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The Fear Of The Unknown As The Reason For The Doubts On The Restructuring Of Nigeria

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By Zik Gbemre

For quite some time now, the cacophony of voices across the country, which have condensed to one singular issue, and that is ‘restructuring’ (for, and against the idea) – is suggestive of the fact that indeed, Nigeria has been drifting away from a united country to a divided country, and as such, whether the current political leadership across the country like it or not, we have serious problems on our hands that should not be treated with kid gloves. The contentious topic of how to restructure Nigeria and make governance more efficient has refused to go away, despite strident efforts by few powerful Nigerians to deny the need and urgency for restructuring to take place.

Evidently, it appears the South-East, South-South and some stakeholders in the South-West, are seen as those more in support of the idea of restructuring, than those of Northern extractions who seem clearly opposed to the idea. While the reasons are not far-fetched, but I believe, it is primarily due to the fear of the unknown.

When we consider the fact that it was the military officers of Northern extraction that have held power for most part of the ‘dictatorial years’ of military rule in Nigeria, then we would understand why the then Constitution was skewed and tailored to favour some areas more than others, and to serve more of the interest of whichever region holds the power at the Center. In other words, in 1979, the military left behind a Constitution that was Unitary in every sense, but falsely proclaimed itself as Federal. It retained the same processes that the military used to distort the 1963 Republican Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is simply a photocopy of the 1979 version, except that mineral producing communities now manage to get a miserly 13 percent of proceeds from mineral extracts. So, having been at the Center for that long, and having tasted the oil, gas and condensate wealth and power embodied at the Center, we would then understand why most of the oppositions we are getting against the restructuring of Nigeria are mostly from Northern extractions. They think if Nigeria is restructured, they will not have the sort of money required to run the government at all levels.

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To put it bluntly, they have gotten accustomed, and used to the free oil, gas and condensate money that flows from the Center. And so, they are thinking that restructuring will alter the present statuesque which favours them, and their States, especially the Central Federal Government (which they have held on tenaciously) would lose the free money to run their affairs. Mind you, this mindset is not only peculiar to those in the North, but it cuts across the entire country. The ‘free money’ from oil/gas/condensate exploration/production, has practically made Nigeria and its Government at all levels, a ‘lazy’ country and people respectively. That is why whenever anything negative happens to the price of crude oil at the international market, the entire nation’s economic wellbeing bears the heat. The oil wealth, has made Nigerian politicians and elites not to task their brains on how to develop other streams of national and State incomes, and survive and build a stronger nation that will be sustainable on every sector.

Regardless of these fears, the gains of a restructured Nigeria with clear devolution of powers, are far too many for all the excuses being put forward by those against it. In fact, the merits of restructuring Nigeria far outweighs whatever demerits they can muster. To be honest, even the Northern Nigeria will do better than the Southern Nigeria with proper restructuring, especially since Agriculture is now becoming a globally solid source of revenue. They will practically become the “food basket of the Africa continent,” and indeed the world, if only they would focus inwardly and develop the natural resources given to them by nature. In other words, restructuring is the only thing that will make the Nigerian politicians and elites to start thinking outside the box and their comfort zone, in seeking out ways to generate revenue and develop their States and the country at large.

Tunde Bakare, who has been described as being one of the most politically influential pastors in Nigeria, reiterated this point in a short video online while expressing the need and importance for Nigeria to be restructured by the present Muhammadu Buhari administration. He said: “…Mark my words; just like in the days of Mikhail Gorbachev, when the Soviet Union dissolved into many sovereign states without any bloodshed, so will the Federal Republic of Nigeria restructure into strong geo-economic, strong geo-political zones, and a strong centre, without bloodshed…. The time is Now! Nigeria is going to be restructured, and we are not going to beg anybody for it. It’s going to happen…

“I have consistently maintained this position to the President (referring to Buhari), that this is the future. This is the way to go. I have asked him, what’s your position on the restructuring of Nigeria, and he said: Well, there are too many voices, we don’t know what they are saying. I said who? At the first month of your administration, I brought you a compendium of what I called the legacy of Muhammadu Buhari, containing the restructuring of Nigeria, along through federal systems that we agreed upon, when I chose to run with you in 2011. I brought it the second time to you. Who are ‘they?’

