Undoubtedly, the much awaited 2019 general elections are around the corners. Expectedly, the dominant issue in the forthcoming electioneering campaign is restructuring. Such issues are used to hoodwink, or at best cajole the electorate. Perhaps the best candidate in this game of deception is Atiku Abubakar. He has been promising to turn stone into bread vis-à-vis restructuring polemic. The game of the absurd went as far as promising to achieve this within six months of his inauguration!
Atiku and his cohorts are cashing-in on this because the latest lingua in virtually everybody’s mouth in Nigeria today is restructuring. Indeed, the call for restructuring is now so deafening that government cannot afford to close its ears or see it as mere noise in the market place. Interestingly however, the definition of that singular word “restructuring” appears to have gained a relative disposition in Nigeria, while it has virtually become a word to be played upon by some opposition politicians and ethnic groups to get the attention of the citizenry.
However, the conceptualizations of the word are as diverse as the peoples agitating for it. And for any undiscerning mind, every attempt to decipher or comprehend restructuring in the Nigerian context may result in more confusion and/or outright lack of clear understanding. Besides, can one say, without any equivocation, that what restructuring means to the Yoruba nation is what it means to our compatriots in the Southeast? Who says that restructuring, in the understanding of the South-south, is what it depicts to the North-central, Northwest and Northeast? Thus, like the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. And that is exactly what the concept of restructuring appears to be in Nigeria.
For instance, while, it means secession to the separatist agitators, some consider restructuring to amount to the implementation of the 2014 national political conference, and yet, to others, it simply means absolute control of the resources at the disposal of each region or state. While some are also of the belief that a restructured Nigeria must result in the abandonment of the presidential system of government as currently being practiced for regionalism, just like the parliamentary system of government during the period of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello as premiers, others are of the opinion that the solution to the skewed federal arrangement in Nigeria lies in the wholesale adoption of the report of the 2014 National Conference. This is in deference to those who simply conclude that the latest demand for restructuring is an open expression of frustration by Nigerians and a reaction to the failure of successive administrations to deliver good governance to the generality of the people.
A pro-democracy activist and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, is, however, of the belief that restructuring is conceptually wrong without reviewing why it is needed. According to him, restructuring will not work in the context of a military democracy and political elite conspiracy. He even caps it all by submitting that the agitation for restructuring is a political calculation for 2019. To him, most politicians advocating restructuring today will abandon it when they get to power.
In spite of all these however, there is no denying the fact that Nigeria has gone through series of restructuring since independence. It would be recalled that Nigeria was constitutionally founded on a federal structure which became more entrenched with the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954. At independence, the country had a three-regional government before it was restructured as a unitary system by military fiat in January 1966. What was to follow these was the creation of more states in 1967 by the regime of General Yakubu Gowon to ensure that no region was able to impose its will on others. This led to the creation of 12 new states out of the three existing regions in 1967, which was increased to 19 states in 1976; 21 states in 1987; 30 states in 1991, after which six states were added in 1996 to make the present 36-state structure in Nigeria. Even though all these state creation exercises were done by the military, there is no doubting the fact that it was also part of the restructuring of the Nigerian polity.
It should, however, be stated that the fact that the call for restructuring under whatever name, be it true federalism, devolution of powers, regionalism, resource control or whatever, has again resurfaced in Nigeria is an indication that something is seriously wrong with the current structure or arrangement.
For instance, the present revenue allocation formula which gives 52.8 percent of federally-collected revenue to the Federal Government, and paltry 26.72 percent and 20 percent to states and local governments respectively, is, to say the obvious, too lopsided. The implication of this is that the constituent units, which are supposed to be the closest to the people, are left with serious financial challenges and are consequently hampered from providing basic needs to the people.
Besides, the centre is saddled with too many responsibilities some of which it finds pretty difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to discharge as effectively as the sub-national units would have done. Perhaps this is why the call for devolution of power appears to be the loudest in the renewed agitation for restructuring. Aside having a large number of matters on the exclusive legislative list, there are also limitations to the competence of states in matters on the concurrent list, as state laws are usually constitutionally rendered null and void if they are inconsistent with federal laws.
Another question which nobody seems to have found an answer to is: why did the federal government reduce the percentage of derivation from 50 to 45 in 1975, and has continued to reduce it to 1.5 per cent and three percent until it was finally fixed at 13 per cent? No wonder, most states in Nigeria today have found it extremely difficult to survive without going to Abuja cap in hand for the monthly handout. Little wonder also that most Nigerian citizens are wallowing in abject poverty owing to the inability of states and local governments to provide basic needs that would have impacted on their social wellbeing.
Be that as it may, let me make bold to say that there are too many responsibilities and resources at the federal level to allow for efficiency because of over- centralization. The federal government has become so big that it is theoretically and practically impossible to guarantee efficiency. For instance, a report has it that the federal government is executing over 1,000 projects in various sectors across the country simultaneously. There is no way, given the capacity of the bureaucracy at the federal level, that efficiency can be guaranteed in the deployment of resources in this circumstance.
Besides, Nigeria is too far-flung for a central authority to effectively perform some of the duties ascribed to it. These include agriculture and food security, provision of water and management of water resources, policing, maintenance of roads and provision of tertiary education, to mention a few. Hence the need for the centre to shed weight and allow the constituent units to undertake some of these functions.
For instance, while the federal government caters for a total of 104 unity schools/Federal Government Colleges, 40 universities, 21 polytechnics and 22 colleges of education, Oyo State alone caters for over 2,000 primary schools, a total of 628 secondary schools, one college of agriculture and technology, two colleges of education, three polytechnics and two universities. This is ditto for other states of the federation which are equally battling with meager resource allocation to deliver good governance.
From the foregoing, one can not dispute the imperative of restructuring to rescue Nigeria from the calamity of federal-immobilism. But rather than a desperate promise that may become a herculean task after election, Atiku and other presidential candidates should take time out to comprehend restructuring polemic. It is no longer easy to take Nigerians for a ride anymore. It entails constitutional amendments, country wide consultations among the numerous ethnic conglomerates that constitute Nigeria. Not what a president could do with fiat.
- Dr. Ojo, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, UNILORIN, is currently Chief of Staff to Oyo State governor.