The debate for and against the restructuring of Nigeria has of recent, dominated, more than every other issue, the national discourse. Daily Trust on Sunday has spoken to 10 prominent Nigerians on their views about the burning national issue.
From Hope Abah, Makurdi
A former minister of steel, Chief Paul Unongo, in this interview added his voice to the current heated debate about restructuring of Nigeria.
What exactly is your understanding of this restructuring of Nigeria that has dominated the communication space in the past few weeks?
I’m not one of the people talking about restructuring. The first question I have always asked is what those who talk about restructuring mean, but from what I have gathered from the press, it means secession. A young man by the name Kanu wants to secede and resurrect Biafra and the Nigerian press, international press, as well as other people are giving him so much attention as if he is doing something new. Some people also said it is all about fiscal federalism so that they can control resources in their own states. Yet others want the presidential system of government to be abandoned so that we can go back to regionalism just like parliamentary system of government when the premiers such as the late Obafemi Awolowo, Nmandi Azikwe and Ahmadu Bello held sway. There are others who don’t even like the old regional system but want autonomous regional powers for the six geopolitical zones.
Restructuring, to me, means nothing. It’s just politics to me. Nigerians when they want to talk, they just talk and talk. We have been restructuring, we had a three regional government and we have had a parliamentary system. When the military intervened, they pretended that the system didn’t work because they wanted to change governance. The concentration was to end northern hegemony. The first coup had eliminated northern dominance from power, politics and governance as there were selective killings of northern leadership. The military hierarchy became dominated by the Igbo while the rank and file was mainly of northern extraction. There was a feeling that it was not a revolution but a deliberate planned killings and elimination of leadership from a particular part of the country so as to impose another section of the country. So, by July 1966, there was a replay and the northerners made a comeback. So, when people are talking about restructuring, I hope that they understand history and the sort of thing they are referring to.
So, what do you mean by restructuring? Do we need reforms? Yes. Are reforms being made? Yes. Do we need all the noises being made? No. Do we need all the people of Nigeria to be gathered and we truncate constitutionalism and ask the people to rewrite the constitution? I have never seen a country that has written so many constitutions as Nigeria. I would have sympathy for argument that thinks that the constitution handed to Nigerians by the military through a fiat does not truly represent what they want. If the people also does not want the leadership in place now, then the way forward would be for the country’s president to organise a sovereign national conference.
It is the manifestation of frustration – Tofa
Alhaji Bahir Uthman Tofa, a former presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), said the clamour for restructuring is a result of frustrations in sections of the country.
What is your take on the agitations for restructuring of Nigeria?
Most of the agitators for restructuring of Nigeria are doing so out of one frustration or the other and which concerns them alone. It had become clear today in Nigeria that when any group of people talks about restructuring of Nigeria, it is mostly speaking in reference to its own frustrations about the country.
In my opinion, the agitation for restructuring of Nigeria centered around three things: marginalisation, dominance of others in their regions and resources, and opportunity distribution.
So, if we can sit and carefully sort out these three issues intelligently and with love of our country at heart, I am sure we shall be right and Nigeria can progress in all ramifications and certainly become a great country.
Physical restructuring of Nigeria can be done only on the map of Nigeria, but it can hardly be achieved in reality. In my view, if Nigeria can have patriotic leaders to steer its affairs with equity, the country can excel in all areas of human endeavours because governance is all about correct leadership.
It means giving powers to regions – Igbe
From Victor Edozie, Port Harcourt
Chief Anabs Sara Igbe is a prominent Ijaw leader. He believes in one united Nigeria based on true federalism.
I believe in one united Nigeria. I will not support the call or any move for a breakup. We will fare better if we remain one indivisible country. But my take is that there should be restructuring based on true federalism. The centre is too strong. There should be devolution of power, where the regional components of the country should determine their fate. I want a restructuring where there should be true federalism as enshrined in the 1960 constitution.
The regional component of the federating units should be allowed to control their resources. The people of the Niger Delta have borne the brunt so much as it affects the oiling of Nigeria’s economy. A true restructuring that entrenches the principle of true federalism is what I stand for, and that is the only way there can be peace, justice and equity.
It is a political ballgame – Prof Yadudu
A constitutional lawyer and former legal adviser to General Sani Abacha believes that the subject of restructuring is difficult to pin to one objective.
What do you understand by restructuring of Nigeria?
Well, it is difficult for one to understand what people refer to as restructuring because of the different meanings people apportion to it. Secessionists consider their action as restructuring.
From the South-East view of restructuring, it can be understood as a political ballgame that is engaged when there is a pending election. And, of course, some consider restructuring to amount to the implementation of the 2014 national political conference, and if you speak to resource-control people, they will consider absolute control over resources as restructuring.
