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Restructuring or disintegration, which way Nigeria? asks SIMON NJOKU

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The fact that Nigeria’s fate as an indissoluble united nation is hanging in the balance is not in dispute.

The agitations for self determination by various groups in the country lend credence to this. Some of the groups include the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu; the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) headed by Mr. Ralph Uwazuruike; the Ilana Omo Odua (for the actualization of the Yoruba nation with Sunday Igboho as its arrowhead), and the Middle Belt Forum/Kwaralafia groups, among others.The strident calls for restructuring of the nation vis- a-vis the demands for self determination indicate to a large extent the erosion of confidence in the Nigerian polity and declining level of patriotism among the citizenry. The questions troubling the hearts of not a few citizens of this country today are: ‘What is in this country for one? What future does this country Nigeria hold for its present and future generations? What premium does the nation place on the life/existence of its citizens? Can the dream of any ambitious child be realized in this country given the prevailing circumstances? Where is this nation heading to? Does it have what it takes including the political will as well as the managerial expertise and social cohesion to get to its chosen destination? Take, for instance, the National Development Plan recently announced by the Nigerian authorities.

How many Nigerians buy into it? Would the lacklustre implementation or otherwise of previous development plans engender citizens’ confidence in the successful implementation of the current plan and the attainment of its objectives? Gross betrayal of citizens’ trust by the various administrations of the nation over the years has culminated in the distrust of Nigerian leaders by the followers. Hence, the agitations for restructuring and self determination especially in the Southern part of the country and increasing levels of insecurity in the North. The Boko Haram insurgency in the north east of the country as well as banditry and kidnapping in the north central and north west stem from abject neglect of the indigenous populace over the years by their leaders both at the local and national levels.

Despite holding the reins of power for over 46 of 61 years of Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule, these leaders have rewarded their kith and kin with unmitigated level of misery, poverty and destitution. Worse still, the oppressed people of the north watch with dismay and agony the way and manner their supposed leaders display their ill-gotten wealth while they wallow in great neglect and squalor. Today, the oppressed of the north have risen up in arms against the system that has impoverished them over the years. However, another school of thought insists that at the heart of the insurgency and banditry in the north is the covert scramble among the elite of this region for the huge mineral resources in this part of the country – who controls what? This fact seems to be shrouded in secrecy. It should be seriously investigated but by whom? This is a topic for another day.

The story is not so different in the south especially the South East Region where state treasuries are brazenly looted by state functionaries leaving the people with dilapidated infrastructure and social amenities.Given the above scenario, there is no gainsaying the fact that serious consideration should be given without further delay to ways of making Nigeria work for all. Contrary to what we are being made to believe by our leaders, a strong and viable nation is not built on the altar of convoluted propaganda, rhetoric and wishful thinking but on exemplary leadership and high level of commitment of persons in authority towards the achievement of its vision. The clamour for restructuring appears to mean different things to different people and groups. For people in southern Nigeria, restructuring connotes partitioning the nation into regions with each controlling its financial and mineral resources and contributing a percentage to the Federal or central government. The regions will also control the police and some other paramilitary outfits. For Southerners, it is either the nation embarks on comprehensive restructuring of the prevailing system or begin the process of disintegration.

The northern part of the country, except the Middlebelt (north central), whose position tends to align with that of the South, does not seem to have a position yet on restructuring. The northern leaders, rather than articulate a stand on restructuring or disintegration insist that Nigeria is an indissoluble united nation. The leaders pride themselves as having the final say on which direction the nation moves. What informs this stance by the northern leaders which is somehow tainted with arrogance?The answer is not far-fetched. The north depends heavily on the resources of the South to survive especially foreign exchange earnings from crude oil, revenue from cash crops, customs duties at seaports, airports and borders, value added tax (VAT) etc. The other reason that belies the northern leaders indifference to calls for restructuring or disintegration is their control of the security forces – the army, navy, air force, the Directorate for State Security (DSS), the police etc.

