By Kezie ogaziechi
Restructuring, fiscal federalism, Nigeria question and unbundling the power at the centre are juxtaposable concepts which politicians gleefully adopt whenever it suits them depending on the side of the fence they are at any point in time.
In the last two decades, every visible politician except the military in politics, have had cause to make a call for the tinkering with the structure of the country which many believe holds the ace for a sustainable united Nigeria. Some had called for fiscal federalism, dealing with the Nigerian question, unbundling the humongous power at the centre and quite lately, the most attractive nomenclature seems to be restructuring. Even though on paper the country operates a federal structure, opinions differ on whether we have a perfect clone that is sustainable or a feeding bottle federalism that has denied the federating states an opportunity of driving robust competition that aggregates to national greatness.
No matter what anyone thinks, having a strong structure in line with the acceptable true spirit of federalism would further strengthen the unity of the country in practical terms, as against the current position of deploying federal might to beat groups into line. Advocates for an unfettered search for a structure that works are the visionaries who understand that the future of this country can only be guaranteed when all willingly submit to the dictates of true federalism. The primordial sentiments that politicians play up deceitfully has endured because there is a very big cake in Abuja baked by mother nature to be shared and whoever accesses power at the centre becomes the determiner of who gets what.
Every smart politician, conscious of this fact, deploys all the tricks in the world to convince his ethnic nationality, language group and religious adherents that his ambition flows from a desire to secure a large chunk of the cake for them. That bait naturally sounds convincing and attractive enough to inflame the passion of ethnic, religious and language solidarity at the peril of the foundation of the Nigerian state and by extension, breeds distrust.
What character of unity are we forcing on the federating states and people in the midst of a sharing mentality that promotes skewed patronage and entitlement syndrome. Assuming the ‘Abuja Cake’ ceases to exist, the interest and fight to access power at all costs in order to have the enablement to preside over the sharing will end and people would be forced to look inwards for means of sustenance which translates to being productive.
Beyond oil, mother nature endowed all parts of this country with natural resources that have been lying waste because the leadership in the states have refused to think out of the box and work towards creating wealth by leveraging what they have. Restructuring has social, economic and political implication and embedded in that package are the answers to the elusive Nigerian question which, for reasons bordering on myopism, we have refused to see the goodies at the end of the tunnel.
Can a nation really grow when the operators perpetually remain in fear and denial about constructively engaging the challenges of nation building based on the peculiarities of our clime? The argument is that the less endowed states are afraid that the moment the cake ceases to be at the centre, survival and sustenance would be difficult. That, to me, confirms myopism, laziness, entitlement mentality and lack of vision on the part of the leadership. Military governance in the country largely changed the character and colour of government structure in the country. Even when arguments have variously been canvassed that their intervention was purpose-driven and that it was the best to address the peculiar challenges of the time, the impact on the psyche of the people continues to rob the country of the enjoyment of democratic practice outside the military command and control system.
If we settled to run a federal system, why are we practising a hybrid of that, an admix of unitary system that conforms to the military culture and federalism? Because the structure of the country is not properly defined, the confusion that hands out breeds all sorts of social, political and economic hiccups.
It might serve immediate selfish purpose or could it be called political correctness for anyone to feel that restructuring is being championed by people that lost election in 2015 as Adams Oshiomole would want Nigerians to believe. Oshiomole’s position explains why this country would walk the tightropes to get it right. Could Oshiomole have held this same view about three years ago. He has to read the body language of his political benefactors irrespective of the fact that people from Edo State, a state he governed for eight years like the other Niger Delta people are clamouring for fiscal federalism or restructuring. If he supported that four years ago, what has changed. These form of toxic comments coming from individuals one feels should know better, deny this country the benefit of robust interventions from reasonable and informed minds that are committed to changing the narratives that would put the country on the path of greatness.
A proper gauge of the mood of the people, which every thinking leader must be conscious of no matter how much we try to live in denial, shows that this structure that is not working demands reinforcement before the country collapses. True federalism has a critical component (beyond the economy) that would sanitize the character of our politics. Operators and political players in each of the federating units would begin to invest in champions that have the gravitas to provide the right leadership to make the state competitive and sustainable.
The challenges of governance would discourage and weed out charlatans, deadwoods and neophytes from occupying the political space with their distractive nuisance values. Governance would now be left in the hands of the knowledgeable that have something to offer and not professional rent seekers that sit back, lazing around and waiting for the next allocation meeting in Abuja to share the cake.
Ogaziechi is a public policy analyst.
Are we comfortable with a situation where most states rely ninety to ninety five percent on federal allocation for sustenance without doing anything to generate revenue internally? If we had restructured earlier than now, the industry of unproductive state creations would have been avoided.
The agitation for state creation was essentially propelled by the desire to position for cake sharing. Whereas the cost centres continue to increase, the productive capacity shrinks because beyond sustaining the bureaucracy, most of the states record a zero in human and infrastructural development.
The National Assembly should rise up to the occasion by setting up the machinery to kick-start the process of the restructuring. Let it for once look beyond personal political interest or correctness and make a national statement that would usher in a new structural order that would address most of the problems in the country.
Granted that the National Assembly in its wisdom is embarking on constitutional amendment, one thinks that the outcome of a restructured Nigeria would provide good and reliable material for an endearing and enduring constitutional amendment which would be in line with the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. Any attempt to carry out constitutional amendment outside the calls for restructuring might be scratching the surface.
Power devolution, contrary to the thinking of sceptics, will not empower the governors but would strengthen the system. There would no longer be any alibi for non-performing state governors because peer review would be seamless and the process of sanitizing the polity would start from there.
Some of the little responsibilities the Federal Government is currently saddled with should be seen for what they represent, avoidable distractions. Certain items on the exclusive list that demand proper Federal Government attention are left unattended to because of these distractions.
President Buhari should show courage and patriotism by fully supporting supporting calls because it holds the ace in changing the country’s narratives.
*Ogaziechi is a public policy analyst.