OPINION: NIGERIA: RESTRUCTURING AND REGIONAL SECURITY

Nations, in the words of AL-Gore, a former Vice President in the United States of America (USA), succeed or fail and define their essential character by the way they challenge the unknown and cope with fear. And much depends on the quality of their leadership. If leaders exploit public fears to herd people in directions they might not otherwise choose, then fear itself can quickly become a self perpetuating and freewheeling force that drains national will and weakens national character, diverting attention from real threats deserving of healthy and appropriate fear and sowing confusion about the essential choices that every nation must constantly make about its future.

Unquestionably, no matter how long it will take us as a people to live in fear or denial; each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are facing a national challenge. Such challenges which has to do with fiscal, sociological, political and communal happenings in the country; coupled with the pockets of Ethno-religious upheavals and misgivings from one region against another or powerful personalities against each other has allowed restructuring debate dovetail from mere rhetorics to issue of national concern.

Presently, the need for restructuring of this nation should be compared with, and likened to, the indispensability and inseparability of the blood from the body. The nation is currently structured and standing in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken. Without doubt, this state of our polity as it stands urgently needs to be revisited and possibly reversed.

While many have argued that devolution of power at the centre has become inevitable as most of the items contained in the exclusive list should serve their best purpose when handled by the state and the local government authorities. They argued that padding of the exclusive list with activities has made ‘Abuja’ appear as a general surrounded by many lieutenants instead of the other way round. Others are of the view that for true federalism to be practised there is the urgent need for the nation to make the centre less attractive and federating regions or states strengthened with greater autonomy.

However, what matters most, is not when, but how?

In the restructuring game plan, must the nation retain the present feeble 36 states that daily manifest no record of survival? Or go back to the Post-independent regional system?
Certainly, like in business, every successful administration must owe its growth and success to certain causative factors. If it loses sight of this fact, its growth and even its survival may soon be in jeopardy, because a business that is allowed to take its own course will inevitably fail one day.

Nigerians and of course every student of history are convinced that the foundation of Nigeria’s problem was laid the day the country jettisoned the regional system of government. Not only did the system as practiced then, offer a considerable reduced economic risk but presently offers a potential way forward out of the current political and socio-economic lockjam in the country.

Take as an illustration, ‘Post-independent Nigeria had four regions, which without the benefit of oil created wealth, were self-sufficient in food and production of various cash crops and other exportable commodities. The regions contributed effectively to bankrolling the central government.
Within this period, the major industrial estates presently in the country came on board; Ikeja, Kano and Aba, under the Premierships of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Sir Michael Okpara, respectively. Today, the reverse is the case. As a people, we need to keep these lessons in mind as we think about the larger challenges we haven’t paid attention to just because we were distracted by state creation.

Very critical also, for the purpose of this article, and to understand fully well why the nation must embrace regional system of government, lets look at T.V. Paul’s parsimonious definition of a region while writing on the topic-The theories of region building. According to him, a region is a ‘cluster of states that are proximate to each other and are interconnected in spatial, cultural, and ideational terms in a significant and distinguishable way’. Lake and Morgan have also at different times and places advanced a definition of a ‘regional security: as a set of states continually affected by one or more security externalities that emanate from a distinct geographic area. In such a complex state, the members are so interrelated in terms of their security that actions by any member, and significant security-related developments inside any member, have major impact on the others.

This explains the wisdom behind the recent formation of Amotekun regional security outfit by the governors of the South Western states with other regions queuing behind.

In the same vein, it will not be wrong to conclude that a feeling such as this, that in recent months propelled the Former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia (RTD), while delivering a keynote address at the Good Governance Lecture organised by the Catholic Church of Warri’s Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), chaired by Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, to express fear over some recent developments in the country, which according to him are indications that Nigeria is overdue for restructuring-warning that the continued suppression of the agitations for the restructuring of the country could lead to a violent break up of the nation.
And therefore urged those opposed to restructuring to borrow a leaf from the break up of Yugoslavia and Sudan.

Aside the security concern, another serious consideration that has made the need for restructuring imperative has to do with resource and environmental control and regulations. Arguably, nowhere in the world has resource control ever been politicized like in Nigeria.

Characteristically, a region in Nigeria such as the Niger Delta house’s the crude oil deposits but lacks the constitutional power to sign, monitor or regulate the explorations as the land use act and other mineral laws in Nigeria exclusively vested such powers on the government at the center which, unfortunately, lacks the interest, plan and the will to develop the regions.

While this is happening in Nigeria, in countries such as Canada, provinces/regions are constitutionally empowered to manage their own emission regulations in an equivalency arrangement, and provinces could generally do their own environmental assessment of smaller economic projects.

Evidently, the most important reason why Nigeria must restructure along regional lines is that even before independence in October 1960, regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.

The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as ‘mere geographical expression’.

Similarly, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the Region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat. In fact, the North at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was ‘One North, One People, And One Destiny’. And name of the party itself ‘Northern People’s Congress, NPC, was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity.

Very instructive, Nigeria as noted elsewhere has a choice, to restructure by plan or by default. A planned restructuring they explained will be collaborative, systematic, and redesign Nigeria, yet keep it whole. A default restructuring will happen, certainly not by choice, but definitely like an uncontrolled experiment with attendant risks and indefinite outcome. The challenge confronting Nigeria now is that the long-overdue restructuring will happen when the cost of not restructuring far outweighs the cost of restructuring.

The truth is that for a multinational state like Nigeria where mutual suspicion is the order of the day, we need a common tradition to unite the people and throw off the shackles of colonialism and neocolonialism. What the nation currently needs is a regional system like the old which promoted healthy competition among the federating regions and accelerated socioeconomic developments of these regions while contributing to the centre.

*** Jerome-Mario Utomi writes from Lagos, Nigeria. / jeromeutomi@yahoo.com