As Nigeria celebrates another independence anniversary, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, looks at the throbbing issues facing the country.
For the past 56 years, Nigeria has celebrated its independence from the British colonialist today. The founding fathers of the country, from Herbert Macaulay to first president of Nigeria, Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe, Saduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and first Prime Minister, Malam Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, had fought, through series of dialogue, to secure political freedom for the country.
Ever since, October 1 has remained a point of celebration, sober reflection and stocking taking, and a basis to somewhat project into the future.
However, it does appear that the pomp and pageantry that heralds the anniversary celebration has waned over the years.
For some observers, it would seem that the country has had little to cheer about in the last couple of decades. While the country has been lost in it search for nationhood, the promise of greatness which the forefathers anticipated has been stifled largely by years of military intervention, policy fluctuations and corruption, fueled by an elite class that has refused to raise the standard.
This year, the harsh economic realities pervading the polity puts a lot in perspective. This is in spite of the measurable victory over insurgency that had dampened the mood of the country for the past five years.
With the turn of this administration, the ever present question of nationhood emerged, again. The question of what political system should be adopted has always beset the country.
While some analysts consider the debates heathy and inevitable for any evolving society, the challenge has been the inability of key drivers of the process to make major leaps over the years.
However upon the emergence of this administration, the narratives around restructuring heightened somewhat in the face of depleted revenue.
While the agitation has transcended many administrations before this one, it’s current manifestation, clearly reflects the realities of these times.
The socio-political evolution of the country which dates back to the pre-colonial constitutional conferences, has witnessed a lot of conferences, with some of the most recent being those of 1995 National Constitutional Conference in 1995; National political Reform Conference in 2005; and 2014 National Confab.
This does not include the piecemeal constitutional amendments done by the National Assembly since 1999. Over the years, recommendations from conferences have largely failed to see the light of day. Either they were rigged to fail by the inclusion of obnoxious items (like the third term saga of 2005) or they were outrightly strangulated by partisan politics.
Still, the challenges that have plagued the polity continued to fester, assuming new dimensions with the turn of every new administration.
In this dispensation, the security challenges as manifested by Boko Haram, resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, Biafra agitation and the herdsmen clashes with farmers have helped to exacerbate an economic crisis where states cannot pay salaries, just as foreign direct investments have significantly declined.
For pro-restructure agitators these problems are symptomatic of a faulty social, political and economic system, viz-a-viz a defective federal system, lopsided revenue sharing formular, policing system among others.
Eminent Nigerians who have advanced this debate in recent times include Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Yoruba leader, Ayo Adebanjo, former Minister of Information, Jerry Gana and former Governors of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Peter Obi.
At the 17th Annual Convention of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) in Enugu, Enugu State, they asked President Muhammadu Buhari to commence the immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference.
For them its implementation would go a long way in addressing the myriads of problems confronting the country. They believe that the protests and demands for separation by various groups in the country, as well as other socio-economic crises could be reduced by half if the national conference report was considered and implemented.
Speaking on the theme of the convention, “Still in Search of True Federalism,” Ekwueme, who is credited with the six- geopolitical zones contraption, recalled that his incarceration in 1984 at Kirikiri prisons by the military afforded him the opportunity to reflect deeply on Nigeria’s problems.
According to him, he came out with the idea of six geo-political zonal structures, which he pushed for in a national conference much later and it became a convention, and has taken care of minorities in the south and the north.
Ekwueme stated that what Nigeria negotiated for and agreed with the colonial masters before independence was a regional government where each had a constitution, which were annexed to the Republican constitution of 1963.
According to him, the Republican Constitution then provided 50 per cent revenue sharing formula for the regions, 30 per cent to a distributable pool, and 20 per cent to the centre. “There is need for us to return to the basics from what we inherited from our founding fathers,” he said.
In Lagos, the June 12 Remembrance Day celebration provided an opportunity to revisit the restructuring of the country.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, former military Administrator of the state, Rear-Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (retd), and Convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms, CODER, Ayo Opadokun, unanimously, stressed the need for the restructuring of Nigeria and practice of true federalism.
