First of all, it needs no emphasising the fact that the current political structure in Nigeria works only for a select few at the detriment of the larger majority. The only group of people that seem to benefit – in real terms- from government in Nigeria are those in government. To that extent there is the need to revisit certain key aspects of Nigeria’s political structure with a view to reviewing it and ensuring that government works for all, not only a select few. This is in line with section 33(1) of the constitution which entitles every citizen to a decent life.
Clearly, there is the need to revisit certain key ingredients of Nigeria’s political structure such as the revenue sharing formula which concentrates too much resources and authority at the centre (federal), the 3-tier system which excludes the grassroots ward level from the scheme of things, the over-bloated civil service structure which drains national and state budget, etc. Indeed, if the dividends of democracy are to be effectively delivered to the people, these issues need to be reviewed and the relevant sections of the 1999 constitution amended accordingly.
Of course, only the legislature/national Assembly has the constitutional powers to review and amend the constitution accordingly as contained in section 9(1), (2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution
The legislature makes laws, the judiciary interprets the laws while the executive arm implements as contained in the doctrine of separation of powers under sections 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 constitution (as altered).
Indeed, some of the 68 items in the exclusive legislative list as contained in the second schedule Part 1 of the 1999 constitution should be transferred to the concurrent list even if to empower the grassroots ward and local government levels.
The 1999 constitution (as altered) is clear on the powers of the National Assembly to review and amend any political structure of the country as contained in the constitution. For example, section 2(2) and 3(1) of the 1999 constitution provides that Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of 36 states and the FCT. Therefore, for the country to go back to regions as proposed by the ‘restructurinists’, this section must be altered by the National Assembly accordingly.
Curiously, when people talk about restructuring today, they don’t attach the constitutional role of the National Assembly in the scheme of things. This could be because of the seeming lack of trust and obvious disconnect between most Nigerians and their representatives at the legislature. As a matter of fact, the unreadiness of the proponents of ‘restructuring’ to go through their representatives at the National Assembly and sponsor a bill to that effect lends credence to the notion that indeed, some people calling for ‘restructuring’ have a hidden agenda. They may mean something else – not restructuring- as some people think the debate is really about secession not restructuring.
Some of those calling for restructuring in the context of regionalism know full well that secession is a rather sensitive one so they changed it to ‘restructuring. From regions, you are moving closer to secession. Isn’t it?
In any case, restructuring can turn out to be the junior sister of secession if not handled professionally, carefully and based on the provisions of the 1999 constitution. This debate has to follow due process else it could go wrong
Why can’t the proponents of restructuring sponsor a bill at the National Assembly to push for restructuring and review any aspects of the constitution they feel strongly about? In any case, the debate on restructuring may end up only on the pages of Newspapers and social media unless due process and the provisions of the 1999 constitution are followed.
Another option to host any restructuring debates would have been to organise another jamboree in the name of ‘constitutional conference’ or ‘national conference’ etc. It really looks like this is the option the proponents of restructuring are looking at.
Another constitutional conference to discuss restructuring may turn out to be yet another jamboree. Indeed, the question needs to be asked as to what benefits accrued to the country from the huge funds invested to sponsor the 2014 constitutional conference or even the 1995-96 conference? Both ended up as mere talk shows.
These past conferences were characterised by infighting between the Northern and Southern delegates. The delegates couldn’t even agree on what is to be written as recommendations in the final report. Secondly, the few points the conference was able to put together in a ‘report’ have not been released . No report of the 2014 conference has been released. None of the recommendations has been implemented! What a waste!
Thirdly, the constitutionality of the 2014 national conference and any such conference is a suspect because the constitution is clear that only the National Assembly should handle matters relating to amendments/review of the constitution. A body separate from the National Assembly cannot take decisions on key issues such as resource control etc albeit they can make recommendations.
In the light of the 3 reasons adduced above, there is obviously no reason to create any constitutional conference on restructuring. Let everything go to the national assembly as provided in the constitution.
However, all these impediments to restructuring related to constitutionality and implementation do not seem to be the key problems to restructuring. The main problem is the lack of a clear format and acceptable model for restructuring. If there is no agreement as to what format restructuring should take, how can the idea be implemented?
WHAT IS RESTRUCTURING?
Clearly, there is no-one meaning or consensus on restructuring in Nigeria today. Each region seems to have its own meaning and model of restructuring. This is a big problem to making any headway in the debate on restructuring.
By politically motivated academic standards, restructuring can be defined as:
‘Systematic policy changes which come naturally within the context of laid down procedure and constitutional provisions’
Restructuring cannot come in a flash and overnight. It is a gradual process.
Without doubt, the current political structure in Nigeria is not working but how is it going to be changed without contravening the provisions of the 1999 constitution?
