By OBINNA EZUGWU
When in late September, through October, calls for restructuring of the country grew deafeningly loud, with the likes of vice president, Yemi Osinbajo; general overseer of the Redeemmed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye; former president, Olusegun Obasanjo among other prominent individuals and groups stating emphatically that the country was risking break up if it failed to quickly restructure, it spoke to the desperate situation of a country now deeply divided and in which poverty and hunger have pushed millions to the wall, and made the power that be in Aso Rock jittery.
There were, this newspaper had reported, memos by top aides, particularly from the secret service, the Department of State Security (DSS) to the country’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, chronicling the growing agitations for the restructuring of the country and power shift to the South.
The agitations had at that point, reached unprecedented levels, coming even from the President’s core Northern constituency; a section that had historically opposed the push for altering the current arrangement of the country. But beset by seemingly intractable security challenges, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), not only lent its voice to the growing calls, but went a step further to ask that the very terms of the country’s existence be discussed all over again.
Apparently agitated by the loud calls, however, Buhari blurted out a response in a rather characteristic manner.
In a statement by his spokesperson, Malam Garba Shehu, the president dismissed the calls as “unpatriotic outbursts” that are not helpful to the nation, and warned those making them to desist.
“THE Presidency responds to the recurring threats to the corporate existence of the country with factions giving specific timelines for the President to to do one thing or another or else, in their language, “the nation will break up,” Shehu’s statement had said.
“This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the Covid-19 health crisis,” the statement said.
“Repeat: this administration will not take any decision against the the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of health crisis.”
But if the president reasoned that his statement would end the agitations or address the underlining issues that prompted them, he was in for a surprise. Barely a week later, the country began to dance on the brink. And for days, it appeared that its long predicted evil day had arrived.
Over the course of last three weeks, violence reigned in the streets of Lagos, Jos, Anambra, Adamawa, Enugu, Cross River, Oyo, Osun Anambra, Abuja, Kano and elsewhere. Shops went up in flames, supermarkets were looted and burnt. In its wake, not less than 60 people were killed, including law enforcement officers.
What started as peaceful demonstrations against the unrestrained abuse, harassment, extortion and even killings of mostly young people by a now disbanded notorious police unit, the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), had morphed into full scale crisis, triggered by shooting of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos on Tuesday night fortnight ago by soldiers. Touts and sundry hoodlums took over the streets, leaving a trail of destruction and death. Beyond the thugs, the looting of food items in different warehouses, both public and private, spoke to the level of hunger and poverty in a country that officially houses the highest number of poor people globally.
Worse still, the carnage soon took ethnic and religious colouration and threatened to escalate into a major civil strife. Police disappeared from the streets, overwhelmed by the sheer force of the raging carnage and targeted by hoodlums determined take their pound of flesh, forcing state governments to impose curfews which did little to stop the carnage that went on for few days.
Nigeria has historically been a volatile nation, made up of two dominant religions – Christianity and Islam – and about 250 ethnic groups, three of which – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – are prominent. The unitary system which the post civil war military regimes imposed has historically caused ethnic cum religious suspicion and competition, as the emphasis remained on sharing rather contributing. Governments in the past have delicately managed the contradictions by finding accommodation for everyone, but the Buhari government, many say, has been extremely sectional, and the balance so distorted is breeding increasing animosity. Part of this, they say, explains the unfolding events.
The import of the events is not lost on some of country’s leaders, including members of the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Speaking as a guest lecturer at a public lecture to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Arewa House, held in Kaduna on Saturday, Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi pointed out that, “Anyone who holds a semblance of power or authority in this country should be deeply worried by the events of the past few weeks.
“What started as an innocuous online protest over police brutality snowballed before our very eyes into a mass movement that assumed more frightening dimensions. From the demand to #EndSARS , we have seen vigorous demands for greater accountability, and greater efficiency in government.
“What I understand the youths to be saying is that we the older generation have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodate their aspirations. From the language of their protests, we can see clearly that our youths feel pushed to the margins of our nation’s socio-political and economic structures. It is incumbent on us to listen to what they are saying and a lot more that they are probably not saying yet.
“In responding to the challenges that this moment imposes on us, we must recognise that a business-as-usual approach will no longer be sufficient. What we need is a fundamental re-engineering of our governance system in a way that will make our country work better for everyone. I understand the recent protest as a discursive signal that encapsulates the frustration of our young people at multiple levels. We must therefore engage it as such and try to focus on the opportunities that the situation presents.”
