Restructuring: Remedy Nigeria Needs Now

BEVERLY HILLS, February 14, (THEWILL) – RESTRUCTURING! That 13-letter word that was once whispered in closed circles almost a decade ago has become a household word that even the most unlikely believer has become its chief advocate, calling for its implementation as a cure-all for all the ills that plaguing the Nigerian polity.

From former military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida and e-x President Olusegun Obasanjo to politicians like ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar. From socio-cultural organisations like Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, PANDEF to Senior Advocates of Nigeria like Olisa Agbakoba and Femi Falana, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, the story is the same: Restructuring is the only viable option to remake Nigeria and pull her from the systemic crisis and looming disaster occasioned by worsening insecurity, grinding poverty, unjustifiable inequality, mutual suspicion and mistrusts among its 200 million-plus otherwise resilient people.

But just when you think the bandwagon was hitched for all comers, different concepts about restructuring have kept emerging while the word itself remains. Even firebrand advocates change. Agbakoba once called for true federalism and devolution of powers to constituents units.

Last week he wrote a published letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.

“It would appear to me that political restructuring, even though important, is dividing us and impeding development. I suggest that it may be time to talk about another model of development whilst the restructuring debate continues. I think what might unite us all in the quest for development is Cooperative Federalism and Economic Transformation.” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said in the letter, meaning that both federating units should work together.

Obasanjo once said restructuring is behavioral: Change the mindset; that is all. Now he is calling for devolution of powers, a legal and constitutional approach. Yet, even with the shifting of focus among it growing adherents, restructuring, is gathering momentum and speeding to a point when the question would be are you in or out? Much so that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, had to mandate a Governor Nasri el-Rufai Committee to work out modalities for implementing restructuring. Thus Nigerians of all persuasions have fallen for the word. The problem is that while they are all talking about it, they are yet to talk to each other about it. Why?

BACKGROUND

At independence in 1960, Nigeria operated a Federal structure with the three regions at the time – North, West and East – enjoying some measures of autonomy. The constitution contained both Concurrent list and exclusive list. While Concurrent consists of subjects like education, agriculture, health among others that both the Federal and Regional Governments could legislate upon, subjects on the Exclusive list included Defense, Currency and foreign affairs that only the Federal has the power to legislate upon.

Like all other Federal structure, the regions were generating revenue and sending some agreed percentage or royalties to the Centre.

Thus there was healthy rivalry between the regions as the West was noted for cocoa production, the East for palm produce and the North cotton and groundnut.

This was the situation until January 15, 1966 when the military took over governance of the country.

The military upon assumption of power brought its tradition of top to bottom order structure into governance which means the Head of state at the Federal level gave an order to his subordinates running the affairs in the regions. Regions later became known States with the various creation exercises carried out by the military regimes

Unlike what obtained during regionalism, the centre garnered all the resources and later shared to the states.

Upon return to democratic rule in 1979, which lasted till 31st December 1983, the clamouring for true federalism or restructuring started especially among the Yoruba of the South West. The call then was actually a return to the pre-military era, where the regions enjoyed some level of autonomy especially the control of its resources.

As time went on, with various ethnic violence and other forms of insecurity in the country, the clamour for restructuring started gaining ground and today there is no geo – political zone that has not joined the call for restructuring.

Problem of definition

The word “restructuring” had been within the political lexicon for over 30 years but it must be stated that there has never been any time that its demand in the Nigerian polity has been this audibly pronounced.

Restructuring has sparked debates from different angles as it has not only been evoked as political campaign strategy but has also been used as a means of opposing the government in power. What has come out of this, however, is that it seems that there is no consensus yet on what restructuring means.

The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, alluded to the non- uniformity in the definition of restructuring when he said that it is not the government that is not clear about what restructuring means, rather it is the people who are asking for restructuring who are not clear about what restructuring means.

Agbakoba in his letter concurs: “Now that we have come to the end of elections by the decision of the Supreme Court, political federalism or by its more popular name ‘restructuring’ may be the way to go, but it has not been understood and generally accepted”

The viewpoints provided by various political commentators and politicians only suggest the areas or subjects that need to be restructured. To some, it means the creation of more states, state police, fiscal federalism, local government autonomy and devolution of power to states. For others, it is about moving certain items from the exclusive legislation list to the concurrent list. Those in the extreme define restructuring as a return to regionalism of pre – 1966.

Which Way Forward: The challenge of Implementation

With the failure of elected governments to implement even their own recommendations, as we saw with Jonathan government‘s 2014 and the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Committee headed by Nasir El-Rufai, the question is what makes it difficult for restructuring to be implemented. What is standing in the way and what to do?

A chieftain of the Pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo cited lack of sincerity on the part of political actors and players.

He told THEWILL in an interview; “When they are campaigning, they will put restructuring of the country as one of their manifestoes, but immediately they got there, they jettisoned it. So what the politicians have been doing is to use restructuring to lobby, especially those of us in Afenifere during the elections but after that, that is all.

