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|National Question And Restructuring As Unsettled Matters by Nobody: 10:45am On Nov 04, 2018|
A recent speech delivered by a former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, on what he considers as the main booby-traps against calls for the restructuring of the country, has triggered further debate and strident calls by various ethnic nationalities on the issue, KUNLE ODEREMI reports.
A year and two months after Nigeria returned to civil rule on May 29, 1999, a foremost activist lawyer, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi gave a damning verdict on the state of the nation. His candid view was that a dark cloud in the horizon, though he and other few patriots that constituted the conscience of the country did not perceive democracy as a rocket science during the prolonged bitter struggle to restore civilian rule. “The sky is dark and deeply cloudy. The waves are tormentous. The sharks are menacing. The whales are converging. The troubled passengers of the ship are getting panicky,” he bemoaned. His outcry was characteristically regarded by the Establishment then as the trademark of activism. But Gani was only ventilating the sustained concerns of the majority of Nigerians on the fragility of the Nigerian Project and clamour by most constituent ethnic nationalities for a complete rejig of the existing structure.
All constituent units agree that the country is not where it ought to be, 58 years after gaining independence from the British on October 1, 1960. While its contemporaries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and others once categorised as either Third World or developing countries are literally going to the moon and breaking new grounds in many spheres of life, Nigeria appears stuck in the mud. Its quandary is not for lack of resources but for the absence of the political will and capacity to meaningfully harness its abundant resources. The amalgam of its challenges is condensed in the National Question, which the late eminent scholar, Professor Ade Ajayi outlined as the “perennial debate as to how to order the relations between the different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groupings so that they have the same rights and privileges, access to power and equitable share of national resources; debate as to whether or not we are on the right course towards the goal of nationhood; debate as to whether our constitutions facilitate or inhibit our march to nationhood; or whether the goal itself is mistaken and we should seek other political arrangements to facilitate our search for legitimacy and development.”
At the 2001 Professor Wole Soyinka Annual Lecture, held at the Muson Centre in Lagos, the late Chief FRA Williams delivered a paper that entitled The Nigerian Nation: Prospects for survival,” famous legal luminary, Late Chief FRA Williams was quoted as saying in a letter in TheTimes of London, published on November 16, 1995, the Parliament Secretary in the Colonial Office from 1952 to 1959, reportedly expressed what sounded like regrets of the British to have forced a contrived entity on the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. The concern of the unidentified officer followed crises being precipitated as a result of deep-seated anger and frustration because of marginalisation, hegemony, bigotry and mutual distrust among the ethnic nationalities in the country. The letter read: “There is an underlying lesson to be derived from the cruel and violent events in Nigeria. At the negotiations in the 1950s for Nigerian independence, the doctrine in the colonial office was that this was a unique opportunity to set up a really substantial and powerful state in black Africa; there were men of ability to lead it and the resources to back them. In such circumstances, the French would have created several small states of corresponding with ethnic differences. In retrospect, we should have done same. We did not then have the advantage of having witnessed the problems of conglomerates such as post-imperial India, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, or the threatened break-up of Canada. The lesson is now clear. It is folly to force disparate ethnic groups into a single political conglomerate.” What that means, according to some stakeholders, is that three large countries would have emerged from the entity called Nigeria along the three dominant ethnic nationalities, with at least two of them with proven potential and capacity to blaze the trail in different human endeavours, going by the enviable legacies of the three defunct regions that formed government at post-independent Nigeria.
Crux of the matter
The protracted grievances of the various ethnic nationalities making up the country are wide ranging. These include political hegemony of a section of the country; marginalisation, unjust revenue sharing formula; precarious national security, lack of good governance, lopsided political configuration; skewed federal appointments, and varying degrees of other acts of injustice and fairness. These and many other critical issues formed parts of the agenda of the 2014 National Conference, which the authorities have refused to implement the report though a number of recommendations therein were arrived at by consensus among the delegates drawn from all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
In his book entitled Restructuring: Nigeria’s approach to true federalism, a former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande had vehemently advocated restructuring and salivated the palates of readers with the aroma of a decentralised power structure. He also gave an insight into the kind of power game that ensued between federalists and nationalists, the latter comprising advocates strong central power, whereas the former favoured strong state powers before the proponents of decentralisation triumphed thereby setting the stage for America becoming what Akande called the boss of the world. He tried to give a sharp contrast to the prevalent situation in Nigeria: ‘Today, in Nigeria, all powers are already with the central government, at one time, or the other, the central government has been tyrannical, inefficient and impotent and it is so much constituting a weight of big burden on the states’ path to progress.”
