By ABBA MAHMOOD —
The new almighty formula for solving all the problems of Nigeria, according to some perennial noisemakers, is what they call “restructuring”. At the end of the 20th century, with the collapse of communism as an ideology and the demise of the Soviet Union as a superpower, some Francophone countries in Africa organized what was called “Sovereign National Conference” which led to the emergence of multiparty democracy from the ashes of military rule and/or one-party states. The Nigerian copycats soon started parroting the need to organize a “sovereign national conference” of “ethnic nationalities” here. It did not fly because the historical context and the environment are totally different.
With the advent of civil rule in 1999, the most vocal among them started advocating “national” conference of “ethnic nationalities”, since they know that no sovereign will ever surrender his or her sovereignty because of mere noise from some busybodies. In the end, the PDP government in its 16 years in power organized variously political reform conference in 2005 and a constitutional conference in 2014, both with ulterior motives. The first was more representative than the latter. In fact, the 2014 Jonathan conference was full of many anarchists who are now insisting that their recommendation is the only way out for Nigeria.
The current noisemakers parroting restructuring are insisting that the report of the 2014 national conference organized by the Jonathan administration is the basis of the current “restructuring” agenda. Apart from the fact that it was unrepresentative and inequitable it was composed of handpicked delegates who were not elected by anyone. President Jonathan himself refused to do anything with the report — even the administrative aspects that he could implement without any legislative input, he did nothing. The current National Assembly is therefore very disingenuous to ask the Buhari administration to give them the 2014 report when it is not recognized by the government. It can only be the basis of confusion and not any solution
From “sovereign” to “national” to “constitutional” to “resource control” to “true federalism”, the main word has now become “restructuring”. None of the advocates has defined what they mean by the word — how it is going to be brought about, or who will bring it about, or importantly the short- and long-term effects of it. As the patriotic columnist, Eugene Enahoro, wrote recently “many new champions of restructuring are tainted fellows well past their prime, who when occupying high office squandered their opportunity to place the nation on a path of progress”.
Nigeria came into being on January 1, 1914, when the then Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated into one country by the British colonial rulers on that day. The Northern Protectorate which became Northern Nigeria had 72 per cent of the land mass while the South had 28 per cent. And from 1911 when the first census was conducted even before the country became one, the North has consistently had higher population, about 56 per cent during the last census in 2006 even though with lower density due to wide land mass.
From 1914 to 1963 the Southern Protectorate was divided into three regions – West, East and Mid- West — but the North was kept as one. The North did not complain but the Southerners started advocating the breaking of the “monolithic” North that was described by them as “hegemonic”. But, all along, there were agitations for state creation by especially the minorities of both north and south so as to give them greater say in their local affairs.
States were eventually created in 1967, which was a big gain for the minorities. From 12 in 1967, Nigeria now has 36 states – 19 states in the defunct Northern Region and 17 states in the old Southern Protectorate. There are now a lot of cries that the north has more states than the south even though the north got this due to its slight population advantage and huge land mass. It has turned out that those who advocated for the breaking of the old regions into states are now advocating the return to regions, the so-called six geopolitical zones recognized by the PDP constitution. So if those advocating restructuring are interested in constitutionalizing these illegitimate, inequitable, unfair, unjust and so far unconstitutional zones into regions, then, they are not being fair to the minorities. Cleary, if these zones become regions no minority will ever be in charge of any of these proposed regions. The gains of state creation would have been defeated. Old conflicts will resurface while new conflict will emerge since only two of these zones are relatively homogenous. This is one consequence of this move.
The other implication is that there will be heightened micro-nationalism. As every region will start controlling its resources, those who don’t have land and oil will be at the receiving end since land will be controlled by only indigenes of these regions while oil producers will want to control their oil. Only the sky and the sea will be the commonwealth of all citizens of the country. As everyone and every section takes control of its resources we shall then see who the greatest beneficiaries of Nigeria are and who have been at the receiving end all along.
But if restructuring means the beginning of the end of Nigeria as one country, then it means that those advocating this move should by now know that everyone is prepared for this eventuality. South Sudan has clearly shown that oil is no more strategic and those who break away to lift barrels of oil usually end up lifting barrels of gun. The current superficial unity is only because they are still in Nigeria. Once there is no Nigeria, the equilibrium can only be achieved through balance of terror.
As for those whose main aim of restructuring is for states to be created for them, it must be realized by these people that states are never created based on the unconstitutional geopolitical zones. States are created based on scientific criteria – population, land mass, historical and cultural factors as well as socio-economic factors. And any group that fulfils these criteria will get their states created for them. In a democracy, you lobby to have what you want, not to blackmail. However, as Prof. Alemayehu Geda of the Addis Ababa University wrote, “for historical inequalities to rise to the level of where they induce conflict, elite political leaders have to be involved in the process of grievance formation and group mobilization”. We know all this hype is elitist, but let us wait to see what this restructuring means and respond appropriately, for there was lightning during which everyone saw the position of everyone.
History is on the side of the oppressed.