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Duro Onabule On The Restructuring Debate (I)

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Chief Duro Onabule needs no introduction as far as journalism and public opinion moulding in Nigeria is concerned. Nicknamed “Double Chief” when he was chief press secretary to military president General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Onabule maintains a popular column in the Daily Sun newspaper. He recently wrote a very thought-provoking piece on the restructuring debate entitled “Restructuring: Who Lopsided Nigeria In The First place?” I find it very interesting and timely.

Those who are advocating for “restructuring” ought to have a good sense of history. They ought to know the historical basis of the structure that they want to “restructure”. They must have clear understanding of what they are talking about and what they want to achieve. They must explain to the rest of us what they mean by that and what it implies for the rest of us. You can’t advocate for a regional structure, for instance, and at the same time advocate for the implementation of the report of the unelected, illegitimate 2014 National Conference convened by Jonathan which recommended the creation of 18 states!

You can’t eat your cake and have it. The minorities will never allow for the dissolution of states to be back under some form of majority domination for when they know the benefits of the current states, for instance. Resource control to our understanding means you leave other peoples’ lands and take charge of your own as well as the oil or other resources on your own land while all that is in the sea, like the sky, belongs to the whole country. With oil now getting discovered everywhere and the UN Convention on Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 82) making sea available to landlocked countries, land and people are the most precious assets for any people and those who have these stand a better chance than the rest.

In fact, no one can be blackmailed anymore. After all, there is nothing new about separation, however long the union. The European Union is not  union anymore; the United Kingdom is not united; even the United Nations is not united. It will be interesting to see how these 21st century tribal lords can keep their areas peaceful without Nigeria. The current façade of unity or prosperity by these ethnic champions is largely because of Nigeria. If the example of South Sudan, which is the only post- colonial separation in Africa, is anything to go by, however, it will be untidy, even bloody. We leave this topic for another day.

I wish to share Chief Onabule’s article with you my dear readers. It is reproduced verbatim below:

“Every so often in the past couple of decades, we have been almost chocked by knowledgeable, ignorant, well-meaning and malicious Nigerians on the inevitability of restructuring the Nigerian federation. Perhaps desirably. Even then, the take-off of the intermittent demand of purported restructuring is always from wrong bases, to wit that (a) northerners mal-structured the country and (b) through the instrumentality of the army nuances of ardent agitators of restructuring to that effect are unmistakable.

What are the facts of Nigerian political history specifically from the independence constitution to the end of PDP federal administration in 2015 on this controversial issue? First, President Muhammadu Buhari deserves severe rebuke for unnecessarily attracting criticisms for his rather tactless handling of his government’s handling of the restructuring issue. Asked what was his government’s policy on the prospects of restructuring of Nigerian federation, especially in view of Conference Report (containing recommendations for restructuring) submitted on the eve of Goodluck Jonathan’s exit from office, Buhari, like a macho man, dismissively responded that the Conference Report would remain on the shelf. Truly, it is not as if Buhari would ever retrieve the document from the shelf for implementation but he (Buhari) was wrong to impliedly put the blame on himself.

To assert himself and still put the blame where it (still) belongs, all Buhari had to do rather effortlessly was to employ what, in boxing profession, is called technical knockout, for which nobody can fault him. The very agitators of political restructuring made the task easy for Buhari by rendering the Conference Report comatose, even before he (Buhari) was elected. While campaigns were on for the 2015 presidential elections, agitators of restructuring made it an election issue, a sort of referendum, by publicly canvassing on voters to return former President Jonathan to office “so that he could implement the Conference Report”. Chief Ayo Adebanjo led the entire Egbe Afenifere group to take that public stand. It was a risky gamble, which they lost. It was a political dagger aimed at Buhari, which fortunately he survived by winning the presidential elections. He, therefore, does not owe any obligation to implement the Conference Report. We must learn to accept responsibility for our actions.

Only a couple of months ago, erstwhile British prime minister, David Cameron, threw his tenure at the electorate to support Britain’s continued membership of European Union. Britons, in the referendum, voted otherwise and Cameron accepted the verdict by resigning, with the assurance that Britain would end its membership of European Union and the new administration in Britain has commenced that process. Even if the Buhari administration is dragged to court in desperation to force him (to) implement the Conference Report, the Federal Government’s submission should be that Nigerians had, in the presidential elections, rejected the document. QED.

The issue of who lopsided the country in all ramifications of administration is always unfairly discussed, as if a section or a sector deliberately set out for self-serving purposes. As at time the army struck in January 1966, Nigeria not only had the federal and four regional governments but also a very flexible federal form of constitution, as obtains in United States, India, Australia and West Germany, now united with East Germany, running a single federation. Nigeria’s only four regions were East, West, North and Mid-West. But more than that, Tafawa Balewa’s federal government learnt the hard way that regional autonomy (almost independence) was untouchable, a safeguard well assured by the trenchant judiciary of the day, unlike today’s asset-accumulating gang. In 1961, Prime Minister Balewa tried to probe the finances of the Western Region but was halted by a Federal High Court judge, Daddy Onyeama, a ruling affirmed by the Supreme Court. On the other hand, when breakdown of law and order warranted total take-over of the entire West regional government and Balewa strictly followed the constitution, the Nigerian judiciary upheld the move.

However, when General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi assumed office in January 1966, he set up a panel headed by a federal permanent secretary, Francis Nwokedi, to recommend a workable administrative structure for Nigeria, which would remove or, at least, minimise the political problems, mutual animosity and suspicion. The Nwokedi panel report recommended unitary system, which encompassed abolition of the regions, increasing the power of the Federal Government. That was the beginning of lop-sidedness (in favour of Federal Government) in Nigeria. Both were southerners even if, by circumstances, Ironsi was a soldier.”

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