It is fast beginning to look like a game of wits. An eyeball-to-eyeball affair. The miscellany of individual voices has crystallised into a national outcry. Many have shouted themselves hoarse. The country is sharply divided along regional lines. Each is holding tenaciously to its own end of the stick. The issue at stake is the structure of the country. Should Nigeria be restructured to accommodate new realities or should it remain the way it is today? That is the bone of contention.
It is the most fractious of issues under the new dispensation. The south of the country is no longer at ease with the shape of the country. The people are insisting on some form of panel-beating. But the North is suspicious. It sees the move from the South as a travesty of good intentions. Its people say they do not want to be stampeded into what could turn out to be a booby trap. So, there is a stalemate. In the face of the motionless movement, a section of senators of the Federal Republic, under the aegis of Southern Senators Forum, have stepped out. They have thrown their hat into the ring and, by so doing, catapulted the vexed issue of restructuring to new heights. The southern senators did not stalk. They went straight to the point. They want President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps towards the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference. They also asked the leadership of the National Assembly to open debate on the same document with a view to expediting its implementation. In order not to be misunderstood, the southern senators were clear enough on the oneness of the country. They held that the unity of Nigeria should not be compromised under any circumstance. This is where we are at the moment. We should, sooner or later, expect an interjection from senators of northern extraction. When they do, it is likely that they would come up with a counterpoise. And so the game of revolving doors continues.
In this matter, it must be recognised that the assurances from the southern senators on the unity of the country may be well intentioned but it may sound inchoate to a good number of people from the North. The northern position against restructuring is principally hinged on two points. First, the North does not want to give up the hold it has on Nigeria through the quasi-federalism that we have in place at the moment. That is why it is resisting the prospect of change. Second, the North suspects that advocates of restructuring want to dismember Nigeria using the incubus of restructuring as a bait. They, therefore, see restructuring as a booby trap; mere subterfuge designed to hoodwink the North.
Suspicions such as this tell the story of the country poignantly. They draw attention to the fact that Nigeria is far from attaining nationhood. The country is still divided along ethno-religious lines. Each divide wants to gain advantage over the other. None is interested in constructing a system that will benefit the country as a whole. The battle we have on our hands is, therefore, a supremacy contest. It is a game of opponents. Each wants to outsmart and outshine the other.
So where do we go from here? In pondering this question, we have to be as pragmatic as possible. The North, through many years of military dictatorship, gained an undue advantage in the structure of the country. Arbitrary state creation exercises put the North ahead of the South. In the same vein, the North has far more number of local government areas than the South. Whereas the North has argued that it deserves what it got on account of its population, the North jibes at that claim. For the South, the huge population, which the North lays claim to, is a fraud. The South has never stopped reminding the North that it is only in Nigeria that an arid north is said to be more populous than the rainforest south. This anomalous situation is being contested.
Whatever the issues may be, the reality of the situation is that the North is not prepared to willingly relinquish the advantage it has over the South. In other words, the South should not expect to get what it is asking for without a whimper. President Muhammadu Buhari, a northern irredentist, will never give the South what it is asking for. He is against agitation of any sort. For him, everything about Nigeria is already settled, be it unity or structure. In other words, the 2014 Conference report, which the southern senators are latching on to, is a vexatious document. It recommended the creation of 18 additional states and the abrogation of local governments from the Constitution. Under that order, states are to create as many local government areas as they wish. The import of this is that local government areas will no longer form part of the basis for revenue allocation. This is part of the restructuring that we are talking about. In fact, the 2014 Conference report is a demolition document. It tries its hands at equality and equalisation. And this the North frowns seriously on. In dissecting the issue, therefore, we should proceed with the assumption that the North will not, willingly, accede to the quest of the South for a restructured Nigeria.
What then should the South do, if the North remains adamant? That is the question! That should be the new focus. The restructuring debate should, at this stage, graduate to this level of practicality. To make progress, those in positions of authority such as the southern senators should put on their thinking cap, that is, if they mean business. Nigeria will not go to war over restructuring. But we need to move the debate away from the furnace. To achieve this, there is the need to engage the issue constructively. The Southern Senators Forum can constitute itself into a powerful lobby group. It can bring the issue to the floor of the House. It can make the issue assume the centre stage at the National Assembly and ensure that it remains so until it is given the attention it deserves. That is how to show seriousness.
As a matter of fact, the Southern Senators Forum is being looked upon to free itself from baggage. Whereas the many strident voices from the South clamouring for restructuring have been doing so from the position of genuine concern, there is the suspicion that some elements within the Southern Senators Forum may well be fifth columnists. They may be running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. They may appear southern in their advocacy but may, in reality, be the real cog in the wheel of southern agitation. Indeed, some analysts are deeply suspicious of the real motive of the southern solidarity on restructuring as represented by southern senators. The concerned have never stopped wondering. Whatever the hangups, we must give them the benefit of the doubt. We must suspend disbelief. We should assume that they mean what they have said. The onus is, therefore, on them to prove their critics wrong. One way in which they can reassure those who have taken interest in their call is to ensure that they go beyond the mere call for restructuring. They must, as they say in Nigerian parlance, walk the talk.