2014 National Conference and the benefits of restructuring

In 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan administration organised a national dialogue to deliberate on, and recommend ways to resolve some of the challenges facing his government, many of which problems were rooted in history, and arguably, have been multiplied and magnified by the failure of the current administration. Since Buhari took office in May 2015, virtually every sector of the society has been impacted adversely. Direct foreign investment is down. The stock market has shrunk. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which surpassed that of South Africa for the first time during the Jonathan years is now the lowest it has been in 25 years. Unemployment level is growing by the day. The cost of essential commodities such as food stuff has tripled, causing hunger and unheard of levels of poverty in the land. The naira is at the lowest level it has been in history.

There is also the growing state of insecurity. Despite the administration’s attempts to downplay the menace of Boko Haram, the terror group continues to rampage. Fulani herdsmen have added another dimension to the state of insecurity. The impunity with which these graze their cattle continues to create conflict in local communities across the country. Sporadic clashes between the Federal Government and various groups in the south east, and the south-south geo-political zones have continued unabated since Buhari became president.

The Igbo allege that they are politically marginalised, and the Ijaws claim that they are fiscally exploited and environmentally abused. Others in the South-west, and in the north-central have joined in accusing the President of being concerned only with the core northern parts of the country. Comments from even allies of the President allude to his failure as a leader and Dr. Junaid Mohammed’s declaration that “Nepotism in Buhari’s Government Is The Worst In Nigeria’s History,” is a chilling, but widely held opinion. It can be said that the political climate today has never been this convoluted and gloomy in peace time Nigeria.

It is this deplorable state of affairs which advocates of restructuring wish to alter. They embrace the 2014 Confab report because they have identified some of the report’s recommendations as potential panacea. Consider these salient features of the Confab recommendations:

(i) Geo-Political Restructuring: In order to address the agitation for more states, as well as the complaints of marginalisation by some Geo-Political zones, the Confab suggests the creation of additional states. And for the sake of parity, every zone shall have the same number of nine states. As things stand now the division of states, in which, North-West has seven, North-East has six, North Central has six, South-West has six, South-South has six, and South-East has only five is unfair.

(ii) Fiscal Restructuring: In order to enhance the nation’s wealth, the states should control their own mineral resources. No more collection of hand out from federation account. States will pay tax to federal from profit generated from investments on mineral resources which will be taken off exclusive list. Additionally, the country is advised to move away from oil in a single product economy, and diversify into other minerals. It should invest heavily in agriculture as this sector has the greatest potential of creating jobs, and reducing poverty.

(iii) Administrative Restructuring policies in such areas as education, health, transportation and road infrastructure should be left to state government. “The states shall be the federating units, and any group of states may create a self-funding zonal commission to promote economic development, good governance, equity, peace and security in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)” 5.12 (2:II) p 198. The states can determine the number of local government areas they need.

(iv) Security Restructuring: There should be multiple layers of security personnel in order to improve levels of safety. The Confab recommends the establishment of a state police force, local government police, and community-neighbourhood police, for day to day law enforcement, while Federal Police Force should serve mainly in times of crisis.

(v) Political Office Restructuring: Section 5.12, sub-section 8 (p. 203) of the Summary of the Main Report of the 2014 National Conference recommends. “(a) The principle of zoning and Rotation of elective offices at the Federal and State levels on the basis of excellence equity, gender, justice and (b) The office of President shall rotate between the North and the south and amongst the six (6) geo-political zones (i) The office of the Governor shall rotate among the three (3) Senate Districts in that state. (ii) The office of Chairman of a Local Government Council shall rotate within the Local Government Area”.

This arrangement will go a long way to alleviate the fears of some that Nigeria will never allow a person from certain ethnicity (e.g. Igbo) to become president, and tame the destructive arrogance of others (e.g. Hausa-Fulani) who proclaim that their tribe is born to rule.
(vi) Electoral Restructuring: “State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC’s) are scraped and elections into LGA shall be conducted by INEC” section 4, subsection BIII) p 201. This will put an end to the undemocratic practise in which the governor constitutes the State Independent Electoral Commission, and uses it to frustrate all apposition in elections.

Much of the opposition to the idea of restructuring has come from the north. Some even label advocates of restructuring as secessionists in disguise.Luckily major stakeholders from the north such as former President Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa, and former Information Minister, Professor Jerry Gana have joined those from the South such as former Finance Minister, and Presidential Candidate, Chief Olu Falae, former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, Cardinal Anthony Okojie, and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka to express the sentiment that the whole country including the north will benefit from the exercise.

Devolution of powers from the Federal government to the states will empower the federating units, enabling the states to develop at their own pace. The north, which incidentally has more mineral resources than the south will be able to escape the stigma of being the location of the country’s highest rate of illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and insecurity.

Ironically, this proposal of restructuring which some northerners reject is the closest ideology to the development plan entailed in the eight point agenda of the iconic leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in 1953. A readjustment of our system of government as proposed in the 2014 Confab has the potential of making Nigeria administratively more manageable, economically more prosperous, politically more equitable, and socially more united and secure.

Dr. Pearse is a senior lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Lagos.

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