By Eddie Mbadiwe
“27 States cannot pay salaries.”
That was President Buhari speaking at a recent occasion. Restructuring is not a swan song neither is it a mantra. It cannot also be called a slogan. Rather, it is a direct appeal to our collective soul and wisdom to decisively reflect and preserve our nationhood so that, quoting Chinua Achebe in reverse “The centre can hold”. It is a road to that dream Nigeria that has to be.
In our current environment, it is beyond belief that some people are still advocating the creation of more states – certainly for selfish reasons. It was William Shakespeare who asked many years ago whether the fault was in us or in our stars. In Nigeria, without a shadow of doubt, the fault is in us. All the indices for growth irrespective of who does the analyses, (for some are skewed) point in one direction. Unless we restructure Nigeria and drastically change our business ethics, economic growth will be painfully slow. For the pessimists who equate restructuring with fragmentation or dissolution of the country, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Restructuring means creating viable economic units possibly along the lines of the current six geographical zones. Unless for those who delude themselves or are in denial, our country Nigeria has not made any appreciable progress after 56 years of independence. South Korea and Malaysia which started the race with us at about the same time are light years ahead of us. In fact, Seoul is ahead of many western capitals in terms of living standards. Our current arrangement has so much baggage, and this must be shed by direct action.
Years ago, as highly motivated and idealist undergraduates at the University of Ibadan, many of us simply identified ourselves as Nigerians. Some of this group include late Dr. Stanley Macebuh, Oti Ejobe, Philip Edore, Tunde Akogun, Goke Adeniji, Kemi Ajayi, Julie Onum, Zazza Lorenzo, Dada Iweka and Jide Osuntokun, among others. How times have changed and our dream of a great nation is almost going into an eclipse.
In the same vein, as a young lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I was a contributor to Nsukkascope, an in-house magazine positioned to help transform UNN to a world class university. Chinua Achebe was editor. Other contributors were Prof. Chimere Ikoku, Emmanuel Obiechina, Ikenna Nzimiro, Mana Obasi and Okey Emordi.
Nsukkascope not only offered constructive criticism, but also proffered solutions. That is the kind of debate I believe Nigeria needs. Let us have serious discussions about the myriad economic problems now confronting us. The more people that are actively engaged, the better the country will be.
When General Murtala Muhammed inaugurated the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) in 1975 under the chairmanship of eminent lawyer, Chief F.R.A. Williams, SAN, he charged them among other objectives, to produce “the constitution of a federal system of government with constitutional law guaranteeing fundamental human rights, maximum participation and orderly succession of political power. To avoid the pitfalls of the first republic the new constitution should be designed to eliminate over concentration of power and ensure free and fair election”. This group aka “the 49 Wise Men” took their assignment seriously. I write from first-hand knowledge because my late uncle, Dr. K.O Mbadiwe, was a member and anytime he put his hand on the plough, he gave his all.
After much debates, disagreements and walk outs, the Constituent Assembly produced a draft constitution which was promulgated as Decree 25 of 1978 by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. It is sometimes historically important to go back retrospectively in order to understand the foundation of the 1999 Constitution which we now operate with amendments.
Going back further, the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed at the Ibadan Conference in 1950 “ that only a federal system that allowed each of the three regions (North, West and East) as created by the Richards Constitution of 1946 to progress at its own pace would be acceptable”. It is important to remember where we are coming from. The founding fathers in their wisdom recognised that there are fundamental differences between the ethnic nationalities that constitute Nigeria and took steps to avoid unnecessary friction.
Only a person playing the ostrich will fail to see the tension in the land and this tension has to be defused. The American Presidential system which CDC recommended and which was adopted cannot in our present circumstances solve Nigeria’s problems. For the presidential system to work efficiently, certain fundamentals must be in place and the most basic is minimum level of education of the populace. This is a sine-qua- non for the people to understand and be part of the discussion and decision making. The other one is absolute respect for the rule of law. That discipline still has to be acquired here. In a largely illiterate society such as ours, a few out of step individuals buy up the votes and impose themselves on the nation. One current governor is reported to have scolded his people who came up with demands by telling them not to bother him since he bought the election. i.e. their votes.
In the last 2015 Presidential election going by results delivered by INEC, 29.4 million votes were cast for all the presidential candidates from President Buhari, former President Ebele Jonathan down to Chekwas Okorie – This translates to about 16% of an estimated 180 million Nigeria population. This level of participation in my view is ridiculously low, dangerous and a mockery of democracy.
*Dr. Mbadiwe writes from Lagos.