I commend the Daily Trust Media Group for keeping up with this dialogue series for the past 18 years. As a media organization you have been doing a lot to contribute to nation building, although some of your editorials are sometimes tough on leaders. I had my fair share during my time as President.
I understand that all was in a bid to guide the efforts towards building a greater country for us all. And as leaders, we have a duty and responsibility to listen to all voices no matter how bitter some might sound.
Today you have brought us together to have a conversation on restructuring which is one of the major issues in our national discourse.
I am happy that the discussants here are eminent personalities that would do justice to the topic. I commend the Daily Trust Media Group for bringing these eminent Nigerians together to brainstorm on this topical issue that has seized the attention of our country.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a highly distinguished Nigerian was a national leader of Afenifere and key member of the Zikist Movement. He also participated in the 1978 and 2014 National Conferences as a distinguished member.
Chief John Nnia Nwodo is an eminent Nigerian, having served as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at a very youthful age and later President General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo cultural organisation. Let me use this opportunity to congratulate him on his new assignment, as National Coordinator of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum.
Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science, is a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as well as former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano.
The concept of restructuring is not new to us as Nigerians. Before the Civil War Nigeria operated with four regions. At the onset of the war, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, then Head of State, thought that running Nigeria under the regional structure posed a threat to the unity and sovereignty of our country, so he opted to restructure Nigeria into twelve states. There were mixed reactions, for and against, across the nation by our people. But in the end, the 12 states structure stayed.
What Gen. Gowon did, in a war situation, preserved our nation and saved us from disintegration.
A nation is an organic being whose life is characterized by reforms, adaptation and structural changes. At Independence in 1960, the population of Nigeria was 45 million, and our early leaders and the British colonial government, decided that the young nation was too vast and complex to be governed centrally from Lagos.
Thus, they bequeathed a federal system of government with strong regional autonomy and a unifying central government. This arrangement was also accepted and reaffirmed by the Republican Constitution of 1963.
Sixty-one years after independence, our population is now estimated to have exploded to over 200 million. In the same vein, the call for restructuring has continued to grow louder. Within these six decades, our political space has assumed many colorations. We had gone from the three regions to 36 states and 774 local councils. Yet, all that did not seem to have provided the answers to the questions on the administrative structure of our country and how best it should be governed.
As President I had the privilege of celebrating our nation’s golden jubilee in 2010 and the centenary of our amalgamation in 2014.
When we were to celebrate these milestones, some Nigerians challenged our intentions, arguing that the amalgamation was faulty. They insisted that there were no reasons to celebrate because they believe that the amalgamation has not helped the growth of our country.
My belief is that all nations have their unique history; the amalgamation is not the problem. Rather, there was too much emphasis on divisive politics and this has greatly affected our nation’s unity.
It was the need to address these issues that my administration elected six years ago to convene the 2014 National Conference, which I inaugurated on March 17, 2014 in Abuja for the specific purpose of addressing some of the issues that have been agitating the minds of Nigerians.
As a country, we have our peculiar challenges and we should device means of solving them, but we should not continue to vent our spleen on the amalgamation. As Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
My conviction is that discussion on restructuring will not help except we restructure our minds because some of the challenging issues at the national level still exist at the state and local levels.
For instance, in some states, it is not easy for some persons to win an election because of the area they come from, the language they speak or their religious belief.
Take a look at how local government elections are conducted at the state level. Why is it very difficult for an opposition party to win a chairmanship or councillorship seat in a state, despite the fact that the same party probably secured seats in the State Assembly and National Assembly elections, organized by a federal election management body?
This shows that restructuring alone may not solve all the anomalies in the system.
I believe that restructuring for a better nation is good but there are other fundamental issues we should also address. We cannot restructure in isolation without tackling the challenges that polarize our nation. These includes nepotism, ethnic and religious differences as well as lack of patriotism.
The issues of tribe and religion have continued to limit our unity and progress, as a nation.
Leadership is like giving care to a sick patient. If someone is ill, he will receive different phases of treatment regardless of which doctor is on duty until the patient recovers fully and is discharged. I think the same is applicable in nation building.
I would like to refer us to the experience of two African countries which attempted to tackle the problem of diversity from a different perspective than ours at independence; Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere and Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah.
They went to the extreme to advocate one party state which leaned to the left of the centre. Both leaders emphasized strong national governments to promote national unity and patriotism which departed from our own regional approach which was based on strong regional parties and political competition for power between regions.
Let me state for the records that I strongly oppose both the philosophy and the idea of one party state as well as a unitary system of government as a solution to ethnic and cultural diversity. I believe that federalism and liberal multiparty democracy offer by far the best opportunities for good governance in our multi-ethnic nation. Yet, it is obvious that the initial emphasis of Tanzania and Ghana on promoting national unity, patriotism among citizens, and strong national parties that cut across ethnic, regional and religious divides; and leadership orientation that promotes fairness, justice for all, and love of country, have helped both Ghana and Tanzania in their journey of progress.
It has helped them to better manage some of the extreme ethnic and religious divisions that have dampened the unity and progress of Nigeria.
Rwanda is another recent example where polarization on ethnic lines nearly destroyed that beautiful country in 1994, leading to extreme interethnic hatred, anarchy, violence and killings.
Today Rwanda has stepped back from ethnic bigotry and divisions to a system that emphasizes national unity and leadership performance and patriotism. Rwanda has made tremendous progress along this path.
These three countries are by no means the only models or even the ideals for our country to copy and paste, but there are lessons which we should learn, in our democratic dialogue for national restructuring.
The point I am emphasising is that restructuring on its own without love of country, national unity, unifying leadership and building of strong institutions and values may not take us to our destination.
As leaders at different levels we should encourage a healthy conversation on restructuring and reforms that stir national pride and love and faith of our citizens in our beloved country.
Nigeria is still the greatest gift history has bestowed on us, with her huge potential for greatness, prosperity and happiness for all our people and future generations.
Nigeria is a country of great men of intellect across the globe. We have arable land with abundant rain that grows almost everything. There are rich mineral resources buried under the soil across the entire landscape. We are a gateway to the Atlantic that habours the wealth of nations. There is no part of our country that has nothing to offer the nation, if we do things right. Let us nurture what we have for the good of all our people.
Like every other nation, Nigeria is a project in progress and should confidently discuss her experiences and fashion out solutions to improve on her performance and the well being of all citizens. We should all do our little best in our little corners to overcome the challenges we face, and work hard to reposition our country for a greater and more prosperous tomorrow for our children.
This cannot be achieved without deliberate effort to promote national unity and love of country by all our leaders and citizens. We owe ourselves and the coming generations a duty to reduce the bile and embrace one another so that restructuring for a better and greater Nigeria can be meaningful and guarantee the nation’s economic development and citizen’s welfare.
We should never lose hope in our nation for the future is bright. With the robust character of our people and the unbeatable resilience of our spirit, I have no doubt that our country will become greater.
May this platform shed more light on our path forward as a nation.
Dr Jonathan, GCFR, GCON (former president of Nigeria) delivered this remarks at the 18th Daily Trust Dialogue, on January 21, 2021, in Abuja.