In the 21st century, Nigeria still does not have a good understanding (talk less of practice) of basic politics. Basic politics has to do with the true concern, focus and carrying out of ideas that will ensure the good of all the people in a defined political society. The good of all is the same thing as public or common good: the good that everyone has access to and is capable of being replenished always to elevate the living standards of its consumers. Consequently, politics must create and effectively distribute common good to all. Political philosophers were of the view that common good should be available to the highest number of the people than few. I am of the view that common good should be available to all. That is what I consider as one of the basics of politics. However, politics in Nigeria has never been about its basics, rather it is about fighting and arguing for the elites who control everything including the minds of the people. The way Nigeria is ruled, if the country is restructured and it remains one or not, who benefits most? It is the ruling elite class. If Nigeria remains united as it is today, who benefits most? It is still the ruling elites. I therefore wonder why non-elites are vehemently arguing their voices croaked, insulting, fighting and killing themselves over restructuring or not restructuring Nigeria.
The Nigerian commoners who argue for restructuring cite examples of some factors which have caused imbalances and tensions in the polity by querying some critical issues about the country. They ask the following questions which bear their source of rage against the so-called united Nigeria. Why should the South-East geo-political zone (out of the six zones) have five states while the rest zones have six states each? Why is it that the former Northern region would always have more population census figures than the Western, Eastern and Mid-Western regions combined? Why is it that in appointment into top government positions, the Northerners would always have more appointees than the rest of the country? Why is it that Kano State benefits more than Lagos State in sharing of the value added tax (VAT) revenue from the federation account, when the latter is the chief source of VAT revenue to the federal government? Why are most strategic military installations located in the Northern part of Nigeria? Why is it that the North recorded more heads-of-state and commanders-in-chief than all other parts of Nigeria put together? Why are the Fulani herdsmen killing Nigerians across the country and the federal government appears not to be serious in stopping them? Why is the federal government so powerful at the expense of the true development of the rest tiers of governance? They strongly argue that these issues make it always easy for the North to have more advantages and better access to the resources of the country than any other part. Therefore, Nigeria must the restructured to address these queries.
The restructuring argument also is about “who gets what” from the ruling crude oil resource. Crude oil is produced in the Niger Delta in the South-South zone. The argument is that the Niger Delta despite contributing about 80% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange revenue, has remained very poor and underdeveloped because the federal government and oil companies are not paying adequate attention to the needs of the peoples of the Niger Delta. Hence, the Niger Delta people are demanding for resource control through restructuring of Nigeria so that states or regions or zones should take over resources beneath their soil and contribute an agreed percentage to the federal government to take care of its federal services. It is in support of this argument that the Lagos State government argues that it is unfair to have allocated to it less revenue from VAT revenue chiefly derived from the state.
Besides, there is an important element of ethnicity or tribalism in the restructure argument. The argument is that ethnicity or tribalism led to the domination and marginalization of one ethnic group over another. The major outcome of the ethnic factor is the fear of marginalization expressed by both the majority and minority ethnic groups (more by the minority ethnic groups) which has engendered the lack of trust amongst all the ethnic groups. The fear of marginalization was indeed first raised by the late Premier of the then Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in 1953 when late Pa Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1956. Bello feared that Southern Nigeria will dominate the federal and regional civil services because the South were more educated than the North and therefore they objected to independence in 1956. This actually delayed Nigeria’s independence till 1960. The Igbos feel marginalized because they have not help the office of the President since after the civil war and that this accounts for the unacceptable level of their underdevelopment. Yet they refused to demand for good governance from all the Igbos who have been Vice President of Nigeria, Ministers, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Governors and local government Chairmen from Igboland. The little resources that were made available to the Igbo through these appointments, how well were they utilized for the true development of Igboland? This is the question that needs to be addressed and not demand for Biafra or restructuring of Nigeria. However, the Igbo deserves six states like other political zones in the country. Also, the Igbo deserves an unconditional apology from the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) for the civil war and that such will never happen again.
In the 1950s, ethnic minorities in the Northern region (Tiv, Idoma, Jukun, etc.), Eastern region (Ikwerre, Ijaw, Effik, Ibibio, Ogoni, Akalaka etc.) and Western region (Bini, Urhobo, Itshekiri, Isoko etc.) feared that in the event of independence in 1960, the larger regional ethnic groups of Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba in the North, East and West respectively will dominate them. They demanded for their own regions: Middle-Belt Region from the North, Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers Region from the East and Mid-West Region from the West. Recall that it was the fear of the minorities that led to the establishment of the Willinks Commission of Inquiry into the Fears of the Minorities in 1957. Out of the three requests, only the West allowed for the creation of another region out of it and this was how the Mid-Western Region was born in May 1963. The rest requests were denied and this has remained a sore point in the ethnic politics in Nigeria, despite the creation of states and local governments in those areas.