While further lamenting how states, which should exist in a coordinate arrangement with the centre in line with the spirit of federalism, have become beggars with the centre only throwing crumbs at them as if they are dogs, he offered what he called political imperatives as he said: “It is evident that the immediate future of the country will be doomed to a siege of confusion” if his 11-point antidote was ignored. Two of the points were that the operation of true and genuine federalism becomes imperative as a basis for the continuing existence of the corporate entity known as Nigeria; that revenue allocation be principally based on the principle of derivation. Memoranda from various leading lights comprising leaders of thought and traditional rulers complemented his position on the issue of restructuring and devolution of powers as contained in the 144-page book.
But, on October 20, 2018, the former governor stirred up a hornets’ nest in the raging debate over restructuring in a speech entitled Devolution of Powers and National Restructuring, he delivered in the United States. He said he was averse to geographical restructuring but preferred to “go ahead with the APC arrangement, while our opponents are left to assume a loud noise on mere sloganeering –restructuring –without a clear definition or a peaceful workable strategy.” He hinged his latest position on fear of ostracising ‘the whole of the North in the political consideration of the country. His stance drew flaks from some quarters, accusing him of pandering to the whims and caprices of the current leadership of the country, as his new position was at variance to a view he expressed on November 7, 2017 at a public function in Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital.
Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had also joined issue with PDP presidential candidate in next February poll, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, over what he termed the latter’s ‘vague’ position on restructuring. Osinbajo, who strongly advocated “deeper fiscal federalism” over “geographical restructuring,” said Atiku apparently twisted part of his presentations at the Minnesota town Hall meeting in United States recently. “Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition. He says it means a ‘cultural revolution’. Of course, he does not bother to unravel this concept. He says we need a structure that gives everyone an opportunity to work, a private sector-driven economy. Yes, I agree. These are critical pillars of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, including our Ease of Doing Business Programme. If, however, this is what he describes as restructuring, then it is clear that he has mixed up all the issues of good governance and diversification of the economy with the argument on restructuring. Surprisingly, Alhaji Atiku leaves out the elephant in the room – corruption. And how grand corruption, fuelled by a rentier economic structure that benefits those who can use political positions or access to either loot the treasury or get favourable concessions, to enrich themselves. This was a main part of my presentations at the Minnesota Town Hall meeting. In arguing for good governance, I made the point that our greatest problem was corruption. I pointed out that grand corruption, namely the unbelievable looting of the treasury by simply making huge cash withdrawals in local and foreign currencies, was the first travesty that President Buhari stopped.”
Both Osinbajo and Atiku have further opened up the political space with the restructuring discourse. Osinbajo fired the first salvo last Saturday in Ibadan during a public lecture, in which he described Atiku as a latter-day apostle of restructuring.
Almost immediately, Atiku, through his media office, took up on Osinbajo on his ‘unsavoury’ comments, providing more insight into his positive role in the restructuring of the country in the past. His words: “It is also common knowledge that the six geopolitical zones structure which all formed parts of Nigeria benefit from today is the fruit of the collaborative efforts of His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, the late Alex Ekwueme and other patriots. Their efforts at restructuring Nigeria are captured in the Hansard of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, which is a public document and is still available at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Professor Osinbajo may want to familiarise himself with that document. The question we want to ask Professor Osinbajo is this, why do he and his boss constantly resort to rewriting history? Why can they not campaign on their achievements? Is it that they are forced to campaign on subterfuge because they have no achievements to campaign on?”
