Nigeria has become a very treacherous environment such that speaking about issues concerning restructuring of the country could easily be misconstrued and mischievously interpreted as felonious. But the truth about our situation is that we cannot avoid talking about a restructured Nigeria if there must be a tomorrow for us. There is no alternative route to this. Nigeria must be restructured urgently or it will die. This is not a doomsday prophesy. It is a statement based on the hard facts starring us in the face.
In the past three decades, I have maintained my position on this. Truth is that there is no nation in the world today, which does not strive for the attainment of full democratic ethos; and the material and spiritual empowerment of its people. However, as striving differs in the conscious realization of these ideals, many countries are still caught in the tragic web of hypocrisy and deceit. Such countries, Nigeria being a ready example, risk the danger of total disintegration and the pains of collective immolation. We cannot allow this country to suffer that kind of fate of which many states, which litter the pages of human history, are unworthy examples.
In the 56 years that have passed since the unilateral establishment of the Nigerian state by a colonial fiat, very little has happened to indicate the readiness or commitment of our leaders to weave a home-grown Nigerian nation from the welter of ethnicities and interests in the country. Indeed, time has, I think, reinforced rather than diminished the truth that the reality of Nigeria’s politics; the forces and factors at play, are irredeemably anchored on interests other than national interests.
The obviously unitary character of the Nigerian state, the incompatibility of the forces at play in our society; the continued truncation of the emergence of a truly Nigerian state so painfully struggling to be born; the antithesis between individual and ethnic property rights in the essential means of production and the fulfillment of democratic ethos; the thesis that the Nigerian rulership is historically reserved for select individuals and ethnic groups “destined to rule” and others “destined to serve”, the refusal by officialdom to embark on the process of proper restructuring and enthronement of true federalism in Nigeria; the argument that in any society, even when based on equal and universal suffrage, the existence of serious economic inequalities biases the incidence of governance against the majority; all these seem to me to have received explicit confirmation from the events of the last five and half decades of our political independence.
It has been said, and correctly so, that no theory of the state is ever intelligible safe in the context of its time. What men think of the state, always, is the outcome of the experience in which they are immersed. The continued massacre of people of southern Nigeria especially south-east and south-south outside and even within their homelands at the slightest instigation; the official marginalization and alienation and near exclusion of Ndigbo in the affairs of this country has given vent and verve to separatist agitations bordering on autochthonous control of resources; self-determination and loss of faith in the Nigerian project.
The annulment and outright cancellation of the June 12 1993 presidential election obviously won by the late MKO Abiola has set the Yoruba nation searching for the formula for social justice and to give the mental climate of their time the rank of universal validity. The determination of the core north for unhindered religious expression anchored on sharia law has ignited a regime of implementation of sharia laws in most states in the north.
The more critical the epoch in which we live, the more profound is the emphasis on cooperative federalism anchored on a restructured Nigeria. Men fight grimly for the status and liberties of their people lest other men deny them the experience they seek to validate. Our age in this regard is not different from the lessons of history. It is an age of critical transition in which, at the end, a new social configuration, superior in content and form, will be born. Our scheme of values is in the melting pot; and the principles of refashioning them have to be determined and urgently too. As always, at times such as this, men have had to go back to the foundations of history and politics to seek a new explanation for the nature and functions of the state.
WHY THE CLAMOUR FOR RESTRUCTURING?
Today, I stand before you at the crossroads of history; history festooned by the sweat and blood of our past patriots and founding fathers; who in a significant act of great foresight contrived and accepted the cooperating constitution of 1956, which midwifed the Nigerian state at independence. It is their sacrifice that has fostered Nigeria as a potentially powerful giant. Unfortunately, Nigeria has remained a lumbering behemoth; a clay-footed giant with bleak and gloomy future.
The return of the country to civil rule, as distinct from democratic rule, on May 29th 1999 was expected to herald the march of this country and her people to greatness. Almost 17years after; and inspite of the declaration of May 29th every year as Democracy Day, it is obvious that we are yet to take the first real step in our journey to the Promised Land.
