Once, I was peppered with questions from sparring intellectual gladiators on why I am an unrepentant evangelist of restructuring, especially of the type that devolves power away from a strong centre to constituent units and regions i.e states as they have become. The basis of my arguing for the retooling of the nation, of the sort that deemphasizes the need for a big centre are predicated on reasons I have enunciated in my piece titled “Nigeria’s Crooked Federalism: The Infinitely Incomprehensible Organized Disorganization”. But with storm gathering more and more around the appropriateness, relevance, need, purpose and definitive essence of restructuring as a term and its expected impact as lived experience, I have decided, once again, to affirm, more vigorously and affirmatively that our nation is, at this stage of her historical evolution, in need of wholesale reworking and also a philosophical and ideological reappraisal, on a continual basis, of her mission and purpose.
Let me state, as I have always done, that the call for restructuring is not an affirmation of its being a panacea to irresponsible leadership. I say, with every sense of responsibility, that restructuring is no substitute for astute governance. My arguments, however, for the reordering of our nation in the post tribal stage of its metamorphosis is that restructuring i.e devolution of power to units makes for a clearer and verifiable working module, a more explicit and accommodating formula for the involvement and engagement of Nigerians in their religious, ethnic and tribal numbers. My point is further predicated upon the realization that in the absence of an obvious founding charter worth pursuing, governance and leadership, no matter how good they might be, would not bear great fruits if viable mode of existence of a people is not properly agreed upon. My argument is that a nation cannot be expected to achieve its full potentials if a medium that will ensure harmony, amity and peaceful coexistence is not first emplaced. The environment of a state must be properly structured to properly situate the state. In the Nigerian case, what other mode of stratifying a society, with a population so vast, diverse and disparate, than a federalism which gives more freedom and power to peoples to explore their environment be it political and economical for the benefit of themselves? What would anyone, be it central or state, lose if or when powers are given to constituent units? In fact, with the dizzying punches the nation-state receives daily from both centrifugal and centripetal forces, is the time not ripe to articulate a proper modality that will accommodate the hopes, aspirations and expectations of Nigerian peoples? I ask curiously, are we blind to the fact that the nationalities within our nations are all at different stages of their economic, political, spiritual development and it is therefore impossible to just lump them together without a mode, sufficient enough to guarantee their coexistence without one dragging the other backwards or descending into ideological melee? Do we not see that all agitations that have engulfed Nigeria’s political space, and in fact have always tensioned the polity; are pointers to the fact that there is much to be done with our political modus operandi? Might I ask that having practiced unitarism for the most part of our post-colonial experience as a nation, with absolutely nothing substantial achieved to assuage ethnic malcontents or to sufficiently address obvious disinterest in the Nigerian nation by compatriots, is it not time we practiced a system, that in the least, albeit not in its entirety, provides the prospect, yes an assured medium that guarantees the involvement of the people and backward integration of the Nigerian peoples through true federalism?
Let me state, very quickly, that my points for fairer devolution of power to constituent units are necessary for a just, equitable, fair Nigeria where no people are subjected to the whimsical tendencies of other people. It would also guarantee the definition of roles of central government in its interactions and interfaces with the constituent units. The existence and knowledge of boundaries are important to this relationship as they concern the production and distribution of wealth. This will no doubt guarantee national development. What do I mean? If our nation is truly federal, component units will have no choice but to engage local creativity and innovation in pursuing a more robust economy. They will not need to wait for the federal government to fix their roads, rise to emergencies etc while the central governments will focus on tasks like national security, foreign policy and diplomacy etc. More importantly, we must realize that no time at any stage of our pre independence journey, did our founding father envisage, forced unitarism as the mode of existence. In fact, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was a unitarist, engaged others in a philosophical joust not military fiat. And he was not even successful. Federalism won. This unitary superstructure was imposed on the polity by the military. And at the time it was introduced, was an aberration as it summarily removed democratically elected people and replaced them with military juntas. Therefore, the fundamental basis of a peaceful and cordial co-existence of a people, as articulated in the 1963 Constitution was yanked off and replaced with decrees. From then, every governmental action, policy and even law was carried out after the spirit and thoughts of the military. The nation then took up that spirit to the extent that when democracy and federalism were introduced; the nation could not be divorced from that spirit. In fact, the arbiters of our democracy and federalism are either ex-soldiers or those that belong to that era, majority of who hold fidelity to their legacies as they have never thought of any other way. They are more concerned about keeping the state together even if statesmen are at their wits end. Regiments and order are more important. Obedience must be gotten at all cost. It is therefore boring to talk about restructuring when it practically means that it would totally remove their “legacy”. But that is the whole point. We must talk about returning the nation to sanity. The call for restructuring is not just a mindless juggling of term but a cry to rework the foundation of our nation which has adopted militaristic attributes. Whatever the term “federalism” intends to achieve as a definitive term in the 1999 constitution, for instance, is lost in practice or lived experience. My point is that our nation as it currently is might have been titled “federal” but its manifestation is totally and fundamentally opposed to the intended consequence of its suna. Hence, the need for restructuring to happen now.
