Before it is too late
Nigeria is currently at a critical crossroads in its existence. It may either chose to restructure the country as many of its citizens had been clamouring for many years now or continue with the current arrangement, which although federal in name, is closer to a unitary system in practice. Both choices have their consequences. Sincere restructuring, like many progressives are canvassing will, most probably, lead to a richly diverse but prosperous and united country with happy and enterprising citizens. Sticking with the status quo however, as we have been seeing, will lead to social tension, political instability, general unrest and the risk of another civil war, which may lead to the break-up or disintegration of the country – an outcome that will be unpalatable even to the increasingly rising centrifugal forces in the country.
Since the return to civil democratic governance in 1999, close watchers of the Nigerian project have noted the problematic and quasi-unitary nature of the 1999 – a document foisted on Nigerians solely by the departing military administration – and have called for a restructuring of the country along more equitable, truly federal and democratic lines that will respect the diversity and partial autonomy (as permitted by every true federal constitution) of the different parts of the country. But alas, those who benefited from the status quo have refused to countenance any talk of restructuring.
But even some conservative forces who have stoutly supported the status quo are now recanting, on the reason of current happenings, and have joined the restructuring bandwagon. One of such persons is a former military president Ibrahim Babangida. As he rightly surmised: “…restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate 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.” Citing just one anomaly out of many bedevilling Nigerian federalism, IBB, as he is fondly called, gave the example of having federal roads in towns and cities as an idea that has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. For him, the Nigerian federation, as currently structured, is in need of reforms that will emphasise the individual strength and advantages of the component units so that governments can really work to improve the lives of Nigerians.
Others such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the APC governor’s forum have also shown their support for restructuring to stave off the dangerous agitations and call for dissolution of the country that is now gaining grounds across the country.
But just as many conservatives are being converted to the cause of restructuring along truly federal lines, elements of the Action Congress (one of the legacy parties of the now ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), that have been most vociferous in the call and whose one most important party agenda was the call for true federalism and restructuring of the country to provide for such, have gone mute since finding themselves at the centre of national politics, which puts them in a vantage position to bring to reality, for the first time, what they have always clamoured for as an opposition party. Even the Acting President, a key member of this group, has gone record saying Nigeria doesn’t need restructuring. This is most unfortunate!
Government response to the current agitations for separation has been less than convincing. Although both the president and Acting president have been singing the tune that Nigeria’s unity and existence is non-negotiable, the reality is that it is. Greater countries have disintegrated and whittle away. As one analyst puts it: “A country cannot decree unity; it must cultivate and nurture it.”Whatever the wishes and desires of those in power, restructuring is a project whose time has come. Failure to heed wise council while there is still time may lead to unpalatable consequences!
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