President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: Twitter
In deconstructing the burning issue of restructuring the political and administrative framework of Nigeria in the context of federalism we have been contextualising here, the major question we need to address today is: how can we effectively manage ethnic and religious plurality and diversity in our federation of many fault lines? Added to this is question on whether the political architecture of Nigeria is truly reflective of the federalist principles, which the founding fathers of Nigeria once adopted for development. Up and until the military incursion into politics and the subsequent subversion of the people’s will in 1966 and the civil war that broke out in 1967, the nation was governed along federalist lines, which consequently created an ambience for regional competition and development. Can we with any confidence affirm that the nation has fared better under an inexplicable unitary system of government? The answer is a resounding no! Our efforts so far have not engendered a true spirit of nationalism and a commitment to the Nigerian State. There is general dissatisfaction with the state of things as expressed by different groups and eminent personalities in the country. The Federal Government is perceived as a fumbling and bumbling Father Christmas who generates nothing yet claims to be the father of all in a most inefficient manner.
Even the governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was once so concerned by the widespread agitations for restructuring Nigeria that in 2017, it commissioned a group of seasoned politicians to advise it on a policy-adoption trajectory. According to its mandate, “the committee was to distil the true intent and definition of true federalism as promised by the party during the last electioneering campaign, and to take a studied look on the report of the various national conferences, especially that of 2014 and come up with recommendations.”
As this newspaper has consistently noted, the Governor El Rufai-led committee came out with profound suggestions on how to engage the calls for restructuring Nigeria because in its considered view, it was not a call that should be dismissed with a wave of the hand. The committee considered exploration of mineral resources, state police, devolution of power and resources between state, federal and local governments, federating units, form of government, independent candidacy, state creation, fiscal federalism, land tenure system, power sharing and rotation, resource control, state constitution, state re-alignment and border adjustment and the secular status of the federation. The recommendations were in favour of tinkering with the structure of the country.
But curiously, the president, Muhammadu Buhari, opted to kill the recommendations in a most anti-people, anti-collective spirit manner. Yet, the restructuring-to-save-Nigeria calls have come to stay – until something concrete happens.
It now seems to us that the issue of federalism is the only political and symposium debate in Nigeria at the moment, especially now that there is no significant political project of the government of the day that is worth paying attention to.
For the umpteenth time, we need to say that restructuring the Nigerian state within the construct of federalism means a re-imagination of the state in tune with the spirit of the time. It is a continuous process in democracy. In any business or political arrangement there is often the need to conduct a periodic or strategic assessment of how well policies and relationships have fared in the period under review. At such a time measures are adopted which give a renewed energy to the entire project. This is simply what Nigeria needs to do at this time of its history. Let the power elite not play the ostrich, Nigeria as currently constituted is not working. The federal bureaucracy, which promotes a monthly visit to the federal capital to share the proceeds of a single product is anomalous to the temper and practice of federalism as we have continued to reiterate here.
It is germane to recall that agitations have led to different governments revisiting the political composition of the country. Indeed, the nationalist struggle led by the likes of Sir Herbert Macaulay, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others were essentially concerned with what political structure would be best for Nigeria. At independence, the nation opted for a federal state set along regional lines. Thence a healthy competition arose among the constituent parts of the federation. Those could be referred to as the halcyon years of Nigerian federalism. The regions were semi-autonomous and related with the centre only for federal issues such as currency, defence and external relations. No one section held back the other. The subsequent split into small states fitted the command- and-obey structure of the military. That again has led the nation into unspeakable underdevelopment.
But time and experience have shown that the nation is not homogenous and cannot be administered as a hegemonic enterprise. It is against this background that the call for a restoration of true federalism has come to dominate the political space. And it will not go away until the political class led by the present leadership addresses it sincerely – in public interest.
The truth is that whoever holds back or tries to suppress calls for restructuring Nigeria is simply delaying the inevitable. Nigeria is not working. Nowhere in the developed world do we encounter a replica of Nigeria in terms of its approach to education, the economy, managing ethnicity and development policies. Oil in its crude and unprocessed form is the mainstay of the economy. The refineries are not functioning at full capacity. After more than 60 years of independence and discovery of oil in commercial quantity, we still import finished products from other oil-producing countries. The states, ostensibly the federating units of the federation are not economically viable. We relish and practise prebendal politics to the detriment of efficiency and merit. The federal government pretends to manage secondary education and universities nationwide. But that too is not working. Federal universities’ teachers have been on strike for about six months.
As this newspaper has consistently done, we call on the Buhari administration to revisit previous documents on the restructuring struggle. The 2014 National Conference and the El-Rufai documents could serve as take-off point. The documents in question made fundamental recommendations on security, state police and other low-hanging fruits that could immediately change the gear of national development and stability.
Creation of state police and devolution of some powers to the states are two of these that the current administration could concentrate on without rocking the boat. As Buhari has barely two and half years of his second and final term in office, it is imperative on him to focus on legacies. One of such legacies, in our view, is the issue of a re-configuration of the Nigerian polity. All hands should be on deck on this significant political project. In the main, the current holders of power should note that if they stick to old methods in a new environment there can be no real change. What is more, there should be some lessons and even warnings of history from those who have resisted peaceful change. It is written that those who make peaceful change such as transition from retrogressive unitary system to federalism impossible, make inconvenient change inevitable. That is another word that is also enough for the wise.