The current debate about “restructuring” Nigeria so as to meet the needs of the people is unenlightening. There is no clarity among the proponents about what restructuring means, to begin with. More importantly, pursuing national solutions based on ethnicity – when ethnic identity is a mere social construct – is backward. What Nigeria needs is democracy.
The multiplicity of cultural entities that constitute present-day Nigeria is a volatile and controversial reality that continues to dog the incredible history of this potentially prosperous African nation. Particularly since the middle of the 20th century, the most significant discussions about our political and economic system have proceeded from questions on how these various cultural entities would equitably benefit from the commonwealth. This approach may appear as a quest to make governance spread effectively over a large land mass like Nigeria, and thus forestall concentration of growth in any region(s). But cultural factors deeply complicate a problem that has gone beyond a matter that should have simply been about the location of these regions on the map.
The Muhammadu Buhari regime will go down in history as the government that reignited this national debate over equitable governance, with the starting point remaining ethnic. The debate about restructuring, which has been evidently popularised by the print media’s ostentatious support for it, continues to rage. And it is distracting attention from a dispassionate appraisal of the economic recession that has awakened different forms of political consciousness. Here lies the chief problem of any historical attempt to solve social problems through ethnic means in an epoch of globalisation.
The mechanical support which the media has given to the restructuring debate is dangerous, because of the “herd effect” that could follow. The proliferation of information communication technologies, and the speed at which news spread nowadays, makes the focus of the media, who controls the news, the focus of public opinion. Needless to say, there is a great danger in any attempt by a dishonest media platform to stifle opinions that do not agree with their expressed views. The media would do well to carry out its responsibility as the conscience of society by giving expression to the varieties of thought among the public in order for the masses to make informed decisions on social matters.
It is alarming that the so-called “wonder cure” to Nigerian problems – that is, restructuring – is one of the most ambiguous political terms of our age, and no less controversial. Almost everyone nowadays chants “restructuring”, with a multitude of meanings that are as diverse as fingerprints. Those of us of the younger generations who are drawn into this debate by the tons of treatises circulating in the media in its favour are confronted with the delicate task of piecing together actually different views that are yet labelled as “restructuring”. But among the teeming “restructurers” is a convergence on the need to strengthen the regions (or states) making up Nigeria “in order for the states to unlock their potentials and develop at their own pace”.
The editorial position of Guardian newspaper cited above is by far one of the clearest and moderate tones in this debate There are other strains in the debate that proffer theories ranging from confederalism to secession. It is, therefore, not surprising that the agitation for the creation of the Biafran nation – realisable only through an abrogation of the 1999 constitution – is conducted as a practical offshoot, though an extreme one for that matter, of the “restructuring debate”. This is not to say that the Biafran agitation, and the “restructuring” debate that fans its embers, is not connected to more concrete issues such as the economic downturn that is capable of turning the most conservative artisan into a Socrates overnight.
On a closer look, the conflicting suggestions behind “restructuralism” could have been taken up, more clearly, under traditional political terms that best describe them. We could save a great deal of time if we separated the issues under headings, for example, “confederalism”, “federalism” and so on. Although it would be outrageous to describe this as obscurantism, it still calls into question the intellectual integrity of our proponents – whether restructuring is not another vague enterprise to further the ethnic debates that have dogged this country since the eve of independence.
Fifty seven years after independence, the regions of Nigeria – North, East, West and South – are still giant symbols of the ethnic and cultural diversities of Nigeria. Geography might have differentiated these regions, but ethnic and cultural elements divide them further. There is therefore a justification, on the basis of how regions have become identifiable with their distinct cultural elements, to link any debate over the roles of the regions in politics to ethnicity, or any sociological term that conveys such a reality.
The restructuring debate is not new, as the media have repeatedly pointed out. It has many things in common with the ethnic consciousness that pervaded most pre-independence constitutional deliberations that later laid the foundation for the failure of the first republic. Incredibly, there is hardly any historic discourse in this country that is not first considered from the point of view of how they would affect the different cultural entities called Nigeria. What we have, therefore, been searching for since 1960 is the theoretical framework that would engender an equitable participation of these cultural entities in the tapping and distribution of our material resources.
One fact that has been left unsaid is that any policy that fosters continuous crystallisation of distinct cultural entities existing in a nation actually conflicts with the necessity of welding these entities into a homogeneous economic and political whole. It borders on hypocrisy to speak in terms of “one Nigeria” when all that emanate from our thoughts are veiled references to tribal sentiments.