Consensus among ethnic nationalities restructuring
Even under the military regime with its jackboot mentality, prominent persons and groups never compromised on the big puzzle over restructuring, devolution and decentralisation of powers from the centre, because in the opinion of a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, leadership in any country is best practised in a conducive political and governance structure. “I believe that restructuring Nigeria’s present governance architecture by returning to the provision of the 1960 and 1963 constitutional arrangement will not only help the emergence of a leadership that will pave a way for national rebirth but will also put the country on a more matured part to political stability. And bring about the necessary shift away from the present virtually unitary structure which encourages the 36 states and the federal capital to rely on the philosophy of sharing the national cake and it will encourage the more viable federating unit to focus on productivity and internally generated revenue besides I believe that the restructured federal nation will be rekindled among the citizenry a sense of nationalism and the spirit of unity in diversity. The more viable and fewer federating unit will also discourage the do or die politics which is in competition for the all-powerful center within the country,” he said.
Similar misgivings have been expressed by other personalities from different political persuasions and professional backgrounds on what they have either individually or collectively described as the existing contrived federal arrangement in the country. For example, it is the contention of the initiator of the Yoruba Assembly, retired Lt-Gen. Alani Akinrinade that the unitary system imposed on the country, dressed in the cloak of federalism, undermines all cherished values of the ethnic nationalities. In his words, “Presently, the loss of the true federalism content of the Nigerian nation-state, as consensually agreed to and developed by the founding fathers through constitutional conferences (both at home and abroad) , has resulted into a highly dysfunctional governance structure.” He further lamented that, “Despite its oil resources, Nigeria today remains one of the poorest countries in the world; it ranks almost highest, worldwide, in corruption.” In the same vein, renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze equally acquiesced to the school of thought for a new workable structure to replace what he described as the existing strife-inducing arrangement. According to him: “The maintenance of the unity of the country, as one united, indivisible nation, demands, not only a federal system, but a loose federation; a loose federation requires a radical restructuring of the territorial units of the federation and of the power relations within it.”
A member of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the House of Representatives (1999 to 2003), Chief Dipo Olaitan, canvassed structural and systemic reforms through restructuring. He said nobody could wish the issue away any longer, just as he averred that even former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a leading opposition to restructuring before now, had tactically joined the fray in the demand for restructuring having endorsed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who has promised to give primacy if elected president of the country on the ticket of main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) next February.
Perhaps, Akande, when he made the volte face, was reading the minds of a prominent northern politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, on the stance of an important segment of the political establishment in the North on restructuring. The Second Republic presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters had asserted that the North held the key to any form of restructuring in the country, notwithstanding the fact that former military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Atiku had thrown their weight behind restructuring. He said: “Northern leaders are not afraid because you cannot restructure Nigeria without the participation of the North. You cannot change Nigeria democratically without going through the process as defined in the Constitution and this is the support of two-third of members of the National Assembly, a two-thirds majority of state Houses of Assembly. I assure you that without the support of the North-West and North-East, who if put together boast of 13 states; you cannot have the two-thirds majority to scale through.”
The views canvassed by Yakassai underscores the fundamental issues constituting the frustration and anger of most ethnic nationalities in the country. The North boasts of more states, local government areas, all of which confer a superior strength and representation for the political divide in the National Assembly and federal appointments. By virtue of land mass, the North also gets the largest chunk of the revenues, whereas the South remains the goose that lays the egg. In effect, whereas the South bakes the cake, it neither enjoys the privilege of holding the knife to share it. It is against this backdrop that most leaders from the three zones in the South and the North –Central zone have forged a coalition towards effecting a paradigm shift.
Nigeria: Still a dark cloud
The thick cloud Fawehinmi talked about more than 17 years ago still hangs ominously in the nation’s skyline. The decibel of public outcry over an unjust political structure subsists, just as the geographical perpetually remains on the cliffhanger as once captured by a leading light in the struggle that culminated in enthroning of civil rule about 19 years ago, Professor Akin Oyebode, when he said: “As things are today, we have created an unhappy society where a microscopic minority monopolise access to the good things of life, while the vast majority of the population have to eke out an existence, condemned to live in the fringes of society, what some derisively describe as street urchins threatening their better provided compatriots with kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and sundry acts of malfeasance, arising from frustration and disillusionment.”
Activist lawyer, Chief Olisa Agbakoba said the insistence of the civil society groups have always been straightforward and simple and premised on two vital questions asked by late politician Chief Bola Ige: “One, do we want to remain as one country? Two, if the answer is yes, under what condition? I respectfully suggest that Bola Ige’s Questions are well framed as the National Questions. We need to examine if we are to build a new spirit of commitment to the nation and service to motherland.”
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