Saturday, June 4, 2016

Atiku’s Prognosis And The Prospects Of A Restructured Nigeria

By Olusola Sanni
I must confess I am not one of those who were excited by the call for restructuring the Nigerian federal system by former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. Anyone who knows the former vice president too well will understand that he is a passionate promoter of what has become a cliché of true federalism in Nigeria.
*Atiku and Buhari 
As a student of politics, I cannot pretend to be oblivious of the fact that federalism is more a system of government of itself, than in itself. By this I mean that a system of government can be unitary (or anything) in structure and remain federal in purpose, likewise it is possible for a structure of government to be federal in outlook and unitary in purpose.
Nigeria has had a long walk to its current state of governmental system and it can safely be said that the debate about how the Nigerian state should be structured is as old as the country itself. Right from the 1954 Constitutional Conference to the 2014 conference, Nigeria has spent the last sixty years asking the same question of how best it can be governed.
It may appear that perhaps something is intrinsically wrong with the political system in Nigeria, otherwise why should it take a people so long a time to find a solution to an easy puzzle and yet cannot crack it. Or, it may be that our Sisyphean experience is in the nature of federalism itself. In order words, no federal arrangement of government is ever perfect, and thus every federal system of government continually seeks perfection.
Therefore, we can say that while fiscal federalism was the bone of contention between resource-rich states and Abuja during the Obasanjo/Atiku dispensation, same way is conflicting judicial pronouncements currently the bone of contention between Washington and the state of North Carolina in the United States of America over LGBT rights. That means that even the world’s bastion of democracy and federation, USA, is still asking the same question of how best to be governed after more than 200 years of its being.

So, rather than hail or wail at Atiku over his call for restructuring, we should rather look into his prognosis and its implication on the future of Nigeria.
Nigeria started off in 1960 with a Federal Westminster system of government and with political parties that were too sectional and too narrow to be defined as political parties in the true sense of the word. The character of these political parties was more or less a recipe for disaster as they all held cleavages in each of the three regional governments of that time.
Thereafter, the regional governments were diffused into 12 state governments and, today, what started off as three are now thirty-six states. Arguably, the narrative of Nigeria’s unavailing quest for a more suitable structure of government is that of a giant who had four legs to run, but was busy acquiring more legs, forgetting that the more legs there are, the slower the giant becomes running.
The paradox of Nigeria’s federal system is that, just like the giant that keeps on acquiring legs, as more states were being created, the more unitary our government appeared, the more self-serving the elites became.
Where the Atiku’s prognosis comes in is that our hypothetical giant is even an overfed giant. Therefore, according to Atiku, the problem is not about how many legs the giant has acquired over time, but how gluttonous the giant has become over time.
Nigeria and Malaysia were on the same pedestal of development and economic growth in 1960 when we gained political independence. But today, the South-East Asian country has not only transited to become a developed country, but boasts one of the highest per capita countries in the world.
While not denying the fact that other countervailing factors could have fast-tracked Malaysia’s rapid development, the fact that the South east Asian country has remained a 13 states federation since 1965 is however a constant factor.
Conversely, another federation that tampers with its federal arrangement is India. India is a very complex and multi-ethnic country like Nigeria; and so, every now and then, some of its state and union territories get bifurcated – often time to reflect its multi-ethnic identity. And just like Nigeria too, India has a long history of military rule, it grapples with the problem of corruption, its economy and politics are topsy-turvy.
I have brought the examples of Malaysia and India into perspective purposely to draw a correlation between political stability and economic prosperity. To an average Nigerian, the important question isn’t whether I am Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw, Efik or Yoruba. The important question is whether I am poor or I am economically empowered. It is thus necessary to shed some weight from the head of the over-weighed giant to his limbs in order for him to run faster.
The Atiku prognosis is that the more the government at the centre remains being overfed, the longer we shall continue to demand political restructuring. Because, the demand for restructuring isn’t an end in itself, it is a pre-condition for economic prosperity.
*Olusola Sanni is a journalist and public affairs analyst.

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