Recent developments across the nation has re-ignited fresh demands for restructuring Nigeria’s federalism, writes Olisemeka Obeche
Among many expectations from the people, President Muhammadu Buhari is once more confronted with the demand for restructuring the Nigerian federation to safeguard the unity, peace and progress of the country.
In the South-East, the current federal structure which gave the central government enormous political and economic powers and responsibilities, to the detriment of the states and local governments, is fuelling agitations for self-rule for the defunct Biafra Republic.
In the South-South geo-political zone, the demand for greater control over enormous oil resources fuelling agitations while other parts of the country are also aggrieved in one way or the other.
For Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), restructuring Nigeria’s federation is an urgent task that must not be toyed with any longer. He argued at a recent book presentation in Abuja that the current federalism which has an excessively powerful centre has made the country’s unity fragile, its government unstable and the country unsafe. “Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And, the rising tide of agitations – some militant and violent – require a reset in our relationships as a united nation,” he said.
He further stressed the need for “restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.”
Atiku’s call for the restructuring of Nigeria was supported by Reuben Abati, a former Media Aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Abati argued that Nigeria as presently structured and managed is not working. According to him, to salvage Nigeria from the edge of precipice, “the country must be restructured, not only politically but also in terms of the relationship between the federating units and the values that hold the union together.”
Similarly, the Pro National Conference Organization (PRONACO) has hailed the renewed call for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation as the best strategy to neutralise the mounting insurgency and violence over perceived marginalization in parts of the country.
The group, in a statement issued through its spokesperson, Olawale Okunniyi, stressed the inevitability of a popular restructuring if Nigeria must survive its political challenges. Okunniyi cautioned that “a legitimate and valid political restructuring of Nigeria can only become a reality if the Federal Government initiates a popularly composed constituent assembly and a popular referendum to agree on the most suitable structure for the country based on the various resolutions of past national conferences in the country”.
Some members of the National Assembly also lend their voices to the demand for restructuring of the country’s federalism. The Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Mr. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, insists Nigeria won’t make progress until it revert to “financial federalism”. “What we have today, where there is so much power in the centre, will not work. As we speak, the same centre can no longer hold. Why should all the money be in the centre while the states are weakened? The way to go is, let us restructure. Nigeria is overdue for it”, he said.
Mr. Nnanna Igbokwe, another lawmaker agrees: “Our resources are concentrated in the hands of a few as it were. The states deserve more than they are getting right now.’’
The 2014 Constitutional Conference organized by the Goodluck Jonathan administration included in its report, the need to restructure Nigeria. Till date, the report of the confab and its recommendations have not been given any consideration by the new administration.
On its part, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) wants the current administration to address the issue of restructuring the federation if it is desirous of solving the problems bedeviling the country. IYC President, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, urged President Buhari to either implement the report of the constitutional conference or produce its amended version. “Our position is that you should dust the national confab report. If you do not like the report, then, you should come and add something or remove what you want to, or you start your own discourse’’, he said.
According to him, restructuring is the long term solution to Nigeria’s problem. “Until we restructure this country in line with true federalism, we will just be wasting our time. You will stop the avengers today and tomorrow, another group will arrive,” Eradiri added.
However, the National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun disagreed with the call for restructuring Nigeria’s federalism, describing it as ‘ill-timed’. The issue of restructuring, he noted, is not a priority now as the Buhari-led administration is currently focused on rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and ensuring the security of lives and property. “To bring this additional issue – is not the wisest thing for a nation that is struggling to stabilize,” he said.
He argued that there is nothing wrong with the idea, except that now is the time for the ruling party to concentrate on its priorities. “As a party, our priority right now is to rebuild the economy, create jobs and deal with the security problems at hand. And with what is happening in the Niger Delta, you can see that there is so much to do. We must get our priority right, some day we will come to that,” he said.