“If you don’t understand, or know what restructuring is, just look back in history and see the Groundnut Pyramids in the North, that was what financed Ahmadu Bello University and all the great things that Ahmadu Bello did in his days as the premier of Northern Nigeria. If you don’t understand restructuring, consider the golden era of the regions, and look at what Cocoa did – free education, first television, first stadium and all the high-rise buildings, and everything that Awolowo did; came from Cocoa from the West. If you don’t understand restructuring, look back in the East, and see what they did with Palm oil,… from Udi hills, including the University of Nigeria, Nsuka. And anyone who does not understand restructuring, go back to the 1963 Republican Constitution, and understand ‘devolution of powers.’ If you don’t understand, take the document in your hand, that Nasir El-Rufai committee put together…. And the twelve things they stated; if you don’t do it fast, you’ll have yourself to blame…. There’s going to be restructuring in this land. There will be fairness, there will be equity, there will be justice, there will be security, there will be increase. Every Nigerian will be proud to call himself or herself a Nigerian. But it’s going to be God first, nation second and you last. We’re going to prioritize God, and prioritize our nation. And we would get tangible results. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

The only thing I do not agree with Bakare’s position, is his suggestion that, if the President does not understand restructuring, he should take the document presented to him by the Nasir El-Rufai Committee on restructuring Nigeria, and implement. We all know that right from his first media chat of December 30, 2015, to his January 1, 2018 National Broadcast, President Buhari does not want Restructuring. The nineteen Northern States have met and deliberated on calls to restructure. The preponderant view is that they do not understand what restructuring means. They are still waiting for more definitions and terms. It was against this background of conservatism that the APC now claims to have a Report On Restructuring. Anchored by Governor Nasir el Rufai, who has also been very disdainful of previous calls to restructure, the report appears to be dubious, to say the least.

Let us recall that Governors of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2019, set up a Governance Programme Steering Committee to evolve a common Governance template for themselves and also revisit all policy initiatives and recommendations, including those recommended by Gov. Nasir El-Rufai led Committee on True Federalism. But in the El-Rufai-led Committee’s recommendation on restructuring the country, it asked that, while onshore mineral resources be removed to the Concurrent Legislative list, Offshore resources be left on the Exclusive List. This is something that I, and many well-meaning stakeholders in the region disagreed with because it is capable of heating-up the fragile peace which has been achieved, particularly in the Niger Delta region.

Many stakeholders had warned that the recommendation is laden with bad intentions as the people of the Niger Delta region will not fold their hands and allow the Nigeria nation rip it off once more under any guise. For instance, how do you reconcile the Committee’s line of thought that Nigeria should be bold enough to move away from over-centralization, and in another breadth, call for all Offshore oil to remain absolutely vested in the Government of the Federation? That to me, and many stakeholders like Mr. Farah Dagogo (a member of the House of Reps), is ‘Double standards.’ “Nobody should be deceived; the said Offshore belongs to the States and majority of them are situated in the Niger Delta. Nigeria’s extent laws defined the geography of the country as landmass with seas and rivers forming the corresponding States.”

The bottom line is that, many of us are asking when will the National Assembly commence debate on Nigeria’s restructuring? Or is the restructuring of Nigeria as desired by the majority, contained in the purported ‘Nigerian Economic Restructuring Bill 2021?’ Nigerians are desperately yearning for this to happen because many of us strongly believe that the restructuring of Nigeria, if holistically done, will put an end to all the agitations and crises in the country, and the Nigerian masses will be better off in years to come. If the proper restructuring is done, which will include creation of more state, a greater percentage of Nigeria’s problems will be solved.

Zik Gbemre.
March 13, 2021

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