In recent years and perhaps since the return of democratic rule in Nigeria, no other issue has been discussed on a national scale across political and ethnic divides like the subject of restructuring. It has assumed a prominent role in our national space and it has refused to be relegated to the background.
The meaning of restructuring itself is as different as the opinions of various socio-political stakeholders in Nigeria. A search for answers will throw up as many responses as there are respondents, each response modified to the aspirations and ideologies of the respondent.
The failure to achieve a national consensus on the issue is down to the divergence of idiosyncrasies around it. The etymology of the word restructuring itself depicts its meaning as a “re-organisation and alteration of an existing structure.” The clamour for restructuring arose from the perceived non-functionality, failure or inefficiency of an existing structure, which in this case is our governance model.
The elements to be included in the restructuring process have been suggested to include Fiscal Federalism, Resource Control, Devolution of Powers, Local and State Government Autonomy, State Policing, Regional administration, amongst others.
Others have asked that 1963 constitution be replaced with the current 1999 constitution. Various socio-cultural organisations in Nigeria have offered commentaries on critical national topics frequently. Amongst these are the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Afenifere, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Middle Belt Forum.
These groups in various ways and at various fora have brought restructuring to the frontline of national discourse. In various contexts, they have decried the numerous problems of the country and emphatically declared that only restructuring can save the nation from imminent collapse.
Some of them, together with other civil society activists, have warned of a looming disaster if Nigeria does not return to the principles of “true federalism.” They noted that the nation is at the brink of an avoidable catastrophe, that it requires urgent actions and that the most potent recipe to prevent the catastrophe is restructuring.
They have thus called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the National and State Assemblies and all other authorities to ensure that restructuring takes place within the shortest possible time.
The word “True” is added to the advocacy to establish the fact that the core tenets of federalism are not practised in Nigeria. This brings up the issue of True Federalism. Nigeria practices “Artificial Federalism” which bears the large imprint of a unitary system.
Federalism is a mixed-mode of the government that combines a general government, the central or federal government with regional governments, and provincial, state, territorial or other sub-unit of governments in a single political system. It entails the devolution of powers from the central government to its federating states, who then share sovereignty with the central government.
Only recently, governors from the South-West geopolitical zones proposed the conversion of the present six geopolitical zones into federating units, as part of the ongoing review of the 1999 constitution by the National Assembly.
The governors demanded that Section 8(5) and (6) be expunged to make local government formation, the exclusive duty of the state government. They proposed an amendment to Section 44(3) of the constitution that gives the powers of exploitation of the nation’s mineral resources to the Federal Government.
In 2014, the Jonathan administration organized a national conference that gave various recommendations for the restructuring of the country. The government was however unable to set the implementation in motion. The overbearing political campaign atmosphere that pervaded the country at that period distracted the government.
Nevertheless, former President Goodluck Jonathan used restructuring as part of his campaign. He promised to restructure the country if re-elected. Responding to the President’s campaign, the All Progressives Congress (APC) as part of its campaign, in the build-up to the 2015 elections, swiftly added restructuring to its manifesto.
However, on assuming power, the party inaugurated a 23-member committee led by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai to collate the views of Nigerians on restructuring. In January 2018, they submitted their recommendations to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party for onward transmission to the President who is the leader of the party for final submission to the National Assembly for necessary action.
According to El-Rufai, some of the recommendations of the report included: amendment to the land use act, state police, merger of states, resource control, and adjustments to the Petroleum Act, amongst others. However, the recommendations have not been transmitted to the National Assembly. The political will is absent and nothing more has been heard of the report.
The President, in one of his recent statements, has absolved himself of any blame on the issue by saying that the contentious issue of restructuring, true federalism or devolution of powers remain a constitutional matter. According to him, only the National Assembly can address it.
He expressed optimism that the National Assembly has nearly completed the constitutional review process, which would address some of the burning issues agitating the minds of citizens. A critical look at the relentless calls for restructuring has revealed a clear pattern.
Socio-political groups and stakeholders who are not in government have always been the champions and advocates of restructuring. This is in contrast to the lackadaisical attitude of politicians and stakeholders who are in government or have access to government patronage. This divide has played out repeatedly since the commencement of the Fourth Republic.
The existing structure in which states depend on allocations from the central government has proven to stagnate the country for a long time. Many states cannot sustain themselves without federal hand-outs. This is in spite of all 36 states of the federation being endowed with natural and human resources.
Additionally, the revenue sharing formula is to all the states regardless of contribution to national coffers. In most cases, some non-revenue earning states even get more allocations than the revenue earners due to the determining political variables.
Certain states have expressly forbidden the merchandise of certain tobacco and alcohol products in their states but earn significant revenue from taxes paid by the manufacturers of such products. The northern part of the country is highly blessed with arable lands and abundant resources. If agriculture is introduced on a wide and modern scale, it has the potential for self-sustenance and economic prosperity.
However, all such potential remain untapped because states rely fully on Federal Government largesse necessitated by the current system. This factor is responsible for the meteoric rise in poverty and illiteracy in the country. According to the champions of restructuring, fiscal federalism will effectively address these issues. Devolution of power, which is the main feature of federalism, will concentrate real powers and autonomy on states and local governments, and take development closer to Nigerians.
Nigerians will be thus empowered to wield sufficient constitutional authority to enforce certain regulations that are peculiar to their states. Strong regional governments or formidable state governments largely independent of the Federal Government will make the centre less attractive, which will help the democratic system.
The current scramble for the Presidency based on the Southern/Northern dichotomy and rotation system will not exist, if the centre is less powerful. Federalism is the appropriate governmental principle for countries with huge diversities like Nigeria, a nation with over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups. It is aranging governancevin a way that can effectively accommodate the country’s ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic diversities and nurture a sense of national unity.
Regrettably, leaders of governments, past and present and at all levels, have failed to fulfil their obligations to offer good governance to the people. Indeed, failure to encourage the devolution of powers has triggered bitter rivalries between the central government and some state governments over revenue from the country’s resources.
The defective federal structure has also promoted acrimonious struggles between interest groups to capture the state and its attendant wealth. It has facilitated the emergence of violent ethnic militias. Furthermore, politicians have exploited inter-communal tensions for selfish gains. Thus, communities throughout the country increasingly feel marginalized and alienated from the Nigerian state. All these anomalies have bred resentment in the country, culminating in an incessant rise in discontent. It has also fuelled violent separatist agendas in the country.
After all said and done, the National Assembly remains the best hope of the country in the accomplishment of this objective. The implementation can be attempted in phases to make it easier. Every item of restructuring can be democratically achieved through the National Assembly if only these elected representatives of the people rise to the occasion.