This state of affairs is bound to continue unless and until we get our political arrangement and configurations straightened out. And we ought to be in a great haste to get this done. The truth about Nigerian politics is its ethnic and religious pigmentation. These factors are pivotal in understanding the character, nature, content and systemic organizations that shape Nigerian politics and way of life. No matter how the apologists and beneficiaries of the present system may try to explain away this reality, present events prove conclusive and evidential of this scourge. The ethnic and primordial character of appointments by the present administration only confirms this reality.
This cannot be otherwise given the fact that after over fifty years of political independence, the Nigerian project still thrives on the illusion of unity even in the absence of binding ethos. Thus, the nature of the Nigerian state has sustained the entrenchment of political power groups defined by ethnic and religious rather than national goals. As the post independence events have shown, the various political parties since independence have followed this pattern of ethnic determinism in their evolution despite our pretensions to the contrary. This is because of the centrifugal forces at play in our polity.
A little flight into history will authenticate this assertion. In 1949, the northern political establishment founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) with the philosophy of “One North, One People, and One Destiny”. The Yoruba nation followed suit in 1951 with the formation of Action Group (AG), with a rallying cry for the protection of Yoruba interests in Nigeria. These parties, with their limited ethnic horizon, expectedly inflicted grave wounds on the pan-Nigerian pretensions of the NCNC, which progressively assumed the toga of southeastern political party. No matter how any person may try to explain away that fact in retrospect, it was the beginning of the denigration of the birth of a truly Nigerian state.
The emergence of these parties further proved the point that from the very beginning, the various ethno-linguistic configurations in Nigerian had wittingly voted for self-determination. As a further proof and assertion of its vote for ethnic determinism, the Northern Regional House of Assembly on May 23rd 1953 passed a resolution calling for confederation on the principles of regional cum ethnic autonomy, with a loose central government.
The significance of the foregoing is that all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria had always yearned for a Nigerian state anchored on ethnic self-determination. Why restructuring on these terms today should constitute a problem leaves much to be desired.
The understanding of Nigerian political and social process from the prisms of ethnicity and religion has always led to questionable manipulation of census figures in Nigeria. Is it not worrisome that since independence Nigeria has never had a credible head count? Nigeria’s actual population even today is subject to estimation.
Even the history of party formation in Nigeria has largely followed the trajectory of ethnicity and religion. A close look at the formation of political parties especially after the civil war reveals a peculiar trend of formation. Most of the political parties that emerged in this country since after the war have always been decreed by the military in the same way that they manufactured and imposed constitutions on the rest of us without our input. The military has always decreed the conditions for the formation and registration of political parties; one of which is “national spread”; a very expensive condition usually sold as the need to “promote national unity and integration”. But in reality, these parties were designed to play predictable subterfuge.
Having destroyed our federalism, the military introduced unitary system and systematically appropriated the national economy under a central command structure and suitably empowered their cronies to effectively take control of the ensuing political regimes. The parameters for participation were designed to actualize the aims of this conspiracy.
Thus, emboldened by this vicious plot oiled by the confiscation of the national wealth, the hegemons successfully reduced our people to minions in the Nigerian project. The reduction of the Nigerian people to servitude and beggarly existence is not accidental. It is located in a cold-blooded systemic conspiracy at the highest levels in Nigeria by forces of repression signified by the successive military regimes in this country.
Our existence under this inequitable production-distribution-consumption pattern is a history of injustice, exclusion, pathological and criminal as well as brutal exploitation and appropriation of our resources. Indeed, our plight reads like a parchment on the scroll of mindless iniquities orchestrated by those who are deluded to think that others exist in Nigeria to serve their narrow interests.
If you cast your minds back to the sad chapters of our history, you will see in our broken history of tears the pains of a people long subjected to iniquity on account of our distorted federal structure. The wealth of this country has been confiscated and we have been reduced to economic serfs and second class citizens in our own political space.
I want to say that our call for a restructured Nigeria is anchored on the many atrocities we have suffered in Nigeria; and let nobody be deluded into thinking that the passage of time has dimmed our sense of history. Today the former south-eastern region lies prostrate and desolate. The brutal assault of soldiers under this Republic has left Odi town smouldering in total ruins; painted the firmament of existence with blood and survivors scampering for safety. Rampaging soldiers, acting under the instructions of the state debased the dignity of many women in Choba town in Rivers State in one moment of madness. Renowned writer and environmentalist, Ken-Saro Wiwa was killed by the State in a judicial murder to stifle the resolve of the Ogoni people to self-determination. Nimbo town in Enugu State was over-run by herdsmen and hundreds massacred in cold blood. Our environment has become despoiled and degraded while our people groan in pain, agony, deprivation and grinding poverty. Successive Nigerian governments have left our people without a voice and a future in the proceedings of government. This brief historical excursion is necessary to enable us understand the need for a negotiated existence among the various interests in Nigeria.
