Restructuring: Interrogating The Buzzword

‘Restructuring’ is the buzzword in Nigeria today. Every intensive discourse of Nigeria by Nigerians hits on it. And the issue is rarely contested like a tentative question: To restructure or not to restructure. The imperative of ‘restructuring’ is considered to be too apparent to be up for debate. Its exigency is regarded as a given. ‘Restructuring’ is almost always touted within the frame of the urgency of its implementation. It is invoked as the necessity Nigeria hesitates to reconcile itself to at its own peril.

The identity of the individual that the idea owes its origin to and the time and place he or she first ventilated it as the one solution to Nigeria’s problem are lost in the fog of history. But ‘restructuring’ has undoubtedly metamorphosed from a proposition broached in some forgettable moment into the dominant leitmotif of Nigerian chatter. There is a vibrant school of thought devoted to its romanticization and propagation. And that school of thought comprises a cross section of the brightest minds of the Nigeria intelligentsia.

The ‘restructuring’ activists being influential opinion leaders –public intellectuals, successful professionals and socio-cultural organizations –their very subscription to the idea has had the effect of a solid endorsement. The idea now seems valid and unassailable. In the ordinary way, the proponents are brilliant men who would not lend their conviction to a matter they had not satisfactorily tested. Whatever they support must be credible.

The canvassers of ‘restructuring’ are campaigning for the return of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the configuration of its pre-Ironsi history. A time before Nigeria was balkanized into jigsaw puzzle of states. An era when strong, autonomous and culturally homogeneous regions were Nigeria’s federating units.

The ‘restructuring’ crusaders propose the merger of the 36 states along the lines of the 6 geopolitical zones and the empowerment of those zones to exploit their natural resources, thrive on their own terms, and pay tax to a weak central government.

The rationale for the promotion of ‘restructuring’ is the popular notion that the current pseudo-federalist system is unsustainable because it is irredeemably flawed, crisis-prone and condemned to be a source of frustration to all of us hemmed in by its strictures.

Current goings-on appear to validate this point:

27 states are literally bankrupt. They can’t pay civil servants for months on end. They need handouts in the form of Abuja bailout to distribute arrears of pay envelopes.

There is a resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta. A plethora of armed gangs are bombing oil installations in uncannily precise and devastating attacks. Their activity of economic sabotage is driving down crude production and oil revenue and causing increased power cuts.

Two groups that aspire to secession routinely protest on the streets of the South East. They are an infatuated movement that would rally again regardless of the number of their members shot dead by the police at the last demonstration.

Fulani herdsmen terrorize rural communities in the South. They herd their cattle into farmlands, rape women and murder sons and fathers.

The severely degraded Boko Haram still deploys suicide bombers to kill and maim innocent people in mosques, markets and refugee camps.

All of these nagging problems, the ‘restructuring’ vanguard postulates, derive from Nigeria’s maintenance of a constitution that precariously balances the country like an upturned pyramid, with the tip of the federal government packing overpowering control and the base of the states and local governments lacking meaningful agency.

‘Restructuring’ is not a new talking point. It is a fairly old topic. However, the word is exceptional in that it acquires louder resonance each time one more public figure steps out and offers his take on it. Of course, the issue also incentivizes its own promotion. It rewards any person who seizes any public platform to elaborate on Nigeria’s need for ‘restructuring.’ It offers you national attention, perception of ideological sophistication and a toga of patriotism.

This is why it is the agenda a calculating establishment politician would tap into and he would worm his way into the news cycle and brighten a career prospect that had been fading into the night.

So it was that, recently in Abuja, former vice president Atiku Abubakar attached himself to the headline-making cause. He used the opportunity of a book launch to associate himself with the restructure lobby. To be sure, he didn’t truthfully testify as a latter day ‘convert’ who had just seen the light. He lied that he had been an apostle of ‘restructuring’ for ages.

At the event he chaired, he said: “As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country.’’

He said ‘restructuring’ would neutralize the centrifugal forces, mute the cries of marginalization and make every Nigerian happy and proud. It would make the federation “less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.’’

