By Udeme Nana, PhD
Can I step aside for just today and allow you read an entry by one eminent reader of mine, please?
The idea of restructuring has become a trending song by politicians who have pushed it to be seen as the new anthem in Nigeria. However, the chorus in the song is discordant because the Igbos, the Yorubas, the Hausa/Fulanis, the Efiks/Ibibios, the Ijaws and other ethnic minorities in the South-South, the Middle Belt and the North render it with different lyrics, even if with the same fiery tempo. There is no unanimity. There’s no consensus about the shape or form of the much sung restructuring.
There are some who advocate restructuring simply because they are not comfortable with the fact that the name, Nigeria, was coined by Miss Flora Shaw, who then served as Lord Lugard’s mistress. To those in this group, a name change from Nigeria may just do the magic. There are others whose clamour bothers only on the form of government. Should the country break-up along the lines of ancient empires and city-states which existed pre-European adventure? These ones readily point to the former USSR as an example.
Should the country sustain the present federal system with a strong central government? Should restructuring focus on having a federation with more powers devolved to the federating states/zones? This was what obtained in the era of Regions in the First Republic. Should Nigeria become a confederation which seems to be the case made by those singing, ‘’Biafra, Biafra’’?
These advocates lose sight of the fact that confederations comprise countries, which ab-initio were independent states but voluntarily agreed to enter into a union with others to pursue and safeguard common interests and aspirations. In this type of union, divorce is taken for granted whenever a party feels the union no longer serves agreed objectives.
There are Nigerians who acknowledge this circumstance and to them, restructuring is about getting all ethnic nationalities together in a room to affirm to become Nigerians and pronto, Nigeria would shake off the hangover of a union forced by Britons.
A peep into history indicates that Nigeria fared better in the era of regional governments. In the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as Premier, harnessed the potentialities of the region and provided such leadership which scored many firsts on several fronts. The Western Regional economy, driven by Agriculture, gave birth to the University of Ife, the legendary Cocoa House at Ibadan, free education and the first Television Station in Africa. These and sundry spectacular feats were recorded in the West. Awolowo, as Premier, laid the solid foundation for the ascendency of the Yorubas in an emergent Nigeria.
In the Northern Region where Ahmadu Bello held sway, the Region trailed slowly but steadily. The North is not a monolithic enclave as it is host to myriads of minority ethnic groups including an overbearing Kanuri nationality. However, Ahmadu Bello welded the Region into One North, One People with Hausa as the official language from Makurdi through Kwara, Kogi to Maiduguri and Gwosa. A Sunday Awoniyi from Kogi served as the Sardauna’s Private Secretary and an Olusola Saraki from Kwara set up himself successfully as a Northern force to reckon with. The Northern Region built its own University, Ahmadu Bello University, to train manpower for the North.
Back in the Eastern Region, the legendary Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was mentored by an Akwa Ibom Chief, the late Chief Nyong Essien (Azikiwe was bred in Calabar in the 1920’s, schooled at Hope Waddel Training Institute, etc.) made quite some impact. Agriculture was the mainstay of the Regional economy. The Eastern Region accomplished many things and topped it all up with the setting up of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka!
Enter the “revolutionaries” with the first coup. Nigerian politicians seem to forget how and when a unitary structure of government was imposed on the country. It could be argued rightly that unitarism agrees with the military command structure. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi’s successor, Gen. Yakubu Gowon sustained that structure and in 1967, nailed the coffin of regional autonomy with its attendant devolution of powers through the creation of more states.
Subsequent Constitutional Conferences in 1977, Babangida’s POLITBUREAU, Abacha’s National Conference, Chief Obasanjo’s National Political Reform Conference in 2005 and President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Conference in 2014 all agreed to sustain Nigeria as an indivisible country.
What then do politicians really want now? This new debate cannot be about the size or the population; neither can it be about the diversity of Nigeria as countries like China, India, and the United States of America trump Nigeria on all of these scores. Yet, they continue to enjoy oneness.
Are the politicians agitating for a civilian-made Constitution since some advocates despise the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as a heritage of military politics?
In all, what happens to the existing democratic structures at all levels? What impact would restructuring have on the psychology of Nigerians? Is there any chance that with restructuring, Nigerians or whatever identity the people assume would become more decent, less corrupt, more conscientious, less selfish, more obedient to the laws of the land, less lawless, more tolerant of alternative views and less violent? Would restructuring demote blackmail, mediocrity, clannishness and promote only those virtues that take nations to the top? Would restructuring arrest the prevalence of negative values in the society?
This writer is of the view that answers to these vexed posers are blowing in the wind.
•Dr. Nana, a journalism and public relations don, wrote in from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.