By Ezinwanne Onwuka
Since independence, Nigeria has been dogged by several problems. By October 1st, 2020 (less than 100 days from now), Nigeria will turn 60 years as an independent country. A man that has attained the age of 60 has come of age. He would have been married, maintained a stable family and has reached the apex of his career. This age, for any reasonable man is an age when he looks back at his youth and calculates his failures and successes. It is the age at which a man sets in motion the last part of his plans for survival, having with the aid of hindsight, identified areas of failures and successes.
The same could be said of a country that has attained 60 years of age as Nigeria has. Such country could be said to have survived the vagaries of infancy, the exuberance and crisis of adolescence and has established a functional and effective socio-political system that will ensure stability.
However, it is a different ball game when a country that is stupendously endowed, as Nigeria is, fails, as Nigeria has failed miserably, to utilise the experiences of her infancy and youth as building blocks for a better future.
In 60 years, centripetal and centrifugal socio-political forces seem to have become dangerously sharpened in Nigeria, with each contending socio-political group becoming increasingly suspicious and subversive of the other(s). In 60 years, Nigeria seems to have enthroned corruption and charlatanism as articles of faith in her political leadership. In 60 years, Nigeria has consolidated a dubious political culture that emphasises the primacy of sectional interest over and above national interest. In 60 years, Nigeria’s political leaders have become so immersed in flaunting their ill-gotten wealth, in upbraiding the primordial public at the expanse of the civil public.
Our dear country, Nigeria is stuck in the miry clay of leadership ineptitude. It is always bad with each change of government. The past and present leaders have exhibited shameful cluelessness in addressing the insecurity challenges in the country, resolving the country’s epileptic power supply, dealing with unemployment and corruption and so on. In fact, they have demonstrated nauseating lack of vision on how to move Nigeria forward. Dr Arthur Nwankwo (2018) described Nigeria perfectly when he wrote, “Nigeria is a lumbering behemoth in search of a safe berth; a country with awesome potentials for global dominance but frittered away by sustained and unmitigating ethnic pariahs, leadership inertia and mindless looting of the commonwealth.”
Nigeria has become a theatre of the absurd – all thanks to our clueless, visionless and kleptomaniac lootocrats! That Buhari and other past leaders have failed is not arguable. The philosopher, Plato proffered that an ideal state is one whose policy makers are philosophers. That Nigeria has become a fantastically corrupt state with a collapsed economy goes to show that none of the past policy makers and present president is Nigeria’s ‘philosopher king’.
Nigeria as it is today is a lopsided colonial creation where the resources of the state are continuously being hijacked by a predatory but insignificant class of oppressors – the political leaders. What Nigeria needs now is a ‘philosopher king’ who is also a clinical economist who will meticulously and painstakingly study the patient – a crisis-ridden economy, like ours – in order to prescribe a course of treatment; performing a surgery, if need be.
If I become the president of Nigeria, to nib the sharp rise in ethnic separatism, incandescent ethnic nationalism and collapsed economy suffocating the country in the bud, I will restructure the country. I am not ignorant of the fact that the present administration of Muhammdu Buhari has turned Nigeria into a treacherous environment where truth is unwelcomed and stifled; and where a public opinion on a delicate issue such as this could be easily misconstrued and mischievously interpreted as a felony. This notwithstanding, I will proceed.
Restructuring does not refer to the merging of states as most people erroneously assume. Rather, it is a call for the restoration of federalism – the foundational constitution structure to which all Nigerians subscribed as encapsulated in the independence constitution of 1960. This constitution was violated in 1966 and the violation set in motion a chain of events that has culminated in the present abnegation of a 36 states structure against the four regional structure that emanated from the independence constitution. All the ills presently plaguing the country are directly or indirectly a consequence of the wrong anti-federalist diversion Nigeria took in 1966.
For Nigeria to be pulled out of the miry clay of disintegration, it needs both political and fiscal restructuring. This would be my number one political agenda. Politically, there would only be two tiers of government — the central government which will have exclusive responsibility for common services such as the central bank and monetary policy, foreign affairs, defence and the armed forces, and immigration, and regional governments which will now have direct supervision over the zones (the present 36 states). Local governments should be abolished as a tier of government. It would be the responsibility of regional governments to create and administer local governments.
The existing six geopolitical zones would be constituted into federating units with equal constitutional rights. A restructured Nigeria with the six geo-political zones as federating units will work much better because these zones each have economies of scale. Trade and manufacturing can happen inside each zone with a market large enough to meet demand, as well as to trade effectively with other zones in the federation.