Underscoring the negatives of this set-up, he remarked that it was perpetuating Nigeria’s status as a monoproduct economy. Oil, he posited, is Nigeria’s cursed blessing: “among the most devastating impact of our long dependence on oil resource is the corruption that has eaten into our fabric.’’

The mantra of ‘restructuring’ as the potent solution to all of Nigeria’s problems makes sense until you pause and critically interrogate it.

Do we have the most self-defeating structure in the world? Does our structure bear imperfections that are radically different from those of other countries? Is a change of structure all we need to witness an automatic, dramatic change of fortune?

Blaming the state of Nigeria on the structure is flirting with escapism. Nigeria is a man-made tragedy. It is a tragedy that would have evolved no matter our choice of structure. Nigerians have proved skilled in bastardizing the most promising structures that serves other countries well and domesticating it as a nightmare. Whatever is the imperfection in the structure that requires constructive management, Nigerian leaders have often rejoiced over it, exacerbated it and profited from it.

It’s a wonder that the proponents of ‘restructuring’ are oblivious to the irony of their suggestion. If Nigeria reverts to regionalism, we would have come full circle. We started with a regional structure in 1960. That structure failed. Or, to put it correctly, Nigerians failed that structure.

Our corruption, scorched earth politics and power grab by election rigging convulsed the country. Our hyperpartisan desperation and allergy to compromise resulted in an unacceptable stalemate. A normalcy of arson and anarchy that had to be terminated by the soldiers.

Military rule restored some stability and forced on us a unitary federalist template.

Jettisoning the British Westminster pattern in another experiment in democracy, we replicated the Presidential structure of the United States. But because the fault inhered in the Nigerian and not the structure, the Washington structure merely provided a new room for the expression of the same instincts that destroyed the parliamentary structure.

The military intervened again and gave us a succession of coups and dictatorships.

Nigeria returned again to civilian democratic rule in May 1999. Since then, we have witnessed enough to realize that we have a wine problem –not a wineskin problem.

The same factors that ruined our past structures are present in this structure. Corruption. Toxic politics. Lazy leadership. They are threatening to conclusively crumble a Nigeria that has cracks all over from many decades of insufferable strain.

The error of making the structure diagnosis is that it exonerates the human beings that enable the dysfunction of Nigeria. It indicts the abstract ‘structure’ and holds it responsible for actions of men who operate the structure.

What the restructuring activists don’t recognize is that this structure is a reflection of human behavior. The failure of the structure is the handiwork of man. There is no structure, already in existence or yet to be invented, in any part of the world, that would not begin to look jinxed if it was operated the Nigerian way for a reasonable period.

Since Independence, the revolving door of the most important public offices in Nigeria has been experiencing the heavy traffic of men and women who have neither character to lead human beings nor the competence to manage resources.

Those who think ‘restructuring’ will redeem the states are mistaken. The structure is the remotest reason the states are broke. The states are basically broke because the administrators of the states are broke… in the head. The governors are poor no ideas. They didn’t come to power with any plan or intent to husband their states into wealth. They came to power to loot their states and leave their people poorer.

It would be ridiculous to fantasize that a collection of famished ants will not give you a colony of starved ants –but a well nourished elephant. In the same vein, the act of amalgamating half a dozen insolvent states would not turn out the reality of a region overflowing with cash. Instead, the bulking of six or seven states will produce an awkward entity that represents the poverty of the merged states.

‘Restructuring’ is a naive bet on the presupposition that aggregating contiguous states into larger administrative behemoths would result in composites that are qualitatively different from the sum of the component units. It takes the highest amount of delusion to imagine that possibility. Coalescing states that weren’t viable alone would make a region that is a patchwork of non-viable states.

The odds, in fact, are that if you ‘restructure,’ your average politician who failed in the elementary matter of paying civil servants of his state at the end of the month would run a ‘stomach infrastructure’ campaign and win the premiership of the region. He will fail on a grander scale and ‘restructure’ his constituency into a scene of a civil war-like humanitarian disaster –with refugee flights, starvation, kwashiorkor deaths.

