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COVER STORY: Nigeria at 56: the call to restructure

Pro-Biafra supporters shout slogans in Aba, southeastern Nigeria, during a protest calling for the release of a key activist on November 18, 2015. The protesters support the creation of a breakaway state of Biafra in the southeast and want the release of Nnamdi Kanu, who is believed to be a major sponsor of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and director of the pirate radio station Radio Biafra. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Remi Adebayo & George Daniel

There is a claim that Nigeria’s economy would have better developed if the country had retained the regional system of government in practice before the 1966 military coup gave birth to a unitary government. Those making this claim propose that Nigeria do either a political or fiscal restructuring, or both. Backed by the 1963 Republican Constitution, the regional system allowed for competitive development between Nigeria’s various regions.
Regarded as having much prospect, Nigeria was once an investors’ haven. Her population, the discovery of oil and the attendant oil boom of the 70s, were factors that predicted Nigeria’s development. In recent years and under the MINTs [Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey] arrangement, the country was positioned as one of the world’s emerging market, with the potential to grow its economy at 7 per cent a year, according to investment experts.
When in 2014 Nigeria rebased its gross domestic product (GDP) data, to include industries in telecoms, information, technology, music, online sales, airlines and film production, the country replaced South Africa to become the biggest economy on the Africa continent. This achievement was however short-lived, and sometime this year, South Africa regained the number one spot.
Over the years, there have been calls for Nigeria to restructure and assume the 1963 era. Nigeria’s present economic realities have reignited this age-long debate on restructuring. Years of mis-governance has seen the country slide into recession. One US dollar now sells for over 400 naira. Nearly everything in the market has been affected; prices of staple food items like rice have increased by more than 200 per cent. Today, approximately 4.5million Nigerians are unemployed, and Nigeria’s inflation rate for August reached 17.6 per cent, according to recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Why this debate to restructure?
In the midst of these grim economic realities, the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari is stretched to breaking point and burdened on all sides with tackling terrorism in the North-east, renewed militancy in the South-south and the clamour by secessionist groups in the South-east for the region to pull out of the union to form the Federal Republic of Biafra.
Although many Nigerians don’t like to talk about it, this debate to restructure, like others before it, exposes the disunity that has for decades tainted relationships among the different ethnic groups that make up the union. Rarely is there any ethnic group that doesn’t feel marginalized, which is why any talk of restructure always assumes three angles: political, fiscal and outright secession.
Former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, at a public function in July, said that since the 1914 amalgamation that created Nigeria, “different segments of Nigeria’s population have, at different times and sometimes at the same time, expressed feelings of marginalisation, of being short-changed, dominated, oppressed, threatened, or even targeted for elimination.”
One issue that set the tone for the first military coup of 1966, which led to the civil war of 1967 to 1970, was said to be this same feeling of marginalization. These events questioned Nigeria’s claimed unity, one notion which according to Atiku, we’re yet to attain. “As a country we have struggled to live up to this ideal. We have obviously not done enough to realise national integration, and the survival of our democracy is still a work in progress.”
The solution according to Atiku is that Nigerians “Resolve today to support calls for restructuring of the Nigerian federation in order to strengthen its unity and stabilize its democracy. I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like or support it or not.” Though he claims to be a strong advocate for restructuring, the former vice-president has been accused of politicking with the issue ahead of the 2019 general election.
The Director General of the Development Agenda for the Western Nigeria, DAWN, Commission, Dipo Famakinwa, in an interview with Montage Africa cautioned that anyone calling for Nigeria to restructure but habour ulterior motives “Must not be allowed to control the narrative.” Whatever his reasons, Atiku is not alone in this call to restructure Nigeria.