Personally, I think there are certain things that are outside the realm of the reasonable. Whatever idea one has of restructuring, one must be able to bring it within the power of the existing constitutional stipulations and legal requirements. Now, if you take the secessionist idea of restructuring, it has no place in our constitution, but if you take the political ballgame, well that it is understandable. But if you consider restructuring to affect the functions of governmental institutions, re-adjustment of the organs of state or the powers between the states and the Federal Government, clearly, this is not something that we will have any problem with because the existing constitutional order has a prescription on how to go about this kind of restructuring.
For instance, if the South-East wants an additional state, nothing prevents them from following the provisions of Section 8, which has spelt out the steps to follow, get the commitment of the people in identifying the area that wants the state to be created, get their understanding, get the members of National Assembly and the state assemblies and the local people to agree and then submit it to the National Assembly. And if there is such an agreement, then the National Assembly may accept that. So, there is a legal way of doing it.
Therefore, the talk about restructuring, to me, is a political ballgame that can be better understood when analysed within the context of the existing legal order or the constitutional provisions. Assuming Nigerians are able to come to terms with whichever idea of restructuring is involved, then we can play it at the political platform or within the existing constitutional framework. If, for instance, you think that the Federal Government has secured a set of powers and functions or resources available to it and you want to reduce it, all you need to do is to look at Second and Third Schedule of the constitution, think around the exclusive list and the concurrent list, then devolve more powers to the states or to the local governments, period.
It is a call for return to pre-1966 system – Mr Yinka Odumakin
From Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos
Those who are currently in government in Nigeria do not love this country. If they love this country, the cheapest option for all of us is restructuring, to guarantee happiness for everybody and, of course, those separatists who are running away can be called back and we can build a united country based on justice, equity, fair play and equal opportunities.
And they are blind to the benefits of restructuring. It would make every part of this country prosperous and most of the conflicts we are having now would disappear. There is no way you can run a country like Nigeria along this line and not face the kind of stress we are facing at the moment. So, if this government loves this country, this is the time to restructure the country because a time is coming that if the crisis drags on, they would be begging for restructuring and they would not see it. They would be hawking restructuring, they would not find buyers.
The South-East is asking for self-determination, the South-South is doing the same thing, the Middle Belt, just came clearly that they are Middle Belt, not Arewa, and Abuja indigenes are saying they are going to call the United Nations to come and supervise how they manage their own lives. So, the country is breaking into pieces virtually as we are talking and we are saying let us come together, let’s buy back the confidence of everybody by restoring us back to where we were before 1966, that is what we are asking for.
It is well articulated. Restore us back to where we were before the military struck in 1966. We had a federal constitution at Independence which the 1999 Constitution was built upon. That was the time when every region was managing its development at its pace. In the South-West where I come from, what we achieved in Western Region under that arrangement, we have not seen it since 1966. So, pure and simple, take us back to where we were before 1966, that is what restructuring is all about.
It is a means to capture power in 2019 – Agbakoba
From Nurudeen Oyewole, Lagos
A former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and human rights activist, Olisa Agbakoba, argues that restructuring is a ploy of the political class to capture power in 2019.
A debate has been going back and forth between proponents and antagonists of restructuring. What is your position on this?
Yes, some people have advocated restructuring as the solution. Restructuring is conceptually wrong without reviewing why it is needed. Restructuring will also not work in the context of a military democracy and political elite conspiracy. The agitation for restructuring is a political calculation for 2019. Most politicians advocating restructuring today will abandon it when they get power.
Again, if you ask the ordinary Nigerians on the streets, the buzzword ‘restructure’, what does it mean? They don’t know. They don’t understand. So, I’m asking Nigerians to be weary of politicians.
They may come up with any arrangement which may be in the All Progressives Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other platform as the election approaches. And because Nigerians are easily fooled, we will still go out and vote for them, and after the election, they get what they want and carry on by still inflicting the same pain they campaigned against to get power. So it becomes a vicious circle that must be broken.
I do not see the 2014 conference solving the country’s problems. And the reason being that the cleavages through which the national cohesion is being turned down are many and deeper than what the agitators of restructuring are pointing at. If you do not solve the national question and you simply create new regions, you will be transferring the problems that made federalism difficult to operate to the regions.
For instance, if you group people of South-South into one region, how do you solve the question of identities between Ijaw and Itshekiri men? How do you address what the non-Fulani in the North are saying about the Fulani? So, how do we address different agitations because virtually everything has been balkanised.
Religions are balkanized. Ethinic groups are balkanised. The Civil Society Organiations are balkanised. The only institution that remains intact in Nigeria is the political institution of the elite because they all speak one language, and that is power. It is a language they all understand, whether in the APC, PDP or whatever grouping.
