By Omoniyi Salaudeen
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This popular dictum by Victor Hugo speaks to the inevitability of the onerous task of restructuring the country.
But from his body language, President Muhammadu Buhari is not prepared to take up the challenge, despite the obvious defects of the existing federal structure. Rather, he prefers to play the ostrich, like his predecessors, twisting the word to create more confusion within the polity.
Since restructuring crept into the Nigerian political lexicon with the advent of the present democratic dispensation, the agitation for a reform of the present quasi-unitary system bequeathed to the nation by past military regimes has remained at the forefront of national discourse with a passive response from successive administrations. Political reform conference organized by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the twilight of his administration to look into some of the national questions fueling separatist agitations is a familiar story.
In the final analysis, it all ended up in a fiasco following the surreptitious insertion of the third term agenda into the report.
The 2014 national conference put in place by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was also money gone down the drain. Though widely applauded for its far-reaching recommendations, the report is still lying in the archives as a museum piece.
Yet, the more the advocacy for a restructured country is treated with benign neglect, the louder it becomes. This is even more so with the combined effects of the perceived marginalization of some sections of the country by the Buhari administration, as well as the peculiar security challenge facing the country at this time.
However, demonstrative of his perceived disdain for public perception or agitation, Buhari was sort of calling the advocates of restructuring ignoramus in his comment at the launch of the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation in Zaria, Kaduna State.
For all intent and purposes, it wasn’t an occasion for a debate, neither was it a campaign rally. He just decided to seize the opportunity offered by the moment to get at the promoters of restructuring for all their troubles.
Represented by the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, Buhari said: “And again those who are discussing restructuring, my question is; what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about. Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent 1979 Constitution.”
Though opinions may differ based on individual or sectional interest, one point of view all are agreed is that the country can no longer survive in this form. It needs a surgical operation if the federating units are desirous of living together as one single united entity. The country, they say, is at a tipping point, and unless something urgent is done to rescue it from the precipice, things may tumble over.
The former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife had this to say: “What we need urgently is a new constitution and restructuring. Restructuring saves Nigeria from a breakup. Any other thing is a waste of time.”
According to him, the only panacea for peaceful co-existence is for the country to abandon the current unitary structure imposed by the military in favour of the old regional arrangement.
“In the 2014 conference, various aspects of the structure of the country and the constitution were considered. There may be something missing from that report, but not too many. So, it is a matter of willingness. A balanced constitutional conference like the 2014 conference can do the job. But before the constitutional conference, we can rush a restructuring,” he insisted.
Responding to Buhari’s charge, he explained: “What restructuring actually means is taking Nigeria back to the structure that was there before 1966. It was the structure that allowed each region to grow at its own pace, but the military messed up the structure and ruined us.
“We should get away from unitary government imposed on us by the military and return to the regions or zones and remove most of the powers on the Exclusive List. Those who are not willing for Nigeria to grow may resist restructuring. But anybody who loves this country will go for restructuring emergency. Looking at the recommendations of the 2014 conference will solve most of the agitations holding the country down.”
Also, a former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, sharing the same view, said that the only way to end the present state of insecurity was for the country to address its defective federal structure. He argued: “All of these agitations are coming because of the defective federal structure we run. The earlier we address those issues, the better for all of us. Security cannot be over-centralized in a country as large as Nigeria. Insecurity happens largely at the local level. And the only people who can handle it are the governors and chairmen of local governments. But they are incapacitated because of the composition we have in our constitution.
“The governors should be unanimous in their demand for control of the police in their states. There is no substitute for state security apparatus. That is the state police. Over-centralization of security is defective and it will not work. We have to sit down to address this issue. Nigeria is doomed unless we address these issues.”
Similarly, an erstwhile aide to Obasanjo, Dr. Gbolade Osinowo, while re-echoing the popular agitation, said: “There must be devolution of powers to the states. At this point, I believe that is the only way to go. They must make the governor de facto chief security officers in their states. They must be able to call the shots and actually protect their people as the constitution demands.
He stressed the imperative of state police to tackle the current peculiar security challenges confronting each state and local government, saying “there is absolutely no reason for us not to have state police at this point. It is appropriate that we should have state police or even local government police. But the Federal Government wants to aggregate powers into itself and does not want to devolve power. It is no longer escapable.”
Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State, in a slightly different perspective, sees restructuring as a gradual step towards self-determination.
His words: “What I am saying in effect is that we should pursue the option of restructuring. Restructuring is a gradual process towards self-determination. If power devolves largely to the states such that each region can grow at its pace, and people are allowed to choose their leaders democratically, naturally the regions will evolve and become independent at a later date. So, restructuring will be a gradual step towards emancipation.”
For Supo Shonibare, a notable member of the Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, those opposed to restructuring are enemies of the country. “Those who are calling for self-determination for their regions are not saying other regions cannot survive on their own. When the dust settles, the option will be between restructuring or devolution of powers and balkanization. The enemies of our country are those who are suppressing or attempting to scuttle the noble efforts of Nigerian patriots who can clearly see that the ship of the nation is drifting unabated towards an imminent wreck, and are galvanizing Southern and Northern elements to quickly find a solution in embracing devolution. Those who are bent on scuttling the agitation for restructuring are the champions of conspiracy to balkanize the federation,” he declared.
On her part, a woman rights activist, Ankio Briggs, in an interview with Sunday Sun, urged President Buhari to review his stand on restructuring, declaring it is the only way for the country.
“The people are demanding for restructuring of the country. It doesn’t matter how far the president wants to distance himself from the call for restructuring, it is the only way to pull Nigeria back from the precipice. This country has to be restructured. Everybody has said it. We demand a restructured Nigeria and the president cannot be bigger than the people that voted for him, “she posited.
It is, indeed, the height of intrigue for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which had restructuring in its manifesto and even responded to public pressure by constituting a special committee headed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State to look into the issue, to now keep mute and watch the president turn a deaf ear to the agitation for a restructured country.
Though the Director General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, had sometimes ago reiterated the need for the implementation of the el-Rufai-led Committee on true federalism, the president has refused to have a change of mind on the matter.
“If the party was able to move recommendations contained in the report of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai Committee to the level of implementation, the current levels of misplaced anger against the APC and the Federal Government in the country would have been moderated. May be the challenges we have today present a golden opportunity for APC to be able to initiate processes of implementing the recommendations contained in the report of the APC Committee on true federalism,” he opined.
Further to that, el-Rufai had also during the 26th edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit held last year stressed the need for the implementation of the report of his committee to ensure good governance in the polity.
According to him, “the Federal Government is so overstretched, and which makes it not be effective in doing so many things.
“We need to look at our constitutional arrangements, give more responsibilities to the state and hold them accountable. We need to have a very honest conversation on how to redesign our country to work better, for it is currently not working very well.
“Nigeria consists of 36 states. Nigeria can only make progress if the 36 states are making progress and pushing in the same direction. These are my views based on experience in public service,” el-Rufai stated.
No matter how long the twists last, the obvious point is that restructuring has become a popular agitation that cannot be quenched or wished away. It is an idea whose time has come. It is sine qua non to a stable polity.