Nigeria seems to be shaking from the multiple calls for restructuring amid secessionist threats by the Indigenous People of Biafra. Any attempt by the Federal Government to disregard the agitations, according to political analysts, portends great repercussions for the nation, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
An American journalist, satirist and cultural critic, Henry Mencken [1880-1956], once wrote that “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Similarly, in his July 8, 1938 address at Ohio, United States of America, the 32nd president of the country, Franklin Roosevelt [1882-1945], said of the government and democracy, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
Both Mencken’s and Roosevelt’s words would perhaps be apt at this time in the history of Nigeria, where lots of conversation have been ongoing about restructuring.
Almost every week in the past several months, there have been several voices, from every nook and cranny of the country, calling for restructuring.
There are those who believe that the country had been mired in many crises, including the Fulani herdsmen problem, agitations by Niger Delta militants and secession threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra, because the current federalism being run in the country is simply not working.
As of October 1, 1960, when Nigeria gained independence, it had three political regions: East, North and West, but a fourth one emerged through the democratic process from the Western Region with the name “Midwestern Region” on August 17, 1963, after the result of the July 13, 1963 Referendum.
During this era in Nigeria’s history, trade in palm produce was a dominant feature in the Eastern region. Palm trees provided fronds for roofing of houses in the villages, palm wine for drinking and palm kernels as source of foreign exchange income.
By 1954 after World War II, demand for palm produce skyrocketed and generated an income of £54m for the region. Employment in farming and agriculture was a significant source of income for many residents engaged in yam farming and fishery.
Also in the region in the 1960s, the government promoted rubber, cocoa and palm grove schemes to increase the output of cash crops, while establishing farm settlements at various places to encourage agriculture.
In the same region, the Enugu coal mines were one of the few coal mines and steel plants in operation in West Africa as of 1963.
In terms of income generation, the Northern region was also prosperous as the groundnut and cotton industries in the province of Kano provided a huge source of revenue. Tin mining took place in the Province of Plateau, steel mining in the Province of Benue and other metal industries in the Province of Sokoto made up the diverse mining industry of the country.
The cement industries in Sokoto and Bauchi and leather processing industries in Kano constituted a major bulk of the country’s manufacturing sector.
The Western region also had a highly lucrative cocoa industry, with which the then premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo [1909 – 1987], used to provide free primary education for all citizens, free health care for children, and established the first television service in Africa, among others.
However, after the first military coup of January 15, 1966, under the short-lived military government of Aguiyi-Ironsi, the country was reorganised under a central government.
A month later, following the counter-coup of July 28, 1966 which resulted in Aguiyi-Ironsi’s deposition and assassination, Nigeria was reorganised as a federal country, with the three main regions being divided into states.
As oil was discovered and became a promising source of income for the country, the Federal Government started operating a financial structure in which all proceeds from oil sale came to a Federation Account, from which funds were then disbursed to the states and local government areas.
As contained in the revenue sharing formula, 52.68 per cent of oil revenue is allocated to the Federal Government, 26.70 per cent to states and 20.60 per cent to local government areas.
This new structure, in which some Northern non-oil-producing states are getting more revenue from the Federation Account than the South-South states, was believed to have culminated in militancy in the Niger Delta and secession threats by those who believe they have been marginalised and ought to be controlling the oil resource in their domain.
Some also believe that a situation whereby states always depend on monthly allocations from the Federal Government has made governors to be lazy in exploring the resources in their states for profit.
Hence, this scenario has led to calls for restructuring by several groups and individuals across the country, stating that there was a need for the government to merge similar groups as regions for effective allocation of resources.
Those who had clamoured for this in time past include the pan-Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere Renewal Movement through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin; Ohaneze Ndigbo through its late Secretary General, Chief Ralph Uwechue; and the Ijaw National Congress through its former National President, Mr. Joshua Benameisigha.
They had all canvassed that the current six zonal divisions be recognised in Nigeria’s constitution and be strengthened to function as federating units in the new structure for Nigeria.
A Niger Delta activist, Chief Nengi James, also said for all sections of the country to become one entity, the geopolitical zones must be recognised in the constitution, adding that there should be devolution of powers so that the geopolitical zones could become autonomous and manage the resources within their territories in a Federal Nigeria.
One of the vocal proponents of restructuring, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has also since 2016 been clamouring for restructuring, saying it is the only solution to several problems confronting the country.
