National Restructuring and the Ambivalence of a Nation by Raymond Nkannebe


You will agree with us that since the early 80s, nothing has formed the subject of our national debates and engagements more than the chequered (mis) fortune of the word ‘Restructuring’. It has been accepted more than once as a friend; rejected as an enemy, and finally smuggled through the back door as an accomplice, in any national gathering. It is almost a song in our national struggle and often chorused now and again in governmental circles.

In the last two decades at least, one of the central issues of political debate in Nigeria has been the persistent call for a National Conference; a quotient of restructuring. The calls have always represented a strong desire to correct the ills that have befallen the Nigerian state and renegotiate the conditions, structure and rules that should guide the country. These calls represent an admission that the legitimacy and continuous existence of the state is in question.

The primary objective of any state is to provide security of the citizens and to guarantee a framework for the enforcement of laws. The ability of certain states to meet this mandate sometimes decline and a situation arises in which basic functions to wit: exercising sovereignty over a given territory, providing political identity and operating critical institutions of state can no longer be provided hence leading to political crisis that invariably snowball into anarchy.

More recently , the Boko Haram insurgency which remain a Gordian knot for the government, the ethnic crisis in the middle-belt, the Fulani-herdsmen crisis and militancy in the Niger-Delta have all gone to sustain the question of restructuring and send a message across that ours is a nation in dire straits begging for honest and holistic reforms.

But it is the ambivalence however, that has greeted efforts at restructuring in the past that leave much to be desired. It has become a case of knowing the root cause of a problem but lacking the requisite political will and gumption to set the solution in motion, or where it is put in motion, lacking the conviction to implement the recommendations. Perhaps nothing more can evidence this assertion than the series of talk shops which have been organised in the past by successive governments, both military and civilian but whose recommendations continue to gather dust in the archives despite the huge sums spent in convening them.

Most certainly, it is the ambivalence, represented by the discordant tunes among the diverse ethnic nationalities which make up the divide whenever restructuring is the colloquy, that is the albatross and the clog in the wheel. Most often, it is the morbid fear of the consequences that may ensue in the process that drives this ambivalence and fuels the suspicions. The North always do not want to hear it mentioned for some reasons bordering on Economic consequences while the south are always willing to go the pith and hog of it. While the North have always participated in these talk shops, they never hide their sentiments on the limits of the negotiations. And so often come to the dialogue with a narrow bargaining range. As for the minorities, their opinions seldom make it to the front burner and most often a hybrid of the sentiments of the big-three.

But this is where the regions are getting it wrong. Most often, restructuring is understood in the context of balkanisation— the extremes of any restructuring process usually resorted to, when dialogues can no longer travel. They do not situate it along the lines of reformation that’ll re-assign roles and do away with the unnecessary baggage which experience has shown do not perfectly fit into our system.

And so since when Aalhaji Atiku Abubakar resurrected the ghost of restructuring few months ago, a lot of ruckus has been heard in the polity over the much vexed issue. While speaking at the late Gen.Usman Katsina Memorial Conference, with the theme: “The Challenges of National Integration and Survival of Democracy in Nigeria”, the former vice president said,” I suggest we resolve today to support calls for the restructuring of the Nigeria federation in order to strengthen its unity and stabilise its democracy. I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like it or not. The question is whether it’ll happen around a conference table in a direction influenced by us and whether we’ll be an equal partner in the process or will it happen in a more unpredictable arena and in a manner over which we have little influence”.

Last week, Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal , governor of Sokoto state, appear to have stirred the hornet’s nest with comments attributed to him bothering on restructuring wherein he foreclosed the negotiation of the unity of the country and made calls for fiscal restructuring by advocating for the allocation of more funds to the federating units in the spirit of true federalism. In reaction, Ondo state governor, Olusegun Mimiko , obviously not impressed with the former Speaker’s comments, took him on terms for setting the bounds of restructuring. Elsewhere, the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere through its publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin has reacted in vehement opposition to the governor’s modalities for restructuring.

In a statement, the group said, “…it is therefore perfidious for anyone to tell us at this stage that the constituent units of Nigeria should be in their chains inside a suffocating cage with a little more meat added to the slave ration they currently enjoy. The federal government whose land is only the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which contributes nothing to the federation account outside a few grass that roaming cows feed on can no longer sit on top of the destiny of the federating units. We are at a loss as to what unity that the present order has produced that Tambuwal is selling us is non-negotiable. Is it the farmer whose crop is being eaten up by the herdsmen’s cow that is dancing at unity? What unity is there between those being slaughtered for their beliefs and the killers? How united are those being denied of access to their God-given resources and those raping them..?” As we write, nothing has been heard of the Pan-Igbo socio-political organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo. All of these discordant tunes informed by vested interests go to accentuate and bring to fore, the ambivalence and suspicion with which the subject of national restructuring has been received in the polity, to understate the point.

But if we must call a spade a spade, it is only the wilfully ignorant that would oppose calls for overhauling our entire system. We have slept on the job of routine maintenance and rejigging of the engine of state and the consequences have become a monster. What manner of restructuring do we speak of here? That has always been the tricky pony. Permit us to digress a little into corporate law practice to put the options of restructuring in proper perspective. At law, there are two broad categories of restructuring depending on the type of company and the extent of its corporate doldrums. Whereas the Internal options for restructuring like Arrangement and Compromise, Arrangement on Sale and Management Buy Out may not lead to a company losing its form and corporate name, the External options for restructuring to wit: Merger, Acquisition and Take Over may lead to the company balkanised or acquired by another bigger entity, thereby losing its corporate name and identity in the process. At best, it becomes a subsidiary.