They canvassed this position at the public forum to mark 23rd anniversary of the June 12, 1993 election believed to have been won by late business mogul, Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale, MKO, Abiola which was annulled by the military.
At the event which was organised by Office of Civic Engagement, themed; ‘Democracy and Inclusiveness: Basis for good governance,’ they lamented that the federalism currently practised in the country was far from the true federalism that could help address the nation’s challenges.
However, the support of former, Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, for restructuring become loudest, perhaps because he is one of the most influential persons in this administration.
Speaking recently at the launch of a book, ‘We Are Biafrans,’ Atiku canvassed “for a 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.
“As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country.
“In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach, it has not served my part of the country, the North, well. 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.
“The economy is really in bad shape and I want to believe that the government is trying to get the economy right, adding that President Buhari has tried to handle two out of five areas which he promised Nigerians”.
But the current administration, just like most before it does not appear keen on the canvassed restructuring.
Against the backdrop of calls for the implementation of the 2014 confab report, President Buhari had while having an interview to mark his first anniversary in office disclosed that he had not read the confab report and that it would remain in the archives where according to him it rightly belongs.
He said: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (National Conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the Conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”
Flowing from that mindset, the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, also said restructuring is not the party’s priority for now.
According to him, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration is currently focused on rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and ensuring the security of lives and property.
While he admitted its importance, he explained that the party would at the appropriate time take a position on the matter public.
Odigie-Oyegun who noted that there were several challenges the administration was currently grappling with, added “to bring this additional issue (restructuring) – is not the wisest thing for a nation that is struggling to stabilise to go into an unnecessary diversion at this point.
“Nothing is wrong with the idea but at this time, it is best for us to concentrate on our 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 pleaded with Nigerians not to lose hope because the current challenges were temporary while appealing to them to continue to give unwavering support for the Buhari-led administration to enable it to deliver on its mandate.
Spokesman for Northern Delegates in the last National Conference and former National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, also sees the current call for restructuring in a different light.
For him “While it may be helpful to reduce the share of the allocations to the Federal Government from 52 percent to maybe 50 per cent in favour of the other two tiers of government for enhanced performance, it may not be correct to summit that the topsy-turvy of the polity is because the centre is too powerful. How, when the share of the revenue to the centre is not more than 52 per cent? As far as I know, politicians struggle for power in the state in equal measure as those who do so for the control of the centre.
“And the reasons are not farfetched; politics is about the only means to quick riches in Nigeria. If you want a good car today in Nigeria, or you want to build a good house and live in comfort over and above your people, all you need to do is to join politics and win an election or get appointed to public office. That is why politics has become a matter of life and death in Nigeria. Consider the killings which happened during state elections and (you will) have a realistic appreciation of the situations. There are no two federal systems that are same.
The common mantra in all federal systems is often a centre (that is) strong enough to keep the country as one and united, but not too strong as to tilt the country towards unitary system.”
He continued “when some delegates (in the last National Conference) talked of restructuring to ‘true federalism’, northern delegates asked to know what constitutes true federalism that is universally acceptable, considering (the fact that) no two federal systems are exactly the same. And this is because federal systems depend on the circumstance of their emergence.
“We practised regional power which was toppled and supplanted by unitary system that was subsequently replaced by states as the federating units. In a way, one can say we have experimented with all forms of structure, namely, the confederal regions, the unitary system and now the federal system. The problems are therefore not about structure of the country but the way we do things.”
Still, while the desirability of such restructuring remains a debate of sorts, what format it would take has also remained pivotal. Already, the current session of the National Assembly is preparing to engage in the routine constitution amendment.
Whatever form or shade the restructuring takes, what perhaps shouldn’t come in short supply, according to analysts, is transparency and accountability in governance.
Return of militancy and Biafra
President Buhari had barely assumed office than pipeline bombings resumed in the Niger Delta region, where the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan hails from.
Although, a debate over the reasons and timing of the renewed attacks rage, interestingly, the hitherto relative peace in the region is one of the legacies of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who had offered amnesty to militants in return for the surrender of their arms.
Before the Yar’Adua intervention, the activities of the militants had suffocated the finances of the country. But, with the exit of Jonathan from office, cancelation of contracts for the protection of pipelines which were handled by militants and other ethnic groups as well as a perceived alienation of region by the current administration, a new militant group, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) emerged.
