mounting call for restructuring

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What seems to be sounding louder by the day is the call for restructuring by various interest groups in Nigeria. The impression the agitators are giving is that the country is structurally lopsided to the extent that something urgent should be done, if the various ethnic, tribal, religious, economic and political interests are to continue co-habiting harmoniously. The issue now is how sincere or genuine are these agitations for restructuring? Over the years, the need to restructure the federation has been at the front-burner. Recently, renewed agitations followed disturbing activities by secessionists as well as the various threats given for Nigerians to quit parts of the country, issued by other different groups avenging their angers on the perceived imbalance and displeasure over the state of affairs in the country in terms of allocation of resources, appointments, environmental degradation, human right abuses, dominance of the Federal Government over states, power sharing parameters and the unity of the nation.

To address the concerns raised by those calling for restructuring, there is need for the various federating units to develop according to their resources and at their own pace without being slowed down by others. The process of restructuring would involve changes in the distribution of powers, responsibilities and resources, which is contrary to what is provided for under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended); a product of military regime that arrogates a whopping 68 items to the Exclusive Legislative List alone, unlike the 1960 Independence Constitution that had 44 items on the list while the 1963 Republican Constitution equally granted the regions 50 per cent of their resources. In line with what true federalism should be, the Federal Government should rather concern itself with highly sensitive and critical sectors like currency, defence, immigration/customs and foreign affairs while devolving other sectors to the federating units.

The various interests that had clamoured for restructuring strongly believe that the current structure is nothing but a recipe for anarchy, insecurity and instability. In other words, a restructured nation would make the federating units explore the resources in their domain, considering the fact that there is no state in Nigeria that is not endowed with arable land for agriculture or mineral resources that could make them self-reliant and capable of transforming the lives of the people, if well utilised. This was what the country experienced, development-wise, during the era of regionalism, where there was healthy competition among the four regions Northern, Western, Eastern and Mid-Western governments brought about optimal harnessing of resources for development. In the past, agitations for restructuring had been championed mainly by segments of the nation, notably southerners, but over time, other Nigerians, cutting across other geopolitical zones, have clamoured for the imperative of addressing the structure of the country in such a way that the federating units would be more functional, premised on the principle of comparative advantage unlike the current arrangement, whereby states had become completely dependent on the Federal Government.

For instance, the Western Region, under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, successfully laid the foundation for development in commerce and industry by creating an efficient Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the parent of the present-day O’dua Investment Company; revolutionised the production and marketing of cocoa by farmers; reformed the local government system; improved the Western Nigeria Civil Service; implemented the first free primary education programme in Africa; introduced and managed the first Free Medical Service programme in Nigeria for children up to the age of 18; established the first television station in Africa: the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), Ibadan, in 1959 the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife), among others. Apart from the Western Region government, monumental achievements were also recorded by the other regional governments. But what do we have now? It is unfortunate that today, most of the states in the country appear unviable and under-resourced to deliver good governance, as they depend almost entirely on monthly allocation from the Federation Account, the bulk of which they expend on salaries and other recurrent expenditures, leaving out capital expenditures that should actually drive development.

From the foregoing, any opportunity that would bring about positive change and better the lot of the people should be embraced. Therefore, if the call for restructuring is going to turn things around for the better, it is worth trying. But looking at the agitations from another perspective, those calling for restructuring, simply because they have been at the receiving end in the current power equation, should not be seen as being patriotic in their agitation. Those who belong to this category are made up of mainly politicians, who belong to several groups and affiliations. They appear to have joined the call for restructuring for three reasons. First, is to protest their exclusion from governance. In other words, they are using the agitations to vent their anger and obvious irrelevance under the current dispensation.

Secondly, some of the agitators are joining the call to acquire cheap popularity. Those who belong to this category do not have a clear idea of what restructuring actually means and how to attain it. They are simply part of the advocacy to elicit publicity and undue attention to themselves alongside the group they represent. Thirdly, we can refer to those belonging to this group as those warming up for the 2019 general elections, who merely are using restructuring to launch their political campaigns and to situate themselves better for the task ahead. Those belonging to this third group include new political affiliations and politicians that are desperately seeking relevance because the present arrangement and configuration may limit their chances to achieve their political ambition, in 2019. I have used the above scenarios to illustrate that not all agitations for restructuring are genuine and sincere.

On the way forward, efforts should be made to lay the foundation for a truly federal structure through constitutional amendment. The Federal Government should initiate the process without further delay, by putting in place a body that would fashion out the modalities without compromising the existing legislative framework, already provided by the National Assembly. On the likelihood of making use of the recommendations in the 2014 National Conference, one of the tasks to be carried out by the new body is to examine the confab report and make suggestions on the useful portions. I do not subscribe to the idea of adopting the report in its totality. Similarly, I do not also believe that the report should be archived. Rather, sincere and practicable recommendations should be adopted. Hence, there is need for government to decipher and carefully separate the wheat from the chaff in the growing agitation for restructuring.

Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).

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