Recently, General Olusegun Obasanjo added his voice to the ongoing debate on restructuring by calling for restructuring of the mind of the Nigerian persona, rather than of the polity and economy of the country. Characteristically, whatever utterance the former president makes is bound to attract attention, not necessarily for his profundity but mostly with regards to the former president’s unique participation in the governance of the country in two capacities: military dictator and elected president. His latest contribution to the debate has, justifiably, been a topic for discussion, especially on the social media. While it is surprising that newspaper interviewers have not gone back to the former president to make him elaborate on his diagnosis of the country’s problems, the former president seems to have said enough to engender further discussions of his new theory of poor or ineffective governance in the country.
Whatever nuances may have inhered in President Obasanjo’s theory of mental restructuring, it, in its denotative form, calls for major change of mindset of the country’s citizens, from top to bottom. In any community where there are problems, it is not unusual for perceptive leaders to attribute such problems to the mindset of citizens. Such buck passing is common, particularly on the part of leaders who want to shift the failings of their performance on followers. Only few leaders in history like to accept their own share of blame for consequences that arise from legacies bequeathed by them, particularly when citizens complain about such projects or visions.
Given the political history of Nigeria, it is conceivable that many of its leaders, especially those of military background would find problems of underdevelopment of the country in people’s mindset. It is thus not surprising that of all the military generals that have had opportunity to participate in the governance of the country, only an infinitesimal minority had shown understanding of the role of political structure on the ineffective governance of the country. Such leaders cannot be up to ten percent of the hundreds of military men who had served as head of state, governors, ministers, and leaders of government agencies. The reason for this may be that just a few of such former military officers in political power had the opportunity to restructure their minds, to the extent that they are able to recognise the role of the architecture of governance between 1966 and now on peace and progress in the country. The change in the consciousness of former military leaders, such as retired Admiral Kanu, Lt-General Akinrinade, and even General Babangida and a few others who recently got converted to the imperative of restructuring of the polity shows that mental restructuring being promoted by General Obasanjo is not as exotic as it may sound.
The mindset that re-designed Nigeria away from its federal system in 1960 is incontrovertibly that of the military. Many commenters have argued that whatever mistakes military rulers made between the end of the civil war and 1999 was more likely to have been of the head rather than of the heart. In other words, those involved in military rule must have meant well for the country when they made policies and decrees that degraded the country’s federal system or that they could only give what they had as professionals trained to live by command. Today’s column is not about apportioning blame as much as it is about showing how mindsets can create problems and how restructured mindsets can identify solutions to such problems. Increase in the volume of revenue garnered from petroleum export during the years in which military leaders enjoyed chorusing that “the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it” must have convinced military minders of the country that creating a unitary system of mini states funded principally with revenue from oil was the most creative intervention any group of patriotic leaders like them could make. That mindset stimulated the philosophy of ‘Even Development’, not in terms of what is done for citizens across the country but in terms of allocation of funds to governments of a total of 36 states and 774 local governments.
Of course, such intervention created opportunities for many bureaucrats and professionals in the 36 states to become governors, commissioners, and contractors made possible by revenue from petroleum and reduction of the percentage of such revenue reserved for regions of origin of petroleum and other resources at independence. Even traditional rulers got their own share of the soft cake, as more crown-wearing Obas, Emirs, Obis, and Obongs were created by fiat at the instance of state governors. What the military rulers and new designers of Nigeria overlooked was that anything unsavoury could happen to revenue from oil. Many civilians benefiting from creation of 12 to 36 states did not notice if the promise of stimulating development by bringing governments closer to the people ever materialised. The kind of fragmentation of governance units in vogue under military dictators is now back among lawmakers who are bent on giving autonomy to 774 local governments enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Those waiting in the wings to become chairmen and supervising councillors, as well as village heads aspiring to become crowned traditional rulers are not likely to see anything wrong with creating and maintaining 774 governance units in a country less than twice the size of Texas, one of 50 states in the United States. Not many civilians are likely to take time to understand evolution in the history and culture of fossil oil and the possible impact gradual or sudden changes in the petroleum market is likely to have on the polity and economy of the not so distant future. Former President Obasanjo thus deserves kudos for bringing up the importance of restructuring of the mind.
Certainly, a mindset that created a political and economic structure that has lost its relevance over time certainly requires that the problems created by the original mindset be changed before changing the mindset itself, more so if such mindset has become so ingrained that it might be resistant to change. It is the need to control damage that has been created by a specific mode of thinking that now drives patriots to call for restructuring of the country’s polity. This demand in no way suggests that mental restructuring is unnecessary. To proponents of restructuring, it is more logical to first do away with a structure that is counterproductive before reforming the minds of those who created such flawed design, more so that such design diminishes the quality of the lives of majority of the population. It is not accidental that most of the military men who contributed to de-federalisation of the country believe that everything about the structure of governance in the country is already cast in stone or iron. It is human for those who created the flawed design to see their ego as being bruised by people with a different mindset about how to nurture a multiethnic nation-state into a truly federal democracy. It is realistic for those who contributed to the current quasi-federal system to believe that some parts of them and of their valued legacy projects are likely to be jettisoned in the event of restructuring or re-federalisation.
There is no evidence that those calling for political restructuring are averse to restructuring of the mind of individuals—rulers and the ruled. If anything, restructuring of the country’s political and economic system is likely to be more efficient for exercise in mental restructuring. Just as many citizens have become inured over time to the parasitic economic model created to power a parasitic political system that people now perceive to be unsustainable, so are they likely to be incentivised to cultivate a new mindset to respond to a political and economic structure that fuels achievement orientation in individuals; productivity on the part of communities; and more freedom of thought and action with which restructuring is bound to endow all communities and citizens. Without doubt, the country will benefit tremendously from political and mental restructuring, more so if the former takes place before the latter. It should not be hard for those advocates for political restructuring and those calling for mental restructuring to collaborate, as doing so can accelerate the process of creating sustainable unity, democracy, and economic development.