NASS and the restructuring debate
It is not surprising that the clamour for restructuring of the country suffered defeat in the Senate last Wednesday. Restructuring, or any clamour for political change for that matter, has never been the song of the ruling class. It has never been the aspiration of politicians who have their hands in the honey pot. Rather, it is the song of the opposition and disenfranchised people who would rather have another way of administering the country.
That is why it is not surprising to see that the campaign resonates more with ordinary Nigerians and politicians who are out of office, while those who are sitting close to the table where the national cake is being shared, and are getting more than their fair share of it, will rather maintain the status quo. Not at all for them is the clamour for change, as they are better off the way they are now. The problem, however, is that they are only an insignificant percentage of the Nigerian people.
There is no doubt the country’s structure needs tinkering with. The extant structure is glaringly weak and cannot ensure success of the nation’s quest for greatness.
From many parts of the country, especially the south, the clamour for restructuring is becoming strident. Not only restructuring, some elements in the South-East of the country want out of the Nigerian Federation. This class of Easterners has the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, as their representative. Even Northern youths, under the auspices of Northern Youths Coalition want Easterners out of their domain. Some elements in the South-South have also issued Northerners in their region a quit notice. Just two days ago, the Niger Delta leaders were also blowing hot. The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) condemned the rejection of devolution of powers by the Senate and declared that there would be no Nigeria without restructuring. PANDEF also said it would pull out of peace negotiations with the Federal Government, which has ensured some peace and smooth oil operations in the Niger Delta states for some time now. The organisation, which has Chief Edwin Clarke as its National Leader, is particularly angry about the rejection of the proposal to amend the Land Use Act by the legislators, who felt it would give the Niger Delta more power to demand the control their natural resources. The federal legislators have also always been against the demands to increase Derivation revenue to the oil producing states from 13 per cent to 25 per cent. Even the issue of payment of certain sums to Host Communities in the Oil Industry bill did not enjoy the support of legislators until Kano and Kaduna, which are not oil producing communities, were added as beneficiaries.
Beyond PANDEF, Niger Delta militants have also become restive and have issued a September 31, 2017 deadline to government from when they will resume attacks on oil facilities in their region. They are demanding fiscal federalism, resource control and devolution of power to the states.
What exactly is Nigeria’s restructuring debate all about? It is the quest to reorganise the country in a way that addresses the perceived injustices against the Nigerian people, by the increasingly insensitive ruling class that is greedily feeding on national resources, while unable to provide a better life for the citizens. Instead, are busy stashing billions of naira away for the benefit of their own unborn generations.
It is also the quest to devolve power from the Federal to the federating state governments, so that development can come nearer to the people. This, ordinarily, could have been done through the amendment of Sections of the Nigerian Constitution which share responsibilities for the country’s administration between the Federal Government and the state governments, to give greater responsibilities to the states, as was the case in the time of the regional governments in the First Republic.
The refusal of the Senate to accept restructuring is heating up the polity. This is more so as this is one idea that has enjoyed the confidence and endorsement of many of the national conferences that the country has held over the years.
The impression that the position of the Senate has created is that Nigerians are happy with the structure and state of the country as we have it today. This is clearly not so. From different parts of the country, the agitation for a different structure for the country has been getting stronger. Even some Yoruba organisations have been calling for restructuring along the line of regionalism.
What is clear from all these agitations is that the ruling elites need to do a lot of soul searching and do what is in the best interest of the people. The National Assembly members, who are supposed to represent the interest of their constituencies, should look beyond their present rosy condition and the perks accompanying their offices to do what will move the lives of the people forward.
The increasing tension in the country on account of the discontent over the present state of the country needs to be addressed and speedily resolved. Clearly, the present arrangement which has left the country with dilapidated infrastructure, deteriorating schools, ill equipped hospitals, insurgency, massive unemployment and the like is clearly not working.
The time has come for our leaders to find a workable arrangement that can unleash the power of the states to develop at their own paces and determine their own future, with the federal government only taking responsibility for certain aspects of our national life, such as defence of the nation’s territorial integrity, foreign affairs, etc. Things such as education, internal security, hospitals, roads etc are best left to the state governments that are closer to the people, with each state having as many local councils as it needs to serve its people effectively.
Of course, this arrangement should reflect in the management of the finances of the states, which would now have the lion’s share of public resources, as they would only remit certain percentages of their revenues to the centre.
It is unfortunate that Nigeria has been unable to manage its diversity and its vast human and economic resources in a way that could build a strong and united nation.
There are so many angles of the restructuring debate, as the term appears to mean different things to different Nigerians. One thing that is clear, however, is the need for the people’s representatives to correctly read the thinking of their constituents and come up with a political arrangement that will resolve the contradictions of our nation state and the tension occasioned by their rejection of restructuring.