When Osinbajo described Atiku’s quest for restructuring as vague, suggesting instead an emphasis on good governance, he was right…
The clamour for restructuring has become heightened today in Nigeria in a manner comparable to the “on Aburi we stand” clamour by Nigerians of South East origin following the unfortunate incidents of the January 1966 coup, the July counter-coup and mass killing of civilians in northern Nigeria. To pull the Nigerian nation from the brink, the government of Ghana, under the leadership of J.A. Ankrah, brokered a peace deal between the Nigerian delegation, led by then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, and the Eastern Region delegation, led by then military Governor Emeka Ojukwu. The outcome of the peace effort, which proposed to restructure Nigeria into a confederacy with a relatively weaker central government, was named after the now historic Ghanaian town of Aburi, where the talks were hosted. Like the clamour for restructuring today, the Aburi Accord was considered the only basis for Nigeria’s continuous existence in unity and prosperity. The failure of the Gowon-led Supreme Military Council to abide by the Aburi Accord is generally considered to be the trigger for the 30-month Nigeria-Biafra civil war between 1967 and 1970.
Now, 51 years after, the concept of restructuring appears to have taken centre stage in Nigeria’s polity. This is so because the condition that created the circumstances leading to the Aburi Accord are discernable in today’s Nigeria. Nigeria is as divided in 2018 as it was in 1966. For many Nigerians, it is either restructuring or nothing. However, there are two significant differences between the current clamour for restructuring and the Aburi Accord. First, unlike the clamour for the Aburi Accord, which was largely restricted to the Eastern Region, the current clamour for restructuring enjoys wider legitimacy across the southern half of the country, the Middle Belt and a significant number from the conservative North. Secondly, while the Aburi Accord was clear and unambiguous about the loosening of the Nigerian federation into a confederacy of sorts, the current clamour for restructuring is ambiguous without clarity of purpose.
With the widespread clamour for restructuring, the amoebic politics of Nigeria has adjusted its shape to accommodate the buzz word in the political exigensies of transition year 2019. The opposition PDP, which is positioning itself to wrest power from the incumbent APC, is making a huge campaign issue out of the clamour for restructuring. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a leading contender for president on the platform of the opposition PDP, has firmly hinged his aspiration on the issue of restructuring. He is one of the significant few from the North that are championing the clamour for restructuring. By riding on the crest of restructuring, Atiku is perceived to be making inroads into the South and Middle Belt of Nigeria, where restructuring is fast degenerating into loose cannon of populism.
Atiku’s restructuring myth as a silver bullet that would kill Nigeria’s problems had to busted by no less a person than Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Describing Atiku’s restructuring plan as vague, Osinbajo contended that good governance, not necessarily physical and geographical restructuring, was fundamentally needed to solve Nigeria’s problems.
The recent heated exchange between Atiku and Osinbajo has further deepened the debate about restructuring and related issues. Geophysical and political restructuring is an open-ended continuous process that has been with Nigeria throughout British colonial era to post-Independence era, with intermittent military rule and democratic rule. The amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates in 1914 with the establishment of the unelected Nigerian Council of Lord Lugard as the governing body was a process of restructuring. Subsequent colonial constitutional development that saw the adoption of the Clifford Constitution in 1922, which abrogated the unelected council of 1914 and replaced it with a partly elected legislative council for the Southern Protectorate as a precursor to federalism was a form of restructuring. The Richard Constitution of 1946, which firmly established Nigeria as a federation of three regions, East, West and North, was a continuation of the process of restructuring, which began in 1914. The Nigerian federation would be further restructured with the adoption of the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, which bestowed on the federating units full legislative and executive autonomous governance structures.
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After independence in 1960, Nigeria would undergo further restructuring. The creation out of the original federating units of three regions, a fourth, and the Mid-West region was a process of restructuring. The January coup and counter-coup of July 1966 were violent attempts at restructuring. The promulgation of unification Decree 34 of 1966 by then Head of State, Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, which reduced substantially the autonomy of the four federating units resulting into a stronger centre restructured Nigeria.
Beginning from 1967, when Gowon broke the four regions into 12 states, which was continued by succeeding military regimes in 1975 , 1987 , 1991  and 1996  were all processes of restructuring. It was restructuring when, in 1979, 1992 and 1999, upon transition from military to civil democratic rule, Nigeria opted for American-style presidential government in place of the First Republic’s Westminster system of government.
Despite these processes of restructuring, the Nigerian state has not been able to satisfy the yearnings of its constituent peoples. This clearly illustrates that good governance can neither be decreed nor legislated in Nigeria without the complements of the enabling resolve of the constituent peoples to make their nation work for them. No structure has worked for Nigeria because physical restructuring of its geography without the organic restructuring of the minds of its constituent peoples to evolve out of them Nigerians in the true sense of the word has been an exercise in futility.
Deliberate efforts must be made to heal the different faults along ethno-geographic lines and evolve a united nation out of the many nationalities in Nigeria. This process will be guided by a competent leadership whose drivers have also come under the self-enlightened realization that their time in power is transient, and outside power, they will be beneficiaries or victims of the good or bad governance legacies they instituted.
Therefore, when Osinbajo described Atiku’s quest for restructuring as vague, suggesting instead an emphasis on good governance, he was right only to the extent that Atiku was not the incumbent Vice President. The heightened clamour for restructuring in Nigeria today is as a direct result of the poor leadership style of the current administration in which Osinbajo is the Number Two man. This leadership style that has elevated sectionalism to near state policy has not only left the country divided but has also enthroned mediocrity over competence, leaving Nigerians pauperised, insecure and their commonwealth plundered. That Osinbajo serves in an administration that has the negative distinction of perhaps the poorest governance structure in the history of civil democratic rule in Nigeria denies him the moral ground to pontificate on good governance. Beyond rhetoric, Osinbajo’s inability to stamp his feet down on basic existential matters of simply obeying and executing judicial pronouncements renders his rendition on good governance as pretentious.
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As the Vice President, it is not in his place to merely deliver sweet renditions on good governance but he must also be seen to be practicing the principles of the good governance he preaches. The inability of Osinbajo and the administration he serves to practice good governance has further reinforced the belief in many that Nigeria’s current structure is an impediment to good governance.
As long as Osinbajo’s good governance sermon remains pretentious, Atiku’s vague restructuring clamour will continue to gain political momentum among Nigerians.