Some elder statesmen added their voices to the clamour for the restructuring of the country amid new realignments. The issue remains divisive as it means different things to different people. CHIBUZO UKAIBE captures the debate
By and large, the obvious consensus that the country is experiencing aggravating systemic failure has not been matched with the much needed practical political consensus yet.
While some personalities opposed to the new clamour for restructuring believe the narrative around the subject smacks of selfish political leverage ahead of 2019, in the camp of those who support a shake up in the system, a lack of consensus on what form it should take remains a nagging issue.
In the camp of the latter, there are those calling for a revisit of 2014 Confab report, others believe that a fresh round of discussion should be held. Others, like the National Assembly believe they should drive the process, hence their demand for restructuring in light of working with the 2014 document, which interestingly, the executive is yet to endorse.
Recall that President Mohammadu Buhari had clearly distanced his administration from the 2014 report, a situation that is yet to change even in the face of new calls for its revisit.
Still, rising tensions within the polity has jolted many stakeholders into buying into the call for restructuring.
The clamour for restructuring received a major boost, last week from former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd) in Minna, Niger State. He argued that things cannot remain as they are in the face of current realities, which requires a change of tactics and approach if the country is to get the desired results.
In his message titled, “I am a Nigerian” to mark the Holy month of Ramadan he condemned the ongoing altercations and vituperations of hate across the country, warning that “starting wars or political upheavals comes with the slightest provocation, but ending them becomes inelastic, almost unending with painful footages of the wrecks of war”.
The former president in bid to give some perspective to his clamour for restructuring, called for state policing. He acknowledged that though restructuring and devolution of powers would not provide all the answers to the country’s challenges, they would however help to reposition the mindset of Nigerians to generate new ideas and initiatives that would make the Nigerian union worthwhile.
Babangida advocated the devolution of powers to give more responsibilities to the states, while the federal government oversees the country’s foreign policy, defence, and the economy.
According to him, even the idea of having federal roads in towns and cities had become outdated, adding that the country needs to tinker with the constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen the country’s nationality.
In Abuja, the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, same day echoed the need for calm in the face of hate speeches. Of course, having caused for the 2014 national confab to take place during his tenure, there was no doubt as to his position on restructuring.
Similarly, in Lagos, some elder statesmen from the southern part of the country also backed calls for restructuring. The elders include a former United Kingdom High Commissioner, Christopher Kolade; former governor of Old Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Major General Ike Nwachukwu (retd).
The elders, obviously not new to the challenges in search for nationhood of Nigeria, back the clamour for restructuring after a meeting over the worrying political developments in the country.
Realignments amidst conflicting signals
Before now, with the position of the president clear on the 2014 confab report, little mention was made of restructuring from APC, even though it was one of the basis upon which they campaigned ahead of 2015 general elections.
Safe for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the APC leadership, including its governors had little thought for restructuring the status quo. For many analysts, it would seem that the party could barely steady the ship of state, with the economy also crashing because of perceived policy flip flops, late ministerial appointments, lingering face-off between the executive and legislature, amid a lethargic party leadership that seems too feeble to rein in its members and cause for focused governance.
Other analysts opine that the failure of ruling party to constructively and in timely manner, address the sharp divide, along ethnic and religious lines, that trailed the 2015 general elections was another major blunder.
Like a lone voice at the time, former Vice President, Atiku had cried out for restructuring of the polity, forecasting doom if nothing was done. But his agitation was, and is still, being viewed as capitalizing on the lapses of his party as a launch pad for his perceived 2019 presidential ambition.
However such perception of the former president appears to pale in the face of the recent escalation of political and social distrust in the polity.
Without a doubt, the evolving outburst of secession calls and quit orders by ethnic groups which are laced by hate speeches, has elevated the discuss around restructuring the polity.
In what seemed like a clear departure from their non committal stance, the APC governors joined the ranks of those calling for restructuring.
The Progressives Governors Forum also said that the recent agitation by some ethnic groups was a reflection of the prevalent weak governance, economy and law enforcement.
In an eight-page document containing the governors’ position on the challenges to Nigeria’s unity, entitled “There has to be a nation first”, they said that the demands for political restructuring and true federalism could be met by adjusting the federal system.
Such an adjustment, said the governors, will not on its own address the root and branch of the country’s challenges, but it is worth pursuing to meet the demands of various groups.
The governors said: “It appears that demands framed by different groups in terms of political restructuring or true federalism can be met through adjustment in Nigeria’s federal system.
“Although such adjustment will not on its own address the root and branch of Nigeria’s challenges, it is worth pursuing in order to meet the demands of various Nigerian groups. The focus of this restructuring is to restore the principle of non centralisation of power in the country’s federal arrangement being the defining element of a federal polity.
