Constitution is the document that establishes the structures, arms, branches and institutions of government, their powers, duties and responsibilities, the relationships among them, and the relationship between the government and the people. Sovereignty belongs to the people from whom every government derives all its powers. However, through the doctrine of social contract, the people elect their representatives and bestow on them the rights and powers to exercise the sovereignty on their behalf in exchange for the security of their lives and property, protection of their fundamental human rights and good governance. Nigeria got her independence on October 1st, 1960. The independence constitution was achieved by the founders of our country through dialogue, negotiation and compromise in the spirit of give and take. The constitution reflected the justice written on black and white by statesmen. It recognised our diversity and granted reasonable autonomy to the federating units which were three: North, East and West. By 1963, the country was restructured from being a monarchy to being a republic, which means people oriented. The regions also were restructured from being three to four. The Mid-Western region was added in the South. So restructuring is not a modern term. It has been there from the beginning. The North had one region and the South had three, yet the Northern leaders did not complain of any injustice. The reason was simple, every region was governed with the revenues earned by that region subject to paying a certain percentage of the revenue to the Federal Government for the running of the whole country. It was less costly to govern one region than to govern three regions with equal size because of economy of scale. Our revenue sharing formula was based on derivation, on production not on consumption, so whether you had one region or three regions bestowed no additional advantage on you, indeed it bestowed additional costs. In 1966, the army overthrew the democratic government and streamlined the administration of the country to suit their central command administrative structure. This practically restructured our country from a federalist structure to a unitary structure, where the revenues are centrally controlled and disbursed to the regions. The more regions you have, the more revenues you get. This made the agitation for more regions, which the army later christened states, to become more attractive. Whichever military man that shot his way to power restructured the country to suit his people and used the revenue of the country to sustain the mostly unviable states and local governments that resulted in such exercise. The impact of their unviability was cushioned by favourable international oil price which resulted in more revenue to spend on those states.
Today, the revenues are no more forthcoming as before. The unviable states and local governments which are scattered all over the country are becoming a liability to themselves and the entire country. The poor, backward states are becoming a stumbling block to the success and prosperity of the more progressive ones. There is no motivation to produce because the producing states are poorly remunerated while the non producing states are more remunerated once they can parade more states and local governments than the producing ones. The yearning, therefore, for restructuring is understandable and patriotic because it is a cry to solidify our federation and eliminate waste not to destroy it. However, the greatest obstacle towards achieving restructuring is the lack of uniformity as to what restructuring means. Some define it as going back to the basis, meaning going back to the 1960 independence constitution. Some say it means devolution of powers to the federating units. Some say it is granting autonomy to the federating units and so on. Any term wrongly defined leads to misconceptions and wrong diagnosis. This is why there’s so much confusion around the term restructuring. Restructuring, in a democracy, simply means the amendment of the constitution to reflect true republican federalism taking into consideration current realities.
We have to take note of certain facts about restructuring. It does not mean going back to basis because restructuring must recognise current realities. At independence, we had three regions and the Queen was our head of state under a parliamentary system of government. I don’t think any Nigerian will subscribe to that arrangement today. It does not mean weakening the centre. One of the most unfortunate assumption about restructuring which is making a lot of Nigerians resentful to it is the erroneous impression that restructuring will weaken the centre meaning the Federal Government and make the federating units very strong which may lead to rebellion. The proponents of this impression of restructuring often state that the centre is too strong as presently constituted and restructuring is needed to reduce its powers. The truth is that our centre as presently constituted is weak and needs restructuring to strengthen it. Our present structure actually makes the centre weak not strong. The responsibilities allocated to the centre alone to execute in the exclusive list are too bogus, about 68 items, in addition to its duties in the concurrent lists. As a student of Management, I was taught, by the principle of span of control, that there is a limit to the amount of activities an individual or institution can effectively coordinate. When the responsibilities are too unwieldy, it leads to lack of performance and ineffectiveness. The solution to this situation is delegation of some responsibilities and authorities to the lower tiers of government
We must note that confederation is not the same as federalism. Whereas confederation may lead to stronger confederating units and a weaker centre, federalism leads to strong centre and strong federating units. America is a ready example. The Americans invented the presidential system in 1787 to replace their decade-old fraying structure. After gaining independence, the 13 American colonies lived under the Articles of Confederation. But that provided a weak central government and lacked a fair system for inter-state cooperation. The union began to fall apart. The founders knew they had to come up with a better system. Having lived under the British Constitution all their lives, they knew the parliamentary form of government was not the answer. They devised a revolutionary new system of strong but non-oppressive governments.The presidential system is designed for a federation, not for running states from the center. Accordingly, its state governments are independent, cannot be dissolved, and are required to be self sufficient. Federal and state governments are granted separate and specific powers; residual powers are left with the states. In the US, the centre concentrates on internal and external defence and foreign affairs. It regulates the macro economic policies of the country but the main developmental units are the federating units which control their resources and pay taxes to the centre. This arrangement made the US to become the most powerful country on earth. This is the restructuring we are aspiring to have where the federating units will be viable and self sufficient enough to be the masters of their destinies and not constitute unnecessary burden or threat to the centre.
