The recent call by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for Nigeria to be restructured seems to have struck a chord with many Nigerians. If anything the call by the former Vice President has re-ignited our ceaseless conversations on what some people often euphemistically call the ‘National Question’. There are four possible reasons why Atiku’s call is receiving very positive media review.
One, it is generally believed that the former Vice President does not talk glibly, and that most likely, he must have commissioned several experts to study the issue before taking a position on it. For many people therefore, Atiku’s call merits revisiting the arguments on both sides of the divide, especially the arguments of the proponent of restructuring.
Two, as one of the most urbane and cosmopolitan Nigerians, Atiku’s voice comes without the sort of suspected regional agenda usually associated with the opponents and proponents of the idea. While advocates of restructuring from the southern part of the country are often suspected of planning to use it to weaken the North or even dismember the country, the Northern oppositionists are often suspected of opposing restructuring because they want to protect their privileges under the current configuration.
Three, related to the above is that for a prominent Northern politician who is a member of the ruling APC government to advocate for restructuring at this time would suggest a putative shift in the position of the North on restructuring. As Atiku pointed out at the launching of Chido Onumah’s book, We are All Biafrans where he made the call for restructuring: “Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to economic and political development of our country. In short it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach, it has not served my part of the country, the North well”.
Four, as the economy continues to tank, challenges to the state are expected to grow. And if the Nigerian state follows a classic pattern, the state is expected to become more repressive in response, narrowing the democratic space and paradoxically also widening both the scope of the forces challenging it and the aggression with which they do so. The pervasive sense of foreboding in the land appears to have ignited a fervent search for options to avoid such a doomsday scenario. There appears to be consensus that Nigeria under the current configuration is either not working at all or working very sub optimally.
While Atiku is right in calling for Nigeria to be restructured, I believe that before ‘restructuring’ becomes the new mantra, we should be mindful of the fact that the term is loaded and therefore needs to be unpacked or defined because different people have different things in mind when they talk of restructuring – as they do when they talk of ‘Resource Control’ or National Conference. Depending on the speaker, restructuring could mean anything from minor constitutional amendments to greater devolution of powers to states and local governments. It could also mean a reconstitution of the country such that the six geopolitical zones will replace the current state system. The ambiguity over what we precisely mean by ‘restructuring’ has been one of the reasons why the term excites some anxieties and concerns among those opposed to it – even though technically speaking restructuring has been taking place throughout our political history such as when we change the formula for revenue allocation among the three tiers of government. Some have sought to complicate the conceptual ambiguity over the word ‘restructuring’ by advocating for ‘true federalism’ – when in fact there is nothing like that concept. The truth is that every federation is unique.
Related to the ambiguity over the meaning of ‘restructuring’ is also the ambiguity over the meaning of ‘Nigerian unity’, which opponents of restructuring historically use as a weapon in their opposition of the term. Is Nigerian unity the same as stasis? Is it right to argue that anyone who complains against the current structure is against Nigerian unity?
I will align myself with Reuben Abati’s choice of concepts in his article ‘Atiku is right, Nigeria Needs to be restructured’ published recently on several online platforms. Abati used concepts like ‘reset’, ‘redesign’ and‘re-thinking’ in his description of a version of what others would call ‘restructuring’. And talking of old and new concepts, I will also align myself with Professors Okey Ibeanu and Mohammed Kuna in a forthcoming book they edited on Nigerian federalism where they expressed a preference for the term ‘federative units’ rather than ‘federating units’. According to them, the term ‘federating units’ wrongly suggests that these units (states and local governments) joined in creating the Nigerian federation in the classical sense of the term while the adjective ‘federative units’ will correctly capture the fact that these are the current units of the federation but not the federating units. At this stage one may be tempted to ask, what is in a name? Why should we bother with all these conceptual issues? I believe there is something in a name. Using new concepts and categories will allow us to avoid the hang-ups, fixations and suspicions which the politicised old concepts aroused in us.
Aside from the need to clarify meanings of our words and perhaps embrace new concepts to show a new mindset, there are other issues that need proper interrogation as we warm up to embrace ‘restructuring’ and its new variants as the new elixir to our endemic political and economic problems.
It should be important to bear in mind that while any form of restructuring (whether using the six geopolitical zones as the federative units and the only units that will partake in sharing revenue from the federation or not), may assuage some grievances, it will inherently animate other grievances. Every policy initiative has unintended consequences that must be thought through before being embraced. For instance if we replace the 36 state system with the six geopolitical zones, it will necessarily bring to fore secondary contradictions within each zone which were submerged by the current structure of the country. Some of these secondary contradictions might be able to checkmate the forces of separatism within the new federative unit while others will aggravate such. How do we deal with such and other unintended consequences of any re-engineering? Another challenge is which body should lead the restructuring/re-design exercise? Obviously the current National Assembly, because it is a reflection of the current configuration of the country being inveighed against, will, ab initio be de-legitimated from leading it as the issue is beyond constitutional amendment. On the other hand if we use a National Conference as both Obasanjo and Jonathan did, there will be the issue of the constitutionality of such a body. Can the outcome of such a confab be implemented without the legislative approval of the National Assembly? And will the National Assembly not see the idea of a separate body to lead the restructuring and redesign of the country as usurping its function? Even restructuring, redesigning or re-engineering of any form without a requisite re-orientation of our own values will not work. Will any proposed new structure on its own be able to engender such change in our political attitude and culture?
I believe that before we begin warming up for another constitutional conference, the above are some of the hurdles we may need to scale first. I am fully in support of Atiku’s call for restructuring and for me it includes a conversation on the necessary questions we must find answers to before embracing a version of restructuring. I also believe that if history is any guide, a combination of mounting political and economic challenges as well as powerful voices joining the clarion call for ‘restructuring’ will eventually force President Buhari to conduct his own National Conference – perhaps towards the end of his tenure as both Obasanjo and Jonathan did. I cannot see Buhari revisiting the recommendations of the 2014 national conference – however the pressure. If Buhari chooses to organise his own conference it will be left to be seen whether it will achieve anything tangible or will be another jamboree that will at best serve the purpose of providing a forum for Nigerians to ventilate their grievances.
RESTRUCTURING IS THE WAY TO GO NOW AND TIMELY TOO, It’s a welcome call by the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar because the centre is too powerful and positive change and development, there is need to delegate more powers to the States and Local governments.
I believe the call for restructuring will bring to an end the agitation of marginalization by various groups in the country.
We need to try something different since the current system has failed.