Recently, the All Progressives Congress Governors Forum also joined the call for restructuring and true federalism, noting that the issue transcends religion and ethnicity.
The forum had said the focus of restructuring would be to restore the principle of non-centralisation of powers in the country’s federal arrangement being the defining element of a federal polity.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s Governors Forum had also backed their APC counterpart.
Recently, several youth groups in the North issued a quit ultimatum to all the Igbo in the region to leave, while calling on all Northerners living in the South to also leave there and return to the North.
This action had generated a lot of hate speeches between the Northern and Southern youths, a situation which made Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to convene a meeting of all Northern and Southern leaders towards restoring peace.
Also a believer in restructuring, a former Governor of Abia State, Chief Uzor Kalu, said the process would bring an end to several agitations in the country.
A member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Henry Ufongo (Bayelsa, PDP), had also said restructuring was the only tool capable of resolving the current agitations threatening the country’s unity.
Joining the calls for restructuring recently was the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, which is also of the belief that restructuring will end the agitation for secession by some ethnic nationalities.
The organisation had also called for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report, which was convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Some believe the report addressed some of the major issues affecting the country, including revenue allocation, herdsmen crisis, other insecurity challenges, resource control, among others.
However, two years after President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, his administration has yet to look into the report neither has it acted on calls for restructuring.
Rather, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, recently said restructuring was not in its agenda but fight against corruption and insecurity.
But a Benue-based political analyst, Dr. Richard Ujah, said should the Federal Government keep refusing to heed people’s calls for restructuring, there would continue to be agitations and secession threats, which might eventually lead to bigger problems.
He said since democracy is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” it was the job of the Buhari administration to listen to the yearnings of the people for restructuring.
He said, “Right from time, this system we’re practising has not been working, we are simply just on the same spot. Restructuring the country means powers will be divolved from the Federal Government and states would have more control over their resources, while contributing to the purse of the Federal Government. This is what used to be.
“If a particular set of people keep thinking they’re being cheated and marginalised, they will keep threatening secession, they will keep making hate speeches, they will keep disturbing the peace of the country.
“Look at the Biafra issue, look at the Niger Delta militancy, these issues would have been long resolved if we had restructured, but it is not too late. Otherwise, if we keep pretending and acting like things are normal, we are just going to escalate issues and the situation will degenerate further.”
In her opinion, the Executive Director of Abuja-based Social Justice for Women, Mrs. Janet Olukokun, said it was high time the Federal Government realised that keeping the country away from collapse depended on it.
She said if it would be the only achievement of the Buhari administration, it should not shy away from having a look on the restructuring conversation.
She said, “Where we are today is because we always pretend things are normal. The increasing tension in the country is worrisome, talking about militancy in the Niger Delta, rampaging Fulani herdsmen and the new face of Boko Haram. These issues should never be ignored.
“If we continue to shy away from these issues and fail to restructure, I think there’s fire on the mountain. Our unity and stability are threatened. It will not take this government anything to take urgent steps to douse this tension in order to restore the hope of one and indivisible Nigeria.”
Addressing a topic: “Are Changes in the Federal Structure of Nigeria Required for Better Governance?” an American Professor of Political Science whose research works focus on African politics, democratisation, political economy, and international security, Richard Joseph, said rather than contemplate of breaking up, democracy could work better for the country if the citizens would sit and decide together on which type of federalism was suitable for the country.
Stating that there were different types of federalism, Joseph said the country should decide which one it wanted to adopt that would make things work.
“There have been lots of conversation on having true federalism in Nigeria, but what is true or false federalism? What I know is there are variants of federalism and the type that is suitable for Nigeria will be different from what is suitable for Kenya,” he said.
In his opinion, a Lagos-based lawyer and political analyst, Mr. Kazeem Ojo, told our correspondent that Nigeria should learn from the way federalism is being practised in countries like US, Canada and Germany.
He said, “For instance, each state in the US controls its own resources, the Federal Government does not share money, so corruption is greatly minimised. Once each region knows it is responsible for its destiny, struggles and agitations will diminish.
“If we keep running this flawed federalism of ours, the agitations will continue. A tribe will keep saying it is marginalised or cheated. A feeling of being cheated always causes bitterness and this can lead to war. The Federal Government really needs to take the restructuring call seriously.”
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Source: The Punch