It took me a while to get involved in the restructuring debate.. or is it a debacle? Like they say of the stock market, ‘when your gateman starts to tell you what stocks to buy, that is the time to get out of the market’. No offenses meant at gatemen. They too are financially savvy these days. But what this means is that some things become cliched and then lose their value. In other words, at some point everyone who had a point was cocksure that once Nigeria restructured all its problems will be over. Different definitions of the phenomenon thus appeared, from the academic to the radical. That became confusing. It was tough – still is – to know what restructuring ‘Nigeriana’ actually means.
One thing was certain; most of the calls for restructuring had a tinge of angst in it. Many proponents come from the angle of the many injustices that we have wrought on ourselves in Nigeria. Many are cocksure today that we are a different people – from north to south – and there was no need trying to stitch and glue us together. They are of the view that there is an urgent need to eradicate federal character and quota systems and the inefficiencies they foster, to do away with resource or revenue sharing, to institute a situation where every ‘region’ will be on its own and mind its own business, to bring about ‘true federalism, institute a merit-driven society, and so on. At a recent TV appearance I made, a serving senator, while disagreeing that the quest for restructuring is borne out of angst and a quest for seperatism, twice repeated the widely held view that some parts of the country were parasitic to the rest and it would be great for regions (usually marked out by tribal affiliations) to go on their own. And in another breath, the senator was asking for the creation of one more south eastern state, as a starting point. Confusing, if not bizarre.
For me, I spent a lot of time ruminating and trying to figure out what people were asking for, plus how whatever we are demanding for will not put us into even more trouble. We have seen many situations in this country where we chase a new situation with all our might, only to be quite disappointed when we get what we want. Then we resume the bellyaching. We need to deal with the cognitive bias that makes us believe that yesterday is always better than today as well. For one, there are many issues around regionalism that we need to deal with. And indeed, a thorough analysis of the ‘halcyon’ first republic is required. Nigeria wasn’t this complicated in the regionalism era. Our population wasn’t this large. And majority didn’t mind remaining in rural areas. In short there are many intervening variables that have not been figured into the equation by many who want us to return to the days of regionalism when according to them ‘there was healthy competition among the regions’. It just sounds like a reversion to a time we should have outgrown, for me.
My own thoughts are around what restructuring should be, not what people say it is.
RESTRUCTURING SHOULD BE CONSTANT, CONSISTENT AND VALUE-DRIVEN
Restructuring should be about continuous assessment. It should be built into the day-to-day administration of a nation, a state or local government. Restructuring should be about socio-political and economic innovation. In other words, every other 4 or 5 years, a thinking and progressive people should always assess the outcomes and impact of their ideologies, policies, administrative and other tools, approaches and strategies by which the people are impacted, and tweak things around. Restructuring should be like technology. Technology is not static. What drives innovation in technology? It is comfort, convenience, affordability, utility, and a general feeling of progress for people. It is the pursuit of happiness that drives innovation in technology. Those who innovate understand that people desire a sweeter, easier life and they work hard at providing it – for a price. The same pursuit of happiness for everyone should drive sociopolitical and economic innovation, otherwise called RESTRUCTURING. The taxes a people pay is the price for innovation in governance; the price for constant restructuring.
So we oughtn’t have waited until it became a crisis, and a platform for conflict, agitation, mutual distrust and mistrust, and so on. And going forward, we must never wait until it becomes totally inevitable, with all constituent parts of our nation angling, jostling, complaining and agitating for reforms before we start thinking of restructuring. Some are even still resisting when restructuring should be built into our day to day life. We cannot just remain good for purchasing other people’s technological, sociopolitical or economic innovations while being static where we should be dynamic. This is the bane of the black African and Nigeria especially and we will one day pay dearly for being so slow and docile in every department. Don’t ever imagine that we have paid enough. It will get worse.
Explained in this manner, restructuring should not be a thing for some parts of Nigeria alone. It should be the desire for all constituent parts of Nigeria. Every citizen should have something they want reformed, amended or innovated in the way we are being governed. Why? More than half of Nigeria is in extreme poverty, meaning that the other half is in trouble, since poverty is increasing according to all available indices. I am not sure that poverty is a happy space for anyone to be in, even though the rat race for money also doesn’t guarantee happiness. Restructuring is about melding the two positions and letting the people see the fact that there is value in life, beyond the rat race and that there are bigger pursuits and ideals, to live for.
A SHRINKING, UNHAPPY ECONOMIC SPACE
We live today in a country where human lives are cheap and no one knows what they will encounter around the corner. State governors sit on huge amounts as security votes which they convert to personal use, yet they complain of not being in charge of the security apparatus of their states. The killings and clashes are perhaps enough reason to restructure the police, because people no longer feel safe at all in their own country. For me, state policing is now a fait accompli, and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Why? Populations have increased for one. Humans are now more mobile. Economic deprivation and mismanagement over the years have made people more prone to all sorts of crimes. So the policing controlled from Abuja is no longer adequate. The result of centralized policing is the situation where at least 50% of our policemen have been hijacked by the elites. This is a great indictment which I could never forgive Buhari for. He may not have started the elitisation of the police but the has done nothing about it in spite of the evidence to the extent that this is a great disservice to the common Nigerian. State policing has another advantage which no one is talking about; the security votes governors now spend on their ego trips should become part of their state police budgets. How’s that for starters?
