With less than six months to another general election in Nigeria, the issue of restructuring has again been put on the front burner of political discourse by politicians using it as a campaign strategy to win votes from the electorate.
Not only are politicians, particularly those in opposition using it to canvass for support as done by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections, but most Nigerians including Senator Femi Okurounmu, Afenifere leader;Tony Momoh, chieftain of APC; Mr Femi Falana, SAN, human rights activist and prominent lawyer; Senator David Mark, former Senate President; Mr Yekini Nabena, acting Publicity Secretary of APC, among others believe that the concept must be executed to the benefit of all Nigerians rather than political slogan.
In fact, restructuring was in the manifesto of the APC and it was one of the issues the ruling party used to campaign in 2015. To prove that it was still committed to the idea last year, the party set up a committee headed by Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, to collate views on the issue. Several months after, nothing has come out of the efforts of the committee.
If anything, the report had generated more negative reactions even from among the members of the party, with different meanings and interpretations to the report which favoured devolution of powers, creation of more states among others.
But, these eminent Nigerians and other socio-political organisations said even of the cheqered history of Nigeria since its creation, only leaders committed to restructuring the country to give states the power to control their resources will get their votes in the 2019 elections.
Specifically, they posit that true federalism as witnessed between 1960 and 1966, democratisation of powers and equitable redistribution of common wealth along egalitarian lines be adopted.
Also, good governance, prudent and equitable distribution of wealth and restructuring of mind that allows the various regions to concentrate on areas of strength so as to make the centre less attractive should be encouraged.
They based their arguments on the fact that reviews are necessary as it enables us to look at our resources, capabilities, competencies and device the right strategies for nation-building. It will enable us to define our basis for existing together, take a critical look at the past and make appropriate plans for the future in the light of the current realities.
It will enable us identify our weaknesses, past mistakes and find ways to mitigate them. It will also present us opportunities to learn and copy from other people. Reviews help us to make analysis, identify the right things we are doing, sustain them and avoid the wrong things, for the greater good of the people since, according to them, it is a veritable tool for stakeholders engagement that creates a sense of belonging for every group within the polity. That is why even in homogenous entities, constitutions and laws are reviewed to reflect current realities in order to strengthen the union.
Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information and one of the national leaders of the APC, said restructuring should aim at reducing cost of governance and election malpractices.
Momoh, who spoke with Sunday INDEPENDENT, recently said part of the problems which the ruling party is trying to change through the direct primary system was the fact that delegates were bribed with as high as $2,000 during the presidential primaries of the party in 2014.
He challenged stakeholders in the country to work to make politics less expensive, saying that there is urgent need for restructuring which will make politics of service and not for business.
“That is why I have been asking for restructuring which will make politics a service and not a business. But today, it is a business.
“This monetising of politics is what a lot of people are fighting against when they said there should be direct primaries instead of indirect.
“In Osun State, some delegates were even demanding N750, 000, so we had to have a direct primary where all the party members voted. So, making politics less expensive is a task that we must attend to but as it is right now, it is a very expensive business”, he said.
Okurounmu, said: “Restructuring means one and only one thing: go back to true federalism, the proper federalism we had between 1960 and 1966 before the coup. Nigeria practised true federalism. It was on the basis of that that we got our independence in 1960. It was the military that distorted it when they took over. So, we are saying we should go back to that proper federalism that we practised before.”
But Falana, declared recently that restructuring Nigeria could never guarantee unity and political stability.
“The country has always been restructured by the ruling class and that the current structure was imposed by the fiat of military dictators. No doubt, the country is ripe for restructuring or power devolution but it cannot guarantee unity and political stability without the democratisation of powers and equitable redistribution of the commonwealth along egalitarian lines.
“Restructuring without the equitable redistribution of the commonwealth will not promote unity or political stability. Unity is not an abstract phenomenon. In concrete terms, unity means the corporate existence of Nigeria. The fact that the unity of the country is based on ruthless exploitation of the working people is of no moment as far as members of the ruling class are concerned. Since the rich are united in exploiting our national resources the exploited poor and oppressed people should unite to free themselves from poverty.
“The nation cannot be seriously restructured without equitable redistribution of wealth. Therefore, those who have cornered our commonwealth should not be allowed to talk of restructuring in vacuum. In other words, the campaign for restructuring should encompass the decentralisation and democratisation of political and economic powers which have been privatised by all factions of the ruling class.
“Since the Constitution has clearly stated that the welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government, Nigerians must demand an end to a policy that allows political office holders and civil servants who constitute less than 1% of the population to continue to allocate 70% of the nation’s resources to themselves,” Falana said.
Other commentators have also said what Nigeria needs to move forward is good governance, prudent and equitable distribution of wealth and restructuring of mind.
The restructuring debate was renewed recently by Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo in faraway Minnesota in the United States of America (USA).
Osinbajo, addressing a cross-section of Nigerians at a town hall meeting, reportedly said Nigeria did not need restructuring but good governance and prudent management of national resources.
“The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic restructuring,” Osinbajo had said at the meeting.