It is indeed interesting to see so many Nigerians today talking about restructuring the Nigerian state. This is heart warning on account of the fact that today we have come to appreciate restructuring as a necessity for Nigeria’s continued existence. This is a crusade I began almost three decades ago; a crusade that has taken me to prison and back. In the course of this crusade, I have had my younger brother, Engr. Victor Uzoma Nwankwo, brutally murdered in cold blood by agents of the state; I have had my residence turned inside-out by security agents brooding over my massive library like maggots rummaging the remains of decaying carcass. I have been cursed and discussed; analyzed and scandalized. The leeches of the Nigerian state are mad; and I am happy. The struggle rages on and that’s just the way I love it. My happiness is that my crusade has put Nigeria on notice and today we are all talking about it.
Even though it is a welcome development that we have been caught by the bug of restructuring, I am afraid not so many of us understand the true essence of restructuring. I say this because in recent times I have heard people talk about merging of states as a form of restructuring. I am afraid this is not restructuring by any stretch of the imagination.
The question is: What type of restructuring does Nigeria need? For the avoidance of doubt, Nigeria needs both political and fiscal restructuring. Politically, Nigeria must constitutionally define the federating units. For now there are six geo-political zones in the country. These geo-political zones should be constituted into the federating units with equal constitutional rights. The states as presently existing make up the zones.
Each zone will have its own constitution, which must not be in conflict with the federal constitution. The federating units should be in-charge of the states and LGS. The States’ Houses of Assembly will remain as they are but there will be Regional Houses of Assembly that will function as the highest legislative organ of the regions.
Each region should also have its own police, courts; and sustain its educational and other sectors. The powers of the central government should be significantly reduced to issues of immigration, currency, military/defense and foreign affairs. Power, in essence should devolve more to the federating units. Each region must have a premier who should coordinate the activities of the region and report to the federal Prime Minister.
On fiscal restructuring, there must be a comprehensive overhaul of the exclusive legislative list as contained in the First Schedule of the constitution. The regions must be in-charge of resources within their space. These resources are to be exploited by the regions and an agreed percentage paid to the central government. In other words, we must be ready to do away with the present revenue sharing formula. In terms of elections, INEC will remain to conduct federal elections, while each region will establish its own electoral body to conduct regional and municipal elections.
In concrete terms, these were the provisions of the 1963 Republican constitution which was suspended in the wake of the 1966 military coup, which paved the way for the usurpation of regional powers by the military. This type of restructuring would immediately address issues of ethnic and religious agitations and put a permanent stop to Boko Haram insurgency, the IPoB agitation and the conflagration in the Niger-Delta. It will also stop this monthly ritual of disbursing federal allocations to states.
It is because of the monthly allocations that states no longer strive to develop their internal economies. A through-going restructuring of the type outlined above will compel the regions and states to look inwards to identify and develop their internal economies and by extension the national economy. That is the best way for diversification.
In the First Republic, the North was famous for its groundnut pyramids, the West was known for its cocoa, the Midwest for rubber, South-East for palm produce and South-South for lumbering and fishing. In addition to this vast agricultural profile, which presently is lying fallow, each region has mineral deposits. With proper restructuring, each region will be compelled to develop its own mineral resources. I have written extensively on this issue and many of my books dealing on Nigeria’s restructuring can be found on the book shelves. That is the restructuring Nigeria needs now; not merging of states.
For the avoidance of doubt, the National Political Reform Conference of 2005 organized by the Obasanjo administration and the one organized by Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 recommended most of the foregoing. I recall that the only contentious issues were tenure for the president and fiscal federalism – issues which we advised should be subjected to referendum. Rather than implement the recommendations of those Conferences, the federal government has typically dumped them into the trash can.