The states as presently existing will make up the zones. Each zone will have its own constitution which will not be in conflict with the federal constitution. The State’s Houses of Assembly will remain as they are but there will be Regional Houses of Assembly that will function as the highest legislative organ of the regions.
Each region would have its own police, courts; and sustain its educational and other sectors. Each region would have a Governor who would coordinate the activities of the region and report to the President.
In terms of election, INEC would still conduct federal elections, while each region would establish its own electoral body for the purpose of regional and municipal elections. The Office of the President would be for a single term of six years.
Nigeria today is called a “federal republic” but in reality, it is a unitary state in which the federal government wields overarching powers. Like the United States of America, Nigeria is structured as a federation with 36 states, a federal territory, and 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs), including Abuja. However, unlike the United States, the central government controls the revenues and nearly all of the country’s resources, especially oil and natural gas. Revenues accrue in the Federation Account, where it is allocated monthly to the states and the LGAs, by a federal executive body, the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
On fiscal restructuring, there would be an overhaul of the Exclusive, Concurrent and Residual legislative lists as contained in the constitution. There are, for example, 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 constitution, and a residual list that is far too small – the latter made up of a few items such as cemeteries and burial grounds, births and death registration, healthcare, traditional and chieftaincy titles. I would move mines and minerals from the Exclusive List to the Residual List as an exclusive preserve of regions. Also, insurance, police and security agencies, prisons, taxation, trade and commerce, and water would be moved from the exclusive to the concurrent list. This way, the powers of the central government would be significantly reduced to issues of immigration, currency, military/defence and foreign affairs. Power, in essence would devolve more to the federating units.
The regions would be in charge of the resources within their space, which is to be exploited by the regions and an agreed percentage paid to the central government. In other words, the present revenue sharing formula would be discarded.
Restructuring will compel the regions and states to look inwards to identify and develop their internal economies and by extension the national economy. In the first republic, the North was famous for its groundnut pyramids, the West was known for its cocoa, the Mid West for rubber, the South-East for its palm produce and the South-South of lumbering and fishing. In addition to this vast agricultural profile which presently is lying fallow, each region has mineral deposits.
With proper restructuring, each region, not the central government, will control natural resources found therein, but pay a certain percentage of the income from those resources to the central government for the functioning of the federation. This will spur development because the regions will now take on responsibility for how they use their natural resource income, and indeed whether they choose to depend mainly on such income or build a more complex and productive economy. In a true federation, the central government should have no business owning the country’s natural resources and “allocating” revenues to sub-national units.
The best arrangement for Nigeria is neither the “unitary federalism” the military leaders imposed on us, nor a confederation, but a real federation with a finely calibrated balance of powers and responsibilities between the central and federating units. In this scenario, the federating units can look after themselves more effectively without the “feeding bottle” of the central government. The centre becomes less powerful, but not weak, because it will retain core sovereign responsibilities such as the armed forces and security services, citizenship and immigration, foreign affairs, and the central bank.
The reasons restructuring is vital are as follows. First, the case for justice, fairness and equity. The truth is that the current constitutional structure of Nigeria and concentration of power at the centre favors some parts of the country and disenfranchises others, in particular, those parts of the country from which the natural resources rents support the current structure. It disenfranchises them because they have no control over these resources (which should not be the case in a truly federal state), and because the arrangement places excessive political power in the hands of whichever groups control power at the centre. Additionally, restructuring is essential because it will help our democracy achieve better governance. This will be achieved in two ways. One, restructuring will bring greater accountability and transparency to governance because power and responsibility will devolve closer to the people. This will help evolve a better culture and quality of leadership, and will foster competitive development between the regions. Two, restructuring will result to a reduction in the costs of governance at both the centre and the regions.
If I become the president of Nigeria, the proactive steps I would take to restructure the country are: First, I will meet with the National Assembly and intimate the lawmakers about my plans to restructure the country and painstakingly explain to them the need to come to a broad agreement on the National Assembly’s critical role in constitutional restructuring. Second, I will appoint a Commission on Constitutional Restructuring. The Commission will be comprised of distinguished personalities with impeccable records, and will include a member from each of the regions. The responsibility of the Commission will be to review previous reports and recommendations on constitutional restructuring and to analyse the various positions, arguments and recommendations. It can also craft further recommendations of its own. Third, the report of the Commission will be followed by a widespread sensitization and consultation with citizens and stakeholders in all parts of the country. The aim will be to foster a participatory government where the citizens freely express their opinion on a public policy. The final step will then be the submission of the Restructuring Bill to the National Assembly.
Restructuring is the panacea to Nigeria’s epileptic development. I believe that restructuring will have a proactive effect of positioning Nigeria for real development.