There are two opposing sides to the debate over the need for the political restructuring of Nigeria. On one side are the proponents of restructuring. These are concerned patriots who have thoughtfully reflected on our journey as a nation since independence and have concluded that we need to do something radical about the structure of the country which has impeded its growth and progressive development and undermined the welfare of citizens. Knowing that they are right about their diagnosis of what the country needs, it is frustrating having to keep repeating themselves and not being heard right, or worse, being misunderstood as charlatans and opportunists. What else can they do?
On the other side are the opponents of restructuring who feel that those advocates have a burden of explanation which they have failed to discharge adequately or to their satisfaction. While they may be accused of second-guessing and name-calling, these opponents are not necessarily being difficult. They may be genuinely interested in a dialogue on the path of progress for the nation that we all love.
For instance, the common refrain from opponents of restructuring is that they are not even sure what its advocates mean by restructuring. Former President Obasanjo repeated this claim just a few days ago. Since there has been more than one interpretation of restructuring by its advocates, opponents have a point. Therefore, until we reach a common ground, advocates must not relent. It is for this reason that I am making this attempt at conceptual clarification.
Now, of course, it stands to reason that if you do not understand something, you seek clarification and you just do not dismiss it offhand or reject it out of ignorance. But it is no use bringing this up. The one who seeks explanation seeks understanding. Advocates have a duty to provide that explanation for as long as it is needed.
But first, why restructuring and why now? The answer is not far-fetched. If we are all true to our conscience, we cannot deny that we have gone through series of restructurings since independence. Nigeria was constitutionally founded on a federal structure. In January 1966, it was restructured as a unitary system by the military. We seem not to think too much of it now as restructuring. But it was, albeit by military fiat. We did not have any say in the matter. Why did the military do it? They misdiagnosed the disease that afflicted the First Republic. The federal system of governance with its emphasis on derivation as the principle of revenue allocation was not the culprit. Rather, it was the imbalance in the relationship between the regions that stressed the system.
A more effective remedy would have been the creation of more regions so that no one region was able to impose its will on the rest. General Yakubu Gowon did just this in 1967 but he retained the unitary structure of governance. For the past 50 years, it is what Nigeria has been saddled with. The various constitutional conferences and amendments have only just validated and replicated the military fiat of 1966. That was the case with the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. For those who question the need for restructuring now, the question they should answer is this: has the country been better off with the present unitary structure? And if not, is there a more auspicious time?
That the country is not better off is visible to the blind. In 1963, no regional government ran to the federal government for bailout funds to pay its regional employees. Every regional government depended on the resources available to it because the revenue allocation formula encouraged regions to develop the natural resources available to them which they then used to promote the welfare of their citizens. On the other hand, the unitarization of the country with the revenue allocation in favor of the center has not encouraged states to explore resources available to them. Instead they depend on allocation from the center, which also dictates how much they pay to their state employees.
From the foregoing, it seems clear that opponents of restructuring now mock reason when they suggest that advocates are a bunch of “unelectable” political opportunists and elites looking for jobs. Or that advocates are ethnic jingoists looking to destabilize the country. That an elder statesman could suggest that restructuring means secession is beyond the pale. Do you demand restructuring if you want secession? Obviously no. You demand disintegration! Let me assume, however, that not all opponents of restructuring are reason mockers. With those who are genuinely interested in a rational discourse on what restructuring means and why it is necessary now, we can come together in the hall of reason.
From the various positions that have been presented on this matter, I would like to suggest that we understand political restructuring in three senses, ranging from the simplest to the complex. Once we come to an understanding of what each involves, it might be possible to reach a consensus on the advisability of starting with the simplest of the proposals. If the simplest sense works by correcting the errors of the extant structure, so much the better. After all, the advocacy of restructuring starts from the premise of the reality of the malfunctioning of the present structure. I will discuss the simplest today.
The most daring restructuring idea is regionalization plus full fiscal autonomy. This means that the six zones will serve as federating units with full control over their regional resources while they only pay royalty and taxes to the federal government.
A less daring idea of restructuring points the present 36-state-structure as incongruous as the foundation of a true federal system. In the First Republic, the regions were economically viable due to the economy of scale that each enjoyed. With the proliferation of states, the advantages that accrued to the former regions based on their territorial scope are lost. Therefore, the proposal is that the present six zones be the federating units and the states be provinces or development areas. A revenue formula which prioritizes regions will be put in place. I will take these two up next week.
In its simplest form, however, restructuring is devolution of power from the center to the component units. In a federation, the component units are the states or the regions. This assumes that the center is saddled with too many responsibilities that it cannot possibly discharge as effectively as the component units. Therefore, it needs to shed some responsibilities and transfer resources for the states to take on those responsibilities.
The rationale for this cannot be clearer. The federal government takes on matters which states are more capable of discharging effectively to their residents. These include education, health, and agriculture. The usual response to this observation is that states are not even now able to pay their workers. What is not acknowledged is that the resources that the federal government corners for itself now would have to be released to the states when they take on these responsibilities.
Along with the foregoing reasoning is that when revenue allocation was based on 50% derivation, regions scamper to exploit the resources available to them whether in agriculture or mineral deposits. Nobody has provided the justification for the shift in revenue allocation in favor of the federal government, which did not even occur during the civil war years. Why did the federal government reduce the percentage of revenue allocated to derivation from 50% to 45% in 1975 and continued to crash it to 1.5% and 3% until it was moved to 13% in the Fourth Republic? We behave as if this is normal but the advocacy for a return to status quo ante is not! Yet, clearly, this is the reason that states have not fared well and their citizens are wallowing in abject poverty.
I hazard a guess that APC Campaign Manifesto promises devolution of power because it sees it as the least radical. I hope that the party will get on with it for the sake of its credibility and the well-being of Nigerians.