Agitations for restructuring of Nigeria have gained momentum across different regions and states of the country. Some prominent Nigerians such as the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, and many others have lent their voices to the call for a new Nigeria. Also, speaking recently, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye asked: “Why can’t we have a system of government that will create what I will call the United States of Nigeria?” He said we all knew that we must restructure and that we either restructure or we break up. “You don’t have to be a prophet to know that one,” he added.
Different socio-cultural groups, such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have also demanded restructuring. The NEF Spokesperson, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, reportedly said Nigerian state had failed, especially in the area of security, and needed to revisit the way the country was structured to provide security for the citizens.
Incidentally, the presidency described these calls for restructuring as unwarranted and unpatriotic. In a recent statement, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, warned that “such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the COVID-19 health crisis.”
However, the NEF gave a seeming right response to the Federal Government. According to it, “Nigerians have a right to ask for changes, for amendment, for improvement in the manner in which we live. There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is for the government to specifically say we don’t want to hear anything about restructuring.”
Ironically, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) promised restructuring and devolution of powers in its manifesto before the general election of 2015. Soon after it assumed power, it set up a committee headed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State to harmonise the issues surrounding restructuring. The committee actually submitted its report but it has not been made public.
It is worth noting that Nigeria is a conglomeration of over 250 ethnic nationalities. These nationalities come with different cultures and beliefs. To be able to live in peace and unity, there should be conscious efforts to initiate and implement policies that will make it impossible for one group to lord it over the others. The regional arrangement of the First Republic came close to this. There was a healthy competition among the regions and they developed at their own pace. Power was not fully concentrated at the centre.
Currently, the system we run is a negation of the principles of true federalism. There is concentration of power at the centre. Every region struggles to get to this centre and control the resources of the country. Even the federal character principle enshrined in the constitution to give every state or region equal representation in government is observed in the breach. Thus, we have mutual distrust, agitations for self-determination and high rate of insecurity and poverty.
Some attempts have been made to correct these anomalies in the Nigerian system. The late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, came up with a constitutional conference. It was at that 1994-1995 conference that Chief Alex Ekwueme proposed the six-regional structure we tend to be operating now. The 1995 draft constitution made provisions for six principal offices of five-year single-term duration. The offices were to be rotated among the six geo-political zones of the country. The national conference of 2014 instituted by the Goodluck Jonathan administration was an attempt to expand this discussion and establish the parameters for the coexistence of different groups inhabiting Nigeria. Unfortunately, the far-reaching recommendations of these conferences were jettisoned.
Today, the fault lines dividing this country have become very clear and have widened. It is only an ostrich that buries its head in the sand that will say otherwise. Those who forget the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them. Countries like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union once appeared indivisible. Today, they have broken up into different other countries.
The current leadership in Nigeria appears not to fully appreciate the enormity of the problems at hand. It acts as if the agitations for restructuring are against it. But that is wrong. People know that Nigeria’s problems are a collective mistake and did not start with this government.
Nevertheless, they expect the incumbent government to show leadership. There is absolute need for it to take a holistic view of the age-long injustices entrenched in the system and proffer solutions. Some of those issues revolve around fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, state police, equity and justice in the allocation of resources and appointments in the country.
Democracy is about doing the will of the majority of the people. And the will of many Nigerians is that the country should be run like a true federation rather than the unitary type of government it is running currently. We believe that there is urgent need to revisit the recommendations of the 2014 national conference and implement some of them.