From the picture painted above, an Internal Restructuring option is more apposite, less cumbersome to achieve with promises of a win-win situation for the different nations within Nigeria. A proper midwife of an internal restructure would guarantee a placation of the forces that invariably make external restructuring inevitable which in this equation amounts to a secession, or the different tribes taking to their tents like the Israelites under king Reheboam. So what are some of these internal forces within the system occasioning a centrifugal pull, and needing reforms? Those are what beg a no-holds-barred re-consideration without any fear and needing legislative footing to gain traction for them.

Our educational system is in dire straits churning out a generation of unemployable graduates and by extension occasioning educational tourism to more developed countries. Our federalism is jacobian, making sense only in form but not substance. It is almost a unitary system in the garb of federalism. What about our legislature? Must we have a bicameral house, and if yes, are the fortunes of the nation still sufficient to liquidate both? How friendly and accommodating is our business climate? Are there parameters set for wealth creation and distribution? Is the system as currently constituted skewed in favour of the “wallstreet” at the expense of the “Mainstret”? Do we have an active middleclass, and if no, how do we build an efficient middleclass since they are the drivers of any economy.

Is there a blueprint for job creation and employment that runs as a system? And our population has it become staggering against our resources? Should we toy with the idea of putting legislation on birth control? And here comes the elephant in the kitchen: resource control. Do we allow the states to refine their resources and pay back royalty to the centre? Is there an urgent need to increase the percentage on derivation for communities housing critical mineral resources in order to douse intermittent insurrections? What about the local governments and the unending hullabaloo over their independence from the states? Is it still amenable to logic that they should receive their revenues from the states and not directly into their own coffers? And this brings us to the vexed issue over state creation. Is there any justice in the south-east geo-political zone having only five states unlike other geopolitical zones having six?

How do we solve the intractable Fulani herdsmen and sedentary Farmers crisis? Does the solution lie in the legislation on grazing fields across the state or an introduction of compulsory cattle ranching by cattle merchants? What about our land tenure system? How much does it allow for land ownership and grants for rotational cultivation to enable food sufficiency? The current Land Use Act is a military document. The baby of a despotic regime; is it still a veritable legislation of our land tenure 38 years after it became a law? Our public service; the engine room of any nation is comatose and bureaucratic —clogging the wealth of the nation and only succeeds in recruiting unmotivated staff who feather their nest. Does it not need a holistic revamp?

The foregoing (among other notorious national dilemmas), are the vintage albatross around our neck. And it is either we take the bulls by the horn with them, or we may never get it right. The good news is that much of what have been highlighted, form part of the over 600 recommendations of the most successful national conference in our history, organised by the last administration. The irony however is how it has not been muted by this government; not even in one of President Muhammadu Bbuhari’s Freudian slips. The very poster of ambivalence.

We submit that a holistic consideration of these issues and proper implementation of the consensus lie the solution to our national quagmire; we can only do otherwise to the detriment of both man and country. There is no need of any anxiety, fear or ambivalence over it. Continuous living in denial‘ll only foist a gloomy future on us.

In the final analysis, at the root of national growth and development is social justice, equity and good conscience. The great Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio once said, “A kingdom can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice”. Therefore, government must entrench the ideals of justice in every aspect of its functions. There must be near equality in the representation of the nations within Nigeria in the public offices of the nation in the spirit of the Federal Character principle. And in doing that, merit must not be compromised. A situation where appointments and project siting are lopsided in favour of the part of the country the president comes from cannot augur well for national cohesion in a pluralistic setting like ours. Even that too, needs restructuring.

Enough of the vacillation. We have had enough of the dilly dallying. The next generation is already here and we cannot bequeath our structure as currently constituted to them. This ambivalence must stop. A stitch in time saves nine. Onu’kwube!


Ooni of Ife’s Sallah Gesture

A rare sight unfolded before our eyes the other day during the just concluded Eid Al Kabir celebration. It was a picture widely circulated in both the social and main street media of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi at an Eid prayer ground in Osun state with other Muslim faithful despite being a Christian. It was a rare sight; one that is a lesson in unity the divergence in dogma notwithstanding. The timing was also spot on; coming at a time the nation appear to be polarised along religious and ethnic lines. We commend the gesture of the young and indefatigable monarch and pray that his reign be long in the stool of his forefathers. Commendable!

Intellectual Theft within the Presidency

The “Change Begins with Me” campaign launched a fortnight ago by President Muhammadu Buhari may pass as the most unpopular campaign ever sold to Nigerians in the odd years of our independence. Still convalescing from the vehement and unveiled opposition by Nigerians, the campaign suffered another setback penultimate Friday when news filtered in that what Mr. President read in the 9th of the 16 paragraph address delivered on the 8th of September, 2016 was lifted ippisima verba from President, Barrack Obama’s victory speech delivered on the 4th of November, 2008. The presidency swiftly reacted to the development; issuing a statement that it was the handiwork of an “overzealous staff” within the presidency who may have been relieved of his services as we write. This must be another huge image crisis for an administration losing its popularity among Nigerians faster than the speed of thought. It is one gaffe too many. A faux pas of alarming proportions which no amount of damage control may take away the odoriferous stench it has unleashed in the polity. Not even all the perfumes of Arabia.Pitiable!

The writer, Nkannebe Raymond is a Kano based legal practitioner and a public affairs commentator. Comments and reactions to 08068271477 (Text Message only)