OPINION: SIGNS AND SYMBOLS OF A NATION IN NEED OF RESTRUCTURING

One of the most exciting teachings received on Wednesday 23rd November, 2016 during an Inaugural Lecture delivered by James Tar Tsaaior, Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, at School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, centred on signs and symbols.

Speaking on the topic; Nightjar in the Forest: The Word in the World of Signs, Science and Wonders, Tsaaior among other things noted that the idea of the sign is associated with two theories. The first theory is that of the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure whose understanding of the sign is dyadic based on the relations between the signifier (sign) and it’s signified (meaning). In Saussurean linguistics, the relations between the signifier and its signified are arbitrary and conventional based on social codes. The second theory is based on the perception of the American Charles Sanders Peirce who identifies the sign as having a triadic relation: the sign itself, the meaning the sign conveys and the interpretation/decoding of the meaning the sign encodes. Whenever and wherever words fail to impose order, anarchy prevails. Wherever and whenever signs fail to communicate noble ideas and ideals, humanity is diminished and impoverished.

This new awareness about signs and symbols has in some ways transcended to the political circle and naturally comes flooding each time I ruminate on the leadership challenge in the country. More specifically, it points to how the nation’s political landscape is dotted with warning signs and symbols, and says something about how any efforts to fixing Nigeria socioeconomically without first having the geographical entity restructured will end in futility.

The above claims on restructuring don’t exist in a vacuum as mountains of evidence reveal that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is not the way true federal constitution supposed to work. But before then, let me say some words about the form of restructuring being demanded.

The envisioned restructuring from what the contemporary school advocates are saying, is not the type that will take the nation back to regionalism, to relieve tribalism, election malpractice, brinkmanship, hatred, acrimony, impunity, and dehumanisation of man by man. This form of restructuring is not based on the 1954 constitution. Similarly, it is based not on parliamentary system of Government but on Presidential system of government. This presidential system they argued is not the extant unitary system of government run by President Buhari. ‘The old school believes in rolling back the states to the size defined or specified in the 1954 or 1963 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN). Rolling back the states will be counterproductive. This will reverse the visible gains the nation has made over these years through the warped and deviated 1999 constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria (1999 CFRN)’.

Now, the drivers, signs/symbols and factors pointing to the urgency of nation restructuring.

First is the ‘grievance’ factor: The consideration is hinged on the reality that the managers of our nation’s economy continue to go against the provisions of the constitutions as an attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy and this has only played into waiting hands of the profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people. While the nation continues to lie prostrate and diminish socially and economically, the privileged political few continue to flourish in obscene and splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will.

The second is the ‘need’ consideration: There is this wide belief that every local government in Nigeria is blessed with one or two types of natural resources which needs to be developed and controlled by the local or state government. It is this similar argument that inform why the Niger Delta governors continue to push for resource control as the current structure, which confers ownership of all natural resources on the Federal Government and prescribes the allocation of 13 percent derivation is most unsuitable for Nigeria.

From the above revelation flows the squabble about establishments and management of refineries, power generation and security. Analysts believe that if items such as mines and minerals; including oil fields, oil mining geological surveys in the exclusive list, were left in the hands of the states to control, Niger Delta states would have invested in the building of refineries considering the comparative advantage enjoyed by their proximity and unhindered access to crude oil. Same goes with power generation (There is an established link between gas supply and electricity generation) and solid minerals and agriculturally advantaged states.

What about security? If states were allowed to recruit and control their police with commissioners answerable to the state governors, chances are that these gruesome killings ongoing in some sections of the country would have been better managed. The claim of possible abuse by some commentator need not arise as such an arrangement cannot come without checks and balance.

There is also the moderation component in the present demand for restructuring: – It has to do with reshaping the nation to shrink cost of governance through collapse of the present bi-camera legislative arm to a unicameral system and merger of interrelated agencies, ministries and parastatals were duties appears to be duplicated. It is by ‘killing’ such greed-propelled positions/offices that the Nigerian federalism will work for the people and not for political leaders domiciled in Abuja without relevance to their home communities.

In the same vein, the need for the strengthening of the weak justice system in Nigeria through the separation of the office of Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice is another driving force for restructuring. This idea going by reports was first put forward by the All Nigerian Judges Conference in 1981. It would be recalled also that in 2015, the legislature had passed a constitutional amendment proposal to separate the office of Attorney General from that of Justice Minister. Goodluck Jonathan, who was President then, declined assent.

Another driver of the present call is the urgent resolve to reversing the asymmetrical provisions of Section 16 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which provides the economic objectives of the state to include: Harness the resources of the nation (state) and promote national prosperity and an efficient and self-reliant economy, and; Direct its policy towards ensuring: (i) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development; (ii) that the material resources of the state are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; (iii) That suitable and adequate shelter, food, water etc. are provided for all citizens. These are classified same as non-justiciable.

This time, the imperatives to minimally adjust allocation of the roles between the federal and state governments has become not only urgent but also eminently desirable. Catalysing these processes will require a sincere and selfless reforms in the nation’s key sectors namely; Education, Health and the Economy and implementation of various reports that have in the time past suggested devolution of power at the centre. Take as an illustration, the Report of the 2014 National Conference, the Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee, inaugurated on October 4, 2016, by the Buhari’s government which recommended the unbundling of the Federal Election Management Agency for efficiency among others.

Doing the above will require leadership that can unleash the social, economic and political transformation of the country while rejecting the present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation that socially excluded the vast majority of our people. The Federal Government must recognize and position Nigeria to be a society of equal citizens where opportunities are equal and personal contribution is recognized and rewarded on merit regardless of language, culture, religion or political affiliation. Ignoring the present signs on nation restructuring can only come at a cost that will further diminish and impoverish the nation.

*** Jerome-Mario Utomi is based in Lagos. / jeromeutomi@yahoo.com.