Restructuring. This has been the governing subject since 2015. It became very tendentious with the secessionist agitations and the killings by gangs of criminals across the country. The APC government was accused of coming to power on the pinions of lofty ideals and precepts, including restructuring, but abandoned them as soon as it got the prize. But will restructuring be or not be – under a new administration in 2023?
There are variants of restructuring – according to whoever is arguing. But the nucleus of the argument on restructuring is devolution of more power to states. The south-west where Bola Tinubu, APC presidential candidate, comes from has been the fiercest proponent of the restructuring of Nigeria according to regions and of a return of Nigeria to the 1963 constitution. Under the 1963 constitution, also called the Republican constitution, the old regions existed as semi-autonomous orbiting entities with a surfeit of power to decide their future as regards education, healthcare, basic facilities, customs, identity, etc.
The south-west’s pursuit, which became more trenchant under the Buhari administration, is the absolute restructuring of Nigeria. In September, 2017, leaders of the region converged on Ibadan, Oyo state where they made a bold and incisive declaration – ‘’the Ibadan declaration’’. They demanded the immediate restructuring of Nigeria.
The south-west leaders declared that the Yoruba no longer wanted to be governed under the 1999 constitution. In a 16-point communiqué signed by the chairman of the summit, Afe Babalola (SAN), and read by the late Yinka Odumakin, the leaders demanded regional governance, according to them, to enable the Yoruba to decide their own future.
Will restructuring still be or not be if Tinubu becomes president? Will the same decades-long demand by the south-west persist? Or will Tinubu bell the cat?
Tinubu gave an interesting perspective on restructuring and the national divergences in a treatise entitled: ‘’A new Nigeria or a better one: The fitting tools of a great repair’’, which he delivered at the annual dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association in Lagos in September, 2017. Please permit me to quote Jagaban copiously here — as a record of history.
On the agitations for secession, he said: ‘’Let us be frank. Many who cry separation do so because their personal ambitions will be better served by such a thing. They believe they will have greater chance at political power under a different arrangement. Yet the cry for separation has gained traction among average people; this is due to the chronic failure of government to meet basic aspirations. If over the years, government had delivered on the promise of growth, prosperity, and justice, those calling for such extreme remedies would be but a small fringe of little consequence. Our task is not to condemn but to listen and understand. I care not at all for this proposed solution. But I dare not discount the concerns and problems that have led many people into advocating such a thing.’’
On the existential question of national cohesion, Tinubu said: “We all lined up to call ourselves Nigerian without gathering to discuss what it meant. Thus, we inhabit a nation that has not sufficiently defined its governance. We may be defined by political borders and boundaries but we have not glued ourselves to collective purpose and vision. Too many of us are born in Nigeria but not of it.”
And on reworking the system to reflect true federalism, the APC presidential candidate said: ‘’We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level. Many of the 68 items on the Exclusive Federal List should be transferred to the Residual List. This would be in harmony with the 1963 Constitution, again an instance of reaching back to revive something old yet more likely to give us a better Nigeria. That prior constitution granted vast powers to the regions enabling them to carry out their immense responsibilities as they saw fit. By virtue of the clear fact that regional governments were closer to the people, they had a better feel for the material and intangible priorities of their populations. We must return to this ideal. Some items which should left for the states to handle such as police, prisons, stamp duties, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, traffic on federal truck roads passing through states, trade, commerce and census are now on the Exclusive List for the federal government.’’
Throughout the treatise, Tinubu maintained his accustomed patriotic zeal, reemphasising the fundamentality of retooling Nigeria to make it better rather than discarding the entire establishment along with its merits.
But the gnawing question is, will Tinubu stick to his guns if he becomes president and initiate the process (with the national assembly) that will effectively make Nigeria a working federation based on the views he espoused, considering the fact that restructuring or whatever concomitant variant does not sit well with the north?
Or will this noble but polarising pursuit be buried awaiting exhumation after eight years?