GRADUALLY, the clamour for the restructuring of the country is gaining currency, acceptance and support in most parts of the country.
Arguably, a consensus is being built and most stakeholders agree that there is need to tinker with the polity in a manner that will ensure equity, justice and fair-play among the ethnic nationalities, which in turn will accelerate socio-economic and political development.
The emerging consensus is underpinned by a number of prevailing challenges in the country such as biting recession, inability of most state governments to pay salaries, menace of herdsmen and recurring murderous clashes with farmers. Others include agitation for the Republic of Biafra, Arewa youths quit notice to Igbo to leave northern Nigeria on or before October 1, 2017 and counter-quit notice by Niger-Delta groups to northerners living in the South, restiveness in the oil-rich Niger-Delta, and alleged maltreatment of some sections of the country by the President Buhari-led Administration through appointments.
No consensus yet on restructuring
Although most people agree that the centre is too strong and there is need to devolve more powers to the federating units, there is no consensus yet on what and how Nigeria should be restructured. While some want the six geo-political zones to become the federating units, some said the states should remain the federating units but saddled with more responsibilities and given more funds.
There are also those who want regionalism or a return to what prevailed in the First Republic when the centre was weak, the regions were very strong, had their constitutions, police, controlled their resources of which they kept 50 per cent and contributed the rest to the central pool, which was further shared.
How to proceed with the restructuring is another kettle of fish. While some want the Federal Government to implement recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, others kick and argue that the National Assembly should be allowed to amend the 1999 Constitution to incorporate whatever changes that are envisaged.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, is opposed to restructuring of the country to ensure true federalism, saying what the country needed was competent leadership at all levels of government and not doing anything that would weaken the centre. National Publicity Secretary of ACF, Mohammed Ibrahim, who made this statement in a telephone interview with Vanguard, recently said: “Nigerians fought for the unity of the country. It is not possible for the North to support anything that would cause disunity in Nigeria.”
In like manner, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr Junaid Mohammed, argued that none of those calling for the restructuring of Nigeria had been able to give a clear cut definition of what they meant. He also said majority of the personalities calling for restructuring were trying to blackmail Nigeria, saying “until somebody can tell me what this restructuring is all about, I won’t be convinced about the call. These agitators of restructuring like Chief EK Clark, Chief John Nnia 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, Nigeria will break up.”
Of late, many eminent Nigerians, across the country, have joined the restructuring crusade. They include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who wants the six geo-political zones to become the federating units; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who canvassed true federalism and urged the Federal Government to devolve power to the federating units and former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Indeed, Babangida is the latest pro-restructuring voice from the North. In his contribution to the debate, Babangida apart from throwing his massive weight behind restructuring gave reasons why it should be done and how.
How we can restructure Nigeria — IBB
Babangida said: “If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results, we need to change tactics and approach, and renew our commitment. It is our collective responsibilities to engender a reform that would be realistic and in sync with modern best practices. For example, restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come.
“I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defence, and economy. Even the idea of having Federal Roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality.
“Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile. The talk to have the country restructured means that Nigerians are agreed on our unity in diversity; but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on our comparative advantages.
“Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having State Police across the states of the Federation. This idea was contained in my manifesto in 2010 when I attempted to contest the presidential elections. The initial fears that State Governors will misuse the officers and men of the State Police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in, and confidence to interrogate power.
“We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilization to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become so sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.”
Implementing 2014 confab
To fast-track the process, some stakeholders have urged the government to implement the over 620 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, organised by the immediate past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Indeed, the conference touched virtually all aspects of the socio-economic and political challenges besetting the country such as resource control, fiscal federalism, devolution of power, creation of states, forms of government, revenue allocation, ethnic nationalities and minority question, and resolution of the herdsmen and farmers’ crises.
For a start, the conference recommended part time legislature, removal of immunity clause on criminal matter, independent candidacy, part-time legislature, cutting cost of government by having only 18 ministers instead of 42, The Diaspora participation in voting, unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, privatisation of existing refineries and stoppage of sponsorship of pilgrims.
The confab also recommended that anybody aspiring to become the country’s President must be a degree holder. It approved the rotation of Presidency between the North and South and governorship among the three senatorial districts of each state. Also, any elected official, executive or legislative, who carpet-cross, regardless of the reasons for such, shall automatically forfeit his seat.
It also recommended the creation of 18 new states (three per geo-political zone). Apart from the 18 proposed states, the Conference also recommended one new state for the South-East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North-West that has seven. It said that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.
Fiscal federalism and resource control
On the vexed issue of fiscal federalism and resource control, the Conference recommended the establishment of a special fund for the development of mineral resources. The Fund should be administered by a competent body according to guidelines that shall be specified by the National Assembly. It specifically said that excess revenue should be used for exploration of mineral resources in every part of the country.
To reduce economic power at the centre, it recommended that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5% as opposed to the prevailing 52.68 %, 26.72% and 20.60% respectively.
In spite of these recommendations, President Muhammadu Buhari, on assuming of power elected to archive the report of the confab, a decision that partly led to the heated debates on restructuring. Last week, Senate President Bukola Saraki urged the Executive Arm of government to forward the confab recommendations to the National Assembly for necessary legislative action.
Currently, President Buhari is in London for medical vacation. It is to be seen whether or not Acting President Yemi Osinbajo will honour Saraki’s request.