Background to the study
The rhetoric of restructuring has currently been dominating the public domain for some months and this topic has been publicized through the use of digital, print and electronic media. From every quarter, what seems like the in-thing now is restructuring. Every newspaper publication, news bulletin, speech and report is not complete until the issue has been mentioned. Former leaders and public office holders including former presidents, vice president and former governors; the academia, civil societies, professionals, students, politicians, religious leaders and serving governors etc. have all made their contributions to this national issue. From all the geo-political zones, this subject seems to re-echo and dominate public discourse. This creates an impression that people are now awake to the myriad of problems confronting the country and are determined to find possible ways of tackling them. Every geo-political zone has its own interpretation of restructuring. To the South-East, restructuring means creation of an additional state. For the South-South, restructuring means resource control. For the South-West, it means devolution of power and the North may see it differently, but whatever is the case, we are better off as a united Nigeria (Okorocha, 2017).
Though the concept of restructuring has assumed different meanings across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria following the renewed agitations, it is however challenging to establish a common meaning that will be acceptable to all. This resulted from the fact that Nigeria emerged in 1960 as an independent nation with a three imbalance regional configuration, autonomy and hegemony for the so-called majority Hausa/Fulani–North, Igbo–East and Yoruba–West. Even in the pre-independence, Okoli (2004) in Edino and PAUL (2015:61) noted that each ethnic group was operating its own different political, economic and administrative system. This metamorphosed into regionalism which empowered dominant ethnic groups in the three regions. This arrangement was criticised notwithstanding. According to Suberu (2001:126,127), the palpable casualties and predictable critics of this trilateral federalism were the country‟s estimated 250 smaller or “minority” communities, which constituted approximately one third of the regional and national populations. He submitted further that, the secondary victims of regional federalism were the South-Western Yoruba and South-Eastern Igbo groups, whose regional security was menaced by the demographic preponderance and the political advantage that Hausa-Fulani-dominated Northern Region enjoyed over the two southern regions respectively.
Fifty-six years after independence, calls for the restructuring of the country have dominated national discourse with a lot of interest and obsession. In the First Republic, restructuring took the form of Region and Native Authority governments‟ creation. Presently, stakeholders are currently placing emphasis on the entrenchment of fiscal federalism, resource control, state police, equity, justice and fairness. The issue became topical, following the drastic reduction in the nation’s earnings at the birth of Buhari‟s civilian administration, with the slump of the price of crude oil and the return of militancy in the Niger Delta region, the growing menace of Fulani herdsmen and the bid to review the constitution (Odoshimokhe, 2017). It is observed that Nigerian elders who witnessed the pre-independence and First Republic allude to the glorious days of the First Republic, when there was healthy rivalry and competition among the regions. The Regions as they were had relative advantages that revolved around rich agricultural resources and animal husbandry. It is reported in Nigeria at 50 Compendium (2010:40-41) that;
Long spells of dry weather interjected by shorter periods of rains in the year gave the arable Northern Region abundant yields of Shea butter, groundnuts, millet, sorghum, maize, beans, yams and many others. The Middle Belt ranges produced unending heaps of yams, cassava, rice and millets. At its average height, cocoa farming engaged over 40% of the entire productive labour force in the Western Region. Up to 70% of earned government revenue was derived from the export of the cocoa beans. On its part, the Eastern Region latched onto its dominant economic tree – the palm tree – to drives its economic engine. Although the colour and race of the civil masters had changed, regional governmental revenue inflow had remained static and predictable though not in volumes but in substance (2010:40, 41).
Nevertheless, under the current dispensation, states simply go to Abuja monthly to collect handouts and spend it without recourse to the fact that they need to invest on their economies. Along this sad situation, when Nigeria is compared with Brazil, the Asian tigers and other notable nations who were at same level with her in the 1960s, Ndoma-Egba (2017) cited in Thisday (2017) said, the argument for or against restructuring is simply economic and that with the current structure, development cannot be definitely achieved since states were not created and administered on the basis of economic consideration. For instance, each state ought to maintain some measure of autonomy to be able to perform like the Regions during First Republic. The clamour for restructuring has become the political slogan that characterises the 8th Republic particularly from the opposition camp and well meaning Nigerians. However, the calls as Onaiyekan (2017), in Thisday (2017) observed is premised on the fact that many things in the country are not going well as a result of structural imbalance. He added that Nigeria‟s structural composition needs a rearrangement since the country has an imperfect constitution.
Since restructuring is now the “song of praise” in this political dispensation, the answer to the question of what happens to ethnic minority groups? Where will their religious belief be placed and which groups gain and loss? These questions are pertinent owing to the fact that regionalism and states creation exercises during the First Republic and several Military regimes only perpetuated the interest of the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups. For these groups, new, centrally funded state units represent more of conduit for federal economic and political patronage than an instrument for securing self-governance for the politically vulnerable communities (Suberu, 2001:128). Inevitably, the struggle for re-composition of Nigerian political structure by ethnic minorities of the country after the independence through the creation of states and local governments in order to assuage the fear of marginalization by major ethnic groups failed. Hence, Suberu asserted that ethnic minority elites have severally condemned the increasing use of states-creation apparatus to advance the financial and political aggrandizement of the major ethnic groups, and to promote the economic dispossession and political re-marginalization of the minorities.