“So if you are saying why has it not been implemented, we can also add selfish interest. For instance, most of the governors are used to getting handouts from Abuja. They found that easy and cheap, since they cannot think outside the box to develop revenue generating projects in their states”.

Dr Salihu Lukman, Director–General of the Progressives Governors Forum, a caucus of governors elected on the platform of the ruling APC, supports Adebanjo’s position. At an occasion in Abuja on Tuesday, February 2, 2020, where he presented a paper, “Nigeria’s Volatile Politics and the APC Report on True Federalism,” he said, among others: “Although details of the commitment of the APC on matters of restructuring were outlined in the party’s manifesto, loose public interpretations of the specific commitment of the party to political restructuring have been subject of national debate”.

According to him: “The national consensus as itemized in the el-Rufai Committee report ought to have left the shelf and made its way into laws in terms of implementation instead of being allowed to be used to fuel ethnic and religious tensions.”

In the view of elder statesman and Second Republic legislator, Dr Junaid Mohammed, restructuring as canvassed presents a major obstacle in meaning.

For him, the non-implementation has to do with the vague meaning of the concept of restructuring.

“The question you are asking me, yes, I don’t know how you want something that is not clear to everyone or that does not has uniform definition to be implemented, “ he said, rather rhetorically, speaking with THEWILL.

“ I asked you now and you will agree with me that there are many definitions. Will it be rational for me to implement it? As far as I am concerned, we have been discussing restructuring for over 10 years, so if we can’t agree on definition, if we can’t agree on a position. Then how do you want to start a meaningful dialogue.?

“It was the great philosopher, Socrates that said you need to define your term and agree before you can have a meaningful dialogue. I am not prepared to say if we don’t do restructuring, heaven will fall. There are some people who want you to accept their own definition or position. We should define and reach a compromise and not talking about a nebulous term, ‘restructuring’.

“Secondly in Nigeria we said we are practising democracy, whatever we do, we must conceptualised it under democracy. So in your definition of ‘ restructuring’ you must have majority on your side. Even if you think, you have gone round the majority, those you ignored will bring you down,”, he said.

Agbakoba said the same thing inhis letter to Buhari last week: “I understand it but many ask, what is restructuring? I have to admit that the only way restructuring can work is if it is nationally accepted”.

Founding member of the leader of the Northern Elders Forum, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai shares the same position as Junaid’s.

The seasoned politician told THEWILL: “You cannot implement what you have not agreed on. Some people are saying the report of 2014 national confab talks about restructuring’, but did we agree, even at the conference”.

“Some of them who believe they know everything about restructuring will start abusing you when you don’t agree with their position. I asked them to define what it is, so that I would be able to make up my mind.

“So the fundamental thing we need to do is for all parts of the country to first define and reach a consensus, then you can talk of implementation”.

Also speaking, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George said the 2014 national conference’s report should be implemented.

“Former President Goodluck Jonathan should have implemented the report before he left office, we won’t have been talking like this again. We reached a good consensus on most of the things people have been clamouring for. Our report satisfied all aspects of restructuring. And we reached a consensus on almost all the issues. I will plead with President Muhammadu Buhari to dust the report and implement it.”

In a view that considerably harmonizes these various positions, Vice-Chancellor of Igbinedion University in Okada, Edo state and professor of comparative politics, Eghosa Osaghae posits:

“Now, what is restructuring?” he asked in an interview with The Guardian, recently.

He answered: “ Restructuring is a product of the dynamics of the system of government we operate. Everywhere you have a federal system, it is recognized as a system of bargain, negotiations – continuous bargains and negotiations.

“You don’t finalize your federal instrumentalities/configurations because in the course of time, human societies demands change. You have the global economy that can make you poor tonight and tomorrow you become a rich country, all these things have a way of precipitating different demands and once you have those demands, they can lead to changes in power holding that may demand a review of jurisdictions. In Nigeria today, we have about sixty-eight items in the exclusive list and about sixteen in the concurrent list. In the balance of scale that means the federal government is very powerful. But you don’t have a federal system when you don’t have constituents units that are legal units that can challenge the federal government by its own actions and activities and in the event of jurisdictional conflict we go to the supreme court.”

“Action. That is the point. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as governor of Lagos state in 2006 fought the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court over his decision to exercise his powers to create local council development areas. He won the case. The federal government’s only reaction was to illegally withhold the allocation to the state’s joint state local government account. That money, however, accumulated to N10 billion and was eventually paid in 2009 by the President Umaru Yar’Ardua administration, the successor to the Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. By then both combatants had left office but the case became a landmark judgment that other states latter capitalized upon to create development areas.

“Restructuring cannot only be done at the legal unit through judicial interpretations and reviews, it can be done through actions. All over the world, federations have restructured in this diverse manner. If the states were not dysfunctional, they also will be in the tick for the demand for restructuring; the political parties should also be in the forefront.” said Professor Osaghae.