“Alongside the imperative of political and fiscal decentralization, contiguous states can pool resources to address common development challenges and embark on projects that can have maximum effect and efficiency through endevours.
“Where possible, and agreed upon, a regional approach to development issues that take cognisance of existing comparative advantages within the existing regions as the initiatives in the Southwest has demonstrated.
“Alongside addressing the issues of structures in the Nigerian federalism and the mode of allocation of resources among the constituent elements, there is the need to address deficit in governance and politics accountability.
“PGF challenges ethnic agitators and militant groups to demand good governance and effective service delivery at all levels where the Nigerian state system exists with endowed constitutional responsibilities.”
This was echoed by their PDP counterparts. The Chairman, PDP Governors Forum, who is also the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, was quoted as saying his colleagues, like the national leadership of the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the opposition party, were on the same page with the APC governors on the need to restructure the country.
This, he said, was because the present structure lacked the provisions that could enhance national integration, cohesion and prosperity needed to create an egalitarian society where social justice, fairness, equity and equality could thrive.
Asked whether the PDP Governors Forum was in support of the call, Fayose said that had been the position of the opposition party and its governors.
He stated, “The APC governors have not just been saying it; Aregbesola said it; Ajimobi and a host of others in the APC have said it; and now, they have said it as a group and we support their call for restructuring. But the problem I have is that the Presidency is deaf to the voice of reason.
“But even if the Presidency is not going to respect the governors, what about those respected national leaders who have been calling for restructuring? Gen. Abdulsalami (Abubakar), has called for restructuring; former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has called for restructuring; respected southerners and northerners have done so and even IBB has today (Monday) urged the government to restructure, but like I said, the Presidency is deaf to the voice of reason.
“The 2014 National Conference report is there and it contains recommendations made by Nigerians on how this country could be moved forward but the APC-led Federal Government is not interested in it and it has put the report on the shelf because everything about (ex-President Goodluck) Jonathan is bad.
“But if a government is always blaming yesterday for today’s failure and you are not showing us a promising future, then the APC government, as led by President (Muhammadu) Buhari, has failed.
“As far as we are concerned in the PDP Governors’ Forum and the party at large, this country must be restructured.”
Asked what kind of restructuring the PDP governors recommended, Fayose said if the Federal Government would not implement the 2014 confab report because of its “hatred for Jonathan,” it could as well organise another national conference where “Nigerians will sit together and agree on conditions for national integration, mutual understanding, cohesion, governance structure, peaceful coexistence and respect for one another.”
He added, “Even in marriage, you must first agree to live together before you can discuss how to handle your resources. The current agitation will not go away if you continue to suppress the people while a particular ethnic group is lording it over others. It’s not going to work.”
However, it is not uhuru yet as dissensions still abound as Kaduna state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, gave a new twist to the clamour, while speaking on a TV program.
Governor El-Rufai while maintaining that the manifesto of APC has all the solutions to Nigeria’s problems added “We meet every month under the auspice of the National Economic Council and working together with the Federal Government we chart directions of economic policy and that is part of shifting the federal- state balance.
“A lot of the talk about political restructuring is political opportunism and irresponsibility in my opinion. It is popular and people that have presidential aspirations think there is a platform upon which they will exploit this. As I said, if you look at the APC manifesto, all the elements to divulge power to the state to change the balance in the federation are there and we are committed to that as a party.
“The National Chairman of our party will restate that commitment and we are discussing it and as I said President Buhari and Osinbajo’s government has taken very concrete steps rather than rhetoric to actually move in that direction and we are going to move in that direction but we do not believe that the basis for it is rhetoric and opportunism, we do not believe that the 2014 CONFAB report is a sensible basis to even begin.
“We all know the circumstances in which the so-called CONFAB was put together, we all know the composition, how lopsided it was, how important stakeholders were not taken to account, how even the composition and numbers do not reflect the demographics and the diversity of this country and we took a position as a party not to participate but to encourage our state governors to be there at the table.”
On his part, the APC national chairmen John Oyegun, was somewhat evasive on the subject it would seem. The National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who also featured on the programme, described restructuring as a contentious word which meant different things to different people.
Odigie-Oyegun said the APC-led Federal Government had yet to give restructuring a priority.
He said, “It is contentious and lot of people talk about restructuring without any commonality. We have stated clearly what we want to do; devolution, true federalism. We really avoided the word restructuring because it means so many things to so many people.
“So, yes (is the) short answer to your question. We are coming to that but our priority for now, for today, is to fix the economy and restore hope, provide jobs to the teaming millions of our youths all over the country.”
On the whole, it is apparent that there is need for major progressive shakeup in the system but a lack of consensus on what format it should take appears the major challenge.
As the conflicting interests, largely driven by politics, continue to define the discuss over the subject, tensions within the polity mounts.