So, as a people we must first come together and agree to live together. Then we can start talking about the structure to adopt. In other words, restructuring is the second step and not the first. We have to define how to live together first.
What Nigeria needs is a new deal, and the present political elite cannot deliver because of entrenched personal interest. Going forward, the civil society needs to wrest power from this ruling political elite to achieve a new system that is inclusive and works for all and not a few. Nigerians need to determine if they want to stay together and under what arrangement. I believe Nigeria needs federalism.
The fault lies with the operators, not the system – Chief Ralph Obioha
From Tony Adibe, Enugu
Chief Ralph Obioha, a chieftain of the apex Igbo socio-cultural association, Ohanaeze Ndi- Igbo, was a member of the House of Reps from 1979 to 1973, during which he was chairman, House Committee on Finance. He later founded and became national chairman of the Justice Party (JP). In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, he spoke on the ‘refrain’ by Nigerians called ‘restructuring’, giving reasons why he is against it.
What’s your understanding of restructuring which most Nigerians are talking about now?
In Nigeria, there’s always a particular lingua at any given time, the latest is restructuring. But most of the time when you ask people what is restructuring, they take it from all kinds of angles. Some term it as fiscal responsibility. Some regard it as regionalism. Some say it is the federation. But to me, the best I can say is that restructuring is for people to develop according to their own pace. I must tell you that we have already in Nigeria a system which the operators are not operating well.
Nigeria at the moment is a constitutional federation with 36 component parts and a federal territory. So we have restructured on a federal system, but the question is: Is the federal system working well? I believe it is the operators that are making it not to work. I do not subscribe to restructuring for the sake of restructuring.
What Nigeria should aspire today is to look for a transformational leader, a leader that will take up all Nigerians as equal partners in the project, a leader that will do the needful to get the country to be moving on a progressive front. There are so many issues and problems that are affecting the country now.
When I mentioned transformational leader I mean a president in Nigeria that recognizes very basic things, and these basic things cut across all the divides. Everybody in Nigeria wants a good family, good schools, good hospitals, electricity, law and order, security of lives and property. These things are basic things that a transformational leader could bring an able team of Nigerians and start to put them in place.
The system is already decentralised. There are 36 states and there is a revenue sharing formula in which the Federal Government keeps even a smaller portion of it. What I believe is that people should make, even in the units that are federating – which is the 36 states – is that the governors of those states should be accountable to the reduced units. Can anybody in their right conscience say today that the governors in the states are delivering? The truth of the matter is that they are not delivering. So examples abound everyday in the wastages of this country. And we’re always trying to miss where the real issues and problems are. Any of the governments in the states that really apply what they get from the federation account to do these basic things that I’ve been calling for, to provide good schools, roads, health facilities, electricity and other essentials of life, will be seen as doing well.
So restructuring depends on who you talk to about it. Tomorrow, I can tell you, Nigerians will drop restructuring and then look for something else and may be this time they will call it ‘arbitrage’. We’re always in a season of a certain language and everybody jumps on it and start hammering on restructuring.
I’m not in support of restructuring because nobody has actually been able to define what it means. Restructuring as defined by people of certain regions of this country is different from what people on the other side of the Niger may be saying. They have mixed restructuring now with revenue allocation. They have put it into fiscal responsibility. Some people have put it into ‘develop at your own pace.’ Some are saying regionalism. What exactly do they mean?
It is about regional government and … – Balarabe Musa
From Andrew Agbese, Kaduna
Alhaji Balarabe Musa, a former governor of Kaduna State, said the agitation for restructuring in the country stemmed from people’s dissatisfaction with the system and the government.
The reason for the increase in the recent clamour for the restructuring of the country is due to the dissatisfaction with both the system and the government.
If the government has been competent and has been satisfying the needs of the people, there wouldn’t have been this surge. Even if there is, it would have taken a different turn.
But those clamouring for it and those against it have not agreed among themselves on what they really mean. So it tends to be confusing.
But if you go by the true meaning of restructuring, then you would see there’s the need to restructure the country.
We have lived for 100 years, even this alone calls for a review to examine what we have achieved within this period and where we have failed.
This review is necessary but unfortunately this is not what those calling for restructuring are talking about.
Their clamour is based on three things, clamour for power, resource control and the issue of ethnic nationalities.
Well, these are part of the things to be restructured, but they don’t define what restructuring is all about.
So, restructuring is a very good thing, but the way it is being presented in Nigeria makes it scary.
Those who mean well for this country, who want true restructuring for efficiency, national unity and development should stand up and bring about true restructuring.
For me, Nigeria requires true restructuring in four respects, the first is reconciliation. Let us as Nigerians reconcile ourselves to feel united and have a sense of belonging instead of doubting our unity.
