Calls for the country’s restructuring keep recurring despite succeeding administrations’ seeming concern about the matter. Eric Ikhilae examines why the agitation has lingered and sought law experts’ views on the way out.
For many ethnic nationalities, the solution to the country’s multifarious problems is restructuring. Their campaign for true federalism did not begin today. But the campaign keeps reccurring under succeeding administrations. Before he left office in 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan organised a national conference to solve the issue.
The resolutions of the conference, which according to estimates, allegedly gulped N7billion, are yet to be implemented.
The need to build a functional nation that fairly benefits all its component units – which restructuring simply implies -has remained since the attainment of independence in 1960.
For restructuring advocates, there has always been need to restructure the country, because no human structure is perfect. Thus, they believe the country requires persistent tinkering until the best structure is achieved.
Past attempts at restructuring
They argued that the quest to restructure, which informed the pre- and post-independence constitutional conferences, continued under succeeding military administrations.
The military tinkered with the country’s structure, moving from a three-region arrangement to 12, later 19 states, and ending with the late Gen Sani Abacha, which raised the number of states to 36 and local governments to 774.
It could be argued that attempts at producing a Constitution that will ensure a state that functions to the benefit of all began with the Clifford Constitution of 1922, through the Richards Constitution (1946), Macpherson Constitution (1951), Lyttleton Constitution (1954), Independence Constitution (1960) to the Republican Constitution of 1963.
It did not end there, succeeding military governments continued with the Constitutional Conference of 1975/76, Constituent Assembly of 1977/78, Constitutional Conference (1988/89), National Political Reform Conference (1994/95 and the conference by the Abdulsalami Abubakar administration that produced the 1999 Constitution from the Abacha administration’s 1995 draft Constitution.
On assuming office in 1999, the Olusegun Obasanjo government constituted a political reform committee in 2005; his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua set up the Electoral Reform Panel headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammed Uwais; the subsequent administration of President Jonathan had its National Conference in 2014.
The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has also set up the Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee, headed by former Senate President Ken Nnamani. The committee submitted its report to the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) on last week.
Why agitation for restructuring persists
To observers, the call has persisted because of lack of a genuine attempt by the government to carry through past recommendations for restructuring produced at the state-convened conferences and private initiatives.
Some of such private initiatives include those by members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the late Chief Anthony Enahoro-led Pro-National Conference Coalition (PRONACO) and the Movement for National Reformation (MNR), among others.
While those, who benefit from the current arrangement thought the cry for restructuring will peter out with time, it has persisted, and incidentally, has now assumed a pan-Nigeria outlook, with major voices being raised in all sections of the country in its support.
At a lecture in Osun State on March 6, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar stressed the need for the country to be restructured, adding that it was a necessity if the country was to survive beyond today.
He said: “While those calling for restructuring may be driven by different motives there is certainly a strong case for restructuring our federation. My reasons are simply that the current structure, which concentrates too much power and resources in the centre, makes us economically unproductive, uncompetitive, indolent, and politically weak, disunited and unstable.
“It has made our component units too suspicious of one another, a suspicion that makes any rational discussion very difficult. This structure, which can be called ‘unitary federalism,’ does not serve the country or any section well. It rests on the foundation of dependence on oil revenues, which seem to be in long-term decline and is, therefore, unsustainable.
“And a country remains united in the long term only because the component units believe that it is in their interest to remain part of the country, that there are important things that they get from remaining part of the country than not.
“Leaders from across the country acknowledged this and gave voice to it in the last political conference held in 2014, whatever the motivations for convening the conference at the time,” Atiku said as the Guest Speaker at the annual Prof. Ademola Popoola Public Lecture at the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State on March 6, 2017.
On March 26 this year, prominent Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark, renowned Igbo personalities – Emeka Anyaoku and John Nwodo – at an event in Lagos, echoed Atiku’s call for restructuring.
They argued, among others, that the unity of Nigeria and harmonious co-existence of the various ethnic nationalities will be deepened by fiscal federalism and the restructuring of the polity. The event was a dinner held in Lagos by old members of the Sigma Club of University of Ibadan for Nwodo, who recently became the President-General of the pan-Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo,
On May 3 some leading lights in the Southwest, including Osun and Ondo states governors, Rauf Aregbesola and Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, pioneer Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bisi Akande, ex-Chief of Army Staff, General Alani Akinrinade, among others, preached the godpel of restructuring at Akinrinade’s book lauch in Lagos.
Aregbesola, who described himself as a federalist, noted that Nigeria is the only federation where the police and the entire internal security arrangement are unitary.
He said it is shocking that Nigerians are indifferent about a recent report from the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), to the effect that N315 billion and $21.8 billion or about N7 trillion, by 2017 exchange rate, was not paid by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to the Federation Account.
“If we are actually interested in our development and progress, we must not fail to harp on this anomaly in our accounting system and our management of federal resources,” Aregbesola said.
On his part, Akeredolu shared Gen. Akinrinade’s views on decentralisation of the system of government. The governor added: “The time has come for proper restructuring. We must prepare a blueprint for restructuring. I believe he will give us more details about his idea of restructuring in his memoir.”
How should it be done?
