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The restructuring debate

“I shall be telling this with a sigh  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—  I took the one…

“I shall be telling this with a sigh 

Somewhere ages and ages hence: 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 

I took the one less traveled by, 

And that has made all the difference.”

— Robert Frost


Every public commentator worthy of mention cannot be neutral or resort to what journalists call “Afghanistanism” in times of crucial debates to have implication for the very existence of his/her audience and the world at large. The little-acclaimed fourth purpose of journalism, apart from the well-known trio of Information, Education and Entertainment, is Surveillance. You must watch out for threats to social cohesion and warn the public accordingly.

The current debate about restructuring Nigeria to mirror a truly federal state is nothing short of a duty to one’s fatherland. The current unitary system is not working. It was invented by Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi and he paid the supreme price shortly after decreeing it into existence. But his successors found it convenient to retain the barrack system of command in the political scene. By 1999, the same military decreed a unitary constitution for the imminent return of power to civilians — and called it a federal constitution.  

Names or labels cannot change the nature of a thing. The so-called federal constitution is the source of so much tension, mistrust and bad blood in the land that some analysts have warned that if we don’t urgently gather all the contending groups together to discuss, eyeball to eyeball, how to restructure this wonky arrangement, we may lose the opportunity for peaceful reinvention.

“The past is never dead”, argues  William Faulkner; “It’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity.”

But I insist that we cannot allow the past to hold us hostage. Let’s use the lessons of the past to fashion out a brighter future. It is futile to hold on to ancient fears or to insist on perpetuating a patently unjust system. Listening to some of the people who have spoken against restructuring, it is as if Nigerians of different political blocs are mortally afraid of sitting down together to reason things out and fashion a new system we can all live with. Let ours not be a case of the road not taken.

Many eminent Nigerians have given their vote to restructuring, even if they differ, as they must, in the details, I recently highlighted General Babangida’s urgent call for restructuring to stem the current centrifugal tide. More eminent personages and groups have joined the restructuring train: Atiku Abubakar, Wole Soyinka, Emeka Anyaoku, Bishop Kukah, Adebayo Williams, the Progressive Governors’ Forum, the PDP Governors’ Forum, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the Ijaw National Congress, the Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, The Middle-Belt Youths et al.

Those who want the present system retained with only a few cosmetic changes have also been trying to sell their argument which, in my opinion, is long on sentiments and short on logic. If this university called Life has taught me anything at all, it is that it is better to have a little of a big thing than to have the lion’s share of nothing. 

The All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to restructure the country. It was one of the carrots pitched. The APC manifesto states clearly that, “APC intends to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan for post-oil-economy in Nigeria. To achieve this laudable programme, APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the centre.”

So, why the foot-dragging by the Buhari administration? Last week, Atiku Abubakar reinforced the pledge in the APC manifesto: “Our founding political leaders agreed on and erected a federal system of government. They believed, quite rightly in my view, that such a structure was the only guarantee of national cohesion in view of our diversity, varying resource endowments, varying levels of development, and the centrifugal forces threatening our unity”.

I suggest we go back to the basics. Let “We the people” come together with the six zones as federating units and design for ourselves a constitutional structure that our grandchildren will be proud of. The Buhari government should take the lead in guiding us. I think the refusal to address the structural imbalance is at the root of the current agitations which have threatened to tear the country apart. 

As far as I know, nobody wants Nigeria dismembered. But the terms of the union are nothing if not negotiable.


INEC Chair blackmailed?

There was a rumour last week that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmoud Yakubu, was being blackmailed by the Dino Melaye and some of his colleagues in the Senate. Yakubu had been Executive Secretary of another ‘juicy’ parastatal, TETFUND, before landing the INEC job. The Senate was allegedly threatening to probe Yakubu’s  tenure in TETFUND to open a can of maggots.

But INEC has disclosed that it was appealing the court ruling which gave Senator Dino Melaye respite and that its chairman was not “succumbing to blackmail”. I think we should pay more attention to that exchange, especially the behind-the-scene moves of desperate politicians to perpetuate the desecration of their  constituencies’ seats with their foul behinds.

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