“Reforms are less to be dreaded than revolutions, for they cause less reaction.” Justice Darling
There was a hint of exasperation in the presidency’s response to the rising demands for restructuring and threats at the failure to do so. Media was awash with a warning from President Buhari to ‘agitators’ to cease and desist giving him timelines to either do one thing or another or risk the nation’s breakup. Apparently, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s comment last week hit a raw nerve when he was reported to have said:”It is either we restructure, or we break up. You don’t have to be a prophet to know that. That is certain – restructure or we break up.” Spokesman Garba Shehu said such comments are unpatriotic, unhelpful and unwarranted, and the administration will not be pressured to take a decision when it is dealing with insecurity and a pandemic.
The presidency did reveal that it has its own designs on dealing with the clamour to re-visit the basic structures of the nation. Malam Shehu said: ”The president as an elected leader under this constitution will continue to work with patriotic Nigerians through and in line with the parliamentary processes to finding solutions to structural and other impediments to the growth and wellbeing of the nation and its people.” Apparently he is referring to the call by the Senate for public inputs into another attempt to address major weaknesses in the design and operation of the nation’s constitution, a call that has been roundly criticised as a familiar dead end. Presumably, this is the only channel approved by the presidency, and breaches will continue to be punished with press releases that reek of desperation and frustration that these demands are not dying down.
The problem for the administration, and there are many, is that the demand for restructuring is gaining ground from a wide spectrum of groups and interests, and many are literally within reach. Last week, the nation watched a clumsy attempt to launder the Vice President’s message to a Church activity, delivered by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, which made the case for rebuilding the nation’s foundations. As a pastor in RGGC, the same Church headed by Adeboye, his message was couched in biblical language and symbolism, but there was no doubt that he was appealing for greater commitment to address gaping holes in our existence as a nation. Those who thought the Vice President pastor was showing leadership and required levels of responsibility in acknowledging the existence of serious problems were taken aback by the disclaimer and attempt to distance the comments from the rising tide in support of restructuring.
Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum and Ekiti Governor, Kayode Fayemi, also insisted the party has not abandoned the restructuring agenda it made a commitment to before 2015.”Nobody wants Nigeria to break up. They only want Nigeria to work for us….We must confront our reality as a federation. The current structure is supportive of a unitarist model. The state structure for now is problematic. There is need to move towards devolution, not only of functions, but also of resources.” As a sign of commitment, he said the committee they had set up on restructuring under chairmanship of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has submitted its report, and it will be forwarded to the legislature as input into its review exercise. Governors are a powerful group in Nigeria, so both their inputs and powers over state legislators who have defined roles in approving constitutional amendments are immense.
By the day, new voices are being raised in support of restructuring, and they range from those which define it in terms of demands to be met or “their people” will walk out of Nigeria, to those who believe a major review of the constitution particularly in areas where the federal system represents major sources of concern and conflict will suffice. Why then, we must ask, is this issue so vexing for the administration? The vast majority of Nigerians will not support breakup of the nation. They realise that no one’s particular version of restructuring will triumph over all others. No region’s definition of restructuring will be acceptable by all, unless it speaks to the interests of the entire nation. Most of those seriously involved in pushing the restructuring agenda recognise that it will have to involve considerable negotiation and a willingness to work through many strategies. Most groups also recognise that there are many stakeholders who will aid or frustrate the processes of a major review. These include the administration, politicians and groups that occupy the fringes of political opinion on the future of Nigeria.
Perhaps one answer to the question lies in the possibility that the Buhari administration believes that calls for restructuring are targeted at it as a reminder of its failures. In the event that this assumption is correct (and its reactions to date suggest that this is the case), it stands accused of two additional failures. One is that it is a poor student of history. Nigeria has always been a work in progress, and it has gone through multiple mutations from many sources and motives. Restructuring is in the nation’s DNA, and demands for it will last for as long as the nation lasts. For the records, we are not alone here. Most nations in the world have had to go through major changes in their structures and systems, and even some of the oldest nations are still grappling with basic questions regarding the manner their countries are structured. Nations have fought wars, split under horrifying circumstances, spent decades fighting to settle disputes about identities, resources or systems. A second failure of the administration lies in its failure to distinguish between governments and the nation. Governments are at specific points in history, placed in charge of destinies of nations, but they never replace nations. Criticising administrations is not unpatriotic. Even language that offends the manner governments draw the lines on responsibility is not subversive or unpatriotic.
Virtually all the groups I am part of in this attempt to re-visit our structures and systems have very clear ideas about where they draw lines. They do not include secessionists or groups that threaten the nation’s future as united, working and just. They recognise that options exist for many groups, but some are illegitimate and will be resisted. They are concerned that an obstinate, ill-informed insistence that the foundations of the nation are basically sound, save for the rattlings of elderly noisemakers, will continue to breed desperation and unwarranted hostility from Nigerians looking for answers. Most important, they recognise the imperative of a genuine scrutiny and remedy of some of our basic constitutional and political limitations as the best strategy for caging opportunistic irredentists and latter-day champions of chaos and confusion.
It is important to assure governments and major stakeholders in the future of the country that calls for restructuring represent responsible and constructive inputs into resolving some of the nation’s current limitations and assuring that it rests on a stronger foundation to deal with a future. This is not the same as begging governments to “allow” restructuring to take place. Responses to the clamour to undertake substantial amendments of the constitution, reform of electoral processes and addressing obvious weaknesses in operations of the Nigerian State need to be mature and informed. By the same token, responsible citizens who desire to achieve genuinely productive goals must recognise that governments have statutory responsibilities that make them major players or spoilers, and they have interests and sensitivities that can make substantial a difference in the quest for serious changes in the governance framework.