News Update

The Calls for Restructuring of Nigeria Vis-A-Vis Agitations for Secession: The Dilemma and Critical Issues

By Rev Fr Gregory Fadelek

Nigeria, a British make up in 1914, is still carrying and being weighed down by the burden of difficult history. The trouble about ethnicity in Nigeria was occasioned by the paradoxical actions of the colonial masters who took deliberate steps to keep the different groups separated from one another even when they appeared to have united the Northern and Southern protectorates in what they term ‘amalgamation’. Since then, Nigeria has continued to struggle the issues of national unity.

Today, the atmosphere of Nigerian political discourse is presently clouded with calls and agitations for restructuring. Parceled in such calls and agitations are fears, anxiety, optimism, pessimism, threats, among others. Ever since the involuntary amalgamation of various ethno-religious, regional and political nationalities that made up the Nigerian entity on January 1, 1914, the country has being undergoing several socio-economic and political crises.

The issues and trends have been messy, characterized by uncertainty, conflicts, controversies and compromise. Resistance to the unity and cohesion of Nigeria has also dominated the Nigerian political scene over restructuring, devolution of power, true federalism, among others.

However, reactions vary from one part of Nigeria to the other. Dealing with these issues have been complex and sensitive particularly as they transcend ethnicities, religions, and socio-politics etc.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria recently warned Nigerian leaders to rise above politicking and selfish interests and restructure the country to engender equity and justice.

They noted with regrets that such important issue of justice has been subjected to so much intellectual gymnastics, political sentiments and personal interests.

To them, most people in Nigeria today agree that as it is currently constituted, our country is simply not serving the development and self-realization of most of its citizens and therefore needs to be restructured.

In the 2021 Easter message of the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of the Abeokuta, Most Revd. Peter Olukayode Odetoyinbo, “the calls for the disintegration of the country or secession by some nationalists in the name of restructuring must be re-evaluated particularly when it is tainted with hate and resentment.

Issuance of ultimatum to some Nigerians to vacate a section of the country should be condemned in its entirety. Every Nigerian must have a sense of belonging and should be free to live in any part of the country. However, such rights should be exercised with respect for the rights of other citizens and the constitutional provisions of the Government.

A detribalized Nigeria should be our dream where people are not judged by their tribes but by the quality of their person, character and competence”. For the Bishop, restructuring is the way to go and not the disintegration of the country as we remain stronger as a united Nigeria.

From above statement, we can identify critical issues that should be re-evaluated in the light true federalism and a sense of belonging for every Nigerian, which apparently makes the call for restructuring a worthwhile endeavour. Even if we have not as a nation come to terms with what the content of restructuring should be, every well-meaning Nigeria definitely concurs that our present political structure apparently leaves room for marginalization, social exclusion and corruption. It is on this note that the call for restructuring becomes imminent.

The spate of kidnappings, banditry, terrorism, corruption and other related vices in our country is definitely not a commendable development.

In the face of the public discourse on restructuring by elites and the general public, the dilemma now is that there has not been any format, consensus or common ground on what, where, when and by whom to restructure Nigeria.

Rather, what obtains is a fraternized Nigeria in which its peoples, elites and state authorities have different perspectives, views and consider restructuring in relatively opposing and conflicting directions with mainly ethno-religious, sectional, regional and other personal interests over and above Nigeria and her national interests of unity, cohesion and development.

For the people of the Middle Belt/Central Nigeria, for example, restructuring Nigeria would mean separating them from the majority Hausa/Fulani North and liberating them from centuries of domination. Restructuring to them is therefore the end and success of their struggles to break away from the larger Northern Nigeria and hegemony of the Hausa/Fulani which they have been resisting for centuries.

For the Igbo, South-East Nigeria, restructuring is an opportunity to either actualize their dream of Biafran State or an opportunity to access national political power (Presidency), which they have not since the Ironsi regime was overthrown in 1966. For the South-South oil rich Niger-Delta, it is an opportunity to have full control of oil resource in their native land.

For the North, it is viewed as a threat to the existence of Nigeria as one entity, especially with the anticipated devolution of powers, creation of state police, loss of oil revenue shares, etc. To the South-West Yoruba, restructuring is viewed as regionalism with the emergence of Oduduwa Republic; greater regional autonomy, true federalism and economic/resource control and any other decentralized arrangement.

With these agitations, the elites from all the geo-political parts of Nigeria have together found a safe and secured market for political popularity and relevance on the other hand, and to divide and rule Nigeria and Nigerians on other hand.