Statement Of The Problem
The clamour for restructuring has polarised the country. Regions in the south believe in it, but they have different views of what it is all about. To the Ibos in the Southeast, restructuring will guarantee confederation in the constitution; the Yorubas in the Southwest want a restructuring that would take the country back to regionalism; while the South south is pushing for resource control. While the positions of regions in the south are not irreconcilable, that of the three regions in the north is a different ballgame. The debate has pitched the south against the north, which is indifferent to restructuring in any form. Eminent leaders from the south believe what can save the country from disintegration is restructuring. They are of the view that the unity of Nigeria and harmonious co-existence of the various ethnic nationalities will be strengthened by fiscal federalism and restructuring of the polity.
In making a case for restructuring, Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Clark said: “Nigeria is very sick today, because the Nigeria which our founding fathers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello bequeathed to us is no longer what we have. At independence, we had a constitution that said there would be three regions; no one is superior to the other.” To the former Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the disintegration of Nigeria is imminent and the immediate solution is restructuring. Similarly, Afenifere chieftain Ayo Adebanjo is spitting fire that Nigeria will break up, unless zones are allowed to control their resources. But, the pan-northern socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has rejected the call for restructuring, saying what the country needs at the moment is competent leadership at all levels. The ACF spokesman, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim, said heeding the call for restructuring would weaken the centre. He said Nigerians fought for the unity and that it is not possible for the north to support anything that would cause disunity.
Vocal northern politician Dr Junaid Muhammed said eminent citizens pushing for restructuring are trying to blackmail Nigerians into an unclear and bogus system of government. The Second Republic lawmaker posited that none of those calling for the restructuring of Nigeria had been able to give a clear cut definition of what they meant. He added: “Until somebody can tell me what this restructuring is all about, I won’t be convinced about the call. These agitators of restructuring like Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, John Nwodo and others have not actually told us what will be restructured and how it will be done. That was how we were told that without Sovereign National Conference (SNC) Nigeria will collapse.”
However, Anyaoku insists on restructuring, saying there is need for true federalism, with the existing six geo-political zones as the federating units. He criticised the present structure of federalism “where virtually all the component states are not self-sustaining and are dependent on hand-outs from the Federal Government, because they are unable to pay the salaries of their civil servants and the agreed minimum wage”. It is the view of analysts that different ethnic groups should agree on how to go about restructuring the country. They argued that different positions taken by the protagonists of restructuring have brought confusion into the polity. They also cautioned against hard stance position and violent posturing of those calling for restructuring, because it is capable of sending wrong signals to the opposing side.
Legal luminary Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN), said the call for restructuring has brought more confusion into polity. He said Nigerians must agree on what they want to restructure, rather than different zones or ethnic groups defining restructuring the way it suits them. In the view of Ali , restructuring meants different things to different ethnic groups or zones. For instance, the Yoruba definition of restructuring is regionalism and fiscal federalism and that the perception of Igbos on restructuring is confederation, while the Southsouth is gunning for economic self-determination through restructuring. He added: “Until there is agreement among the ethnic groups in the country on how to restructure Nigeria, we will not make progress; we will be over heating the polity. Let’s agree on basic issues and stop creating confusion.”
A political scientist, Dr Friday Ibok, argued that without restructuring, there will be no peace. He said the 2014 National Conference has set the template for restructuring and that its resolutions, if implemented, will douse the various agitations that is threatening the peace and unity of the country. Ibok noted that the conference recommended devolution of powers to the states; establishment of state police, rotational presidency between the north and the south and among the six geo-political zones; the creation of 19 additional states with the Southeast getting four more states He regretted that the conference failed to address the issue of derivation and resource control, which is one of the issues fuelling the agitation for restructuring. He said the contentious issue had been settled by the 1960 Independence and 1963 Republican constitutions, because the two constitutions specifically provided that the federating units should control their economic activities and finances, by keeping 50 per cent of all revenues and contributing the remaining 50 per cent to the Federation Account.
A Kaduna-based lawyer, Mahmoud Haroun, believes those behind the campaign for restructuring are those who lost out in the last general elections. He said they are seeking political relevance ahead of 2019. He said restructuring is the buzz word of a section of the elite that feels that it has been shut out of government, particularly at the federal level. Haroun said, to the frustrated politicians, restructuring means regional autonomy or resource control. He added: “The driving force is that if they cannot be accommodated at the federal level, they should be in-charge at the regional level. They say the centre or Federal Government is too powerful and that the way out is to return the ownership of the resources to states or geo-political zones, which may then pay taxes to run the government at the centre.
“Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has latched on to the so-called restructuring debate; he has positioned himself as the lead discussant. Apparently, the ongoing debate on restructuring needs a strong advocate in the north and Atiku fits the bill. Atiku needs the restructuring debate, to keep himself busy on the way to another shot at the Nigerian Presidency. Too much politics has crept into the restructuring debate such that it has now become a tool in the hands of those who have lost in the current order and want to distract President Muhammadu Buhari” Erubami is of the view that what binds the poor people in the north, east and west together is hunger and abject poverty. He said what can liberate the poor is for them to identify their common enemies and replace them with compassionate, courageous, committed and responsible leadership. He added: “Right now there is nothing different, the same old, unserious self-centred lots are clamouring for restructuring that cannot be said to represent true mandate of the masses.”