to go into war.
A former vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and notable member of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi, belongs to this latter school of thought. Speaking at a public presentation of two books:
Boko Haram: The Charade vs Reality and The Life and Times of Umaru Turakin Bauchi, written by a former diplomatic editor of the Voice of America and now visiting professor in ABU, Zaria, Dr. Hadiza Isa Wada, he said: “We are hearing about the restructuring of Nigeria. We’re hearing about secession; we are hearing all sorts of things and who are the promoters of this rhetoric?
“These are from the elite of the country. They’re right to say their minds, but they should also leave me to say my mind when the time is right.
“If Lord Lugard made a mistake in 1914, let’s correct it now. Why not? If Nigerians cannot live together and allow peace and development to take place, then let’s go our different ways and to our different places, so we can concentrate and develop our children and grandchildren in peace.
“There’s nothing wrong with that.
So many countries have gone through that before. So, I don’t believe in all this emotion and sentiment that Nigeria is indissoluble. There’s nothing like indissolubility in any country.
“So what is so special about Nigeria? If we find truly that we cannot develop and guarantee the welfare of our people as a nation and the solution is to go our separate ways, why not? This is the thing we have to always discuss at all times honestly.”
In another breadth, a chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mohammed Abdulrahman, expressing
a strong support for restructuring of the country said the nation would be better for it. “I am in total support of the call for restructuring of the country. The North we have today is not what it used to be. Our politicians are not interested in the development of the region. They only care about their pockets. If the country is properly restructured, it is hoped it will benefit the masses and not some politicians who are only interested in buying cars and building houses for their families,” he stated.
In his own case, a Kano-born politician, Senator Rufai Hanga, while not totally in support of restructuring as a solution to Nigeria’s problems, said he would want to see a peaceful breakup of the country rather than going into war with separatist agitators. He said in an interview with Sunday Sun: “Right now, when I see some people talking of restructuring. I look at them as non-conformists, I see them as hypocrites who want cheap popularity among the people that are disgruntled. I see some of them as just merely following the train of bandwagon because they hear people saying restructuring. Let whosoever wants the country restructured come out and put it in black and white the way they want the country restructured. Even if they want the country divided, I welcome it. True to God, I welcome it because I will rather prefer we separate peacefully to fighting ourselves. Rather than having internal crisis like religious or ethnic, I will prefer everybody goes his way. It will be better for everybody to go and start afresh. There are lots of countries that have separated and they are doing fine. If that is what they mean by restructuring, then it is welcome. I personally welcome it than fighting ourselves. I don’t want crisis. People who are agitating and instigating people don’t know the implication of what they are doing. We should not let such people drag us into crisis because it is dangerous.”
However, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, a prominent leader of thought in the North, in a radical departure from this sentiment, lashed out at those calling for restructuring, arguing that it was intended to shut out the region from having its fair share of revenue from the federation account.
His words: “You see the way most of those people agitating for restructuring is unpatriotic. Most of those people who are calling for restructuring in Nigeria today are doing so with some kind of hate in their minds. The thing that is working in their minds is to find a way of denying states from the North of getting the kind of shares they are getting from the federation account. Some of the factors that government is using to distribute the revenue are God-made and not man-made. For instance, when they talk of population, the Nigerian people were not created by the Nigerian government.
“It is God who created the Nigerian people and concentrated some of them in a particular area, which is the North and which always has more than 55 percent of the total population of Nigeria. If you go through the records from 1911 when census was started even before the amalgamation, the percentage in the North was roughly 55 percent of population in Nigeria. Now, if you go with the other factor, that is landmass, the North has
two third of the total landmass of Nigeria. You cannot deny a Northerner those advantages given to him by God simply because he gets some revenue based on those creations. Those who are talking of restructuring are actually hiding their real intent under the slogan. They are yet o explain what this restructuring means. They are only shouting and fighting restructuring because of the share of revenue the North is getting.”
Also, bluntly rejecting the calls for a reconfiguration of the present federal structure, a former spokesman for the ACF, Anthony Sani, declared: “The North is currently opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria precisely because there is nothing to restructure. The North does not believe the problems of Nigeria can rightly be attributed to the form of government the country chooses. What we believe is that the problems of Nigeria are due to the failure of leadership.
“Those who hanker for ‘true federalism’ to enable each constituent unit to develop at its own pace are unwittingly advocating that Nigerians should live as if they are in different countries, where some citizens would live in a comfort zone, while others would live on the fringe. Such a split would be a harbinger for split.”
“There is nothing universally accepted as true federalism. And that is why there are no two countries with federal systems that are self-same or clones of one another. All federal systems depend on circumstances of their emergence. For example, 13 American colonies came together and formed the United States and evolved to be what America is today, while in the case of Nigeria, the national government has created the federating units. But the common mantra in all federal systems is a national government that is strong enough to keep the country under one roof but not too strong as to tilt the country into unitary system,” he added.
This submission is apparently at variance with the position earlier canvassed by former vice president Atiku Abubakar, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who at the launch of a book by Chido Onumah, entitled, We are all Biafrans, in Abuja, openly renewed the call for restructuring of the country as a way to overcome the myriad of socio- economic challenges confronting the nation. He said: “As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country.”
“When I was invited to chair this occasion, I immediately understood that the title of the book is a metaphor for the legitimate feelings of marginalisation by diverse segments of Nigerians that cut across the country. Agitations by many right-thinking Nigerians call
for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.”
“In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach, it has not served my part of the country, the North, well. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us and the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation,” he posited.
On the overall, the aggregate opinions of those opposed to restructuring underscores the negative consequences of oil discovery on the autonomy of the constituent units, as it sweeps away the competitiveness that characterized the old regional arrangement where states were free to develop at their own pace and do as they pleased.
In spite of the obvious limitations of the present federal structure, however, some stakeholders still insist that the status quo must be maintained. One
of such individuals is Senator Joseph Waku, a former vice chairman of the ACF, who believes that the restructuring would lead to breakup of the country. “We have been staying together as one nation since over 100 years ago when amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates took place under Lord Lugard. Then as an independent country, Nigeria is now about 55 ears old. What are we now talking about? Those calling for restructuring are indirectly calling for a breakup of the country or a return to the era of regionalism, but we have gone beyond those stages,” he declared.
Unlike their counterparts in the
South, stakeholders in the North are yet divided on the appropriate modalities for ensuring the unity of the country
in the face of the threats of the rising social discontent, youth unemployment, challenge of insecurity and economic recession. And, of course, President Muhammadu Buhari is not considering a rethink of his position on the present structure either. Many cynics believe that doing so would run counter to
the interest of the North. But like the proverbial bird that perched on the line, neither the North nor the South has known peace since the present wave
of separatist agitations took the centre stage in the polity. The nation is drifting. Something urgent needs to be done to rescue the country from the brink.