Going by our definition of restructuring, it’s crystal clear that one of the reasons we have not succeeded in achieving it is misplaced aggression. Democracy is a government of laws not of individuals and nobody is above the law in a democratic government. The continued expectation from the people on the President to restructure the country is misplaced. The President can jump into the presidential jet to any country in pursuit of any foreign policy he chooses, cite any project in any part of the country he chooses etc, but he does not have the power to alter one word in our constitution and our laws. This is the duty of the legislature. This misplaced agitation has led past Presidents to organise unending political conferences which came to naught because the buck stops at the table of the legislature. We must pile pressures on the legislature from henceforth if we are serious on restructuring. Every Nigerian has two representatives in the National Assembly. If each person can convince his representatives, we can have our country restructured in no distant time.
Restructuring has to be gradual because we are still evolving. Our greatest challenge now is that of security and productivity as a result of the low price of oil and the diminishing role of oil in international economy. We have to amend our constitution to allow the federating units to properly police and secure their states and Geo-Political Zones through any arrangement that will legalise State policing but that will not threaten the cooperate existence of Nigeria. We have to adjust the revenue formula to reward productivity and not consumption. I will not support the idea of the federating units to own their resources and pay tax to the Federal Government because of corruption. The Federal Government may end up not getting anything from the units under this arrangement. I will advocate for joint ownership and administration of the resources between the Federal Government and the units on the basis of 50-50 sharing formula. The Federal Government, under this arrangement, should delegate more responsibilities to the federating units to reflect their increased revenue while concentrating on the issue of security and foreign affairs. The discovery and mining of gold in Zamfara is a good case study. This gold has always been there all these while but illegal miners have been having a field day carting away the gold. It is believed that the presence of the gold has fuelled banditry who are attracted to the state to steal the gold. The State Government has been reluctant to allow the mining because the constitutional reward for derivation will not effectively compensate for the enviromental degradation of the State. They, therefore, are rightly seeking for increased share from their God given gold. This has shown the distress which the oil communities of the Niger Delta have been subjected to all these decades since the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Time has come for true fiscal federalism as a way to motivate the federating units to cooperate in the legal harvesting and mining of the resources in their states and regions for the benefit of all. I am convinced that every region and Geo-Political Zone is blessed with minerals of all kinds and increased sharing formula will motivate every Zone to embark on the legal mining of the deposits. No section, region or Geo-Political Zone need depend on another for survival.
Time has also come for the investment in human development of the populace through qualitative education because nations earn much today not from what is beneath their feet but from what is in their heads. This is also some form of restructuring. Facebook, Microsoft and other technological inventions did not come from mineral deposits but from pure advancement in human inventions and their yearly earnings are more than that of some countries that depend on the mining and exporting of crude oil and raw materials. With appropriate sharing formula and education, the Zones with no sufficient raw materials in Nigeria can always embark on inventions to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, as we await the legislature to amend the constitution to reflect true federalism, we can still embark on some emergency things that will reduce substantially the unnecessary threat of break up of the country. This will entail the protection of lives and properties of Nigerians by the security agencies and the protection of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians by eliminating all forms of police brutality. The strict adherence to the federal character principle in sharing of all governmental offices and posts in the country. The fighting and prevention of corruption to reduce it to the barest minimum to liberate more resources for development. If these things are in place, Nigerians can wait for restructuring which should be a priority for every Nigerian.