Opinion: Restructure for inclusive governance, justice and development

By Jide Ojo

“Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified”

– Albert Camus

The call for restructuring Nigeria has never been this strident. Virtually on a daily basis, the trending news is about the need to restructure the country.  The demand by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra and the Indigenous People of Biafra for self-determination and similar demands by groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta as well as the Niger Delta Avengers have kept the issue in the front burner. The agitations for self-determination are borne largely as a result of real and perceived marginalisation by different ethno-religious groups.

Monday was the 24th commemoration of the fiendish annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by the military junta of Ibrahim Babangida. The poll was considered by political observers as the most peaceful, freest and fairest in the over 90 years of Nigeria’s electoral democracy.  I recall with nostalgia that the mass protests organised by the labour and civil society organisations sent shockwaves around the world and precipitated the eventual return to civil rule and birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999. The aftermath of the annulment emerged the National Democratic Coalition better known as NADECO as well as the ethnic militia known as the Oodua People’s Congress.

The point being made in reference to the emergence of pressure groups and ethnic militias is that they are “children of necessity” formed to demand the redress of certain inequalities, injustices, discriminations and marginalisation.  The Yoruba were demanding the Oodua Republic until the atonement of the annulment of the June 12 election was done by first naming Chief Ernest Sonekan, who is also an Egba man like the late MKO Abiola, as the Head of the Interim National Government and later in 1999 the fielding of two eminent Yoruba sons (Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) as presidential candidates out of which the latter became the first president of the Fourth Republic. The emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan, first as Vice President in 2007 and later as Acting President in 2010 and eventually as an elected president in 2011, cannot be divorced from the agitations for the emancipation of the Niger Delta by Isaac Adaka Boro and his group, the Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People lieutenants and the activism of MEND.

Like I noted elsewhere on the issue of restructuring, the declaration of the Biafra Republic and the eventual fratricidal civil war of 1967 – 1970 were borne out of perceived marginalisation and discriminations against the Igbo. The re-emergence of the agitation for Biafra by MASSOB and IPOB in the recent past is also linked to the same issues of injustice, inequality and unfair treatment.  The arrowheads and masterminds of these groups are quick to point out lack of federal presence in the South-East, bad state of infrastructure in the zone, discriminations against the Igbo in federal appointments under this All Progressives Congress government of President Muhammadu Buhari, lack of support for Igbo presidency since 1966 when the tenure of the presidency of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Gen. JTU Aguiyi Ironsi were cut short by military coups in 1966. The members of the House of Representatives from the South-East recently made a heavy weather of the rejection of the South-East Development Commission bill in the Green Chamber. They claimed it was part of the marginalisation of the South-East to prevent the region from developing.

The cry of marginalisation is not only against the presidential action or inaction of the Buhari government, even intra-state, similar agitations obtain. The indigenes of Oyo North are clamouring for the introduction of power rotation that will factor them into the governance structure of Oyo State. No indigene of Oyo North has been governor of the state since creation. Similarly, the Yewa/Awori people of Ogun State have never produced a governor since the state was carved out of Western Region in 1976. In Benue State, no Idoma person has ever been governor of the state. The late Governor Patrick Yakowa was the first indigene of Southern Kaduna to be governor of Kaduna State. His emergence was regarded as accidental. In Kogi State, someone from the Okun-land in Kogi West has never been governor. Likewise, I am told that only a Kanuri man can be governor in Borno State. All the aforementioned iniquitous acts are the underlining factors behind the strident call for restructuring of Nigeria.

In a bid to contribute to the discourse on the issue of restructuring as well as proffer solutions to the lingering agitation for it, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies on May 30, 2017organised a conference on the theme: Federalism and the Challenges of Dynamic Equilibrium in Nigeria: Towards a National Strategy. I was privileged to be among the distinguished participants. According to the Institute’s Acting Director-General, Mr. Jonathan Mela Juma, the conference was designed to provide answers to some of the following questions: “What kinds of policies are favourable for maintaining unity in diversity in the operation of our federal system? How can our federal system be made to increasingly protect and accommodate a veritable crucible of diversities within the country? What mechanisms, among other aspects, could be considered to guarantee equal access to basic services for all groups living within the federation? In other words, are there mechanisms to provide all groups with equal access to economic and political decision making processes, arrangements for affirmative action to protect the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups, policies for effective communication, and to ensure equal inclusion of all groups in development policies? What factors have proved key to the success (or failure) of federalism in Nigeria to play its potential role in reversing deep-rooted conflicts? Indeed, how can Nigeria’s federalism maintain a dynamic equilibrium between centrifugal and centripetal forces in the country without excessively overheating the political system?”

Speakers and discussants which include the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; a former Minister of Information, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire; Resident Electoral Commissioner Designate, Prof. Sam Egwu; INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Okey Ibeanu; as well as other academics like Prof. Adele Jinadu, Prof. Dakas C.J. Dakas, and Prof. Etannibi Alemika all provided insights into how best we can restructure our warped federalism in order to have an inclusive, just and egalitarian society.

In the opinion of the Minister of Justice, “It is true that Nigeria’s federal system has been experiencing challenges and there have been agitations and prescriptions to reform and modify it. Reforms and modifications of institutional arrangements, systems and processes are normal in federations but are not done in a   single swoop as being advocated in Nigeria. Mega changes are not healthy for federations. Change is a gradual process that must be democratic and subjected to legislative and administrative processes as provided by law”.

The chief law officer of Nigeria further stated that  “As political realities and experiences across the world have shown, all federations, whether established by a ‘coming together’ or ‘holding together’ process, experience deep-rooted conflicts and ours cannot be an isolated case. In Nigeria today, there are demands for restructuring; for deconstructing the excessive concentration of powers at the centre; for a dispersion of power to the lower levels of government along with special provisions for the empowerment of women and other socially disadvantaged groups; for the country to move away from the cooperative federalism of several decades to a more competitive form of economic federalism; for a fiscal federalism that presents the challenge of addressing regional inequalities, and of balancing the concerns of equity and efficiency in intergovernmental fiscal relations, among many others.”

I align my thoughts with those of the AGF. We all know the problems of Nigeria’s federalism. I have earlier in this piece highlighted some of them. Shall we then fashion out enduring solutions to them? For me, whatever will bring about good governance, dividends of democracy, higher standard of living for majority of citizens, inclusive governance will get my support. End of story! Punch

Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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