Honestly, government’s medieval understanding of Nigeria’s problem leaves much to be desired. Among my people, a child is considered cursed when that child, instead of sucking the mother’s breast chooses to suck a bump on the mother’s body. Only a fool will see a straight route to a destination and choose to go through the bush path. The federal government has the answers to Nigeria’s restructuring in its hand. Why would the government not implement the recommendations?
Or does the government think that the answer to Nigeria’s problems lies in murdering defenseless Biafran agitators or sending Nigerian Army to crush Niger-Delta Avengers or Nigeria soldiers roaming the length and breadth of Sambisa forest in search of phantom missing Chibok girls on pretensions of fighting Boko Haram. Nigeria is indeed dancing the ghoulish Surugede without knowing the Surugede is the dance of the spirits. Igbo folklore has no record of any person who ever survived the Surugede dance.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is presently threading a very dangerous path. In truth, events of our recent history, bothering on all facets of our national life, are enough to consign all of us to sober reflection on how we got to this point of socio-political and economic inertia. One has never stopped reflecting on the question: Why has Nigeria degenerated to this level of rot? One’s opinion about this is that if a house is built on a poor foundation, when the wind comes it will destroy the house and the ruins of that house will be great.
We cannot be talking about putting furniture in a house that has no foundation. Issues like “best security, economic and ground-norm creating processes for national cohesion and stability” are like furniture designed for a poorly constructed house like Nigeria. A house must be properly constructed with good architectural design and on a solid foundation so that the furnishing of the house would have meaning and essence.
Consider these posers: Would you think that the emergence, sustenance and the killing spree of innocent Nigerians, especially southerners and Christians in the northern part of Nigeria by Boko Haram is merely politically motivated or has it any bearing to the proper restructuring of the Nigerian state? Is it proper to dismiss the militancy that has engulfed the Niger-Delta in the last couple of years as mere externalization of frustration by a section of the youths of the region or as a wake-up call for a properly restructured and negotiated Nigerian state? What lesson or lessons do we have to learn from the existence and activities of such ethnic-based and separatist organizations like Arewa People’s Congress, O’odua People’s Congress, MASSOB, Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPoB) and Ijaw National Congress on the need for restructuring? Why are our leaders afraid of restructuring the country?
What relationship, for instance, has resource control and allocation, corruption, collapse of public institutions, citizenship questions etc with the call for restructuring? And can national cohesion and stability be achieved outside the framework of a restructured and renegotiated Nigeria? The truth is that no country achieves national cohesion and stability in isolation of its historical and structural evolution. The problem our leaders have is that they are becoming more politically correct and more historically incorrect. If you think this is a hard line stand, can someone please explain why we have not learnt anything from our history or even why we cannot, with the benefit of hindsight; learn from the histories of other societies?
Can someone explain why in the past 17 years or so, we have witnessed high incidence of fraud and violence in our electoral process, the collusion of INEC and security agencies in rigging elections; the tendency of the political class for primitive accumulation of wealth and the obscene display of such ill-gotten wealth. How can millions of Nigerians live in such crushing poverty in the midst of plenty in this 21st century?
All these point to one conclusion: that this country is sick and terribly so. This sickness did not start today. It is a sickness inherited from birth. Just prior to the inevitable civil war in this country, there were obvious and clear warnings that Nigeria was on the path of destruction. Many patriotic Nigerians within and outside our shores tried to warn the forces of appeasement to no avail. In my understanding, an appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile in the futile hope that it will eat him last.
Today, the same warnings are present, and in the age of internet media, more obvious than ever. Numerous groups, some driven by religious fanaticism; spouting hateful, ethnic and religious vitriol have taken over our land. Many people are watching the denigration of our rights and trying to wish the ugly situation away. Every time the call for a truly negotiated Nigeria is raised, you will hear the leaders saying with definite authority “the unity of this country is not negotiable”. In truth, if there is anything to negotiate in this country, it is the basis of our “unity”. The Nigerian state must subject itself to a thorough-going process of restructuring as a basis for the continued existence of the country as a corporate entity.
We really do not have any alternative to this process. Any person or group who thinks we have alternative to this process of renegotiation is deluding himself or herself. The endpoint of such neglect and hallucination would be catastrophic. If this fate eventually befalls Nigeria, it is not because she was not sufficiently warned but because her leaders, like the children of Shoal, choose to be stiff-necked. Therein lies my vindication as a patriot and elder statesman.
by Arthur Nwankwo