It’s not true that everything wrong with Nigeria is symptomatic of the structural defect of our system of government. Nigeria’s biggest  problem is the human beings in the structure.

The so-called Niger Delta militants are Frankenstein monsters created by Niger Delta politicians. The youths were members of armed militias used for election conquests. They started using their weapons to make a living after they were abandoned by their successful patrons.

The clamor for Biafra is a cryptic translation of the Igbo people’s vote of no-confidence on Igbo leadership. Igbo political office holders have always cheated the people. But they spin their failure as sons of the soil to bring the Igbo genius to bear on the geography of Igboland as Abuja’s punitive marginalization of the Nd’Igbo. It is this narrative of self-pity that spawned prophets of exodus who are promising to lead Nd’Igbo out of Nigeria into a land flowing with milk and money!

The rampage of the Fulani herdsmen is a subset of the general insecurity of the Nigerian people. Like the routine kidnappings, armed robberies and assassinations that make Nigeria a Hobbesian jungle, the mass murders of farmers by the nomad pastoralists is another question mark on the ‘security vote’ and the integrity of the officials that pocket it every month and account to no one.

Boko Haram, in its earliest days, was a start-up funded by local politicians in Borno state. It grew from an anonymous religious sect to one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world –the killer of a total 20,000 people, the captor of the Chibok girls and the maker of 2 million refugees. The Commander-in-Chief, his aides and senior military officials enriched themselves on the defense budget while the group metastasized.

These scenarios did not emerge from the structure by default. They transpired within the context of the structure. And they didn’t happen on their own accord. They were forced by human idiosyncrasies.

Nigeria needs a change of direction. Or it will sleepwalk into extinction. And sending Nigerians back to the tents of their regions won’t bring them closer to a better future. It would drive them towards the edge of an apocalyptic precipice.

Nostalgia makes some people recall our days as producers of cocoa, groundnut and palm oil as Nigeria’s golden age. From hindsight, there were our days of innocence. Indecent men were outliers in the polity back then. These days, they are the rule, not the exception.

Nonetheless, solution seekers must look beyond the nostrum of ‘restructuring.’ There is no intrinsic magic in the construct of regionalism that guarantees it would be a soaring success. There is nothing about the reset that promises it would be, at least, a more worthy enterprise than the current structure.

The trouble with Nigeria is not the architecture of its federalism. The structure is somewhat skewed but it is not fundamentally antithetical to unity, stability and shared prosperity, as the restructuring lobby would have us believe. Resourceful leaders can work within the present structures and enrich their people. Nigeria is the greatest disappointment on the world map because of the depraved characters that have ruined and continue to ruin it while pretending to do it the service of running it!

Returning to Atiku, the longstanding advocate of ‘restructuring’ that paradoxically came out of his ideological closet just yesterday: He is an embodiment of what is really wrong with Nigeria.

Atiku was the vice president referenced in the Halliburton scandal. He was the powerful man congressman William J. Jefferson told FBI agents must be bribed for things to go well.

Atiku was the vice president who dueled with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, over who qualifies for the dubious title of the greedier thief. Both of them had been independently looting the account of the PTDF. While they were at it, they were spying on each other and collecting incriminating exhibits. When they fell out, they had their spokespersons furnishing Nigerians with documents that prove the other man’s plunder.

After their tenure ended–one marked by countless strikes of university lecturers –they had a telepathic agreement to give back to the society. They built two private universities in the same year 2004, in Yola and Ota. For children of multi-millionaires!

Atiku was the former vice president who brought wads of US dollars to the venue of APC presidential primaries. He bribed delegates for votes. The poor folks received the inducement and disabused him of the presumption that the presidential ticket was for sale by voting against him.

Atiku was the former vice president who exercised the preemption right of sneaking her daughter into the elite-only secret recruitment conducted by Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

He is the one lecturing Nigerians on ‘restructuring.’ The one saying, with the modesty of a peacock, that he is the most prepared man for the presidency. He is the man selling you a ‘restructure’ manifesto!

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Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu

Blogger at EmmaUgwu
Emmanuel Ugwu loves human beings. He thinks for a hobby. He writes for a better Nigeria.

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