Whither is Buhari really taking Nigeria? By Gbogun Gboro

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

President Buhari, and many spokespersons for his presidency, are saying that the Buhari presidency will eliminate corruption and strengthen the unity of Nigeria. That Buhari is seriously set against corruption is not in doubt. That he is already weakening corruption in significant sectors of the public service is self-evident – and that is a commendable accomplishment. But the millions of Nigerians who wish that Nigeria should attain true unity, survive as a country, and go on to prosper, are waiting to hear what President Buhari intends to do about a sustainable basis for the unity of Nigeria. I am sure that most Nigerians regard this as more important than the war against corruption.

For a start, by appointing nearly all the non-ministerial officials of his presidency from the North and virtually excluding parts of the country, Buhari has aroused fears among very many Nigerians about his true intentions for Nigerian unity. Anyone who wants to know how worried Nigerians are becoming about this should just look in the media, especially the social media on the worldwide web. This is not a partisan issue at all; as many members as non-members of Buhari’s party are voicing concern. Even some northerners are voicing concern. The growing question is this: Is Buhari leading us back to the same old path of “unity” that was designed to be enforced by an Arewa North domination? Certainly also, it does not help that the formal organization of the president’s party, the APC, is given scant regard in the president’s actions. Does this portend that the president will be leaning mostly on some hidden back-door advisers and organs of his own, rather than on the political party that procured the votes of Nigerians, the party that promised CHANGE to us all? Does the quest for unity, for democracy, and for accountability, not demand that the open, constitutional, and formal establishments and processes of governance be openly upheld and employed for our country’s government?

But there is a much more important issue – namely, the constitutional structure of our federation. I mean the need for restructuring our federation in such a way as to ensure harmony among our various peoples, and in ways to ensure that each federating unit of our federation shall be able to develop its resources competently, provide for its citizens, conquer poverty among its citizens, and make its own kind of contributions to the overall prosperity of our country. I am not urging President Buhari to implement, or not implement, the decisions of the National Conference that his predecessor organized. What I urge him to do is to recognize that this issue of sane restructuring of our federation is the issue that will determine whether Nigeria shall be stable, and whether Nigeria shall survive as one country; and then I urge him to do something about it immediately. In all his public utterances, including his address to the country on its 55th anniversary, he has artfully evaded making any kind of statement on this issue. He must not continue to evade it. His whole legacy hangs on what he does about it.

The basic truth of our country’s existence is that ours is a country consisting of many different nationalities – each living in its homeland, with its own culture, desires, and self-image. In recognition of these facts, the founding fathers of our country bequeathed to us at independence a federation in which the federating units (called regions) commanded the powers with which to develop their domains. By using those powers, those regions pushed our country admirably along the path of progress and prosperity.

Unfortunately, the political leaders controlling federal power at independence wanted the Federal Government to have unrestrained control over the regions – because they wanted their own particular Hausa-Fulani ethnic nation to control all of Nigeria. They started by disrupting the Western Region. They did succeed in disrupting the Western Region, but the effort generated unexpected side effects, and Nigeria’s whole governmental system more or less crashed. That gave the military the audacity to take over. Under the mostly northern military command, a northern political and military axis gradually distorted the federal structure, subdued all powers and all resource control to the federal establishment, and subdued the federal establishment to northern control. The Federal Government became a ponderous, incompetent and hugely corrupt entity presuming to micro-manage all aspects and all corners of Nigeria, and the states became mostly impotent entities incapable of doing much for the well-being of their citizens. In the context of this monstrosity, corruption took over the life of Nigeria, and poverty and hopelessness became the lot of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. And this is how matters still stand today.

The demand for the restructuring of our federation is therefore a desperately important demand. It is about how to restore progress to our country and give all Nigerians a chance to hope again. Ultimately too, it is about whether our Nigeria will, or will not, survive as a country.

Those who are involved in this mission of saving Nigeria by demanding federal restructuring must never cease pointing out the example of India, a country that is very similar to Nigeria in ethnic composition. At independence in 1947, inter-ethnic conflicts threatened to break up India. The far northern provinces seceded and became independent countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the rest of the country seemed to be headed towards disintegration. Large numbers of Indians who wanted their country to survive embarked of a vigorous demand for a proper structuring of the Indian federation. The Indian politicians gradually yielded to these voices and saved their country by sensibly restructuring their federation on the basis of ethnic nationalities, and by devolving a lot of powers and resource development to the states. The larger nationalities became states; contiguous small nations joined hands to form states. India became a union of 28 states, each state designing its own internal structure and constitution. India then redistributed powers between the federal and state authorities, giving to the states control over their resources, and much more to the states than to the union in all revenue allocation. India did not only survive; it began to prosper.

Some of those who oppose the restructuring of the Nigerian federation usually voice the accusation that a desire to break up Nigeria, or to secede, is the real motive behind the call for the restructuring. Many who make such accusations are just “smart” politicians playing clever games – politicians who are using these accusations to hide their secret personal or ethnic agendas and vested interests. They are merely trying to obstruct.

However, there are some Nigerians who honestly and sincerely fear that using our nations as basis for the states of our federation could lead to secessions and the breaking up of our country. Some prominent Indians had the same kind of fear about India in the early 1950s too; but those fears have never materialized. Instead, India stabilized and grew stronger, because the nationalities became more comfortable about being part of India. Most Nigerians who want their nations to secede from Nigeria today are simply tired of Nigeria’s confusion, insane inequalities, corruption, and conflicts. If Nigeria becomes a more orderly and stable country, most of today’s desires for secession are likely to vanish – similar to what happened in India.

In summary, there are two options facing us Nigerians.  If we leave our federation as it is now concocted, with an irrational states structure and a federal authority that controls all aspects of our lives and virtually all our country’s assets, the obvious contradictions, and the inevitable deprivations and conflicts, will break up our country sooner or later. If we courageously do what the Indians did, and restructure our federation, using our nationalities as basis for state formation, and giving significant amounts of responsibilities, resources control and funding to the state authorities, the chances are that our country will survive and thrive.  This is a matter over which every Nigerian must step forward and speak up. President Buhari must take the lead.

NATION