Nigeria’s problem, which has led to the current calls for restructuring of the country, is failure by the ruling classes to meet the basic needs of their people. There is no evidence that restructuring, whatever it means, would solve this basic problem. Official corruption, mass unemployment, ethno-religious conflicts, an economy that over-relies on oil, are Nigerian realities that cannot be addressed by restructuring.
Towards the end of the first half this year, arguments for restructuring of the Nigerian state reverberated across the entire nation. In fact, The Guardian newspaper has taken a position in her editorial in favour of restructuring, and called for more power to be exercised by the states of the federation in order to unlock their various potentials. Ethnic or regional groups like the Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndigbo are prominent advocates of ‘restructuring’.
Unlike any other political term that has been employed as of late in the realm of politico-economic commentaries, ‘restructuring’ has certain ambiguities to its meaning. One cannot easily understand what is meant by ‘restructuring’ as quickly as one would grasp what is meant by ‘diversification of the economy’. There is little doubt that this must have underlined the recent jabs, thrown forth and back, between the Vice-President Professor Yemi Osinbajo and Afenifere group. Recall that the Vice President had said that the country and its government would rather focus on diversifying the economy than increase the allocations or ‘sharing formula’ of states as far as the present revenue allocation formula is concerned. However, the subsequent allegation of Afenifere spokesman that the Vice President got the whole ‘restructuring’ argument wrong is a clear indication of the confusing nature of the term.
As a matter of fact, any in-depth analysis or examination of the various descriptions or definitions of ‘restructuring’ should show that this popular theory would not scratch beyond the surface of Nigeria’s monumental crises, not to speak of cleaning the whole mess. In some quarters, it is passionately argued that restructuring the country would enable each state to have more control over economic resources deposited in the territory of such state. To some, restructuring must come with state governments taking over certain responsibilities that the constitution has hitherto marked exclusively as functions of the federal government. It is also not uncommon to hear proponents of “state policing” identifying themselves with the ‘restructuring’ position. There is also a section of the population that wants Nigeria reversed to the period when regionalism held sway, when regions enjoyed immense political and economic freedom.
The proponents of restructuring quite genuinely believe that if Nigeria were restructured along the ways they have suggested, problems such as ethno-religious crises and an oil-based economy would be resolved. The miracles that this formula of restructuring promises know no bound. However, the fundamental problem(s) with Nigeria are so deeply concealed that if the ‘restructuring’ formula is applied, it would fail in abating rising unemployment and official corruption, for instance. At best, restructuring would only act as a placebo that would distract the bulk of the population from current politico-economic quagmire and increasingly unbearable conditions of existing as a Nigerian in Nigeria.
Based on the present political culture, it is unimaginable the horrors that can be perpetrated by state governors if they are given control over armed police force. We can bet that state police would function more effectively in the ‘extracurricular activity’ of muscling political dissenters than combatting crime. It is also wishful thinking to believe that more money in the coffers of state governments would somehow increase the chances that states’ revenues would be committed to pro-masses projects or agenda, rather than personal edification of ‘Mr Governors’ and their cohorts. In any way we look at it, restructuring the Nigerian state is tantamount to restructuring impunity, corruption and ineptitude such that they are domiciled autonomously in Nigeria’s federating units.
Notwithstanding the doubts I have on the benefits or prospects of ‘restructuring’, some eminent Nigerians honestly believe that it would reduce or eviscerate ethno-religious tensions rife in our nation; for instance, that a Yoruba nation established for the Yorubas, with reasonable freedom of its government over its businesses of state, would lead to prosperity of Yoruba people, which would eventually rub off on the image of Nigeria as a country. No one would be happier than me if this shortcut would be as practical or effective as it sounds quite simplistic on paper. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is so heterogeneous in composition that the ethnic groupings considered to be homogenous by virtue of common language or history are in reality atomically divided again and again on the basis of particular dialects and histories. Take for instance that a Yoruba nation pops up somehow on the political radar, this would not stop the battle for supremacy or power between Egba and Ijebu or Ekiti and Ijesha, who may think that an Egba man has spent too much time in power or that the Ekitis are politically marginalised.
