Fresh impetus for restructuring

THE latest call made by a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, for Nigeria to be restructured into a truly federal polity is an urgent one given the myriad of challenges impeding the country. His voice has joined a list of leaders of various socio-political groups who have urged that the country return to its pre-military era federalist principles. The PUNCH believes true federalism is integral to Nigeria’s fate.

President Bola Tinubu must not ignore these appeals; the success of his administration is contingent on his political will to restructure.

Obasanjo advocated this in Enugu recently during the public presentation of a book, ‘In Brotherhood We Stand: A Roadmap for the Rebirth of a Fragmented Nation,’ authored by Chris Okoye. He stated, “The clarion call in Nigeria today is one for restructuring and a reassessment of the terms of our union as a nation.” Although Obasanjo, like the presidents after him, rejected restructuring, he has now seen the light.

He added, “Our historical experience at constitution-making and political reform show that we may have some structural defects that require adjustment so as not to continue to constrain the deepening, widening, and consolidation of democratic values and practices.” Obasanjo makes sense.

Although the former military dictator was opposed to restructuring, he has now realised that “our constitution-making efforts must go down the grassroots to deal with the issues of inclusion, popular participation, ownership, and legitimacy.”

Others like Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Afe Babalola (SAN), and Wole Olanipekun (SAN) are consistent in their position to restructure Nigeria. Itse Sagay (SAN) refers to it as “feeding bottle federalism.”

As Nigeria stands, it is now impossible to ignore how dysfunctional the 1999 Constitution is. Even groups that had long opposed a return to true federalism have reluctantly come to terms with the fact that it is inevitable

The 1999 Constitution has several clauses that are in direct opposition to both the letter and the spirit of federalism. The current structure of the country is unwieldy and contradictory.

One of its fatal contradictions is the 30 articles on the Concurrent List and 68 on the Exclusive Legislative List. State governors are referred to as the “chief security officers” of their respective states, but the Federal Government is given complete control over all aspects of security and law enforcement. It is illogical to give the centre sole authority over the rails, fishing, power, mining, inland waterways, and the security apparatus.

The single police system is an anathema that has delivered only industrial-scale bloodshed. Long after the implementation of the 13 per cent derivation policy, the centre still has a vice-like grip on resources, sharing it on a 52.68 per cent, 27.72 per cent, and 20.60 per cent basis to the federal, sub-national, and LGs. In the First Republic, the regions retained 50 per cent of their resources. In other federal states, the federating units control their resources.

There is also the issue of identity conflict. Large portions of the country’s 223 million citizens are loyal to their ethnic nationalities rather than the supranational organisation established in 1914 by the British colonisers. The consequence is a country of more than 250 ethnic groups being run as a unitary, centralising administration – a structure that is more suited for a mono-ethnic society. As a result, there are several crises in Nigeria’s socioeconomic sphere, and the country is insecure.

Tinubu needs to heed the call for true federalism. Before he assumed office, he was seen as an advocate of restructuring. Variously called “a democrat and federalist,” Nigerians thought he would drive the quest for true federalism.

Time is running out. Nigeria needs to push for constitution reform. The onus is on Tinubu and the National Assembly to drive this. Jointly, they need to build new, accountable, responsive, and focused leadership to be achieved through true federalism.

By The Punch Newspaper Editorial Board

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