This should deemphasize the clamour for Oduduwa Republic, Biafra or Arewa. These are separatist tendencies fueled by the elite.
Secondly, let us have political restructuring. We have discovered the inefficiency of the 36 states. We have a system where the states cannot even survive, cannot even pay workers and are doing so many things wrongly and none of them is strong enough to stand as a federating unit. Let’s go back to the regional arrangement whereby we can have a federation of six regions. Each region should be able to solve its own problems without referring to the Federal Government. The Federal Government can give guidance and ensure national unity, but let the regions be capable to take care of themselves.
Thirdly is the economy itself. Let the economy be restructured. What is happening now is the departure from the past where the state controlled the economy.
Instead of the state playing the leading role in the economy, its function has been minimised.
The economy has been privatised, so the deciding factor is self interest, not public interest. This must be changed, the state must play the leading role in the economy.
It represents enthronement of justice, fairness, equity – Chief Bode George
For a PDP chieftain, Chief Bode George, restructuring is what Nigerians want at the moment.
Do you support the call for restructuring?
Absolutely. I was a delegate to the National Conference of 2014. That was the only national conference this country has ever had that was convened by a civilian administration that started and ended without any fiasco. Unanimously, all those resolutions were adopted on the plenary session at the floor, all thrown open. The history of this country must not go down without a big thank you to Justice Idris Kutigi and former President Jonathan. Jonathan never interfered to manipulate, and say, do this, do that. Baba Kutigi was decent, humane, a thoroughbred Nigerian. He rose above the frills of tribalism or annoyance; no matter what people said, even in anger, he would reply with smiles. He brought down all the tension in that hall. I had never seen Nigerians so united. The most sensible thing to do is for the government to revisit that document, throw it to the National Assembly and let them open it up because justice, fairness and equity must be the tripod that will stabilise this country. What was perceived as the majority versus minority, North versus South was resolved.
People are just misinterpreting it. Yes, people will have various ideas, comments and all that, but there must be a meeting point and there must be compromises. The National Conference document is the compromise version. Agitations from all nooks and crannies of this country are saying what they want. In the end, everybody may not get all the things they want but they won’t go home empty-handed.
It will give more effect to our federalism – Chekwas Okorie
From Tony Adibe, Enugu
Chekwas Okorie is of the opinion that only restructuring can bring out the true meaning of Nigeria’s federalism.
As the founding national chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), I must say that Nigeria needs quick restructuring in order to bring about a balance in the political structure of the country.
You ask my definition of restructuring? I think restructuring is a means of striking a balancing act in the nation’s political structure to give more effect to the true meaning of a federation. I have to add that there is urgent need, despite all odds, for the country to restructure in order to make rapid progress in every sector of the nation’s life.
I think the critical components of a federation are the federating units, but sadly, here in Nigeria, the situation differs, unlike in the United States of America from where Nigeria copied her presidential or federal system of government.
Don’t forget that in a true federation like the USA, matters such as foreign affairs, internal security, immigration, and such major issues are left in the exclusive lists of the federation while things like education, health, electricity are left in the concurrent lists for the states to handle. But it is unfortunate that in Nigeria almost everything is handled by the Federal Government, thereby leaving virtually nothing for the federating states or units to take charge of.
I want to make it clear that a system of administration which permits such practices as quota system, educationally disadvantaged people, federal character, and things like that would not enhance the growth and even development of the country since such system lacks fairness, equity and justice.
Here we have a country where to get admission into a tertiary institution, the system or structure allows a candidate who has 90 scores to be denied admission while in the same country, a candidate that has 30 scores or less is given the same admission because of where he/she comes from. So how do you call that a true federation or a well structured country?
But here again, we are in a country called a federation where people say alcohol is not, and will not be sold in their part of the country, but the same people who reject the sale of alcohol also benefit from the revenue from the sale of alcohol. What kind of federation is that? Is it not hypocrisy? And these are some of the things that need to be properly placed.
I tell you something, in a real federation, all sections of the federating units matter; hence there is usually room for healthy competition during which all the federating units make their contributions to the growth and development of the federation. In a true federation, every Nigerian will be equal. There will be no difference in treatment given to the citizen based on religion or ethnicity, culture or tradition.
Besides, on security matters, I have always called for the introduction of a state police, which I believe would go a long way in curbing crime and criminality in the federating units even to the grassroots. I should add that the benefit of state police and community policing cannot be over-emphasized. If the police men are asked to police their immediate community, they will not allow criminals to operate. Even during the National Conference of 2014, I, alongside some other prominent Nigerians, called for the introduction of state police as a way of tackling crime in the country. These are some of the issue that have to be addressed to strike a balance in the structure of our dear country, Nigeria.