Sunday, July 17, 2016

What to do to make Nigeria viable

There is a near unanimity of opinion that Nigeria is at the brink of collapse. The country is widely believed to be sick and in urgent need of a lifeline. Some analysts are of the opinion that Nigeria has started to manifest all indicators of a failed state. Security and welfare of citizens are no longer guaranteed. About 30 of the 36 states are not able to pay their labour force as at when due. Private enterprises are closing down businesses or downsizing their workforce due to the very inclement operating environment. The workers unions are routinely embarking on industrial actions to press home demands for humane working conditions. Go to various embassies and see how Nigerians are queuing up in droves for visa interviews. They just want to leave the place of their birth in search of greener pasture. Anarchy looms!

Before the June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom in which our colonial master decided by a narrow margin of 52 per cent to leave the European Union,  pressure groups like the Niger Delta Avengers, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, and Indigenous People of Biafra have been seeking self-determination or resource control. The Brexit outcome has been a morale booster for them as these groups are now also calling for a referendum for self-determination in Nigeria. The Igbos, Ijaws and some fringe minority groups are daily wailing about their marginalisation within Nigeria especially under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. They pointed to the lopsided appointments the President has been making in favour of the North and the Muslims. The President has said recently during the Eid-el- Fitr sallah celebration that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. That statement has equally generated a lot of furore.

As a way out of the myriads of malaise plaguing the country,  which many people believe is a mere geographical expression, many prominent Nigerians and groups have for some time now been advocating for the restructuring of the country. There are those who believe that the unity of Nigeria is not sacrosanct and that there is need to convoke a sovereign national conference made of ethnic nationalities to discuss the basis of our unity or federalism. Another school of thought believes the 2014 National Conference report would do just fine if only President Muhammadu Buhari will sign it off for proper implementation.  Again, there are those who simply want PMB to set up a constitutional conference where a process led, participatory and inclusive constitution will be fashioned out.  They said that the draft of this new constitution will be subjected to nationwide referendum just as was done in Kenya in 2010. Yet,  some others believe all of those thoughts  are delusional as the National Assembly as presently constituted are elected representatives of the people of Nigeria and should be allowed to amend the extant constitution to reflect the restructuring pattern desired by Nigerians. (It is noteworthy that NASS has already commenced the fourth amendment to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.) Cacophony of voices you would say! 

 For those who are rooting for restructuring, the scope and timeline for the exercise have generated another round of heated argument. There are those who believe that diversification of the economy is tantamount to restructuring. There are those who believe it is just an integral part of it. Those with a radical bent are calling for wide range of changes  such as devolution of powers from the federal to state governments; local government autonomy;  resource control for states;  review of revenue formula in  favour of states;  creation of state police;  merger of unviable states and local governments or altogether go back to regionalism of the 60s;  reverse to parliamentary system of government as was the case in the First Republic Nigeria;  adoption of single chamber parliament  as against the present bicameral legislature at the centre. (Some are calling for outright disbandment of Senate as was the case in Senegal in September 2012.) There are those also calling for rotational presidency as well as zoning of political offices to be enshrined in  the constitution rather than leaving it as internal political party affairs. Furthermore, there are those calling for the amendment to section 147(3) of the Nigerian Constitution which makes it mandatory for the president to appoint at least a minister from each of the states of the federation.

The good thing about all these agitations is that if the PMB administration will dispassionately look at them, it will help to strengthen our democracy. The ‘national questions’ as some political scientists have tended to label the agitations, is not something to be wished away but something to pay attention to. I am all for restructuring provided it will enhance good governance and lead to higher standard of living for the greater majority of Nigerians. The cry about marginalisation is strident because of lack of opportunities for self-actualisation by many Nigerians.

Even if Nigeria will break up, let us go the way of Czechoslovakia and not Yugoslavia. It would be recalled that while the former was peaceful, the latter was achieved after a long internecine war where hundreds of thousands lives were lost. The dissolution of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was also largely peaceful.  In 2014, United Kingdom held a referendum for the Scottish people to know if they want to stay or leave the UK. They voted to stay. I have always advised ethnic jingoists spoiling for war of self-determination to look at the example of South Sudan who fought a protracted war with Sudan only to degenerate into civil war barely two years after gaining independence in 2011. 

I believe we are better off together as a country. Our diversity is our strength and should be harnessed for national development. The evils we have to deal decisively with are corruption, nepotism, cronyism, social inequalities, self-aggrandisement; elite-centred governance rather than a pro-poor government. With inclusive government, equitable distribution of opportunities and delivery of dividends of democracy the cry of marginalisation and restructuring will gradually cease. Nigeria must survive!