Restructuring, like regionalism, is based on the belief that the segmented regions are the only effective way through which a vast majority of the governed at the grassroots can be reached by development. But the proponents of restructuring should at least take two factors to account. First, that these regions are bases of distinct cultural elements that conflict with national homogeneity. Second, that our current political arrangement is, to a certain extent, based on what “restructuralists” are recommending in more comprehensive form; and that it has visibly failed to spread development to the grassroots.
Colonial contempt for African traditions evoked a reaction, which started among so-called Pan Africanists, of over-romanticising African traditional elements. Julius Nyerere, for example, in his overhyped thesis of Ujaama recommended the return of post-colonial African societies to their traditional past, structured on closely knitted relations and the agrarian economy that flowed from it. Many contemporary intellectuals share his view, and often argue that one’s tribe or kinsmen are closer to one than even government. But these social thinkers do not consider that the unimaginable expansion of commodities beyond agricultural produce makes it absurd to even contemplate that one’s relatives can meet all of one’s wants. (In traditional African societies, it is not unusual for a family to survive solely on the produce from its farmland, and history showed that these societies did not even exist in isolation.) It then follows that all human beings living in a defined territory at any point in time are crucial to the survival of one another.
It is also important to note that ethnic based reasoning has been correctly linked to subordination of merit to nepotism, which has become an unwritten law in Nigeria’s public administration. There is nothing sacrosanct about the ethnic divisions in Nigeria today, and they sometimes impede social growth based on their parochial character. There is near unanimity among historians that colonial activities disrupted ongoing process of crystallisation of African societies into a homogeneous whole. Perhaps, our generation would not have met the ethnic consciousness embedded in our system of thought, and the backwardness it attracts. However, the fact that an average Nigerian still feels unavoidably dependent on his or her clan is a result chiefly of the economic roles this clan plays in his or her survival. (And this is a reflection more of the failure and irresponsibility of successive governments since independence despite material resources, rather than some myths of unbreakable ethnic loyalty.) But the current generation has a responsibility to move beyond parochialism, and move to fulfill the natural instincts of survival and self-preservation as cooperative, productive and highly technical human beings!
Most states in Nigeria today have without a doubt broken their part of the social contract, existing between them and the electorate. There are state governments today whose chief responsibility has been reduced to the self-serving routine of regular payment of political office holders, while workers literally beg for full payment of their legitimate wages. There are states where primary and secondary education has collapsed because of lack of basic teaching materials such as chalk, notebooks and textbooks. Delivery of free basic healthcare continues to exist only in the heads of a few imaginative ones. How restructuring, by “empowering” the irresponsible governments of Nigeria’s federating units, would correct the wanton maladministration being carried out in the name of governance in most states, is just not inferable, logically speaking.
Some of us are interested in questions such as, but definitely not limited to, why do leaders soon become agents of poverty amid enormous signs of potential prosperity? Why is the rule of law and acquisition of means of survival skewed against the vast majority of the Nigerian population? These are questions that find universal manifestation in the activities of the Nigerian state, and yet are deficiently probed.
Restructuring, examined from the perspective of raging debates, appears as a sort of vehicle capable of conveying governance to the farthest interior. But this vehicle, like any medium of transportation, can be hijacked by rogues, who are in no small number in Nigeria. The important question of how to subordinate the interest of our ruling elites to the interest and aspiration of the ruled is left unanswered. Anywhere in the world, the extent of democratisation in practice, not the lip service paid to it, determines the extent of power of the ruled over the ruler. And by consequence, it is capable of preventing “super”-concentration of wealth in the hands of a few “highly-connected” ones as the case is in Nigeria today. For example, the highly monetised, segregationist character of our electoral system, which is sadly the foundation of our democracy, limits the array of ideas that can take shape in a truly, all-inclusive democracy that does not exclude on the basis of political affiliation, age or wealth.
It would be more beneficial if public opinion takes the issue of democracy with as much burning passion as it is taking the ethnic-inclined matter of restructuring, which is more wishful than concrete. The large youth population of Nigeria has great potential only if it is employed for creation of new economic values – from our deposit of poorly tapped resources – that can be deployed by a democratic government to solve the scourge of poverty, which is proven to cause delirious judgments than opiates. It does no good in this age of globalisation to dissipate a nation’s current of thoughts on reminding everyone about how culturally distinct we are from each other, when crucial matters are swept aside. Some of us belong to a younger generation of Nigerians, who not only find ethnic subterfuges repugnant, but also completely reactionary!
* WOLE OLUBANJI studied Philosophy at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He writes from Ubiaja, Edo-State.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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