True, Nigeria is passing through a moment that the middle class population would call ‘trying-times’, of which the majority poor masses would ascribed to some personal or general spiritual disaster. Even when it is presented to us in black and white, the intellectuals prefer to keep searching for more complexity and verbosity, because the kernel of our crises as a nation is too simple to believe. Perhaps, this is exactly the reason why many social scientists misdiagnose the nation’s illness and continue to prescribe placebos over effective medicine. But there is unanimity among genuine and objective analysts that can be stated thus: Nigeria is not working for the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. The ‘why’ is the harbinger of controversies and day dreaming.
Policy makers might have forgotten or underestimated the truism that the economy is the foundation of every politics. Nothing can be truer. Even the majority of Nigerians, often referred to as the illiterate masses, do assess governance on the basis of personal material satisfaction as far as feeding, clothing, shelter and other basic economic necessities of life are concerned. Quite unfortunately, the nation’s economy is legally but unjustly tilted to favour a few from the elitist section of the population to the long-term detriment and devastation of the vast majority of the population. For example, the mainstays of the economy like oil, banking, telecommunication e.t.c are in the hands of privileged elites that times without number, the economic system conflicts with the constitutional responsibilities of government to her citizens.
Successive governments since 1999 have reiterated support for the policy of privatising, deregulating, liberalising or commercialising the economy. Irrespective of the choice of term, the reality is that government(s) continuously shy away from its responsibilities by selling off public institutions to local and foreign investors, also known as profiteers. Readers should note that these are the institutions that are created in the first instance to implement or execute the constitutional responsibilities of government to her citizens. Most of the time, the privatised sectors fail woefully, and consequently make the masses worse off than they were before the ill-fated mission was accomplished. If our leaders have a culture of habitual self-appraisal, then government would by now be committed to re-nationalising the economy so as to to reassert or prioritise the people in the scheme of things.
It is only reasonable for any investor to amass profit from any venture she invests in. Where the guiding principle of the constitution would have pressured government to do business for the benefit of the masses, the investors would only consider the benefits of any other person outside her family from the rational angle of profit-making. As Nigerians, we are witnesses to the mass retrenchment that often follows every privatisation, and the first victims of the ineptitude that would trail these privatisations later are the innocent masses.
There is also the fact that government’s intention, as far as handing over of people’s properties to unelected, privileged few is concerned, is suspicious. Because, perhaps accidentally, the investors that often benefit from these schemes are trusted friends and families of politicians who sold these institutions out in the first place. At ridiculously low prices, with our eyes widely open, the substance of politics and governance – the economy – is sold out to businessmen.
I am totally in favour of renationalisation of Nigeria’s economy; we should take back the power sector to create jobs and not lay off workers; we should ensure that agencies and institutions of government optimally serve the people rather than profiting just a few. Taking note of the traditional arguments adduced anytime government wishes to sell another property of the people, especially the argument that concerned institutions are ineptly managed under government’s noses, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that that those institutions become better off than they were under state control. True, government businesses are sometimes hives of corruption and irresponsible workforce, with supervising ministers or directors stealing from the capital or overhead of their institutions. But rather than running away from our problem, why not brace up and solve it?
In my considered opinion, the anarchy in our public sectors, including widespread corruption, are products of the undemocratic nature of our nation’s governance. The current political system is so effectively structured in a way that excesses of politician-rulers, who make and implement policies, are checked or regulated by fellow politician-rulers. It is like putting two magnets closer to each other, they would be attracted to each other eventually. In just the same way, leaders of government in this country misrule our country because those supposed to check on them are also busy, competing on the most ingenious way to bamboozle the masses or loot the treasury. Why not actually put democracy in place, and ensure that the masses have real control over policies of government at every level of government? The role of politician-rulers would be indeed limited to representing the wishes and interests of the masses.
For example, if the management of the power sector is not left in the hands of politicians, and it is instead left for the workers in this sector and citizen-consumers to decide or resolve issues regarding policy-making and decision-making, then the public would no longer be blind-sided while our ‘technocrat-politician cum minister’ steals under the guise of Nigeria’s democracy. No one should have any problem in making governance the job of everyone, of the governed.
The resurging debate over restructuring of the Nigerian state arises from the gargantuan problems facing this country. In my opinion, this problem is basically economic, and less and less about religion, ethnic background, or sharing formula of state’s revenue. To ensure that Nigeria works for Nigerians, the economy and politics must be practically controlled by Nigerians, not a section of its elites.
* Wole Olubanji recently completed his degree at the Department of Philosophy, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. He writes from Agege, Lagos-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
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!