Atiku Abubakar, the mercurial politician from Jada community in Adamawa State is up and about. Without his voicing it, many have concluded that his recent public commentaries, increased visibility and preachments about how to mould Nigeria into a better nation are all aimed at staking a claim on the Presidency of Nigeria in 2019.
Make no mistake about it, Atiku, the man more popular by his first name, is eminently qualified to vie for the Presidency of Nigeria. After serving eight years as vice president, he has garnered enough experience to lead the nation. Besides, unlike many public servants and politically-exposed persons in Nigeria who never set up a single shop, Atiku has proven to be a damn good entrepreneur with interests in maritime, manufacturing, agriculture, food and beverage among other endeavour. And he has made a success of them all. This puts him at advantage over the horde of politically exposed persons who have no known dexterity in management of men and materials.
Atiku has his strength. He also has his weakness. Many see him as one man who is prepared to run a truly representative government; detribalized and one who build bridges across diverse divides: ethnic and religious. Yet, others doubt his anti-corruption credentials. They fear he would run a government that would condone thievery and primitive looting of the public till. But these are issues for another day.
What is critical at the moment is Atiku’s consistent and persistent preachment on the inevitability of building a new Nigeria. The man generally regarded as the grandmaster of Nigerian politics believes that Project Nigeria as it is currently configured is not working. He is right. His thesis finds fitting justification in the torrent of centripetal and centrifugal forces contending for the soul of the nation. Nigeria is at crossroads. There is social discontent mixed with political dissonance in a distressed economy. Never in recent history has the nation been this fractured. Every man wants to go his way. Every woman wants out of the union because the people strongly believe that it is not working for their good. Their anger finds expressions in the spate of agitations for self-determination and self-rule. From the north through the east to the south-south and south west, there is precipitate anger and bile building up among the sons of men. But it has not always been so. In the early days of post-Independent Nigeria, agitations for self-rule were non-existent or at the very worst, muted. Those were the days when Nigeria was a semblance of a federation with powers domiciled in regional governments.
Many argue that the creation of states ruined the federation arrangement. I disagree. There is nothing wrong with state creation. In fact, the creation of more states was supposed to bring governance closer to the people. It was meant to make up for the blooming population. The caveat is that those who created these states did not grant them concomitant powers to exist on their own just as the regions thrived discretely, independent of the central government in the early years after independence. This is what Atiku wants. This is the message the former Vice President has been preaching. He wants a restructuring of Nigeria within the context of a true federation such that powers would devolve from the federating units. I concur.
We need to restructure our federal system to devolve more powers and resources to the federating units, in this instance, the states. We cannot continue to live in denial. Project Nigeria is not working. Its efficiency is stymied by over-concentration of power in a know-all, own-all central government. This arrangement has created a rentier economy in which states lost their respective inventiveness, resourcefulness and creative abilities. Every state leader scurries to Abuja with a bowl for a bale of oil cash. Nations do not grow by sharing money, they grow by creating wealth. And wealth creation is a function of the quality of knowledge at your disposal. Atiku argues that ceding power to the states will encourage them to compete and attract investment and skilled workers rather than merely waiting for monthly revenue allocations from Abuja. The argument, and the fear, has always been that some states are incapable of standing on their own. This is not true. Besides, there is no law that says all states must be at par in terms of development. States must be allowed to grow at their own respective pace.
Our dependence on oil over the years has blinded us to the reality that commodities no longer run the economic engines of nations; knowledge does. In the 21st century, knowledge is far superior to crude oil, kaolin or cocoa. Knowledge, especially digital knowledge, is the reason India, China, Japan, Singapore and other Asian countries are respected by United States, Germany, United Kingdom et al. When states are allowed to fend for themselves, the leadership of every state will become more ingenious and creative in their thinking. And this will lead to more economies of scale, more jobs created and less corruption, ultimately. Think about how many people would be absorbed into the various state police authorities across the federation.
Atiku’s prescription is that Nigeria must be open to changing the nature of the federating units such as using the existing geo-political zones as federating units rather than the current 36 states structure. His logic is that only a few of the states are financially viable. It may well be but the key thing is that Nigeria should undergo a form of restructuring. I recommend restructuring along the bounds of states.
The man from Jada believes that political decentralization must be accompanied by economic diversification. This goes without saying. But while the debate over whether Nigeria should be restructured across zones or states rages, the critical matter is that all is not well with the current arrangement of a federal behemoth that seems to exist for a few persons or groups but not for the generality of the people of Nigeria. The ceaseless agitations by various groups and the vehement cries of marginalization are all symptoms of a system in urgent need of a makeover. Nigeria needs to be reworked along the lines of values, equity and fairness.
Those who protest for a better deal do so because they feel shortchanged. The solution is not to cow them down or strive to emasculate them out of the national space. The way out is not also in tearing down the super structure into smaller independent nations by way of secession. No, Nigeria is one and should remain so because we are stronger together. The solution is in first accepting that things have fallen apart; that the agitators have a right to agitate; find out why they feel alienated and take practical and sincere steps to right the perceived wrongs. The wound does not heal when you merely drape it with cotton wool; it heals when you apply the requisite medication. Nigeria had a wounded soul. Whether it is the Kanuri man crying because he feels wholly dominated by persons from a sister ethnic stock or the Isoko man in Delta who feels he has no stake in the super structure arrangement or the Igbo man who shows off his scar as evidence of his affliction in a nation he calls his own, the Nigerian soul is scoured and needs a soothing balm. This is the gospel of Atiku Abubakar; that Nigeria would be a better place if we face our fears rather than pretend there are no fears. We must never fall to the temptation of believing that the drumbeat of secession is mere empty noise; we should see it as invitation patch up the cracks and address the inequities that define our socio-political life.