Nigeria@57: Long Search For Nationhood

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It’s another independence anniversary but the cacaphony of clamours across the country mounts in light of restructuring debate.

Nigeria’s journey in the search of nationhood has been comparatively long and tough. Like many other nation-states, the multi-ethnic entity has constantly evolved, transcending systems of government and forms of administration.

Still, pundits opine that dream of the founding fathers of the country, have largely been strangulated by successive leaderships. The projection for the country, famously called the giant of Africa, was that it would lead not just the the continent but black race. The reasons where not far fetched.

At the turn of the independence struggle across the Africa, the vibrancy and resourcefulness of its human capital and, as revealed much later, the enormous mineral resources in its domain, positioned the new country for great exploits.

But after two bloody coups, a civil war and spells of military intervention, the country’s post-independence trajectory has since gone south.

Having experimented with different forms of administration, including a fusion of military and civilian government, it has painstakingly sustained democratic rule in the last 18 years.

Expectedly, the debate over the state of the union raged, resulting in series of constitutional amendments by the National Assembly and the gathering of ethno-political conferences, prominent of which were the 2005 political conference and the 2014 National Confab.

An earlier constitutional conference convened by Late head of state General Sani Abacha, had seen to the conception of six geopolitical zones. Although the agreement was never incorporated into a legislation, it has been adopted by government and the political parties for administrative purposes.

But the spate of agitations for the renegotiation of the structure of the country, in the turn of this political dispensation, appears unprecedented. The current scenario for some analysts would not be disconnected from the outcome of the intensely contested 2015 general election, the state of the economy, allegations of marginalization and the forthcoming 2019 general elections.

The disagreements had mounted with ethnic groups locked in a sparing match over secession. While the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) propagated for a breakup of the South-east and some states in the South-south, some Arewa Youths had in response, issued a quit notice on South-easterners to leave the North by the October 1. However, while IPOB has since been proscribed and declared a terrorist organization by the federal government, the Arewa youths have suspended their quit notice, amid a notice for the arrest of the youths.

On the other hand, while the political elite, cut across party lines, condemned the narratives of both IPOB and Arewa youths, they have been engaged in the debate over what manner of restructuring the country should adopt.

The agitation is such that even within the pro-restructuring elite, some have clamoured for a return to regionalism and by inference the 1963 constitution, while others advocate fiscal federalism and creation of states.

Although, all the school of thoughts anchor on altering of the current economic and political system, key items that appear to be topical so far are state policing in the face of security threats; devolution of powers and resource control.

Furthermore, while some have advanced the strict usage of 2014 national confab report, others believe that the 2014 report should be updated. Others believe a fresh gathering of ethnic nationalities should be assembled to discuss the issues. A different variant of restructure advocates, and perhaps the most extreme form, are those who believe only a no-holds-barred sovereign national conference would serve.

They believe that the key actors in the polity, who they regard as beneficiaries of the system at any given time, will never see to far reaching reforms that would affect them.

Expectedly, those in this category, who have been at constant loggerheads with the system at every turn of the clamour for reforms, are regarded as purveyors of disorder, especially by the federal lawmakers who constitutionally are mandated by law make laws and midwife every reform process that involves constitution amendments.

But some elites are not swayed by this restructuring narrative. For them the country as it is today will work well if the political elite change their ways of non adherence to the rule of law as it it.

They blame the state of affairs in the country on the years of mismanagement of resources by the elite. They believe that if the elite show more accountability and transparency in the use of resources allocated to them, the bulk of the complaints would be effectively addressed.

Despite including restructuring in its manifesto the initial stance of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) had also heightened the debate about the state of the union.

With the 2015 general election won and lost, the rejection of the 2014 confab report by the party which, at the time appeared to be the symbol of restructuring, raised some objections.

The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration never hid its none recognition of the conference, much less it’s report. Buhari shortly after he assumed office said “I have not bothered to read it or ask for a brief on it. I want it to go into the so called archives.”

APC had distanced itself from the 2014 conference, even though delegates attended from states it controlled. For them, the timing of the confab smacked of a political gimmick aimed at building momentum for the former president ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

As such, in a post-2015 era, the position of the president on the confab report appeared to indicate that the restructuring wasn’t a priority for the administration just yet.

But the call for restructuring continued to gain traction as prominent Nigerians, especially from the South joined in the chorus. Some of them include, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku; ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Nobel literature laureate, Wole Soyinka; Tunde Bakare among others.

Other notable personalities are Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (retd), Gen. Ike Nwachukwu (retd), Chief Ayo Adebanjo, former governor Gbenga Daniel and Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (retd), among others.

Furthermore, the National Assembly’s rejection of the proposal to devolve power in its recent constitution amendment exercise sparked a lot of backlash. This was more so that the federal legislature had requested the executive to present the 2014 national confab report to it as part of the constitutional amendment process.

Before long, the clamour for restructured assumed regional colorations. Socio-political groups in the Southern region, including Afenifere, Ohaneze, South-south leaders joined the agitation. Similarly, some elders from the middle-belt geopolitical region also threw their weight behind it.

However, the apex northern socio-cultural organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum said while it supports a restructuring of country based on fairness and equity, it should be devoid of threats, intimidation or blackmail from any group or individual.

With pressure mounting and in a bid to control the swelling narrative, the APC commissioned a nine-member committee to articulate its position on the raging issue. The members of the committee are Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-rufai (Chairman); Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Governor of Kano, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje; Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong.

