By Charles Onunaiju
No subject or issue has gained sustained attention in contemporary public discourse in Nigeria as re-structuring. Mostly considered by proponents as a re-configuring of existing political units to reflect ethno-geographical contiguity as basis to attain what they call “true federalism or devolution of powers from the central government to existing state governments and invest them with the quasi-coordinating units of a balanced federation. All these, according to proponents have the magic power to arrest the habitual supplications of marginalization, restiveness and violent confrontations among different communities and even religious faiths.
Opponents of re-structuring including the current government insists that nothing is worth compromising the hard won and earned national unity, seeing in the campaign for a restructuring, a sinister agenda to balkanize the country and carve it up as fiefdoms to ambitious ethnic syndicates. Re-structuring to attain true or balanced federalism through elaborate political re-configurations, clearly assume that Nigeria’s social dysfunction, and economic lethargy are consequences of dis-articulated political structure, especially which does not prioritize the categories of ethnic and religious formations as the core imperatives for engagement.
However, the distinctive recognition and accommodation of nationality groups as the key structure of political engagement and even their constitutionalization forthwith, as in the case of pure federalization of Ethiopia’s ethnic nationality groups have not resolved the restiveness of the federating units.
Even for Ethiopia’s renowned strong and developmental state, the restiveness of its largest Oromia region which boiled over recently and resulted in the resignation of the former effective Prime minster, did not recommend elegantly that re-structuring must proceed from coalescing of ethnic units into basic political structures as the essential guarantor of equity and stability.
Understanding the inadequacy to which her generous federalism that even provided for constitutional secession of any of the federating units, the Ethiopia’s developmental state exerts itself more energetically on the question meaningful economic restructuring, throwing up broad opportunities for all Ethiopians to participate in a transformative socio-economic life of the country.
Despite the emotional appeal and high sounding rhetoric of re-structuring as mainly a political re-configuring of Nigeria to attain true federalism, the critical issues that can address low value, Nigeria offers to numerous citizens are hardly and seriously engaged by the elites that drive the hay wire discourse of restructuring.
The key word of restructuring is strategically germane to resolving Nigeria’s main conundrum. First and foremost, the institution of the state is too unwieldy and consequently weak and dysfunctional. A practical step is to initiate constitutional reform of executive arm of government by abolishing unnecessary constitutional provision of having every state to have a minister in the federal cabinet and additionally reduce the number of ministries to at most 15, with the inclusion of the ministry of Ethnic nationalities, Religious and Diaspora Affairs. Living in denials of our differences does not eliminate it and therefore, to acknowledge and leverage it as a resource, will optimize its value to the national project. Proliferation of commissions and agencies have proved a durable burden, not only as a drain on the national treasury but have sapped the vitality of the state and distracted its focus from key essentials. The report of the Mr. Orosanya committee to streamline federal agencies and parastatals should be revisited with a view to further restructure the agencies in order to reduce the numbers and cut down their sizes.
The freebie of bicameral legislature comprising currently the Senate and the House of Representatives is simply a self-asphyxiating exercise imposed to accommodate elite greed and not any national need. The institutional re-restructuring that is key imperative to the future of the country must discharge the burden of the existing hollow constitution, encumbered broadly and fundamentally, with a serious divergence of existential national needs and popular aspirations with the existing unsustainable political expediency.
A constitution is not a mere document of rules, even of the “ground norm” but a regulatory mechanism of a broad social order in which collective aspirations for a common good is integrated to the mechanics of the state and its key agency of government for the purpose of the delivery of the greatest good to the greatest numbers.
Electoral process, especially free, fair, credible and transparent elections are vital to building popular confidence in the institutions of state and making those institutions accountable and responsible. However, the management of the process does not have to impose a huge burden. The current electoral umpire; the independent electoral Commission is an unsustainable behemoth. Key elements of its functions which is why it is a statutory body can be effectively discharged by other bodies. A successful national data bank to be managed by national Population Commission can review and update electoral registers, while ad-hoc election commission of Independent persons drawn from the Judiciary, academic, civil societies, labour movement etc can conduct periodic elections, with specific time lines for addressing infractions and then, disband. The massive bureaucracy of election management bodies has made elections look like an end in itself, instead of a means to an end.
More importantly for the subject of restructuring is the strategic arm of the state, the security sector or its wing of organized violence.
The main item of its restructuring is to refine and improve its quality, through exposures to training, hi-tech equipment and package of material incentives.
Through a broad and wide range of institutional reforms, that establishes the integrity and credibility of the state, a concomitant economic restructuring focusing on widening the net of productive activities for inclusive and sustainable development would engage citizens activism. The restructuring of the economy which must aim to resolve the contradiction of citizen’s growing needs and shrinking resources and opportunities should aim at value creation and multiplications. The various ethnic and inter-communal and farmer/herdsmen clashes are manifestations of the contradiction of growing population with growing needs but shrinking resources and opportunities. An economy that constantly and consistently creates and multiplies values has already the impeccable mechanism to manage and contain conflicts. A large family with many growing children, but with little opportunities to address the growing needs for food and other essentials will experience commotions and crisis despite that all the children are of the same parent.
Nigeria actually and desperately need to be restructured but the tiresome sloganeering for a true or balanced federalism, whatever that means is way beyond the urgent imperative of institutional and economic restructuring.
Mr. Onunaiju, Research director, Center for China Studies, (CCS) Abuja.