Before long other groups emerged along lines of the distinct ethic enclaves in the region. The threat of force by the federal government and subsequent deployment of soldiers to quell the activities of the groups seemed to escalate the situation.
However the federal government, leaders from the region and the militants have yet to decide on whether or not they would have the much anticipated dialogue, as suspicion among themselves linger.
But while the face-off lasts, the potential revenue, in a period where oil price has significantly remained prostrate, seems to be declining.
Consequently, the country continues to wallow in economic crisis as the only source of major revenue still remains, subject to the attainment of diversification of the economy.
While militancy in the Niger – Delta rage, the agitation for Biafra has assumes different dimensions by the day. The detention of the leader of Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, has aggravated the matter. Kanu is currently facing treason charges over the group’s agitation.
Although the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Ralph Uwazuruike, had during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, sparked the agitation, the emergence of Kanu, according to analysts, has given fresh verve to the movement.
In this dispensation, while the military has on various occasions come down hard against the agitators in the South Eastern states, the recent sit-at-home protest by the group had received measurable compliance in some of those states.
Still, divergent views subsists, even from the South eastern elite, over the Biafra question.
Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, believes that the actualisation of the Republic of Biafra is no longer feasible.
He therefore requested ethnic Igbos to call the agitators to order, do a rethink and support President Muhammadu Buhari “in constructing a prosperous and progressive Nigeria”.
According to him, with the unwritten zoning convention for the rotation of political power in the country, the Igbo race in the South East zone would likely produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023.
Mr. Okechukwu spoke on Wednesday in Abuja at a colloquium organized by the Federal Capital Territory Chapter of the Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo.
He said the greatest indication that Biafra was impossible to actualise, was the successive national conferences in the country where the five Igbo states voted against regionalism.
Mr. Okechukwu said Biafra agitators must sample the opinion of the people, both at home and abroad, especially the itinerant travelers if their agitation was for collective benefit.
He added “The agitation for Biafra sounds as a good music, much fun and furry as if it is the only route to Eldorado. This is false as some of us who lived in the defunct Biafra enclave can narrate.
“The question one had always posed is can Biafra be achieved via democracy or by force? Most people one had discussed with had always told me it will be achieved via peaceful means, which in other words means democracy.”
But former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof Chukwuma Soludo holds a contrary view. Speaking at a presentation of a book titled “the politics of Biafra and the future of Nigeria” which held in Abuja, He cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari to be suspicious of those who “dismiss the Biafra issue” stressing any one who says that is either ignorant, mischievous or does not mean well”.
He said Nigeria has wittingly and unwittingly dragged the issue of Biafra from the periphery to the mainstream, adding that the detained leader of the IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu threw a bait and Nigeria took it.
Calling for Kanu’s immediate release, the former CBN governor added.
“He will end up either a hero or a martyr. But to his credit he has forced Nigeria and the world to discuss Biafra. I believe that keeping him there does not do Nigeria any good. I believe this young man should be released and released like yesterday.”
In all, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is optimistic that their administration would make the needed difference.
The National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun in his independence message called on Nigerians to be hopeful about the future inspite of the current economic challenges as the federal government has taken adequate steps to bring the economy out of recession and restore the country on the path of economic growth.
“Truly times are hard, but as a Party we are confident that with ongoing economic recovery efforts of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the continued support of Nigerians, the country will emerge from the current economic recession stronger and better.” Odigie-Oyegun said.
The APC National Chairman commended the efforts of the President Buhari administration and the military in containing and degrading the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East as well as ongoing efforts to rebuild and rehabilitate affected communities ravaged by the insurgents. He also thanked the international community for their cooperation and support for the administration counter-insurgency efforts.
“Happily, the insurgents have been deprived of the possibility of ever again, holding Nigerian territory. Going forward, the administration is already aggressively pursuing the rebuilding and rehabilitation of the affected communities so that displaced persons can return to their normal, peaceful and productive lives.” Odigie-Oyegun said.
For what it is worth, the prospects of a great country, in the mould of the founder fathers remains to be attained.