The recommendation of the 2014 National Confab that the structure of government in Nigeria should be reconfigured created an uproar, revealing a sharp difference of opinion between the Northern and Southern part of the country. Bye and large, Leaders of thought in the South supported the notion of reconstruction, while those up North, led by President Muhammadu Buhari viewed it with suspicion, some even taking a posture of hostile disengagement toward the term restructuring. Recently, however, some influential personalities from the North are also speaking up in support of decentralization of major aspects of government, which is the crux of the restructuring argument.
Virtually every criticism of the Buhari administration including the October 2020 EndSARS youth movement comes up with the conclusion that the path to good governance in Nigeria is a re-setting of the structure of governmental operations. Northern leaders who have recently aligned with this school of thought include former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, former Governor of the Central Bank and one time Emir of Kano, Muhammed Sanusi II, former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Professor of Political Science, Attahiru Jega, elder-statesman Ahmed Joda, as well as former President, retired General Yakubu Gowon.
In early February, 2020, this 60th year of Nigeria’s independence, Yakubu Dogara made a submission which in substance amounts to an admission that, taken as an entity, the Northern part of Nigeria is already a failed state. Speaking candidly at the inauguration of Northern Security Committee, Dogara observed that out of the 19 Northern States, only Kwara State, and Abuja are relatively peaceful. That is to say the other 17 states, over 95% of them are in disarray.
As Dogara put it, the malignant activities of Boko Haram, farmers/herders conflicts, cattle rustling, banditry, kidnappings, and ethnic religious conflicts have turned Northern Nigeria into “a killing field where graves litter the landscape.” He added that if the growing instinct to annihilate is not put in check as a matter of Urgency, the North may become another Rwanda, Somalia, or Sudan.
A few days after Dogara, then Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II echoed a similar sentiment when he spoke at the Birthday Celebration of El-Rufai, the Kaduna State Governor. Sanusi highlighted the problems facing the North as insecurity, poverty, mass illiteracy, malnutrition, homelessness and drug abuse.
He surmised that the North has been destroying itself by its over dependence on the quota system and Federal Character. The Emir characterized this system as parasitic, allowing the North to feed on the hard work and investment of the South. Sanusi accused Northern leaders who continue to promote this practice as retrogressive elements, and the worst enemies of their own people. Some critics have observed that Sanusi is himself culpable when, as Central Bank Governor he reportedly supported Northerners and Northern projects. It would appear now that Sanusi has learnt the error of his ways.
The deposed Emir has come to the realization that no amount of money thrown at the North’s problem will yield positive results. He is now of the opinion that illiteracy is at the root of the North’s challenges. Dogara agrees with him, and so does this writer. The insufficient capacity in the educational sector explains why unemployment rate in the North is as high as 65%. It is no secret that Boko Haram, Miyeti Allah, and other insurgency groups have been actively recruiting young unemployed people throughout the region. Most likely, this unfortunate state of affairs accounts for Ahmed Joda’s bleak conclusion that it would take the North more than 20 years to become relevant in the knowledge driven world of today.
Reversing this unfortunate trend will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. Northern leaders opted for Koranic education in the early days of colonialism. Since then, Western education has been able to reach only a fraction of their society. Majority of Northerners are familiar with, and essentially embrace Koranic education. This is why over 13 million children are out of school at any given time in the north. They would really rather prefer Koranic education than being in a conventional school setting. The way to resolve the North’s deficit in education is not to build Western style schools for Almajari children as President Jonathan did, or to press for Western type, schools as exist in the Christian communities of Southern Nigeria, but to design an educational system based on the model of Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. These countries with cultural affinity to the Muslim North have relatively successful educational systems and economies that can be emulated.
Building new educational structures in the North will be financially challenging; educational funding usually is. Funds received from the Federation Account will most likely not be enough. Northern states will need to increase their revenue base which can realistically be done if the states are allowed full control of their mineral resources. This fiscal restructuring of the country will enable the states to utilize their mineral resources currently locked up in an ‘exclusive list’ available only to the Federal Government. For example, Zamfara State will be able to legalize and develop its gold reserve into a thriving industry. Jigawa State will become prosperous with its rich reserves of iron ore, and copper, and so will Kebbi with its bauxite. There is no state in Northern Nigeria or in the South for that matter which does not possess enough cash crops and solid minerals to lift it out of poverty. What is needed to combat the menace of insecurity and poverty is a restructured system of government; a decentralization of responsibilities, and devolution of more authority to states.
The Northern leaders; mostly Fulani hegemonisits, who oppose this common sense change are the same class of people who have presided over the failed system since independence. They have benefitted immensely from the rot. Their opposition to restructuring is understandable but unconscionable and unacceptable. Professor Attahiru Jega puts it succinctly, “Only a judicious and equitable de-concentration and reallocation of power and resources from the center to the other federating units can de-escalate tension and smoothen hierarchical and horizontal relations in the federation.” We must act on behalf of the over 13 million children currently out of school in the North and the youth population there who have been robbed of their most productive years, as well as the growing number of the poor and displaced across the nation. All Nigerians of goodwill must come together in order to resist the enemies of progress who are determined to derail the restructuring of the Nigerian state. Let us pledge together to refurbish and reinvigorate our ailing system of Government. This will be a fitting pledge and a proper tribute to Nigeria at 60.
Dr. Pearse is with the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies at the University of Lagos. He is also the Chairman of Restructuringcongress.org.ng