THe call for the restructuring of the country is not new. But the past few months have shown that the call is growing as it’s usually the case when a new government takes over. With most pro-restructuring Nigerians having the bits between the teeth, it’s not likely that the agitation would stop soon. It was former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who again raised the specter.
But his call, rather than find acceptability in the present government and by extension in the progressive folds that had always called for it, seem not to resonate. I recall that one of the issues by which progressive elements in the country have always been known is their support for restructuring or a call for a national conference to determine the direction of the country.
Such calls have always made the (People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government in power so uncomfortable. I recall what All Progressives Congress (APC) leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said at a lecture he delivered at the 70th anniversary of the Island Club on the same issue in 2013. An excerpt from the lecture tells it all.
“Yes, we need to talk. I remain an ardent supporter of the call for a national conference that is sovereign and truly open to all. That is the only route out of the woods. We must bring Nigeria back on the path of true federalism”.
Though the APC leader scoffed and rejected the idea of the National conference set up by the PDP administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan which he described at the lecture as, “a staged-managed affair scripted and monitored to achieve the narrow political aims of narrow political minds in Abuja”, one thing is clear, the progressives of which he is the arrowhead, believe the road to Nigeria’s greatness is though a national conference. In his words, “anything short of a Sovereign National Conference will be like trying to apply a bandage to a tornado”.
It was thus not surprising when the former Vice president advocated the restructuring of the country to ensure the development and growth of the federation units. “Agitations by many right-thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and a renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities”, he had said.
His call has also been taken up by other prominent Nigerians and groups. Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku recently reiterated the call for a restructuring of the country along regional lines because the 36-state structure has become unsustainable.
“The present governance arrangement we have, with the country comprising 36 non-viable states, most of which cannot pay the salaries of their teachers and civil servants, is not the best.
“Rather, we should return to an arrangement, where the six regions will form six federating units.”
Socio-cultural groups such as Afenifere and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo have equally added to the clamour. In all these, the major issue has always been resource control, that each part of the country be allowed to develop and control its resources, but only contribute to the sustenance of the country at the federal level. I agree with this school of thought as it is the only panacea that would stem the cry of marginalization that has become more agitated and which has led to the unending bombing of pipelines in the Niger Delta. Indeed, the Niger Delta agitation is understandable.
Nigerian government, in times past, has been insensitive to their cry. Development has been far from a region that produces the wealth that has developed and sustained other parts of the country.
Moving around cities like Lagos, which is surrounded by water and was developed as a federal capital with all the road networks linking one part of the state to the other, before the movement to Abuja and Abuja itself which recks of petrol wealth, it would be ungodly to begrudge the Niger Deltans their agitation for the control of their wealth.
As a friend once side in an aside, ‘Nigeria is a funny country, the government constituted the board and even the management of the agency that manages the wealth (oil) and you put someone who came from a place that does not even have oil as head and you expect the people not to agitate, we are not really ready for peace yet’. I want to agree. But some of these problems would be settled with an acceptable national conference.
So what is this ‘progressive’ government of President Muhammadu Buhari afraid of? One would have thought that since restructuring has been the progressive elements’ major mantra, this current call would have been fully embraced by the government. Just this week, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo gave an inkling of the thinking of the government when he said he was opposed to a return to regionalism. “Dividing Nigeria, going back to regions and all of those kinds of things, I do not believe them at all. I don’t think that we need to go back to regions.”
But these are issues that the conference should deliberate on apart from fiscal restructuring, state police, etc. And the earlier the government takes up the challenge, the better for the country.