Those who are opposed to restructuring Nigeria -By Niyi Akinnaso

Filed under: Political Issues |

Niyi Akinnaso

 

Unlike those who had expected President Muhammadu Buhari to announce his resignation on Monday, August 21, 2017, during his first address to the nation since his arrival from London on Saturday, August 19, 2017 after over 100 days of medical treatment abroad, I had expected a birthday present since that day was my birthday. The present I expected was simply a direct acknowledgment in the President’s speech of the call for restructuring the country, which dominated the debate on various media while he was away, as well as some indication as to how he plans to go about the project.

Instead, Buhari chose to take a tough stand against those he described as “irresponsible elements” and “political mischief makers”. True, he acknowledged that “there are legitimate concerns”, but he almost proscribed public debate by suggesting that “the National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse”. This clearly is a statement the President and his aides may need to clarify for months to come.

What is clear is that at no time in Nigerian history has the call for restructuring the parameters of the coexistence of the various nationalities within the country been more strident. The call has been coming from politicians of various persuasions; former Heads of State and other elder statesmen; traditional and religious leaders; civil society organisations; militants; and various youth associations. It has been coming not just by word of mouth but also by organised protests and separatist agitations.

What is more, a pattern has emerged, showing the distribution of leading agitators from the six geopolitical zones. The three zones in the South are united in calling for restructuring the country. The call has even led to separatist agitations by some groups from the South-East and the South-South. These should be regarded as exaggerated calls for restructuring, no matter how provocatively they might have been made.

There have also been supportive voices from the North-Eastern zone and North-Central zones, not least by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, respectively. Save for the strong support by Balarabe Musa, a former Governor of Kaduna State, the North-West’s contribution to the restructuring debate has been more in the opposition than in support.

As for partisan political platform, the Peoples Democratic Party has been united in the call for restructuring, while the All Progressives Congress has been anything but supportive, although there are individual members who would like to see the country restructured. The APC platform notwithstanding however, many have pointed out that the party did promise to look into the call for restructuring in the heat of the presidential debate.

Be that as it may, several key steps need to be taken in order to achieve the goal of restructuring the country. First, the advocates of restructuring the country need to fully explain in very simple terms what they mean by restructuring. Let the leading advocates get together and produce a small brochure, highlighting the advantages of restructuring the country and what each state stands to gain from it.

Second, the debate should be taken to those who are opposed to restructuring. Let them realise that self-determination and self-actualisation are better served when political and economic power is devolved to their immediate political unit than a life of dependency on a central government.

Yet, there are others who support one aspect or the other of restructuring, perhaps without knowing it. For example, by advocating the “devolution of the economy”, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, supports economic restructuring, while at the same time opposing what he called “the clamour for restructuring the country”.

In the final analysis, Northerners, especially from the North-West, need to be reminded that their forebears once advocated regional autonomy, as Yinka Odumakin recently illustrated from the submission of the Northern delegation to the Ad hoc Conference summoned by Yakubu Gowon shortly after he took over power in 1966 (“Babangida and Atiku “irresponsible”? Vanguard, July 4, 2017).

They also need to be reminded that a situation whereby Kano State has more than twice the number of Local Government Areas than Lagos State, which may even be more populous, does not make for equity and social justice. Were Lagos State not innovative in raising its Internally Generated Revenue (thanks to former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu), it would have been crying marginalisation like many states in the South-East.

Third, they also need to be reminded that the petroleum on which the country has depended for its wealth will soon be worthless as more and more countries set up deadlines for doing away with fossil fuel. At that time, states which now receive a disproportionate share of oil wealth, through federal allocation, corruption or some other means, will look up to the sky in vain, if they do not begin now to get ready for that day. That’s why the earlier the country is restructured to give the states enough leverage to tap into their own resources and then share part of them with the centre, the better for the states.

Fourth, opponents of restructuring need to be told that they, rather than the proponents, are the ones toying with the unity of the country. If they love Nigeria as one nation, then they would support a situation in which every citizen will feel fulfilled with what he or she has or can have by dint of hard work in any part of the country as well as a situation in which no one would feel cheated or marginalised.

Finally, as I once advocated, a delegation needs to meet with President Buhari and the APC leaders to entreat them to accede to the restructuring demand. I still maintain that Buhari and the APC will derive more benefit than disadvantage if they support restructuring now and set the necessary machinery in motion for its achievement.

If the President is in doubt as to the popularity of the demand for restructuring, then let him call for a special referendum on the subject. Perhaps, it will be clearer after such a referendum that no purpose is served by denying the majority of their aspirations.

 

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