1999 versus 1963 Constitution
Several Nigerians calling for restructuring regard the 1999 Constitution as the problem with the country’s present structure. According to Famakinwa, “Many Nigerians would continue to query the legitimacy of that Constitution because it didn’t emanate from their free will.” This is why according to the National Publicity Secretary of the Pan-Yoruba organization, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, the fact that there is a National Assembly that is a representative of the people, cannot put paid to the restructure debate.
“It was naive for anybody to think that the return of civil rule in 1999 would end the clamour for restructuring. What could have been the basis for such an unbridled optimism when the entire transition was based on a constitution Prof. Awalu Yadudu prepared for Sani Abacha to succeed himself?”
A lawyer, Mr. Ugochukwu Amasike, believes something is fundamentally wrong with a constitution that begins with the introduction, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, purportedly claiming to be the document adopted for a federal system of government but prevents the 36 states that make up the federation from harnessing natural resources in their domain.
Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution provides that, “…‘the entire property in and control of minerals, mineral oil and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria…shall vest in the Government of the Federation’ and shall be managed in ‘such manner’ as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.” In paper Nigeria runs a federal system but unitary government in practice.
No other document makes this distinction better than the 1963 Republic Constitution, where Section 140 (1) provides that, “There shall be paid to each region a sum equal to fifty percent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region, and any mining rents derived by the Federation from that region.”
According to Odumakin, the 1999 Constitution is why there are agitations and renewed calls for restructuring. “The call for restructuring has grown louder because of the 1999 Constitution, a unitary constitution that has worsened the Nigerian crisis.”

Many sides to one debate
The clamour to restructure Nigeria is divided into three. One group wants the country to go back to regional government; the second is not too particular about regions but that each state should be allowed to control the resources deposited in their domain while paying taxes to the central government. There is the third group that wants an outright dissolution of the Nigerian union, as being championed for by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Those who clamour for fiscal federalism favour a sharing formula that cedes more revenues to the states. In April, governors of Nigeria’s 36 states pushed for a new fiscal restructuring plan, asking the central government to review the monthly allocation formula. Presently the central government gets 52.68 per cent of the monthly generated revenue, remaining of which is shared 26.72 per cent and 20.60 per cent between the 36 states and 774 LGAs respectively.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state, Nigeria’s economic capital which recently discovered oil, is asking that states control the resources found in their domain. “Governors are the owners of the land in their states,” he said. A likened a situation where the state governors go to Abuja every month to share federal generated revenue as akin to “spoon-feeding”.
Ambode’s request is more ambitious than what was proposed by delegates to the 2014 National Conference. The delegates had recommended a new revenue sharing formula that if implemented would see revenue being gotten by the central government shrink to 42.5 per cent, while the states and LGAs will each start receiving 35 per cent and 22.5 per cent accordingly. President Buhari has refused to consider the report and relegated it to the “Archives”.

Buhari like his predecessors
Not sure of what to make of the various calls for restructuring, President Buhari has assumed the default posture of all past presidents or heads of states before him, and have vowed to protect the indissolubility of Nigeria. The call to restructure Nigeria reads to him like a clamour to “balkanize the country”. This explains his aversion to the demands being made by IPOB.
Because the present structure is deemed unprogressive by Nigerians, the call to restructure the country, whether along economic and, or regional lines, or by outright dissolution, will remain an unending debate. Amasike proposes that “If Nigeria is to survive, and thrive, then the 1999 Constitution should be amended in order to effect the devolution of powers to the federating units and to correct the inequities in our political-economic system.” For now this seem doable than return Nigeria to regions or dissolve the union.
Adebayo Adeneye-Adejuwon, tracing the origin of the restructure debate, said that Nigeria’s constitutions beginning from 1966 were inspired by the military, “all of which, without exception are pseudo-federal in nature, contents, forms, and operation.” He said what this means is that whereas the indigenous peoples of Nigeria opted for a federal constitution and parliamentary system of government at independence, “the military took Nigerians back to unitary system of government which was rejected under colonial administration.”
He sees the call to rejig as one to revert to the structure preferred by Nigerians. “This is what is going on. It is not new. It has been on since 1966 and it won’t stop until the issues are addressed and resolved.” MA

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