To the pro components of restructuring include de-centralisation of the powers structure to include the devolution of power to the constituent state, to the extent of creating a not so attractive centre, state police, local government autonomy, among others as is always the case in every federation.
To them, Nigeria cannot persist in presenting an aberration, and seek to retain a warped federal system that is more unitary than federal, in structure and operations.
For some senior lawyers, including Sebastine Hon, Joseph Nwobike and Mike Ozekhome (all Senior Advocates of Nigeria) the time to restructure is now. Each of them went further to contextualise his picture of a restructured Nigeria.
Hon agreed that it was time to restructure the country. He said it should take the form of a constitutional amendment where all the identified anomalies are critically examined and reordered.
He faulted the current arrangement where the local government was tied to the apron string of the states. Hon said he was comfortable where local governments were entangled from the control of the state and accorded political and fiscal autonomy, which would be reflected in the constitution.
“Such restructuring should also be extended to the Judiciary, which is currently highly centralised. I do not see why we cannot have regional Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal if we cannot have such courts in each states as is the case with the United States.”
Nwobike argued that the sort of restructuring the country deserves is a constitutional restructuring, with the objectives of achieving political cohesion and enable the redistribution of political powers and authorities, in such a manner as to give all segments of the Nigerian society a voice in the management of its affairs at various levels of government.
This, he contended, must commence with the granting of additional constitutional autonomy to the local government council, with a drastic reduction in the political control, which the state government currently has over the local government council.
He added that there was also the need to reduce the mass of political authorities, which the Federal Government exercises, under the Constitution at the moment.
“So, when I say constitutional restructuring, I mean there has to be the rebalancing of the various levels of power redistribution mechanism, so that people will have a sense of belonging. Today, the reason why a lot of the states are unable to meet the yearnings and aspirations of its citizens is that there is this Federal Government that controls basically, everything, from police, Immigration, to finance, oil related revenue, mining license, among others.
“The Federal Government collects all the revenues and give to the states at its discretion. And this has created a problem. I also think there is the need for constitutional recognition of the geo-political zones. As at today, political zone is a mere political expression.
“But, we should incorporate it in the Constitution, so that certain considerations, in terms of redistribution of powers, Federal Character consideration, can also take account of the geo-political zones,” Nwobike said.
He added that such restricting should also be reflected in the Judiciary because it is improper, within the context of our federal system of government, for the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be responsible for the appointment of judges for the states. “That is completely wrong,” he said.
The states, he said, should be responsible for the appointment of their judges. The states, in that regard, should also be empowered to create specialised courts, including those that could hear some appellate cases.
Nwobike argued that: “To concentrate the judicial power, in a federal system, in the hands of the Federal Government, is antithetical and over bearing. “
Ozekhome, who was a government delegate to the Jonathan conference of 2014, faulted opposition to the call for restructuring, urging the Buhari administration to revisit the conference’s report, which he said, contains comprehensive recommendations on how to restructure the federation to benefit all.
“My recommendation for urgent restructuring, devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units, enthronement of true fiscal federalism, all of which the National Conference (2014) argued, fought for, disagreed, agreed on and finally consensualised upon, between its inauguration by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on March 17, 2014, to August 14, 2014, is to avoid a violent break-up of Nigeria. It has happened before elsewhere.
“I have always been surprised, but of late, bemused, when I hear some people kicking against restructuring. Restructuring is not tantamount to a break-up. It is simply an idea designed to address the unnatural imbalance and lopsidedness of Nigeria, which puts her permanently on an explosive keg of gun powder, driven by various centripetal and centrifugal forces.
“We are operating a unitary system of government, euphemistically dressed up in the borrowed garb of federalism. If we were federal, why does the Federal Government at the Centre have so much money, as to dole out so called “Bail-out” funds, to weak federating units, the states, gasping for the oxygen of simple existentialism?
“If we were federal, and needed no restructuring, why do the 36 state Commissioners of Finance in Nigeria congregate in Abuja at the end of every month in the ritual (like witches and wizards in a coven) of sharing allocations from the Federation Account under Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution?
“If we were federal, and all is smooth and well, how come states cannot be self-dependent, without looking for crumbs that fall from the big master’s table in Abuja? If we were truly federal and unitary, how come politicians engage themselves in a strangulating “do-or-die” war of attrition, to capture power at the Centre, so as to have unhindered and free access to our common till patrimony and commonwealth?” Ozekhome asked.
“If Nigeria were genuinely fiscally federal, how come every Nigerian is simply interested in how to share the national cake, without caring about how it is baked, who bakes it, the means and methods of baking it, and at whose expense?” he askedWhile jailing corrupt people may be salacious and newsworthy in the short run, only a detailed and systematic reform of the society by consistently targeting the proceeds of crime and creating technologically-driven transparency and accountability system can counter the onslaught of treasury looters and political money bags in the long runWhile jailing corrupt people may be salacious and newsworthy in the short run, only a detailed and systematic reform of the society by consistently targeting the proceeds of crime and creating technologically-driven transparency and accountability system can counter the onslaught of treasury looters and political money bags in the long runWhile jailing corrupt people may be salacious and newsworthy in the short run, only a detailed and systematic reform of the society by consistently targeting the proceeds of crime and creating technologically-driven transparency and accountability system can counter the onslaught of treasury looters and political money bags in the long run.
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