Although things have begun to return to normal in most states, the events appear to have driven home the point that the Nigerian state is no longer sustainable, and that if nothing is done, it may only be a matter of time before the bigger crisis erupts. Thus, the demand for the restructuring has become even more forceful, not least within the president’s own circles, meaning that he is increasingly isolated.
In his own remarks at the Kaduna lecture, the host governor and a key ally of the President, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai expressed frustration over the inability of his government to implement the recommendations of the APC Committee on restructuring.
The Kaduna governor who chaired the committee emphasized that the committee “defined the values that, in its opinion, promote and connote True Federalism and proposed a clear roadmap for implementing the recommendations,” while calling for its immediate implementation in the interest of the country’s survival and progress.
“As its report show, the APC Committee on True Federalism produced clear recommendations to strengthen federalism and achieve national cohesion and healthy subnational competition. The committee also made efforts to accelerate the implementation of its recommendations by producing draft bills that incorporate the recommendations either as proposed amendments to our Constitution or our national laws,” the governor said.
“It is a matter for regret that for some reasons, the consequential action by the APC leadership to adopt and implement the report has not happened since it was submitted in January 2018. The urgency of our challenges dictates that we should move fast with a sense of purpose to remove the structural bottlenecks that hobble our country. There is very little time left to secure and begin to implement the necessary constitutional amendments. While the report of our committee was well-received, some people complained that it was coming too close to the 2019 elections, that for a report submitted in January 2018. The point here is that our electioneering calendar presents only a narrow window for significant and consequential action to reform the political and structural framework to enable the rapid, peaceful and inclusive development of our country.”
The Kaduna governor is not alone. His Ekiti State counterpart and member of the ruling party also drove home the point.
“In our quest towards a more perfect union therefore, the main challenge is one of re-creating the union and the basis of its fundamental national association,” Fayemi said. “Unfortunately for us as a people, it is a challenge that has been affected by mutual suspicion and unnecessary brickbats.
“Caught in our politics of difference and otherness, devolution, decentralisation and restructuring often used as synonyms and such other epithets have come to mean different things to different peoples, depending on the ethnic and regional toga they wear. Our age-long distrusts and suspicions of one another are now being tested and contested on these epithets.
“However, stripped of all opportunism and dysfunctional baggage, these epithets should simply refer to a way to re-imagine and reinvent our country to make it work well for everyone. In fact, I associate fully with the views of respected scholar and former Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega when he opined that “sooner than later, these matters have to be addressed squarely but dispassionately. The challenge is how to address the issue of restructuring the Nigerian federal system without upsetting the apple-cart; that is, how to add value to the structure and systemic efficacy of the federal arrangement, without unleashing instability occasioned by the mobilisation of ethnic, regional and religious sentiments and identities.”
With 2023 election in view, it is not unexpected that some would attribute the sense of urgency in both El-Rufai and Fayemi’s voice to a certain plot to try to win power on the plank of restructuring, but it is doubtful that anyone would dismiss the reality of their submissions, and the urgency of the need for restructuring.
It is a country now very much on the brink, and with many sections demanding secession, some observers say even restructuring may do little at this stage, but the refusal to pursue same as the President is doing, will lead to a certain outcome.
“Nigeria is like a dilapidated building; a building that is almost collapsing. It has cracks all over the place,” said Chief Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist and administrator, “Therefore, anything that anybody wants to project is almost irrelevant.
“We hear everyday about bandits, vagabonds and all sorts of faceless and sometimes identifiable characters rampaging Nigerian land, all over the place, killing, maiming and terrorising of people, dragging people out of their farms and desecrating people’s lands. It is very difficult therefore, to project any safe haven for Nigeria.”
On Saturday fortnight ago, tens of youths in Osun State gathered at the gate of the Oni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, demanding an end to Nigeria, an end to Buhari and the birth of Oduduwa nation. The demand for an end to SARS has thus graduated to a demand for an end to Nigeria altogether.
And the chanting youths in Osun are only a minute proportion of the growing number of people in the Southwest geopolitical zone now demanding a country of their own. In the Southeast, the agitation for Biafra continues to gain traction, no thanks to the perceived neglect of the zone by the Buhari administration.
But even worse, the incessant killings, sometimes of genocidal proportions in mostly the Middle Belt and Southern Kaduna, by those identified as Fulani herders, have nurtured a general believe that the administration is pursuing conquest agenda. This belief is further strengthened by the various pro-Fuiani policies the government has continued to push.
