22 June 2018

Nigeria: Restructure the Country Now!

opinion

In response to President Muhammadu Buhari's decision to validate the June 12, 1993 elections when he formally declared the day Nigeria's real Democracy Day and honoured the winner of that election, Chief Moshood Abiola with the nation's highest laurel, some elders across the country have appropriately used the opportunity to impress it on the president to lead the charge to restructure the country into a proper federal state it should be.

Indeed the leaders who spoke at different times from different parts of the country were unanimous in stating that if the President is sincere, the time to tinker with the political structure of the country is now. NADECO chieftain Amos Akingba, Chief Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere and President of Pan-Ndigbo National Forum all made it clear that if the President is sincere about stabilising the polity, he should do the needful by Nigerians. The sub-text is that if President Buhari does not summon enough courage to do this and place his name in gold, another leader would emerge and take the restructuring issue head-on as he himself has now done with the hitherto June 12 snafu.

Restructuring the polity is an idea which time has come. Let it be reiterated that restructuring is not synonymous with or tantamount to breaking up the country. Rather it is a roadmap to unleashing the full potentials of the sleeping giant that is Nigeria through its federating units. When fully implemented, each region or federating unit would concentrate on developing resources in which it has comparative advantage. The First Republic led by the Premiers - Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Michael Okpara and others demonstrated the beauty and strength that is federalism.

The regions were not beggarly. Regional ministers did not assemble monthly in Lagos to receive dole outs from the Federal Government. The Premiers pursued economic policies which guaranteed stability, independence and rapid development. The groundnut pyramids, the flourishing trade in cocoa, rubber, timber, and palm oil for example were legacies from that period. Tragically, from 1966, with Decree 34 promulgated by the Military Government of late Major General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi all vestiges of the federalist temper of the fledgling nation all but disappeared. The command-and-control structure of the military was imposed on the country. The downhill slide into autocracy and underdevelopment then began.

It is now time for a reversal. The impunity of the annulment of the June 12 election has been corrected by the incumbent President. What is left in terms of administrative machinery is the unhealthy political structure which the military foisted on Nigeria. From the 12-state structure of 1967, the 19-state structure of 1976, increased to 21 in 1991 through the 36 state-structure of 1996 the nation's rulers had been searching for a viable method of ensuring equity. No doubt, state-creation became an albatross, a monumental financial misadventure that has continued to stultify growth and development in the land. The extensive bureaucracy which arose from the creation of additional states has continued to gulp the lion share of funds. No clear economic rationale was deployed towards states-creation. The military politicians of the days of yore ensured a tilt of superiority in numbers towards a particular section of the country. This anomaly was also directed at the creation of local government areas.

The exclusive list concentrated powers and resources in the hands of an amorphous Federal Government. The Federal Government then started meddling in the affairs of the states. Indeed, one President made it clear that state governors should seek permission from his office before traveling outside the country. That was the height of the ludicrous in the relationship between the states and the Federal Government. Thus, the states began to solely depend on allocations from the federal coffers. This became deeply entrenched with the arrival of cheap oil money. When states do not labour or invest in developing their own resources they can hardly meet their obligations.

As starting point, the report of the 2014 National Conference should be re-visited. Working in tandem with the National Assembly, the low hanging fruits of restructuring should be harvested before the next general elections. Security is crucial. The current structure of the Nigeria Police is peculiar. The sheer geographical size of Nigeria makes the idea of central policing ineffective and unacceptable. The Federating units of the country should have their Police Forces. Also, the Federal Government should remove itself from running and maintaining schools at the primary and secondary levels. These should be in the hands of the states or local governments. The percentage of resources which accrues to the states should be increased; in other words, the revenue allocation formula should be revised. The Federal Government should focus on defence, currency and foreign relations.

Finally, the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government should begin the process of devolution of powers to the states. This is the only path to growth and rapid progress. The government should think out of the box and throw its fixations on the impracticable form of government we currently run into the dustbin of history. Nowhere in the world is Nigeria's brand of federalism practised. Let no one play the ostrich. Let Nigeria's leaders who hitherto preached, canvassed federalism not deceive themselves into thinking that the people have forgotten their promises in the build-up to the last elections. This nation needs men of character and integrity who will honour their words after securing power.

Mr. President should be such a man and restructure the country now!

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