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Beyond restructuring: The need for strong institutions

Chinedu George Nnawetanma

The restructuring of Nigeria has been the staple of conversations across the country for quite some time now, in the light of the glaring inability of the extant political, economic and legal structures of the country to support the actualization of the Nigeria of our dreams. It has gotten a cross-section of Nigerians talking fervently – from bloggers to newspaper columnists, and from casual observers to political bigwigs like the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.

However, the issue of restructuring has also continued to divide opinions. While many Nigerians are of the belief that there is a pressing need for the restructuring of the country, others have distanced themselves from the idea, and an intermediate group has asked for clarification on what exactly restructuring entails. I want to unequivocally align myself with the school of thought that supports the political, economic and constitutional restructuring of Nigeria, wherein power will be devolved from the centre back to the federating units.

Nonetheless, unlike many other advocates of the restructuring of Nigeria, I do not believe that it is the elixir to all of the country’s ills. Simply revamping the political, economic and constitutional frameworks of the country will not bring about the transformation that we desire, because Nigeria’s problem goes beyond its defective administrative architecture. There is also the systemic defect.

When Nigeria is restructured, what is the guarantee that the newly minted structures of the country will not be abused by those in power and the masses the same way that the current structures are? For instance, Nigeria presently has laws proscribing virtually every offence imaginable, from bribery to examination malpractice and from traffic misdemeanor to domestic violence, yet we are one of the most lawless countries in the world. We flout laws at will and obey them only when it is convenient for us.

Similarly, there are two anti-graft agencies set up to tackle the country’s culture of corruption: the EFCC) and the (ICPC); yet, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) alleged that Nigeria lost $32 billion to corruption between 2010 and 2015 . What is the guarantee that these bodies and agencies will suddenly be up and doing in a restructured Nigeria?

Then again, a certain Federal Character Principle is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and a certain Federal Character Commission was set up to enforce it, yet a President of Nigeria can make more than 70% of his political appointments from one section of the country and no one will even bat an eyelid. What is the guarantee that the gatekeepers of Nigerian democracy will be alive to their responsibilities when a regional premier or a state governor (depending on which variant of federalism we decide to adopt) blatantly contravenes provisions embedded in their regional or state constitution in a restructured Nigeria?

If Nigeria decentralizes its police system, what is the guarantee that a state governor will not deploy it as his private army to bully the populace and harass his political opponents?  Restructuring will not solve these ingrained problems.

The fundamental factor that has scuttled and undermined Nigeria’s progress  over the years is the fragility of our institutions. The absence of strong institutions in Nigeria has made it almost impossible to enforce rules, whip people into line and ensure that actions and inactions have consequences. The more advanced societies and democracies that we often look up to, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea, have been able to function effectively because of the presence of strong institutions that enable their systems to self-regulate, check the excesses of the ruling class and empower the citizens to be alive to their civic rights and responsibilities.  Accordingly, it has left their leaders with no choice but to render selfless service to their communities, while the followers have been empowered to expect and demand good governance from their leaders at all times .

In his 2009 state visit to Ghana, the former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, advised African States to build strong institutions in order to escape from the maze of underdevelopment. But, the question is: how can these strong institutions be built?  Since leaders chart the course that everyone else has to follow, the onus lies on them to build these strong institutions. Hence, the natural first step in building strong institutions in Nigeria is sanitizing our leadership recruitment process so that individuals with the drive and motive to alter the status quo and institutionalize good governance and the rule of law will get in and those with vested interests and questionable character will be shut out.

Nigeria, just like those advanced countries that we look up to and aim to emulate, is not lacking in individuals with the commitment to make positive changes. The problem is that our political recruitment process does not allow them to get in. Our leadership positions are sold to the highest bidders at the expense of the candidates with the best ideas, while those who will maintain the status quo and toe the established line are preferred to those who could shake it up. To achieve this first objective, our electoral process and justice system must be strengthened so that the votes of the electorate will really count and the outcome of elections will no longer be determined in the homes of party chieftains and political godfathers.

Secondly, since a country gets the government it deserves, it is pertinent that the electorate and the general public are empowered to make the right choices in the democratic process, demand accountability from their leaders and elect candidates with unimpeachable character and proven track records over those who make vague electioneering promises and dole out a few naira notes and bags of rice at polling stations. They must also be enlightened on their civic responsibilities and be made to understand that the task of building a strong, progressive and sustainable society must not be left to the leaders alone; it requires the commitment and sacrifices of all and sundry.

Only when this systemic revolution is achieved will the restructuring of Nigeria have the effect that Nigerians envision. In the absence of that,  the entire process of restructuring becomes just another academic exercise and cosmetic change that deals with the superficial issues instead of tackling the underlying causes of the problem.

Nnawetanma writes from African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage), Enugu, via [email protected]

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