Others are Governor of Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosu; Former Governor of Edo State, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor; APC National Organising Secretary, Sen. Osita Izunaso; APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi; and Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Secretary).

The committee has since commenced work after publishing calls for memoranda, creating various social media platforms to tap into the opinions of the younger generation, and commenced public hearings in 12 locations across Nigeria.

The final public hearing will take place in the nation’s capital Abuja. The target is the National Assembly members and the general public living within the federal capital territory.

In the face of a poor economy, poor security condition and ethnic tensions, governors of APC also felt the prompting to get involved in the process, by setting up a six man committee to explore the option of actualising state police in the country.

Still, a description of agitators for restructuring as opportunists by the chairman of APC’s restructuring committee, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, had raised concerns and strong reactions from proponents of reform.

The Afenifere Renewal Group has said it doubts the capacity of the El Rufai-led committee of the APC on restructuring to advise the party appropriately on the subject.

The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, in a statement signed by its publicity secretary, Kunle Famoriyo, reiterated that restructuring has to be according to the expressed wishes of the people of Nigeria, irrespective of the outcome of the El-Rufai-led committee.

It is on record that the committee’s chairman recently said on a live TV broadcast that “A lot of the talk about political restructuring is political opportunism and irresponsibility in my opinion” and he does “not believe that the 2014 CONFAB report is a sensible basis.”

“Gov. Ganduje was also reported, while addressing National Youth Council of Nigeria in 2016, to have said that restructuring was not the way out for Nigeria.

“Gov. Lalong, while addressing Law School students recently said APC has no stance on federalism, despite the prominence given it in the party’s manifesto, while the Party’s Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi, believes that restructuring should not take priority for now.

“While we are prepared to give this committee the benefit of doubt, it would appear that the APC continues to waste precious opportunities that its 2015 electoral victory presented to it on a platter of gold to salvage Nigeria, in accordance with its manifesto,” the statement said, while adding that “as of now, there is really no luxury of time to continue to dress peoples’ genuine agitation in convoluted bureaucracy and officialdom.

“We, therefore, hope that the party can come down from its high horse and listen to the loud whispers of Nigerians, which portend an unprecedented humanitarian crisis waiting to occur in the absence of a genuine attempt at restructuring the country.”

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which have somewhat been enjoying some leverage over the restructuring debate, also distanced itself from the current move of the APC to manage the restructuring process.

Spokesman of the party, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, expressed surprise in the sudden interest of the APC to engage in the process, “after several months of denials by elected and appointed officials that APC did not promise restructuring in its manifesto during the 2015 campaigns.”

Shrugging off the doubts trail the motive of his party, el-Ruffin while making a presentation at Chatham House, London, on restructuring said “I have previously expressed my personal view, regretting the opportunism of certain leaders who espouse restructuring now for purposes of olitical and media attention, noting that they did nothing to advance such goals when they were in power. And I pointed out that the Federal Government needs to devolve more powers to the states, and the states to the local governments.

“On live national television, I asserted that this is already happening under the APC national government by convention and pragmatic devolution, without any legislation, national conference or constitutional amendment.”

Nevertheless, he added “Our party is particularly keen to hear the voices of young people that account for over 80 percent of our population, not just the eloquent assertions of the old politicians like me who are above the age of 50.”

He stressed “The preponderance of opinion is that the Federal Government needs to shed weight, and return powers and resources to the states where most government functions can be more efficiently undertaken. For the states to take on these powers, they need to access a greater share of the nation’s resources.

“And we need to sort out the notion of citizenship so that every Nigerian can enjoy the protection of the Constitution wherever they choose to reside. In many communities, people still use the notion of ‘indigene-ship’ to consign compatriots to a position of ‘settler’ and, by implication, perpetual exclusion from enjoying the full political, social and economic opportunities guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen.”

Days later, the President General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Dr John Nnia Nwodo, who also addressed the audience at Chatham House, said “The only hope for change in Nigeria today is the rising call for restructuring pioneered by the Southern leadership forum, supported lately by ex Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, former President Ibrahim Babangida and leaders of the Middle belt including Dan Suleiman and Prof. Jerry Gana.

“Our expectation is that now that our President is fully recovered and back to work, he will address the situation by constituting a nationwide conversation of all ethnic nationalities to look into the 2014 National Conference report and the trending views on this subject matter so as to come up with a consensus proposal that the national and state assemblies will be persuaded to adopt.

“To continue to neglect a resolution of this impasse will spell doom for our dear country. Our argument is further reinforced by a two-year extensive study by the UNDP titled, JOURNEY TO EXTREMISM released in September 2017 which indicated that exposure to state abuse and marginalisation not religious ideology are better predictors of radicalisation.

“It also indicates that those living on the periphery of their country with less access to education and health services are more vulnerable to be recruited into violent extremist groups. In Nigeria, millions of unemployed graduates from universities waiting for up to 10 years without gainful employment are restive, agitated and veritable cannon fodders for escalating restiveness.”

As it stands, it remains hazy what the APC intends to do at this point. What is however clear so far is that there are too many processes going on over restructuring.

Apparently, the APC administration would have to mid-wife the process of harmonizing the views at some level either under the National Assembly or the presidency.

But, with the politics of 2019 already here, it will be interesting to see how the political actors within the party, who are bent on seizing the momentum generated by the restructuring debate, act.

So far, some analysts have posit that while the debate might get too complicated to find a middle ground, the clamour, if not properly handled, might just snow ball into a more chaotic scenario.



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