Across the country, from Ohanaeze in the Southeast, Afenifere in the Southwest, PANDEF in the South South, the Middle Belt Forum, Christian Elders Forum, to the Northern Elders Forum, the agitation for restructuring has become a national sing-song.
On Saturday, notable elder statesmen and socio-cultural leaders, including Afenifere chieftain, Pa Ayo Adebanjo; Professor Pat Utomi; Pastor Tunde Bakare; Aare Ona kakanfo of Yoruba land, Gani Adams; Mr Akin Osuntokun; and singers, Onyeka Onwenu and Eedris Abdulkareem, held a virtual meeting that ended with the same verdict: Time has come to restructure Nigeria.
In his submission, Adebanjo regretted that Buhari had chosen to “remain stubborn despite calls by several elder statesmen and sections of the country” that Nigeria was due for restructuring.
He noted that the country must return to the 1960 Independence Constitution when the regions had autonomy.
“My view is that we don’t look into the past. The way forward is for us to join hands together for the unity of this country. It is not the question of self-determination that we are after. Anybody opposing restructuring is an enemy of a united Nigeria,” he said.
“Buhari is an enemy of the country by not restructuring. If we don’t restructure, this country cannot stay. I am not opposed to self-determination but self-determination is the last resort. We are not going to beg to be a part of Nigeria.
“The government of the day should be reasonable enough to restructure this country on the basis of true federalism. From the outset, we have insisted that we cannot keep this country together in a unitary system of government.
“A lot of problems we are having now are self-inflicted by the northern hegemony. Is Buhari more Fulani than the Sardauna of Sokoto? If we don’t understand what restructuring is, let us go back to the Independence constitution.
“The problem we have now was brought by the military – the military gave us this constitution and imposed state and local governments arbitrarily. Hence, people are cheated. The present system we are using was created by the military. All the leaders of this country have been telling Buhari, restructure this country. He remained stubborn and what we have are killings.
“I won’t live in this country under this constitution. I like to warn the Igbo that they are deceiving them that they will give them (Igbo) presidency. They are also deceiving (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu. I want to make it clear again that if you make my son the president under this constitution, I will oppose him. I am an embittered Nigerian because of what Buhari is doing to us. If we agree to an equitable deal, there will be no problem. Give us regional autonomy.”
In his own remarks, Adams, while asking for restructuring, added that any region should be free to call for a breakup if restructuring was not heeded to.
“When we talk about restructuring without a strategy, it will be very difficult. We will continue crying for restructuring for another 100 years and our institutions will be destroyed. The generation coming behind us may not have the kind of patience that we have. Look at the recent protests they organised,” he said.
“They have a seven-point demand: education, health and others. When we say we don’t want this country to break, we don’t want to go our separate ways, the only thing that can grip the North and spike their hearts is to say if we don’t restructure, we will break up.”
In the same token, Pastor Bakare pointed out that, “There are those who believe we should go our separate ways but honestly I do not subscribe to that view. I have never advocated it. I believe we can restructure Nigeria. If we think it has failed, it is because of the people who are not committed to it.
“Let us be practical. We need a trustful give-and-take. Restructuring is an idea whose time has come. It will come to pass. I believe very soon that any right-thinking leader will know that we are better off together than fighting one another and going our separate ways. If Nigeria can get it right, Africa can get it right.”
The urgency of the moment was recently conveyed by no other person that former president Obasanjo, who while speaking at the 2020 Annual Sobo Sowemimo Lecture in Abeokuta, Ogun State, noted that the country was failing on account of insecurity, which according to him, has made restructuring imperative.
“There is no time to stand and stare or just to continue to call on governments that are ineffective. Let us take initiative and spearhead actions that will involve governments and the governed and will devolve security architecture, apparatus, arrangement and responsibility in solidarity,” he said.
“Papering over the obvious cracks in Nigeria’s polity is not the answer, tearing up or seeking disintegration is also not the solution, remaining silent makes us accomplices and irresponsibly so.
“The solution lies in men and women imbued with courage, nationalism, patriotism, commitment, foresight and love in critical mass, to spearhead the crusade for new Nigeria.
“Let us launch and promote such a crusade on the slogan “Security Matters To All; No security, No Nigeria”. And the time is now.
“Delay is postponing the evil day. Failure to act now will lead to more frustration, greater despair and larger mentality and feeling that may lead to action of ‘break it all up’.
“May God forbid that! And may God, who I have always described as a Nigerian, save Nigeria. But we should be mindful that God’s patience has limit of elasticity.”