I participated last week 13 – 14 July, 2017, in the conference organized in Abuja by the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD) in conjunction with the Ford Foundation. It was the 3rd in the series of national discussion organized by the Savannah Centre and the theme of this edition was and very aptly too; National Unity, Integration and Devolution of Power/Restructuring and Dialogue Session. The conference brought together Nigerians across the various divides – political, ethnic, academia, youths – and provided them the platform to espouse their view points on the emotive issue of restructuring and the devolution of power in Nigeria.
That was not the first time Nigerians have gathered to talk about the challenges of nationhood and development but it would be, to the best of my recollection, the first time an assemblage of such prominent Nigerians would gather to discuss the current buzzword in the Nigerian political lexicon – Restructure – and with a sense of urgency. Restructuring has been given varied meanings depending on political, ethnic and religious persuasion, and in some cases laden with deep suspicion and resentment. The conference provided not just the platform but an auspicious occasion for the advocates of the term, to define what it means and outline the implications for the political and nation building process in Nigeria.
What Restructuring Means for Nigeria
Chief Emeka Anyaoku, 3rd Secretary – General of the Commonwealth, was unequivocal about the positive impact restructuring will have on the nation. He was without any doubt convinced that a restructured Nigeria will return the country to the path of nationhood and development. His yes to restructuring in Nigeria was emphatic. The man of the conference, was the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was also the lead speaker in the segment on restructuring in Nigeria. He not only disclosed what restructuring meant to him, but also gave an outline of the essential components of restructuring and the benefits to Nigeria. The essential elements in his treatise were the devolution of power to the federating states, fiscal federalism and regionalization to economic productivity and viability of states. He was equally of the view that the devolution of power to the states will make them centers of development and also reduce the vicious struggle for control of political power at the center. Additionally, states will become more accountable to the citizens whose economic activities and creativity will be critical for the Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) required by the states.
He captivated the audience with his grasp and the clarity of his views on the subject. He certainly dispelled at the end of his presentation, the arguments of his critics who have used every opportunity and occasion to counter that his commitment to restructuring was glib and primarily a path to the presidential seat.
Support for Restructuring from Unexpected Quarters
Following from the conference, the Nigerian political space has become awash with calls for restructuring especially from expected quarters. It has come as a surprise to many that Lt General TY Danjuma and General Ibrahim Babangida, have publicly supported the call for a political restructuring of Nigeria that will work to serve Nigerians better. The Middle Belt zone has also spoken out in favour of restructuring through its spokesperson, Prof Jerry Gana, who was categorical that the Middle Belt zone must be seen as distinct from the North. These are, in addition, to the calls from the South West, South South, and South East zones.
The ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), which has been prevaricating on restructure, seems to have bowed to the national mood by appointing a committee headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufia, to look into the issue of restructuring. The Governors Forum has appointed a committee to look into the desirability or otherwise of state controlled police. The frenzy has also caught up with the National Assembly. In a statement issued at its retreat in Lagos Nigeria, the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu promised that Nigeria would be restructured and a review of the 1999 constitution will be undertaken to devolve power and functions to the states. Lately, a coalition of 15 political parties under the umbrella of Coalition for New Nigeria (CNN) led by the Labour Party has also joined in calling for restructuring in the nation.
What Has Changed?
The need for this difficult, painful but necessary evaluation and conversation on the state of our nation could not have been possible without the youthful radicals and extremists whose pronouncements jolted the Nigerian establishment and power brokers. Nigeria is a nation built on the vision of its youthful nationalists, most of whom were in their mid 30’s, when they championed the struggle for independence. Its steady growth and development was derailed by another set of youthful idealists who staged the coup that set the stage for a fratricidal war of horrendous proportions that was again led by very youthful leaders.
Fifty years to the start of the civil war, the nation is again caught up in a frenzy of ethnic and religious hate speeches championed by Nigerian youths, who have seized the center stage and taken control of the national political narrative with huge potential for disastrous consequences. The only thing that has changed, is that the elders and moderates have been jolted out of their comfort zone and are, in response, calling for a discussion of those difficult issues which confront and challenge us as a nation. It is worth noting that some of these elders rooting for restructuring are part of the problem. They foreclosed the discussions of these tough and difficult political questions, when these were just feeble rumblings.
While I endorse the entry of elders and the call for moderation to avert a cataclysmic outcome if this extremist posturing continues unabated, I am wary of the intentions of the political class who have suddenly become advocates of restructuring. I have every reason to question their sudden support. I hope it is not aimed at defusing the tense political situation just to serve their narrow political interests. A credible and genuine call for restructuring must be time bound and should be concluded ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The Crucial Role of the Nigerian Youth
While it will be too idealistic to think that restructuring will be the silver bullet that will solve all the problems, it does provide Nigerians the unique chance of holding together a nation of great promise and enormous potentials. The outcomes of the segment of the Savannah Centre conference on the role of the youth in national development, recognized the huge potentials of the Nigerian youth but regretted that the institutional and political settings excluded and denied them the opportunity of participating in the vital process of nation building.
Perhaps, finally Nigerians are ready to talk to each other and not at each other as Prof Gambari enjoined Nigerians to do, in his introductory remarks at the start of the conference. This honest conversation at determining the future of the nation, must also include the active participation of the radicals and extremists who pushed the nation towards taking this necessary but important step. Demonizing or sidelining them will be counterproductive. They are very critical in the conversation on the future of the nation and any process that does not include them will be akin to kicking the can down the road. We may not necessarily agree with their tactics but we must acknowledge that they have an important stake in determining the future of the country.
The Nigerian Future
The Nigeria of the future belongs to over 60% of the population that are under the age of 35. Their views must count in determining the future of this great country. I believe in the Nigerian youth and I have never wavered from the conviction that they are a resilient and resourceful group. Their patriotism and their ability to engage and compete globally is not in doubt. That upbeat sense and pride in the country is loud and clear in their music and street lingo. What they truly require is a chance to have an enabling environment that will unleash their creative instincts, potentials and ingenuity.
Nigerian youths regardless of their ethnic, religious and political persuasion have not had the best deal from their country. Youths under age 35 have not experienced one-month uninterrupted electricity supply, good roads, hassle free social services, equal opportunities for admission into schools, universities and employment. Theirs, is a world riddled with the peddling of influence and corruption. Restructuring will create a level playing field and give the youths a chance for the enthronement of merit, justice and fair play in their lives. This national conversation and the opportunity for restructuring which most Nigerians are now calling for, must not be missed or lost.
Amb. Nwobu is a retired Nigerian diplomat. He was prior to his retirement from the Nigerian Foreign Service, Director of African Bilateral Affairs Department, as well as Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Nigeria