Nigeria as presently constructed is a contraption of uncertainties with a deeply entrenched system of inequalities. This is reflected in the nature of distribution of constitutional powers amongst arms and institutions of government, citizenship and indigeneity clauses, eligibility age to run for offices to mention a few. Some of these challenges are often adduced to the nature of the post-colonial state, Nigeria inherited. However, I hold the view that Nigeria is too large to be a unitary state and too small for a confederacy.
In the last 100 years, Nigeria has undergone several phases of restructuring but none of these efforts achieved national cohesion, reduced inequality or eliminated exclusion. By all standards, Nigeria appears more divided and sectionalized. Restructuring has been a struggle of the elite, led by the elite to serve the interest of the elite. Through all its years of existence down to this present fourth Republic, Nigeria has operated several forms of government, operated nine constitutions and created more states. While as a nation, we can lay claim to some marginal gains, we’ve also recorded monumental theft of public resources, ethnic fragmentation and rise of ethnic militancy.
In recent times, the concept ‘Restructuring’ has gained prominence in national and international discourse on Nigeria. It is not surprising because as a state exogenously built, there are bound to be intractable implications for the unity and development of the state. Before the advent of British colonialism, Nigeria existed as disparate entities, with differing levels of socio-economic, cultural and political consciousness, leadership and development.The amalgamation of 1914 ushered a new regime of structurally deformities that has remained unaddressed till date. It is therefore not surprising that virtually all sections and regions of the Nigerian State have one time or the other expressed their dissatisfaction with the Nigerian State project as presently constituted. Two of Nigeria’s post-independence leaders (late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello) in various discussions on Nigeria pejoratively asserted that the country is a “mere geographical expression” and that the “mistake of 1914 has come to light” respectively? However, it is important that the agitation for restructuring will persist as long as issues of marginalization, inequality and exclusion remain unaddressed.
Restructuring and the Conceptual gap
The debate on restructuring predates this current agitation. It is a very important contemporary Nigeria discourse because it borders on the future of a great country – Nigeria. What is more interesting with the debate is the divergent views on the conceptual meaning and its implication for Nigeria. There are three predominant challenges with the debate on restructuring Nigeria. First is the challenge of definition, scope and methodology. Perhaps, the numerous definitions advanced by different sections of society simply suggests that restructuring isn’t a monolithic concept.Several meanings have emerged on what restructuring means. These include but not limited to devolution of power, regionalism, fiscal federalism, form of government, state creation, local governance etc. Therefore, any discourse on restructuring must evolve from a broad conceptual understanding of the concept. Secondly, the form or process of restructuring is another challenge. There is lack of consensus on how Nigeria should be restructured. Systematic and periodic constitutional review; sovereign national conferences, referendum or dissolution of government with the institution of an interim government are some of the modalities highlighted for a proper restructuring of the country. The most feasible amongst all the processes is the systematic constitutional amendment process. I subscribe to the normative argumentthat in a country where the dissolution of the exogenous and forcefully formed or built state is not a favored option, the legitimization of such a state and the amelioration of its perceived anomalies and shortcomings could be achieved through building a gradual process of periodic constitutional transformation.
Whose interest does restructuring serve?
The debate on restructuring has seen the emergence of three categories of people; protagonists, antagonist and the fencists. Each has legitimate reasons for holding their views. What has remained absent is the fact that the debate isn’t between citizens and government but a class struggle between the ruling elite from different geographical extraction. This debate is in no way rooted in the wishes of the Nigerian people. Or how do we classify a debate about the future of the country, where the over 100 million of the country’ population that is “the youth” who are the present and future of this country, are not involved in this conversation. Africa’s population reached a record high of 1.2 billion in 2015 and will increase to 1.7 billion by 2030. By 2050, Africa’s population will more than double. The largest concentration of youth in Africa are in Nigeria and more importantly, Nigeria is projected as one of country expected to have the concentration of these population growth between 2015 – 2050. This explain why the British council in a recent study stated that youth, not oil will be Nigeria’s most valuable resource in the 21stcentury. This social category is critical to the growth and development of the Nigerian state and it is this category that Nigerian elite has not reflected in the discussion on restructuring.
Regrettably, Nigeria is moving slower than its potential. Despite its ranking as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, poverty and inequality are on the rise. In 2016, OXFAM reported that the total wealth owned by the five richest Nigerians can lift Nigerians living below the poverty line at$1.90 out of poverty for one year. This degree of extreme poverty coupled with rising unemployment creates opportunities for social disharmony and instability. Nigeria’s unemployment rate is fixed at 14% with youths making up 68% of country’s total unemployed and underemployed population (NBS,2016). According to a recent report released by the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, this figure is bound to rise as to maintain the current unemployment rate of 14%, Nigeria needs to create 3 million jobs per annum. However, the view being espoused by the champions of restructuring tend to suggest that Nigeria’s developmental challenges, poor economic growth, social discontent will be addressed once the country is politically and economically restructured to devolve power as well as vest control of natural resources in subnational entities. While this sound plausible, the current realities negates this school of thought. The cumulative federal allocation to the South-south is around 30% of the national budget with Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa receiving the largest share. The prodigious lifestyle of our elected government officials calls to question such a benefit. For instance, how do we reconcile state executives who elect to embark on bogus projects as a conduit for siphoning public funds rather than investing same in ventures that will improve the livelihood of its citizens and lift young people out of poverty. We are all in this Nigeria, where state governors are owning workers’ salaries despite receiving interventionist funds from the federal government. The recently distributed Paris club palliative by the federal government, have been misappropriated by several state governors without addressing the salaries owed workers. The Nigeria story is showing that poverty and inequality are not driven by lack of resources but ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of public resources.
It is safe to say that theongoing debate onrestructuring is focused on moving some items on the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list in the constitution. Yet, this same people who are clamoring for devolution of power are in the same way advocating for centralization of power. How do we explain the proposed abolition of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC) from the constitution and vesting the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with powers to conduct local government elections. Or how do we reconcile the constitution review process and the agitation for restructuring. Obviously, the ongoing constitution amendment process presents a unique opportunity to restructure Nigeria. However, the National Assembly in July 2017 voted against several amendments, that could have doused the tension created by the restructuring debate. For instance, the outcome of the votes on devolution of power is a testament that the restructuring debate is a class struggle between the elite and not for the interest of the people. The constitution is not just the grundnorm of a country but is also a mechanism for addressing all forms of inequality and exclusion but the present constitution of Nigeria seems skewed to addressing the interest of a few.
While I am not campaigning against the restructuring of the country, but restructuring must serve the interest of all citizens and in particular young people and women. In reality, this means not just inclusion in governance process but importantly investment in health, education, political and economic empowerment. It is only then that as a country we can think of harnessing the democratic dividend and opportunity presented us.
For the average youth, the Nigeria of our dream is country that is not built on ethnic, regional or religious pacts; not a country where livelihood is contingent on geographical extraction; not a country where political participation is limited and access to governance is determined by your age, sex and language and ethnicity, nor a country where we don’t have to spend over 50% of our budget on recurrent expenditure; and in particular a country where there’s no celebration with pomp and pageantry to launch the construction of a borehole, primary health care center etc.
In conclusion, restructuring makes no meaning to Nigeria if doesn’t guarantee good governance, accountability and service to the people.
Being excerpts from a presentation on Next Generation Nigeria: Youth, Opportunity and Governance for the future by Samson Itodo at the Chatham House, London on October 25, 2017