Presidnt Muhammadu Buhari’s latest attempt to ridicule and abort the idea of a restructured Nigeria came last week when a delegation of the Urhobo Traditional Rulers and Delta State leaders paid him a courtesy visit. The President, it appears, seizes every opportunity to lambast and denigrate the advocates of the political restructuring of the country. In January, in his New Year message to Nigerians, he dismissed the calls for restructuring as a distraction. Last week, he went even further and imputed selfish motives to the advocates. In his reply to the Urhobo and Delta leaders he stated: “you mentioned something which is typical these days, the issue of restructuring Nigeria. For every group asking for restructuring has got their own agenda and I hope it can be accommodated by the Constitution.”
Supporters of political restructuring were quick to take umbrage at the President’s comments and they included the Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Afenifere, which has been an advocate for 25 years. Other groups included the Pan Niger Delta Forum, the Ijaw Professional Association, the Peoples Democratic Party, the OgbakoIkwerre Worldwide, the Civil Liberties Organisation Bayelsa State, Ijaw Youth Council and others.
The most potent argument was the President’s volte face for which the Afenifere leader, Chief Olu Adebanjo, characterised the President’s remarks as hypocritical and insulting for imputing selfish agenda to restructuring advocates. He recalled that when in 2007 Buhari was running for President and sought the endorsement of the Afenifere, he (Buhari) did not then question the motive of those clamouring for restructuring. Again, in 2011 when he was running alongside Mr. Tunde Bakare, he never questioned the intentions of those advocating restructuring. “Did Bakare (Buhari’s running mate) have a hidden agenda in 2011? Restructuring was also one of the promises of the All Progressives Congress in 2015,” under whose banner Buhari eventually won the presidency. Buhari’s utterances, Chief Adebanjo said, “are not consistent with the integrity he claims to possess.”
Chief Adebanjo’s observations are consistent with those of a vast majority of Nigerians who are disappointed with the President’s views. Advocates of restructuring fear that the country is in danger of disintegrating under the weight of its current structure. The President’s attitude of ‘après moi la deluge’ is not only short-sighted, it is dangerous. The views of many Nigerians on the need for restructuring have reached a critical mass.
In 2014, a National Conference sat for four months and was comprised of 492 eminent Nigerians selected to represent every conceivable segment of the Nigerian society ranging from women’s groups to youth organisations, retired generals and statesmen across generations. The resolutions were based on unanimous consent and are contained in a 22-volume compendium of at least 600 draft proposals ranging from the devolution of powers within the Federation to the accommodation of independent candidates in Nigeria’s elections.
Even the All Progressives Congress, the ruling party led by the President, after years of playing deaf to the nationwide agitation for restructuring, set up a committee which concurred with reasonable opinion of most Nigerians that the country must be restructured. Is the President saying that the 10-man ‘APC True Federalism’ committee had a hidden agenda? Is he now vindicating the skeptics who said the committee’s work was typical APC vote-catching bait? Indeed, while we commended the APC committee for its work on our editorial of February 4 2018, we cautiously observed that much as we appreciated its submissions on issues such as state police, resource control, the railways and fiscal federalism, we noted that “these are just words on paper. Nigerians are skeptical…The true test of the party’s good intentions and seriousness can only be ascertained by the expedited passing of the requisite bills to incorporate the changes into our constitution. The APC should have no excuse whatsoever, given its commanding majority in both chambers of the NationalAssembly. If in the next few months the necessary legislative work is not done to make the recommended restructuring a reality, Nigerians will come to the conclusion that the submissions of this committee are nothing but a vote-catching exercise.” It is sad we seem vindicated both by the President’s words and the inaction of the APC.
Nigeria was founded to be a federation. This is one issue on which there was a consensus among the founding fathers at independence. The 1960 Independence Constitution and the 1963 Republican Constitution are testimonies. The military intervention of 1966 shattered that consensus. The transformation from a federal into a unitary state always had its problems. The assumption that the unitary state is a normal state is pregnant with consequences now that it seems to be crystallizing into a political orthodoxy for the permanent control of power by a section of the country.