These instruments of coercion are frequently used to subdue dissenting voices. They believe but erroneously that power automatically swings to the man with the gun – that is, power flows through the barrel of the gun. It should be stated here that the structure of the Nigerian military establishment poses the greatest threat to the growth of democracy in Nigeria. It was the military that overthrew the first democratic government in Nigeria (1966), and again thwarted the Second Republic in 1983. Under the current unitary system of government built into a federal structure of governance, the military seems to be the pseudo power holders even in a democracy. The military, the police and others owe allegiance to the president, commander-in-chief of the Nigerian armed forces, the person who finds self occupying the seat of power at Aso Rock, Abuja.

Now, to effectively restructure Nigeria and to preserve its existence as a nation, the military establishment should be restructured. Given there are six regions in the country, each region should constitute its military for its internal security – the army, navy, air force – as well as police, customs, immigration etc. The regional premier or governor should control the military, police etc. Each region contributes same number of troops to the centre for international engagements – peace keeping etc. To defend the territory against external aggression, more troops will be contributed to the centre by each region. The troops should return to their respective regions at the end of hostilities. An attack on a region by another should be settled through peaceful negotiations at both regional and federal levels. Military incursion by one region into another will be forbidden.With the regions controlling their resources, each region will vigorously engage in revenue boosting ventures in a bid to diversify its revenue base. Moreover, the insurgency in the northeast will be resolved. The conflict will fizzle out, with the dominant group controlling the affairs of the region.

This is because with no more funds flowing from the centre for the prosecution of the war, the sponsors of this conflict, the northern elite, will have to embrace dialogue. It is strongly alleged that some persons connected with the current administration have deep links with the insurgents. Moreover, northern leaders will begin to turn attention to ways of harnessing the huge mineral resources of the north for the development of the region. In time they will discover that they are as rich, if not richer, than the South. Besides, with power devolved to the regions, government will be closer to the people. Also, there will be higher level of accountability of government to the governed. Resources will be utilized judiciously. Each region will create the number of states it can maintain and each state the number of local governments it can fund.

Richer regions can articulate a Marshall plan to develop challenged regions. Such a plan, surely, can be best implemented under a regional political arrangement than by present day Nigerian structure of governance. Indeed, a national conference needs to be convened immediately to work out a new constitution befitting a weak centre-and-strong region style of government with provision for self-determination by any region. This has become imperative because the Amalgamation which brought different ethnic nationalities under a union called Nigeria in 1914 has since become extinct since 2014 and needs to be renegotiated by the independent people of Nigeria (IPN), the ethnic nationalities, under conditions of freedom, justice, equity and fairness. No one is proud to identify with a rudderless nation like Nigeria, rich in development ideas but short in implementation and achievement of targets, year in year out.Enough of business as usual approach to governance: A new government comes into power and begins to haunt officials of previous administration for corruption. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission swing into action. Arrests are made with unprecedented media blitz, and suspects are charged to court.

After the hullabaloo, all goes quiet. It is once more business as usual. The status quo continues. Government saunters on with no meaningful positive change in the lot of the average citizen. The new leadership begins a looting spree, amassing personal wealth surpassing that of its predecessors. The national wealth once again continues to revolve around the privileged few at the expense of the majority!The post-2023 era should portend a new era of hope for Nigerians, old and young, male or female. The time to chart that path, restructuring, is now else, the option of disintegrating the polity should be given a serious consideration. For some people to continue to claim that Nigeria is an indissoluble entity is above all deceitful and provocative. It is a matter of great regret that some people still publicly express that sentiment when realities on ground speak to the contrary. Wait a minute, indissoluble entity, at whose benefit and at whose detriment? Those holding fast to that view may have to take a look at recent trends in the global community where ethnic nationalities hitherto held together by force of arms under a so-called indissoluble nation gained independence from the power holders of the time. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR aka Soviet Union), which disintegrated into Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia etc; Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovakia); Ethiopia (Ethiopia and Eritrea); Sudan (Sudan and South Sudan) etc. are good examples. In this regard, agitations for self-determination should no longer be dismissed with a wave of the hand or suppressed.

The agitations should be critically examined to determine their remote and immediate causes, merits and demerits and the best way to resolve them. If it is widely acknowledged that disintegration is the best way forward, why not. Sentiments apart, there is nothing spectacular about the huge size of Nigeria that some people tout as a major reason why the nation should stay together. Who needs an elephant that still acts and eats like a rat at 61? So, restructuring or disintegration, which way, Nigeria?

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