Published On: Sun, Sep 3rd, 2017

Looking forward backward: How southern intellectuals undermine the argument for restructuring

Restructuring has become something many people would love to hate because it conjures all sorts of meanings and imaginations. Issues around it are becoming quite complex and somewhat complicated. President Buhari’s speech the other day has added more obfuscation and ambiguity to the debate. All of this comes from the fact that most people, particularly some southern intelligentsia, do not appreciate and understand sufficiently the significance and enormity of the challenges of nation-building confronting us.
The truth about restructuring is that it is a southern agenda; the north does not need or require restructuring because the present skewed and lopsided political arrangement instituted through a constitution that was deliberated fashioned and foisted on the country to perpetuate domination favours it. Unfortunately, some southern intellectuals – civil society organizations, media, academia and a part of the political class – at best, equivocate on the matter while others, like former governor Adams Oshiohmole, oppose it outright, thus providing rationale and validation for the northern position.
There are some reasons why this is so. First, they have not critically and deeply interrogated the Nigerian situation and its likely future outcomes by assuming the best of fate. This comes from inadequate understanding of historical phenomena, socio-cultural evolutions and political development. Their logic is not only fatalistic but beclouded by and subsumed in contemporary political affinity and affiliations and the advantage it confers, which are transient and temporary without adequate consideration of their long term effects and consequences.
Their argument is often couched in double speak; they pretend to be looking forward by acknowledging the iniquitous and obnoxious structure of the pseudo federalism while simultaneously focusing on the fears of past challenges and how they vitiate any move for a change. This makes light and less an evil present constitutional and political booby traps – seen as a teething process that would soon pass away; it only requires strong leadership and mind reorientation to surmount.
Unfortunately, that would not wish away the danger posed by the current system which are manifesting in various forms and dimensions. The challenge is that we cannot sit tight and wish to be moving forward. We are either looking forward with all its uncertainties as well as opportunities and forgetting the past and what it portended; or we will eventually lose the future by being obsessed with the problems of past experience.
We cannot move forward by looking backward. Life is all about change and only those who embrace change enjoy the benefits it brings. Change comes from learning lessons of the past without letting it become a stronghold by shutting the door on it; change comes from looking critically at the present with all the costs and benefits and stepping forward into the uncharted but limitless open door of the future. Every great individual, organization or society at one point or the other faced this dilemma. What eventually became of them depends on how they responded to the choice.
Southern intellectuals make two basic arguments against restructuring which seem rational and nationalistic, but are indeed self-serving, self-defeating and actually myopic. First, they chorus the position that restructuring is not well defined and means different things to different people. They point to IPOB and Niger Delta militants who insist on independence and resource control respectively as some of the different shades of restructuring. This is sad and intellectually barren.
These groups and tendencies agitating for restructuring are not the problems of Nigeria, but the effects of an unjust and hegemonic system that is not amenable to change. They are only relevant as long as they feed on the oppressive narrative created by the present structure. The solution is to address the cause of their agitation and basis of legitimacy.
Second, they are fringe groups, who though popular, do not represent the majority or main stream positions of the regions. Extremist elements and demagogues are generally popular because they feed on the problems or perceived injustice in society.
The second argument is that regionalism as practiced in the First Republic, which is favoured by most proponents of restructuring, led to the near break-up of the country because the regions were autonomous and powerful enough to challenge the federal government. This is both nonsensical and asinine. It is akin to saying that people should not enter airplanes or vehicles because there had been accidents and people died.
Life does not work that way: The problem of the First Republic was the structure created by the mistake of 1914, which independence tried to gloss over; and the military intervention aggravated. Every generation and historical epoch reserves the right to make their own mistakes and find the political will and courage to correct them. The First Republic leaders tried their hand at nation building and failed; now is our turn. Until we try, there will be no outcome.
A third argument which indeed represents official and northern position is that the unity of the country is not negotiable. At the risk of sounding trite and regurgitating, this is borne of arrogance of power and is not supported by history and legal precedent. Southern Sudan is less than a decade old and used to be part of a country. No country enjoys of luxury of indivisibility forever.
Nigeria’s present structure may be a temporary representation of what the future may look like. Those espousing the inanity of non-negotiability, like our president did in his recent speech, are playing God to decide how and what will happen. It is an absurd proposition in all its ramifications and beyond anyone determination.
America once confronted the evil of slavery in spite of its real threat to its unity and possible break-up of the nation. Such a difficult choice did not stop them from acting; they considered break up a lesser evil than slavery and resolved to stamp out the real evil at whatever cost. By being on the side of justice and human dignity, they had opportunity to save their country.
We can’t shy away from restructuring because of threat of a breakup. Without restructuring a breakup will be inevitable; but with restructuring, there is a possibility that a breakup may be avoided. The present structure is inequitable and programmed to fail which it has. It does not matter how long and hard we try to keep it together or pretend it will not happen, because, as long as it is premised on domination by one part over others, both politically and religiously, the system will eventually consume itself by its own internal contradictions.
History teaches that a people can only endure injustice and domination for as long as it is tolerable; it always has an end. Feudalism, slavery, colonialism and racism were all forms of injustice and domination; they had their time but their end also came. This system of domination will as well end, like it or not!
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