2023: Inside the battle for restructuring

Restructuring is one of the most debated issues for a long time now. It has continued to grain grounds and acceptance especially as the permutation and alignment for the 2023 Presidential election is set in motion. In this report, TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU ask: What interest will it serve?

The clamour for the total restructuring of the country is rising on the daily basis with the South-west and the Igbo in the South-east leading the struggle. This is as  proponents of structuring see is as the only solution to the myriads of challenges facing Nigeria as a country.

However, those who are against restructuring have argued that it is not tenable for the 36 states to collapse into regions.

 Latest twists

The agitations for the restructuring re-echoed loudly, last week, at the 18th Daily Trust Dialogue themed: Restructuring: Why? When? How? Those who are against the agitation also countered it by marshalling their points to justify their claims, even as posers were raised leading to yet another national discourse.

Eminent Nigerians including former President Goodluck Jonathan; the former Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega; and the immediate past President-General, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo; converged on Abuja to speak on the much agitated restructuring.

The ex-president, who chaired the occasion, alongside Professor Jega, who was a panellist, admitted that there was need for restructuring. They, however, concluded that it should not be done in isolation.

Convrsly,  the ex-President Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and a Chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who spoke harped on total restructuring, arguing that the country’s current constitution had failed.

Jonathan opined that restructuring would not help and rather called for the restructuring of the minds of Nigerians, stating that most of the identified challenges at the federal level were still in existence at the state and local levels.

He added that Nigeria as a nation could not be restructured without tackling some of the challenges confronting it.

 “My conviction is that discussions on restructuring will not help except we restructure our minds because some of the challenging issues at the national level still exist at the state and local levels.

“For instance, in some states, it is not easy for some persons to win an election because of the area they come from, the language they speak or their religious belief.

“Take a look at how local government elections are conducted at the state level. Why is it very difficult for an opposition party to win a chairmanship or councillorship seat in a state, despite the fact that the same party probably secured seats in the State Assembly and National Assembly elections organised by a federal election management body?

“This shows that restructuring alone may not solve all the anomalies in the system. I believe that restructuring for a better nation is good but there are other fundamental issues we should also address.

“We cannot restructure in isolation without tackling the challenges that polarize our nation. These include: nepotism, ethnic and religious differences as well as lack of patriotism. The issues of tribe and religion have continued to limit our unity and progress, as a nation,” the ex-president argued.

Also, the former INEC chairman, who acknowledged that the country should be restructured, said restructuring alone is not a sufficient condition for stability and progress, and suggested that Nigeria should pursue systematic, incremental positive changes and avoid “once for all” in its undertakings.

 “To my mind, there is no doubt that, understood properly, without grandstanding and brinkmanship, restructuring is necessary and the time to begin to concretely commence it is now.

“But there should be no doubt, also, that although restructuring is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for stability, progress and socioeconomic development in Nigeria.

“The best way to restructure the Nigerian federation is to pursue systematic, incremental positive changes and avoid “once for all”, wholesale, undertakings, because they are time consuming, energy sapping, and constraining,” Jega suggested.

1999 Constitution fraudulent

But disagreeing with the former president and Jega, the Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said restructuring was the only way the country could get out of its present quagmire, and alleged that the 1999 constitution was fraudulent and did not articulate the collective will of the people, having been imposed on the nation by the military.

Adebayo, who advocated the return of Nigeria to the 1960 Independence Constitution when the regions had autonomy, said: “My view is that 1960 and 1963 constitutions gave us more freedom and autonomy which we are all agitating for.  Why are we emphasizing restructuring now? Because the 1999 constitution is fraudulent; it does not represent the choice of the people.

“Interestingly, when we talk of restructuring, some of our friends from the North will say ‘they want to break the country. But, anyone opposed to true federalism which is restructuring is the one who wants to break the country.

“The question of insecurity the country is facing now is because the governors do not have control over the security agencies in their states. That is what we need to address now.

“Anybody talking about the election without changing this constitution does not love this country.  It is the 1999 constitution that has made Northern Nigerians believe if they don’t support anybody, he or she cannot be president.

“All the agitations about Biafran separation are because they (Igbos) feel excluded under the constitution. I only hope the progressive elements in the North will persuade President Buhari to restructure the country now before everything burns to blazes. “The Constitution we have now is a fraudulent constitution, it is not our constitution. Most importantly, it has failed, and everybody testified to this fact. It is simply not working. To save us from this situation, we must impress upon President Buhari to change the constitution to one that everybody agrees to.’’

Delay may lead to mass boycott, disruption of next elections

Supporting Adebanjo’s stance the immediate past President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, said restructuring is the way to go.

“We should restructure because the constitutional history of Nigeria shows that the only constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made by all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, were the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions.

“The 1999 Constitution overthrew the sovereignty of the regions over their natural resources and domestic security unleashing in the process an unprecedented fall of education standards, domestic security, and economic well being.

