Calls For Restructuring Nigeria: Smokescreen or Reality? By Sampson Ikemitang

As the debate for the restructuring of the Nigerian federalism rages, the ruling All Progressives Congress led by President Muhammadu Buhari has also joined the fray, as Vice President Yemi Osibanjo has lent his voice, saying it will not make any difference at all.

It will be recalled that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar recently kick-started the restructuring debate at the launch of a book, entitled, “We are all Biafrans” in Abuja. Atiku posited that restructuring the country would ensure the development and growth of the federating units. He (Atiku) attributed the increasing wave of agitations and militancy across the country to the call for restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it “less-centralised, less-suffocating and less-dictatorial by the central administration when reference is made to the affairs of the country’s constituent units…”

“As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices they have encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of the country. When I was invited to chair this occasion, I immediately understood that the title of the book is a metaphor for legitimate feelings of Nigerians that cut across the country. Agitations by right-thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less-centralised, less-suffocating and less-dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.

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. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in the light of governance and economic challenges facing us and the rising tide of agitation; some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation”, Atiku said.

Ever since the restructuring idea was mooted, socio-cultural groups like Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Afenifere and some prominent individuals like Prof. Wole Soyinka and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, to mention a few, have queued behind the former Vice President and the issue has continued to elicit varying reactions across the polity.

On the other hand, Osibanjo while delivering the Second Foundation Lecture of Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, noted that calling for restructuring of the country simply on the grounds that the Federal Government controls a bigger portion of the resources might not be helpful or make a difference. According to him, “Even if states are given half of the resources of the Federal Government, the situation will not change; the only change is to diversify the economy.”

He continued: “We are not earning enough from oil and taxes any more. The nation is so blessed that every state can feed itself and also export, if we engage in agriculture.” To this end, Osibanjo argues that those who are clamouring for restructuring and resource control are the political gladiators who have lost out in the power game, and are battle ready to latch on to anything in order to gain relevance.

What is restructuring really, one may ask? Restructuring in the generic sense means a significant modification or a drastic or fundamental internal change that alters the relationships between different components or elements of an organisation or a system.

Talking specifically of political restructuring, which is the crux of the latest agitations concerning the Nigerian federation, restructuring could be seen as a situation whereby more freedom has to be allowed the constituents of the Nigerian federation to be in charge of their affairs while the Central Government retains control of only those areas of national affairs where sovereignty confers superiority and exclusive jurisdiction on it. The central theme of the latest agitation is that Nigeria should review its system in such a way that the constituent units have more control over their local resources and endowments and exploit the same for their benefit; while paying only royalties and taxes to the Federal Government. Pundits are of the view that restructuring entails the devolution of more powers and responsibilities to the federating units as opposed to the current arrangement, where everything is at the whims and caprices of the centre. They believe that with fiscal federalism, the federating units will become more active and productive in terms of development.

The proponents of restructuring have argued that at independence in 1960, Nigeria operated the parliamentary system of government where regions were the constituent parts of the federation. Perhaps, one thing that is to be remembered is the fact that regions engaged in healthy rivalries as none depended on the Federal Government for funds, in its development initiative. Rather, each region paid royalties to the centre when they exported their agricultural produce which was the mainstay of the nation’s economy.

Amazingly, shortly after the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in 1974, the reverse was the case. All the regions abandoned commercial agriculture in areas they had comparative advantages and relied wholly on petro-dollars in the management and development of their respective regions. Indeed, this was the genesis of the nation’s shrinking economy. Crude oil deposit rather than being a blessing, turned out to be a curse as the nation’s developmental strides had since been retarded, mainly because of the mismanagement and large-scale official corruption that followed.

Political watchers have said that the protracted military presence in the nation’s political environment further exacerbated the situation; skewed the federal system of government towards a unitary system, with all resources of the nation concentrated and managed from the centre. They (observers) opine that state governments proceeded on a sabbatical leave, doing nothing in terms of internally generated revenue as they wait helplessly for the monthly federally-shared allocations. The central government as we all know became the “disbursing master” to all the “prefects” (military governors) in charge of states throughout the period the military sojourned in Nigeria’s politics. Over the years, even after the military had quit the political stage, we have consciously or unconsciously continued to operate the federalism with unitary attributes.

Again, with the steady inflow of revenue from oil, Nigeria’s greatest problem as it were was “not money but how to spend it.” This mindset hindered our economic planning and above all blinded our imagination and vision against two possibilities: that crude oil will one day dry off, or its prices in the global market may nosedive. All we were preoccupied with was how much we could loot from the nation’s treasury and squander (the loot) like the proverbial Prodigal son. Today, the reality is starring us in the face. We have come to a crossroads where some states of the federation can’t even pay their workers’ salaries, let alone undertake development projects, owing largely to imprudence, an entrenched culture of corruption and the inability of the political leadership at the time to periscope the future with a view to deepening the revenue bases of the states. Unfortunately, the monthly Federal handouts to states cannot sustain them any longer.

States that are cash-strapped as a result of the recession, have in the interim resorted to the option of going cap in hand to the Federal Government for bailout to enable them pay their workforce. The question on the lips of many Nigerians is: What happens if the Federal Government is unable to sustain the trend? Where else can they go? One would have thought that the best option for these states should have been to quickly return to agriculture which was once the livewire of the nation’s economy without much ado. They should have faced the future with optimism, think outside the box to see other ingenious ways of diversifying the economy. Instead, they have suddenly come to the full realisation that restructuring holds the key to the myriads of problems facing the nation. This is not only incomprehensible but absolutely perplexing.

To be concluded

Ikemitang writes from the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Abuja

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