From an economic angle, the neglect of most parts of Nigeria to the extent that only cities feel the presence of government (especially state capitals and the federal capital territory), has resulted in the shrinking of the economic space, sporadic crimes, rural-urban drift, and general social malaise. Is this not a reason to restructure by inverting the revenue sharing formula to something like 25% for Federal, 35% for States and 40% for LGs (which should be jointly administered by a committee of federal and state operatives so as to prevent the current hijack by state governors). The consistent complaint of state governments that they are unable to get anything done is also another excuse to restructure duties so that states can generate more money, assist companies set up and trading within their states and make remittances of taxes and/or royalties to the federal for onward disbursement for sundry purposes. It is untrue that ‘true federalism’, pardon the pun, is a situation where every state stands totally and solely on its own. Nowhere in the world does that happen. In all developed federalisms, the federal still kicks some funds to states, and favor those which are more deprived. In the USA it is called Block Grants (for general use by the state) and Categorical Grants (for specific purposes). In Canada, the Federal government also supports states and even local counties. Many countries have also fused presidential and parliamentary systems successfully. So the search for a perfect form of government is a futility. Like every law, the system of government depends on who is working it. Nigerians are not particularly great at working our laws, or perhaps any system of government.
I therefore believe that there are already areas where we can begin to chip away at this famously large powers of the federal government. We can take state policing. We can take rail and power. We can take prisons. We should take marriage laws. We can take solid mineral rights. The bills for these can be floated individually so that hiccups in one doesn’t affect others. This will be a good place to start. We must however ensure that we don’t jump from the federal frying pan to the states fire.
I refuse to go with the regionalism talk. It sounds rather archaic to me. We talk of the halcyon days where all was well. We cannot be talking of reverting to regional governments in an already globalized world. We should be thinking bigger. We should be thinking of borderless countries. One person made the analogy that whereas Nigeria is pursuing African integration, at home we are as divided as ever. We are global citizens but at home we are tribalists. The talk of regionalism always harks back to tribalism. The regions of old were marked out along tribal fissures. However the demarcations were rough. Most of Kwara was in the north for example, but there are Yoruba-speaking people aplenty there. All of Benue was in northern region but Benue is quite diverse culturally. Benin, Esan and the old Bendel State were all part of Western Region but you cannot go back to that western region today without protests. Perhaps what is more reprehensible compared to the proposed tribalisation of Nigeria (because some people see themselves as better capable, more enlightened and better endowed than others), is the call in some quarters for the creation of more states. All of our states are centres of profligacy. Yet we want more.
I believe it is imperative for the young people of this country to take control of this debate and make their voices heard. It is we old people that socialize our young ones to begin to develop that parochialism that sees only people like us as perfect and the rest flawed and evil. Otherwise the young people of Nigeria should let it be known that they are ready to take the debate forward, don their thinking caps and forge the unity required for progress in this country. They should take control of their own future from these analogue people whose thinking is locked in only one direction; segregation, separatism, disguised in different forms. This will require that our youths take responsibility for the state of the nation immediately. It is not good enough to act confused and wait to be led. I hear many of them talk of being confused as to which leader to choose for the n ext phase in Nigeria. I hear them express despair. But I reply that the youth should first trust themselves each person. When they trust each other to do the job and not screw it all up further, half of the jobs is done.
A LESSON IN ANTHROPOLOGY
I always repeat this fact when trying to convince particularly adamant people that geopolitical restructuring will be tough and that what we should focus on first is economic restructuring. I believe strongly that if our governments should focus strongly on reducing income inequality, creating jobs and ensuring an acceptable minimum standard of living for all Nigerians, the clamor for restructuring – especially the geopolitical aspect – will reduce and will be less volatile. If however the question is posed today, with all the hunger in the land, Nigerians will almost unanimously opt for regionalism and from there on the next chorus will be that everyone goes there separate ways. Many people have warned, and I also believe, that once you start to split Nigeria you may never stop. I will explain why.
Growing up I picked up the game of Scrabble. Those days we had to rely on a large Chambers Dictionary. We discovered many new, crazy words. But I also discovered the word ‘etymology’. It is the study of the origin of words and how words have changed over time. I discovered many English words had Latin, German, Roman, French origins, and so also for words from those countries. I realized way back then that no nation is an island and all nations are influenced first of all by neighbors north, east, west and south, and also by wars, conflicts, reconciliations, intermarriages, trade, cultural events and so on. Historically, most nations are fused. In a country like Nigeria therefore, most of what we call tribes have no geographical limits or boundaries. I have commenced a kind of research into this. I have seen how Yorubaland melts into Igala and Edo, how Edo melts into Delta and Igbo, how Igbo bleeds into Benue, Efik and Ibibio, and how Ibibio and Efik ebbs into other tribes in Cameroun. I have seen how the Hausa language is different from Sokoto to Kano, to Bauchi. People who don’t understand a language deeply are unable to tell the different strains and accents. I have seen similarities in words from one tribe to another, that tell a story of a long, undocumented history of a time when we may have been more united than we are in this age of globalization and gadgets of communication.
The research continues. I will reveal it one day. But mind you we must not just assume it will be easy to start a new regional arrangement. Reverting to old regions will be impossible. I don’t see Edo and Delta people agreeing to be under a Western Region. The proposed Middle Belt region will be a bag of confusion and strife as there are more than 200 nations and languages in what is today known unofficially as the Middle Belt.
For now, let the youth of this country come together, banish old, divisive talk, do something new, and take this country forward. We have the means of multiple communication in our hands. Let us jaw jaw. I believe there is a way out. Let us put our slow, biased, dark-minded, parochial, myopic non-leaders at every level, under immense pressure… because we can see the light. And it is given unto our generation, to unite this country for progress, peace and prosperity unforetold.