“We must do all we can to restructure before the next election in 2023 because the level of dissatisfaction in the country as evidenced by the last #EndSARS protests gave one the impression that any delay may lead to a mass boycott or disruption of the next elections to the point that we may have a more serious constitutional crisis of a nation without a government,’’ Nwodo said.

The economy is the big issue, Ogbeh insists

Also, speaking on the issue, the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Audu Ogbeh, who was present at the event, faulted the 1960 constitution, stating that it was not also perfect as claimed.

He raised a poser on how Nigeria would be restructured and asked which state would forgo its autonomy and collapse into a regional government?

“We are in a country where the only big company today is government, the only viable one. The economy of this country is dying so fast, and that is where the tragedy is coming from. This is why our children and grandchildren, the young ones coming behind should realise they have no future.

“Somebody mentioned India to illustrate. We say the 1960 Constitution was very good. If it was so good, why was there a coup on January 15, 1966, with those bloody massacres of leaders, military and civilian? “Then, six months later, there was a counter-coup. And then the civil war in which nearly two million people died mainly in the East. So, what was the cause if that constitution was that perfect?

“Then, you talked of India; India became independent on the August 15, 1947. The British said India had no chance of being a country, that they would need an Army with the efficiency of the German Army under Adolf Hitler to keep the peace.

“They said India was too ethnic, too tribal, too religious and so on. Between then and now, there had never been a coup in India, not once. Why are we so hot-headed? We should calm down when we, the leaders, express feelings about Nigeria’s problems.

“What we say influences the opinions of those who have no opinions of their own. We are too hot and too angry. The big issue is the economy of this country. “How many of us can count the number of factories that have died in this country from the South-west; to the North; and to the East?

“In Kano alone, 126 factories have gone down. We are talking about creating jobs. You cannot take a loan from the bank. That is a 5 per cent interest rate. Even if you are trading in cocaine, you can’t make it.

“My answer to whether restructuring is the solution: In dealing with the problems confronting us, restructuring is absolutely necessary. In what shape is the question to ask. Will states surrender their autonomy as Professor Jega said? Very unlikely! Are we returning to the regions of 1960? Very unlikely! That is where the problem lies,’’ Ogbeh said.

Restructuring may not address all our problems

Like former President Jonathan said, a Political Analyst, Aminu Muhammed, said restructuring may not address Nigeria’s problems.

Muhammed in a telephone interview with Blueprint Weekend, said: “We have been talking about restructuring for years and no Nigeria government has ever been serious about it.

“However, as the topic continues to generate discussions because of the current situation in Nigeria and having listened to many stakeholders talk about it, I am sure you will ask yourself what is restructuring? How do we restructure? Can any government take the bold step? Will restructuring address our problems?

“With all these questions, what interest me most, is will restructuring address Nigeria’s problem? These are the problems of marginalisation, tribalism, religious sentiments, insecurity, unemployment, banditry, injustice in distribution of resources and underdevelopment in general. As far as I am concerned, restructuring may not address all these problems.

“Whether we restructure or not, these problems will still be there. What I think we need to address is our mind set. It’s all about mindset, the leaders and the led need to change their mindset.

“Our mindset is the problem. Until Christians restructure their mindsets towards Muslims, until an Hausa man changes his mindset towards an Igbo man, until we want the best for our neighbours, no matter where they come from, restructuring may not solve Nigeria’s known problems. Because the political or geo-political structure is not the problem but our mindset is.”

APC has failed to deliver campaign promises on restructuring – PDP

 Speaking in an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, challenged President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to formulate an executive bill as well as take steps, as a party, for a private member bill on the promised restructuring.

Ologbondiyan, who spoke in a telephone interview, said: “As for our party, it depends on the angle of restructuring that Nigerians want. As you know, restructuring means different things to different people. There are people who say devolution of power is restructuring, there are some people who say that let us go back to nationalism.

“The 2014 National conference made recommendations and proposed a constitution amendment which President Jonathan personally handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The President has not done anything in respect of that. Let them work on the recommendation of the 2014 Confab.

 “Our party during the 2019 campaign promised restructuring, and devolution of power and true federalism but we were not elected into office. The same APC that campaigned on restructuring in 2015 has failed to act in that direction.

“Our party holds that the inaction of the APC in the face of the dismissive declaration by the Buhari Presidency that Nigerians, who they had promised restructuring, should now channel their demands to the National Assembly, only goes to further validate the assertions among Nigerians that the APC is a deceptive power-grabbing platform, which is not interested in governance or fulfilling its promises to Nigerians.

“It is very disappointing that almost six years after riding to power on the promise of restructuring, the Buhari Presidency has made no concrete effort towards forwarding an executive bill to the National Assembly on the matter, only to now ask Nigerians to carry their burden to the legislative houses.

“The APC must therefore take responsibility for the on-going challenges to our national unity, having failed to fulfil the promises they made on restructuring such as devolution of power and true federalism.”

Though there are growing agitations for restructuring in Nigeria it remains to be seen if it will be done, how will it be done, as well as in whose.