That apart, the needed tonic for emancipation of our nation out of the current wood will not be achieved with the unitarism imposed by the khaki boys. In fact, I must say that having done their own restructuring by cancelling the peoples’ constitution and created states which are now 36 in number, they anchored every policy on oil revenue, which we still practice to date. The restructuring of 1966 was not just political but economical. In fact, methinks the only way the soldiers could have sustained their form of political edifice was by giving it totally different economic pillars. Out went cocoa, rubber, tin ore, groundnut etc which were the mainstay of our economy, produced with the local ingenuity and perspicacity of the component units. Oil became the big pie. Local productivity, anchored on innovative, creative and meritorious ingenuity of a people was asphyxiated by the herding of regions into a vast political garrison made possible by the super-imposed unitarism. The centre became the focal point. It then created a squandermaniac political system, unrivalled and unequalled anywhere on the planet. In fact, it made a leader speak in awe that the problem with Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. So the call for a fundamental revamping of the architecture is a call to making our nation more robust in productivity and spawning of local talents, uninhibited by the baggage of unitary system.
Also, the call for restructuring is premised on the need to readjust the structure to the demand of our ever changing planet. As we may have found out oil, as money spinning commodity is approaching its value terminus. As I write this piece in Port Harcourt, efforts are being put in top gear in Paris, Berlin, Oslo etc to place embargo on oil dependent vehicles over the next 10 or 20 years. In the midst of the proselytes of this new economic “restructuring” of the world economy are our major buyers like India, United States etc. What this dictates is that Nigeria unearths a new module of economy. This cannot be made possible, if she is still cloistered in a vast unitary enclave. As I stated, the current polity as bequeathed by the military could not have succeeded if its economic basis was not restructured and anchored on oil. Since we are now approaching an inevitable cul de sac, we need to revamp our nation not just in response to local agitations and needs but in response to looming novel international imperatives. More markedly, and in fact quite worryingly I must say, that as the global market is making nonsense of our only major source of income and the basis of our political structure, our population has been speculated to be on the increase and in fact would be the third largest in the world over the next three decades, exactly the same period when oil will be dispensed with by most nations. We therefore must ensure that our nation develops by devolving powers to each constituent unit to be in charge of its economic levers. This can only be done by a fundamental restructuring our nation.
Now, I arrive at the crux of the matter. Often times, protectors of the status quo, including Mr. President, have stated in the face of agitations that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable as if the call for restructuring is a call to summary execution of the Nigerian nation. This was even made clearer in his speech after he returned from his 103 day medical leave. Obviously, PMB is wearied by noises of discontents, and true to his nature as an ex-soldier, would have none of that. While detachedly maintaining that people should register their grievances, he pointedly and conclusively, emphasized that the platforms for such discourse, especially of restructuring are the National Assembly and the National Council of States. While Mr. President might have attempted to take cover under constitutional provisions (which he is allowed to so), it was an attempt aimed at no solution. The cry engulfing the polity does not call for a simplistic and unimaginative meandering around legal provisions. It calls for a well-rounded understanding of the problems, a humane and emphatic attachment to people and their problems, and an astute, ideological, philosophical, expansive and dexterous approach to creating solutions. It cannot be easy. It should not be easy. The national question must be answered, and continually so but definitely not with “unity is non-negotiable”. This cup cannot pass over us. We at a critical juncture and this bend needs the skill set of an adept and consummate sailor to navigate. Unfortunately, Mr. President is still insisting on a narrow view that is jaded and well past its sell time. Every perceived opposition to this bogey is seen as treason. I, in fact, am tired of Mr. President’s penchant for replying dissent with force. This is a democracy and as discomfiting as objection can be sometimes, it must be handled maturely. Unitarism has failed (and will continue to be so). A call to restructure is not an invitation for judicial interpretations on the proper body for national discourse, we all know the way to court if comprehension of constitutional provisions becomes difficult. But we are past that. History of other lands has shown that it takes adroit leadership to reinvent the nation especially when national questions are being raised. Charles De Gaulle did not refashion 5th Republic France by just opening law books. He was faced with challenges of nation building after the collapse of the 4th Republic. He established Republican government in 1958 after providing a new constitution. He gave creative solutions to bring France out of the precipice. He deeply and studiously marshaled his nation out of trouble, not with force but with reason. And even though he was an ex-soldier, he returned France to their values of equality, liberty and fraternity. Helmut Kohl, with all his baggage, did not choose an easy path to answer genuine national question. In fact, his was a more difficult problem; because Germany had formally bifurcated into East and West since 1945. But he created a new vision of unified Germany and led that charge till he achieved it in 1990. He understood the undercurrents simmering below the surface and addressed them frontally. We are at a major historic contour that Mr. President cannot wish away. Mr. President moves so far have been against the run of play. Mr. President should know that Nigerians do not even trust the bodies he referred them to. It is up to him to take charge of the gathering sentiments about the state of the nation and control their impact on the polity. The old ways will not solve new problems. Force might have solved it in 1967 but it would not 2017. In fact a mere constitutional amendment is not enough. A constitution that will embody the spirit of the people and was done in the constitutional conferences of 1954 and 1957, with the people properly represented to enthrone genuine federalism, is what is needed. If the President, and members of his inner circle, thinks that the nation can be moved, in no distant time, Nigerians will move past him to demand a better mode of existence. It is what men do. The rain does not need to fall before we know the direction of the running water. We can all see where we are headed.
Micah S. Babarinde