For the record, I am ambivalent about the restructuring question. My dream is of an indivisible Nigeria liberated to pursue its power and purpose.
I know that it is fashionable to wield the sword, “restructure.” When you go on television or appear before a microphone, it seems to be the default thing to say to attract popular acclaim. It is no surprise to hear this acceptable noise from several figures who are known to be complicit in our journey to shame.
If restructuring means that we revise the legislative and constitutional structures which define issues such as the political and economic relationship between the centre and the states, as well as citizenship, and resource-control, restructure we must.
But we cannot restructure without pain, can we? Restructuring would mean that we redefine Nigeria not in terms of our understanding of her in 1960, but in and for a world which has sprinted forward at lightning speed since then, while we ran in the other direction.
In other words, we cannot restructure with the same mentality by which we fell on our faces, or by the same people who facilitated that. We must bring to the table the players and powers who own the future: the youth, women, and the voiceless.
Do we have such humility to let those we have betrayed guide us? I do not see it, given the anti-youth posture of the government, in which case we may restructure because it is fashionable and vote-getting, but not for true advancement.
It is no surprise that Nigeria’s governing All Progressives Congress (APC) wanted to be in the debate. In its manifesto in 2014, it said it believed “that the APC’s Vision for the nation will restructure governance in a way that kick-starts our political economy so that we can begin to walk the path of our better future.”
Observe that this language appeared to be the opinion of the writers of the manifesto, not the party. They did not know what the party would pursue.
APC went on to set up a “Committee on True Federalism”, headed by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, which submitted a report in January 2018 with excellent recommendations but has enjoyed no movement since then.
Events in the country since then, however, suggest that restructuring is not a matter of whether, but of when. Nigeria has grown increasingly unworkable, resulting in even APC states criticizing President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
Clearly confused, the central government has resorted to deflecting blame. It seems obvious that if the government attempts to stand in the way of the storm, it will become a part of the story. If Nigeria does not restructure, it could end up in pieces.
For Nigerianists such as myself, that is unacceptable. The easy answer is to accept the spectacle of such pieces: the scenario of a hundred pieces in which your republic is as valid as mine.
But if you look around, there is only an emotional value for slivers of land areas which call themselves states because nobody can stop them. The world however belongs either to the states that are already rich and powerful, or to those with vast potential of landmass and population.
This is why Nigeria gets spoken of with considerable respect today, despite all of its problems. If it splinters into those tiny slivers, each of them will assume life on the political outskirts of irrelevance.
Restructuring will make for a real and stronger federation because the centre will yield to the states some of the powers and resources by which it now compromises and holds them back. There is no argument that this is overdue, and none that it will be of transformational value in the long run. Hopefully, that would grant Nigerians the nation of which we dreamed in 1960.
But that Nigeria has been defeated less by constitutional and legislative impediment than by the Nigerian himself. To restructure but fail to address the complicity of the Nigerian will defeat the restructured Nigeria.
On the other hand, to not restructure—or to resist restructuring simply because you want that sliver for yourself, is to ignore the damage that Nigerians have done to Nigeria with their own hands for 60 years.
Think about it: in the timespan in which we had first 12, then 19, and now 36 states, not one has flourished. While such challenges as resource control and devolution of powers have always been there, some of those states have grievously underperformed.
Think about it: why is it that Government House, the residential digs of the state governor, glitters with opulence while the offices of the civil service always look squalid? How many states have infrastructure that have survived 10 years?
The answer is in our definition of service. Few people appear to be content to serve: we want to accept our wages without earning it. Elsewhere, people seek ways to do better at their jobs and even to elevate standards at a cheaper cost; Nigerians not only avoid the job but seek to be paid even more for not doing it.
Only last week, for instance, President Buhari was complaining on TV about the collapse of the local government system, saying that governors rip them off. Days later, EFCC chairman Abdulrasheed Bawa disclosed the saga of a former minister who bought a $37.5 million property from a bank and deposited $20 million for it. In cash.
That person has now allegedly been identified as Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources. But that legend has been known to Buhari for seven years as has many others involving many officials and offices. Buhari wants to be respected for doing nothing.
The same attitude is responsible for everything nationwide from abandoned or unimplemented projects to substandard machinery purchasing to unmaintained buildings and equipment, to over-invoicing, to inflated budgets. If a government does not perform, that is no mystery: it is often because it is led by someone for whom that is not the first objective.
What does it matter that our state governors spend inordinate amounts of time in Abuja shopping for power and privilege rather than in their towns and villages, just as their first ladies travel the world shopping wherever they please?
In 2014, APC said in its Roadmap that it would “Improve the ability of citizens to keep an eye on their government, with more open access to government data, greater disclosure of government contracts prior to awards and during implementation, and ensuring the people’s business is done in an open and transparent way.”
It has done the opposite. The websites of most government offices, including the presidency and the governorships, feature embarrassingly empty pages.
My point is that now—the point at which we wail over what went wrong— is when we must look at all of it.
If restructuring enables us to revisit the letter of the betrayal of Nigeria, it is also the opportunity to identity the spirit of our cultural connivance, and confront it.
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.