The tendency for Nigeria and Nigerians to resort to abbreviations is a sort of metaphor for a single word that explains how we think about problems and our approach to them – reductionist. The result is that you have present and past national leaders called IBB, OBJ, ABS, GEJ, PMB, BAT, SLS, OUK, and most recently PYO, in reference to Acting President and Substantive Vice-President Professor Yemi Osinbajo. This trend is also observed in the naming of institutions or government programmes. This approach is also observed with problems and the solutions are often encapsulated in one word. In 2015, that word was “Change”, and it swept us into the present confused state.
Permit me to digress a little before circling right back – there is nothing wrong with holding dual ideas in the mind. It is in fact a sign of intellectual capability if one can hold different thoughts about a single subject without feeling disjointed or discombobulated. One can recognise Obasanjo for the great leader that he is but also see in him certain weaknesses – it does not make him one’s hero neither does it make him a villain; it merely makes him human, neither an angel nor a demon, just human.
Change was the buzzword that led us into the present conundrum because it was never fully defined and agreed upon. Of course the definition of the word “Change” is obvious but the concept of it as the driving force of an electoral decision was never collectively defined. So it was that while some assumed that “Change” was going to be from what was perceived as failed leadership to good governance, for others, especially up North, it was merely a Change of the ethnicity of the President from one who was portrayed as an “Ijaw Christian” to one who was a “Northern Muslim”.
The inability to define that word and come to a joint agreement has led us to where we are – a situation where nepotism and ethnocentrism have become the national values and some righteous but ideologically ungrounded persons have also responded with equal ethnocentrism and its elder brother – hegemony, rather than the higher path of nationalism.
Change has now given birth to “restructuring” – another buzzword towards the 2019 elections, upon which a collective definition must be sought. I say this not from a position of ignorance but a sort of interdisciplinary knowledge. The basics of restructuring are clear – devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units which need to be reinforced and perhaps redefined, the tinkering with revenue allocation with more attention given to the principle of derivation than the principles of needs and so much else.
The problem here is that even these two points of restructuring I have highlighted are not agreed upon when it comes to the basics of it and the whole concept is being reduced to a straightforward assumption that every part of the country wants the same thing and it can be achieved in a short while – six months going by what former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said.
The question of the template for governing, structuring and administering a multi-ethnic state has been answered by political philosophers in the past – federalism is the only way, and Nigeria from 1966 onward has been anything but federalist in governance, structure and administration despite tagging itself the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This unitary arrangement is definitely unsustainable and the results are clear, as is the response – the structure must be changed and that is restructuring.
But “restructuring” must be made into a conversation, not another electoral buzzword towards 2019 or with assumptions that everyone is on the same page with every single point of the concept of restructuring and this is where the digression I made in the second paragraph of this piece is important – that one person or the other opposes or supports one aspect of restructuring does not (and must not) give the person the inhuman categorisation of angels and/or demons as opponents or proponents of restructuring. It must not, because to achieve restructuring, the consent of all the constituent parts is required and this goes back to what President Goodluck Jonathan tried to do.
In 2013 with his entry into my party, Governor Olusegun Mimiko led Yoruba leaders to meet President Jonathan and two key issues were raised: True Federalism and Inclusive Governance. In response to the latter, Jonathan made Brigadier-General Arogbofa his Chief of Staff and in October of the same year, mandated Senator Femi Okunrounmu to head a committee to determine the modalities for a national conference. Okunrounmu had fourteen years earlier, on October 13, 1999, moved a motion for the convocation of a National Confab on the floor of the Senate, but it failed to carry the floor despite support from Arthur Nzeribe, Melford Okilo, Jim Nwobodo, Tokunbo Afikuyomi and a few others. The Okunrounmu Committee travelled round Nigeria to build consensus for the convening of a national conference to discuss restructuring among other issues. The Confab held and its report is for me, the best way to restructuring for Nigeria.
This makes me wonder how anyone who did not support the process because GEJ was involved can now pretend to support restructuring. Notice also that any attempt at restructuring requires national consensus which is not easily achieved.
The second problem I have with the term “restructuring” is that it is being pushed as a panacea to Nigeria’s problems. Restructuring as it is presently configured and packaged is nothing more than a reaction to President Buhari’s ethnocentrism, of which the extreme reaction is the separatist movement, while those suddenly advocating restructuring are the moderate reactionaries.
There are a plethora of other issues crucial to our national existence such as good governance, fiscal discipline, visionary leadership, ethnic and religious harmony/understanding, free and fair elections, getting rid of militarism and so on.
These are some of the ideas I hope to share on this platform regularly from now onwards and I will pour all that I am into it which includes being a strong advocate of One-Nigeria, a student of political history, a creative writer and a member of the PDP.
In doing that, I say as Odia Ofeimun said when he took over Uncle Bola Ige’s column in 2001 – “I fear no evil”.