Thes opposed to restructuring Nigeria often taunt proponents of the idea with the cynical question: “What do they mean by restructuring?” President Muhammadu Buhari, who once described advocates of restructuring as “ignorant and naïve”, is the chief scoffer.
In his recent Channels Television interview, President Buhari said: “Those who talk of restructuring, I want them to define what they mean.” In June last year, he said: “If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find that they have nothing to talk about.” And in November 2018, Buhari said in France: “There are too many people talking lazily about restructuring in Nigeria; they couldn’t define what they meant”
But that’s a fallacious argument, an argumentum ad ignorantiam. It’s an appeal to ignorance whereby opponents of restructuring argue that the concept is meaningless because no one defines it. Restructuring defines itself! Literally, it means an entity’s structure is flawed, and, thus, must be re-structured.
In ‘Political Restructuring in Europe’, Professor Chris Brown of the London School of Economics argues that a political structure that’s not working must be restructured because a political system must serve a functional purpose, meet needs, and if it can’t, then it lacks the ethical or moral basis to exist. This is why countries worldwide reform their governance systems.
Take France. In 2002, the presidential term was reduced from seven years to five years because “seven years is too long” and “five years is more modern”. Later, in 2008, the Constitution imposed a two-term limit on the president. That’s political restructuring.
In the UK, before 1997, powers were centralized in Westminster. But full-fledged devolved governments were later established in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and powerful mayoralties were created in the English regions. Today, there are plans for more radical devolution to give more powers to the nations, regions, and local governments. Other examples of restructuring abound all over the world.
Indeed, Nigeria itself is not a stranger to political restructuring. Throughout its history, it has had several “restructurings”; some good, some bad. In 1951, the British introduced the Macpherson Unitary Constitution, which overcentralized powers. But the constitution was so unpopular that it was abrogated three years later and replaced, in 1954, with the Lyttleton Federal Constitution, which established three autonomous regions.
The 1960 Independence Constitution mirrored the Lyttleton Constitution and was based on a Federation of three regions, “with each region self-governing in its own concerns,” as Iain Macleod, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, put it. Similarly, the 1963 Republican Constitution was based on a Federation of autonomous regions, each controlling huge resources and self-governing in its own concerns
As we know, the above restructurings were led by Nigeria’s founding fathers and leaders of Nigeria’s ethnic groups. The complex but inclusive negotiations culminated in great political and constitutional settlements under which various interests were reconciled to ensure peaceful coexistence, and relationships between the regions and the federal entity were properly defined and balanced in the true spirit of federalism.
Sadly, political intolerance and military adventurism led to the coup of 1966 that torpedoed the 1963 Constitution and, with it, the system of strong, autonomous regions within a Federation. In other words, the death of regional autonomy and federalism.
From 1966 to 1999, “political restructurings” in Nigeria were orchestrated by the military. First, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi imposed a unitary system following the January 1966 coup. In 1967, General Yakubu Gowon introduced the 12-state structure. In his speech in May 1967, Gowon said he split Nigeria into 12 states, from four regions, “as a basis for stability … to remove the fear of domination”.
But if splintering Nigeria into several states was the solution to instability, fear of domination, and structural imbalance, why is Nigeria not united and stable today despite having 36 states? Truth is, the fear of domination hasn’t disappeared, deep concerns about structural imbalance remain, and Nigeria is more disunited and unstable than before 1966.
What’s more, instead of strong and economically viable regions, we now have weak and dependent states that are mere appendages of an over-powerful Federal Government.
Earlier this week, Rochas Okorocha said he was richer than Imo State as its governor, and Bola Tinubu reportedly said he was richer than Osun State. Yet, some think having glorified local governments called “states” would develop Nigeria. No, it won’t! The state structure doesn’t tackle poverty; it just creates jobs for politicians as governors, commissioners, etc.
So, where am I going? Well, my first point is that Nigeria has always had political restructurings, good and bad. The founding fathers negotiated the good ones under the 1954, 1960, and 1963 Constitutions. The military imposed the bad ones, including the state structure, the presidential system, and the deeply-flawed, quasi-federal 1979 and 1999 Constitutions. Thus, my second point is that we now need a good restructuring; that is, one based on enduring political and constitutional settlements that will transform Nigeria.
Well, the good news is that there’s already a template for such a nation-transforming restructuring: the six geo-political zones.
Today, virtually all federal political offices and appointments are based on the six zones. Indeed, section 5(1) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018 explicitly states: “All Board Members … shall be appointed … from the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.”
Now, isn’t it strange that an Act of parliament recognizes the zonal structure, but the Constitution doesn’t? That’s anomalous.
The Constitution must recognize the six zones as Nigeria’s federating units and devolve significant powers, resources, and responsibilities, including policing, to them. The regions should have their own constitutions and organize themselves administratively to achieve economies of scale, prioritizing their internal security and economic growth, and the prosperity of their people.
Of course, adopting the zonal structure would mean streamlining the Federal Government. Expect those living off Abuja and the state structure to resist change. But Nigeria’s future lies in having regional powerhouses, not overpowerful centers and vassal states.