However, the Nigerian state authorities continue to maintain caution, fear and reluctance in handling the issues of restructuring as it is perceived as a threat to the status quo and the political stability of the nation since there are thorny issues that must be addressed if restructuring must see the light of the day.

More so, the authorities are fully aware of the legal bounds in doing anything outside constitutional framework and provisions, especially those to do with Nigeria’s divisibility and dissolubility (Section 2 (1&2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended). Despite the dilemma, however, there are common but critical and sensitive issues on which restructuring must centre around if it is to achieve a meaningful end.

The critical questions on the restructuring agenda include: what is it to be restructured? The geography of Nigeria, the Politics, the People, the State? Who organizes, conducts and regulates the restructuring? What is the method of representation? What is the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the restructuring alongside the Nigerian Constitution and its provisions on the Nigerian State in terms of law making and amendments?

What is the formula for representation of the ethnic nationalities, regions, states and zones? What will be the terms of reference for the restructuring? Whose constitutional power is it to amend/change the Nigerian constitutional laws? These indeed are the salient questions which require definite and constitutionally backed answers for the restructuring to be legally and politically binding on the Nigerian state and citizens.

In a recent statement credited to Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media at an event in Abuja organized by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Professional Forum to showcase the achievements of the President Buhari-led administration, “those calling for secession from the country are its problem”.

Shehu added that Buhari would however, not be intimidated by the calls for secession by some persons, pointing out that the country will remain united no matter what. Shehu expressed delight that Afenifere, Ohanaze Ndigbo and other socio-political groups are beginning to speak against secession. “We have heard the governors in the South-West, they have denounced all of these things, so it’s a shame, Nigerians want to be one and united,” he said.

He further expressed optimism that whatever challenges the country might be having, with unity and love, such challenges would be addressed. On agitation for a national conference to address the country’s challenges, Shehu said there was no need for that as it would not do more than a parliament which was mandated to ensure the sovereignty of Nigerians.

He added that any democrat in heart and practice should believe in the tripartite structure of government, noting that a lot of those calling for secession are unelectable, adding that they should contest election if they felt otherwise.

Indeed, the statement by Shehu expresses the body language of the present federal government and by extension some members of the present political class with respect to restructuring the present political structure.

Worthy of note is that at various times in the past, the federal government has convoked national conferences with the intention of finding solutions to the problems facing the country. These would have served as golden opportunities for thrashing out the issue of unity.

But the government had always declared the issues relating to the unity of the country as “no-go-area” during such conferences, thereby disallowing it to feature in the agenda. The government has remained recalcitrant in shielding the question of Nigeria’s unity from being subjected to democratic currents and scrutiny. Truly, the persistent government’s declaration that the unity of the country is non-negotiable in this modern era begs for questions.

By taking this line of action, one is tempted to conclude that the government prefers living with the problems generated by the disunity in the country to facing the problem squarely with the aim of getting it solved once and for all.

One might say that this is why some nationalists are calling for the disintegration of the country as the call for restructuring seems to elude the light of optimism. The questions raised by the separatists therefore might include: in whose interest was the ‘non-negotiable stand’ of the government taken? What were the fears of those that took this autocratic position?

Do the present conditions in the country suggest that there is true unity and as such deserve no reappraisal? Is there really a point in a country’s life when one can say that the issue of unity is sealed and no longer negotiable? It is a however truism that a great number of the separatists are living with the impression that the problems of the country begins and ends at Abuja and that these problems will vanish once the country is divided.

We therefore recommend that government must expose the issue of unity to democratic currents because resisting negotiations will simply keep deepening the crisis of national unity. The government must embark on a campaign to convince Nigerians about the desirability of a united Nigeria economically, politically and otherwise.

The people should know what they stand to gain by remaining united and what they would lose if the country breaks up. Also the government should endeavour to eschew tendencies that militate against national unity such as marginalization, and other forms of injustice.

Unity cannot thrive in an atmosphere of injustice, hence, the need for equity, and all-inclusive governance. Similarly, Nigeria is a federal state in principle but has been exhibiting autocratic tendencies that tend to choke every of the constituent units with the ‘federal might’. There is need to restructure the system in such a manner as to make the centre less attractive.

Thus, more powers should be devolved to the lower tiers of the federating unit. Implementing some of the recommendations contained in the report of the 2014 national conference will definitely not be out of place. Promoting good governance through accountability and equity will certainly quell the agitations for separation and disintegration of the country. Nevertheless, it is better to live in peace as united Nigeria than live together in a permanent state of crisis as presently witnessed in our nation. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.