On the other hand, those who do not support restructuring and prefers Nigeria to remain one indivisible political entity with heavy federal powers argue as follows: restructuring may lead to the splintering of Nigeria into national pieces, big size is better than small size especially in international politics, unity in diversity is better than diversity in unity (diversity in a large house is better than diversity in a small house), there will be difficulty in determining how to exactly dismember Nigeria (how many countries? who will be with who? or who will be in which country? who will lead who? etc.) and that it is better and simpler to say we are Nigerians. At this point, I need to make it clear that restructuring does not necessarily lead to the scattering of Nigeria. In fact it may make Nigeria stronger. The proponents of united Nigeria also failed to address the issue of how united Nigeria can ensure good governance.
Fundamentally, both sides of the argument are not sincere. The basic problem with Nigeria is bad political leadership and the two sides are never mentioning how to deal with it. Bad governance is championed by the political, social (traditional rulers and their cronies) and economic elites who always benefit more than the rest of the people whether structured, restructured or united or re-united Nigeria.
The aggregated issues involved in the arguments are mainly those of political entity and ownership of resources. Restructuring argues that all political units either as is or as will be, should have total control of their respective mineral and all other resources found in their places, use the resources and contribute a smaller percentage of their annual budget to the federal purse. They also argued that during the First Republic (1960-66), resources were shared 50:50 between the FGN and the four regions. The question to ask is: during this period, was the level of development commensurate with resources available (given the size of the population)? Was it not the same period when late Major Nzeogwu accused and labeled the political class the “10 per centers”? Except Western Nigeria, education was for the privileged class in the rest of the country. Even with the 50:50 resource/revenue allocation, the regions were not able to discover, exploit and earn well from mineral resources in the regions? With Agricultural goods like cocoa, palmoil and groundnut, the regions exported them raw to Europe, thus undermined the possibilities of establishing industries for the processing of these goods into commodities for higher revenue and improved standard of living. If they meant well, why should these raw Agricultural goods be exported unprocessed to Europe? This was the origin of the lack of diversification of the Nigerian economy which has also consigned crude oil into the same fate. How can Nigeria become developed as an exporter of primary goods? This was how Nigeria lost all the chain industries that would have been created for the processing and re-processing of palmoil, groundnut and cocoa. This was the reason late Prof. Claude Ake opined that an undiversified economy is a disarticulated one and cannot lead to genuine development. At the end of the day, it was still the elites that benefitted most from the 50 percent revenue derivation, which proponents of restructuring are now advocating for.
Consequently, it is the duty of the restructuring argument to prove that the relatives and cronies of the expanded elite class who have fed fat from groundnut, palmoil and cocoa exports and now feeding fatter from crude oil exports will not be the ones to benefit most under a restructured Nigeria. How does restructuring engender or guarantee good governance? Lagos State is the most hardworking, industrialized and rich state in Nigeria; to what extent has this richness consistently improved the living conditions of Lagosians?
Proponents of restructuring from the crude oil producing states in the Niger Delta insist on resource control. They have failed to prove how resource control can ensure good governance in the management of the 100% resource they want to have. My dissertation research in June 2017 had estimated that Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa states in the Niger Delta have earned over N13.5 trillion (1999-2015). Specifically, Rivers State earned an average annual income of N240 billion mostly from the federation account, amounting to N3.842 trillion during this period. What can the people of Rivers State show for it in terms of industrialization, productivity, employment, improved living standards etc.? Since 1999, all we hear is road, road, and road! No public water supply, no increase in quality of education, no adequate feeder roads to support effective rural development, no regular and affordable electric power supply etc. Rather, the only major progress recorded in the state is that the state has been adequately infested of cultism which has led to loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, sacking of communities (including that of the writer) and several other atrocities unleashed on the people of Rivers State by cultism. Meaningful economic and social activities needed for the development of the people have long been shut down in Rivers State since 2003 due to cultism. How will restructuring change all of these anomalies?
It is bad political leadership which has denied the creation of common goods and effective redistribution of same in the present united Nigeria that has given rise to the agitation for restructuring and/or dismemberment. If Nigeria can achieve good governance which will meet the basic needs of the people, the clamor for restructuring or dismemberment will disappear. Good governance will ensure that the little funds that are accrued to the states are well utilized for meeting the basic needs and true development of the people. Good governance goes beyond restructuring and unity arguments. It is about meeting the needs of the people through its attributes of accountability, transparency, effective and efficient resource utilization, rule of law, inclusive governance, discipline and leadership by decent behaviors in leading the people.
If how to live together is the problem, lets us sincerely discuss it. Nigerians should better put in place determined and committed model of discussing how to live together as a united nation than being carried away with the meaningless idea of restructuring or unity of Nigeria. Nigerians must insist on good governance. If we are not sure of good governance, there is no need for unity or restructuring of Nigeria.