Apart from receiving criticisms from notable Nigerians and major regional sociopolitical groupings such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, PANDEF and Middle Belt Forum, Osinbajo’s stance on restructuring also elicited a war of words between him and one of his predecessors, Abubakar Atiku.
Atiku, who is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), started the altercation by condemning Osinbajo’s position on restructuring and his understanding of the concept.
Responding to Atiku’s criticism, Osinbajo, in a letter to one of the leading online news platforms in the country, insisted that geographical restructuring was not the path to take out of the nation’s myriad of problems.
Osinbajo said: ‘’He quoted me as saying that ‘the problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographic restructuring.’
‘’Yes, I said so. As the quote shows, I rejected the notion that geographical restructuring was a solution to our national problems. Geographical restructuring is either taking us back to regional governments or increasing the number of states that make up the Nigerian federation.
“As we all may recall, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of 18 more states. And I argued that, with several states struggling or unable to pay salaries, any further tinkering with our geographical structure would not benefit us.”
The vice president, who said his predecessor’s idea of restructuring was not clear, added: ‘’Alhaji Atiku’s concept of restructuring is understandably vague, because he seeks to cover every aspect of human existence in that definition. He says it means a ‘cultural revolution.’
“Of course, he does not bother to unravel this concept. He says we need a structure that gives everyone an opportunity to work, a private sector driven economy. Yes, I agree. These are critical pillars of our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, including our Ease of Doing Business Programme.”
Describing Atiku as a new convert to the idea of restructuring, Osinbajo claimed that he had always been a champion of fiscal federalism, resource control and devolution of more powers to the states. The vice president referred to court cases he instituted against the federal government as Attorney-General of Lagos State during the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to buttress his avowal.
In his reply to Osinbajo’s letter, Atiku said restructuring was not an option but a necessity. According to the presidential aspirant, the criticisms that followed Osinbajo’s position forced the vice president to quickly change his concept of restructuring in his letter.
“I have been in the forefront of the discourse on restructuring since the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference and to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any term like ‘geographical restructuring’. It is a strange concept, not only because it is not what the restructuring debate is all about, but also because the words of the Vice President, which prompted my response were clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.
Osinbajo’s All Progressives Congress (APC) also joined the fray, describing Atiku and other politicians promising to restructure the country as new converts to the matter of restructuring.
The party, in a statement by its acting National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, aligned with the stance of Osinbajo and argued that what Nigeria required was not geographic restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism and a clear vision for development.
The APC said: “It must be said that the calls for restructuring by many politicians are oftentimes a populist and opportunistic ploy to latch on and politically exploit simplistic public narratives on the panacea for Nigeria’s problems and not necessarily for its realism and practicability.
“We must never succumb to ethnic champions who promote campaigns to break up the country into tiny bits or other unrealistic and unpatriotic proposals in the name of restructuring to solve our problems as a country. It is simplistic and unconstitutional.”
Analysts say the renewed restructuring debate has given the impression that the idea has become a tool in the hands of politicians. Many believe the calls for the restructuring of the country have lost their altruistic purposes.
It is also believed that the resolve of some ethnic nationalities and regional sociopolitical groups to support any presidential candidate that promises to restructure the country is responsible for politicians seeking to take advantage of the restructuring agitations.
Observers have cited Atiku as one of the politicians using restructuring to sell his presidential ambition to the people of the country. Atiku has promised to restructure the federation within six months of his assumption of office if elected president of the country in next year’s presidential election.
Also, a former Senate president and one of the PDP presidential aspirants, David Mark, has promised to restructure the country if he could secure the mandate of the people of Nigeria. Mark made the promise after obtaining his expression of interest and nomination forms at the PDP national secretariat in Abuja.
He said: “Irrespective of our political persuasion, it is incontrovertible that restructuring of the nation is an idea which time has come. I believe it will further strengthen our bond of brotherhood and unity more than ever before, because everyone would have a sense of belonging and live in harmony in any part of Nigeria without any fear of molestation or intimidation.”
Responding to the strident calls for restructuring in 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a national conference to discuss the country’s problems. Not a few, however, believed it was a bait meant to catch votes.
As the cries for restructuring continue, the idea is facing a challenge of definition. Last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo raised the issue of conceptual confusion of the term, saying: “I have spoken to six different people who talk about restructuring and the six of them gave me different points of view. The other day, some people came to me and what they were talking about didn’t make sense.”
Also, a member of the House of Representatives during the second republic, Junaid Mohammed, once said: “So far, I have not heard any meaningful definition of restructuring and as far as I am concerned, the whole thing is just a meaningless agitation. It is going nowhere and if we insist on doing it, it will only lead us to disaster.”
In October last year, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State said the northern part of the country was not afraid of restructuring of Nigeria. But Tambuwal added: “I think we should first, as a country, agree on a mutual definition of the term restructuring.” The governor spoke in Kaduna at the opening of a two-day conference by the Arewa Research and Development Project.
Many are now asking what essentially does the country need and what manner of restructuring should be carried for the country to move forward.