Even with the discordant tunes and seeming disagreement regarding an acceptable model of restructuring, one thing which seem to be certain amongst the proponents of restructuring is that they want a return to the 1963 constitution and a regional arrangement. This is not possible under a democratic dispensation until sections 2(2) and 3(1) of the 1999 constitution are amended by the National Assembly.
The combined effects of these relevant sections of the constitution makes Nigeria a federation consisting of 36 states and the FCT. To this extent, the proponents of restructuring must go to the national Assembly and start the process of constitutional amendment from there. Even if there was any adhoc constitutional conference to discuss restructuring, any recommendations therefrom must be passed by the National Assembly and the constitution amended before they become law.
Although there is divided opinion on what restructuring means in Nigeria, a rather conservative definition of restructuring based on the regions is as follows:
SOUTH WEST (Yoruba) : Let’s go back to the 1963 constitution and regional structure. Regional integration is the way forward within a loose federation where all the ingredients of true federalism are present.
SOUTH-EAST (Igbo): Let’s do with some restructuring as a fall back since secession cannot be achieved but let each region keep its revenue and pay royalty to the centre. We are very close to oil in the Niger Delta.
SOUTH- SOUTH: Full resource control. Let each region control its resources. We can pay royalties to the centre. This oil belongs to us only. We are not being respected in Nigeria. Why?
NORTH (Hausa-Fulani): Look, we are not really interested in restructuring. Let the unity of Nigeria be preserved. We are not really enjoying any extras from government. As a matter of fact, the south benefits more from government than the North. Just look at the difference in level of poverty in the North (88%) and the South (27%). Look at the level of insecurity in the North. However, changes will come naturally with time.
MIDDLE BELT: We don’t know what you people are talking about but we are sick and tired of this domination. Please sort yourselves out and let everyone have the right bearing in this country. The devil you know is better than the saint you don’t know. Our farms are being encroached by herders and we can’t go to farm as normal.
Even within the regions, there are disagreements over the form that restructuring should take. For example, what is restructuring to Lagos may not be restructuring to Ondo. Lagos wants a special status, more revenue from VAT as about 70 Kobo of every N1 spent in Nigeria comes from Lagos. Ondo is an oil producing state and enjoys the 13% derivation so they would prefer every region to retain its revenue and pay royalties to the centre.
Indeed, if restructuring means going back to regions, will the south south (thought to have been liberated from its neighbour after the creation of 12 states in 1967) agree to join the south East as one region?
Will the present 19 states in the northern region agree to collapse into one northern region? These are scenarios that should be carefully assessed to fully understand the context of restructuring.
Again, if the current 6 geopolitical structure is to be retained, will each geopolitical zone be made a region under restructuring? If so, how will that affect the ethnic minorities? will they be happy being subsumed into a marriage of convenience with the bigger ethnic groups? So many questions than answers.
THE WAY FORWARD
Nigeria will not break up. Not in our life time.
The earlier we realise this fact and stop wasting time on threats about secession, the better.
Rather than dissipating energy on threats to secede, Nigerians should continue to devise ways to live peacefully and happily together in a federation where everyone is given their dues. Human beings deserve respect from their governments regardless of their ethnic, sectional or regional affiliation.
Clearly, those who agitate for restructuring have every right under the constitution to do so as long as they follow due and laid down constitutional process. The laid down procedure here is to go through the National Assembly.
Agitations for restructuring are the aggregate of frustrations from bad governance over several decades. Only good governance can check out the agitation for restructuring.
The agitations for restructuring didn’t start today. They started way back before the civil war when people who lost out in the power equation called for secession. After the civil war and failure to break Nigeria up in 1967, the proponents changed their tune to what they called ‘sovereign national conference (SNC)’. That didn’t work so they found another title under the current civilian democratic system which they called ‘restructuring’.
There are clear possibilities that the proponents of restructuring may innovate new terms such as ‘redesign’ realignment, reorganisation, reshuffle etc to replace the term restructuring when the term is no longer fashionable.
LEGISLATION AGAINST SECESSION AND TERRORISM.
Some people are likely to use the debate on restructuring to further inflame embers of discord and put the country in edge. This calls for new and very strong legislation against any individual or groups who promote any break up of Nigeria in whatever form. In this regard, there should be special laws prescribing strong penalties for anyone convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for supporting or working covertly or overtly towards the break up of Nigeria, be that person a terrorist or secessionist. This will serve as a deterrent to wannabe secessionists, terrorists and their agents and establish the fact that the interest of Nigeria is over and above the interest of all of us either individually or collectively.
The time for the young generation to take over power in Nigeria is now.
Our dear country needs the right crop of young and vibrant leaders to bring new ideas into governance in line with the digital era and global best practices. Unless, the right leadership emerges that can spread economic opportunities and create jobs for our teeming unemployed youths, ensure a fair spread of the enormous wealth in this country to ALL citizens not just those in government, then for so long there will be agitations for a restructuring of the polity.
DR ABUBAKAR ALKALI