The advocates of confederation argue that a return to the old “Regional” setup is anchored on the fact that the defunct Regions were stronger than, or at least, at par with the centre. After all, the Regions had their own constitutions, parallel to the Federal Constitution. The Regions also controlled their resources. Is this true?
Regardless of whether it might have merely served an opportunistic electoral purpose at one time or the other, change epitomises a sense of urgency – and of absolute necessity – that makes it all but impossible to ignore, both as an abstract idea and a programme of action. Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. But then, what do we mean by it?
A Taxonomy of Change
Within the governance context, change takes different forms, ranging from change of government and of personnel, through tinkering, restructuring, systemic reform, to outright revolution. The attributes of each are examined in the succeeding paragraphs.
Change of Guard
This is basically a status quo, or zero, option. It is an option favoured by new regimes when confronted with demands that could not be instantly met, and certainly not with shrinking resources. Such regimes tend to be prickly and overly defensive when confronted with the accusation of being too slow in solving ongoing and new problems. They especially distrust the motives of the opposition and the judgement of the “too demanding” citizen.
The change of guard advocates proceed from the premise that change starts and must, for some time, stop with the transfer of power and authority from one group to another. Any suggestion for further change (or for mid-term cabinet reshuffle) is viewed with suspicion, specifically, as an attempt by “detractors” to cause confusion, and by the opposition to snatch power for itself.
Meanwhile, the system is on autopilot or in a holding position. Anxious to maintain the “continuity” of programmes, the system goes out of its way to block substantive change and to entrench the status quo. In that state of self-contentment (and self-admiration), it sees no evil, hears no evil, and thinks of nothing that needs changing, least of all the composition of the ruling clique and the existing policy direction. It piles up and implements new programmes, but leaves structures, rules, and processes untouched. It remains in this basically motionless state until changes begin to emerge from unanticipated directions.
The Not-Too-Young-to-Run bill that was rushed through Nigeria’s National Assembly was basically a crowd pleaser, not a prime mover or a catalyst… The law did not address the real obstacles to competition — notably, the dictatorship of the elite and of the political godfathers, income disparities, thuggery, and violence.
In no time, structures and processes left unchanged start to atrophy and show signs, either of aging or of the glaring inability to respond to current and new demands. It is at this stage that an inflexible system makes grudging concessions to the demand for change. Whatever changes the system institutes are likely to be half-hearted and superficial, targeting inconsequential processes, and leaving the “tried and tested” practices, as well as the “rules of the game” intact.
Cosmetic changes may also serve as a pre-emptive attack on the movement towards real change. Cynics may, particularly, be inspired by the need to win new friends, while appeasing or neutralising old enemies. The Not-Too-Young-to-Run bill that was rushed through Nigeria’s National Assembly was basically a crowd pleaser, not a prime mover or a catalyst. It was meant to appeal to youths that laboured under the impression that a law was all that stood between them and their ambitions to compete on a level playing field for elective positions. The law did not address the real obstacles to competition — notably, the dictatorship of the elite and of the political godfathers, income disparities, thuggery, and violence.
Dissatisfaction with the aftermath of post-election personnel reshuffle or with the prevailing conditions soon builds up into a demand for profound, instantly recognisable change. In a society characterised by diversity and by the perpetual struggle with life’s challenges, change is rarely deemed meaningful unless it results in a substantial re-ordering of relations between and among the associating units, mostly ethnic nationalities. Where certain communities feel “marginalised”, “internally colonised”, and/or materially deprived, they are likely to vent their grievances on the manifest, easily identifiable, “cause” of their headaches, typically, a central authority that controls the resources and performs the tasks, which sub-national authorities believe, right or wrong, should fall under their dominion. Restructuring is, for the most part, the rallying cry of a counter-elite agitating for constitutional amendments that would presumably redress perceived historical imbalances and at the same time further the cause of “power shift”.
In specific terms, restructuring seeks no less than a constitution that is selectively amended to accommodate a counter-elite’s power sharing demands, notably, demands for “power rotation”, for devolution of power to sub-national authorities (within the context of ‘self-determination’ and ‘true federalism’), for the review of revenue-sharing formula and for the transfer of ‘resource control’ autonomy to the resource-producing communities.
If the past is any guide, restructuring is an eternal pursuit. After all, the North and Southern Protectorates and the Colony of Lagos were once administered as separate entities. Then amalgamation happened in 1914, and a unitary Nigeria came into being. Based on the outcomes of constitutional conferences and at the initiative of the colonial authorities, the unitary system gave way to a federal constitution, and with that, three regions.
…the first military coup (of January 1966) was itself a major “restructuring” project — in fact, the origin of the malady that the “restructuring” advocates are currently anxious to cure. If the change set in motion by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu…had succeeded, Nigeria would have reverted to a unitary state.
In terms of land area, the Northern Region looked like a colossus vis-à-vis the Eastern and the Western Regions. Still, the East and the West had no time for the North, as both were busy trying to undermine each other politically. The West backed the push for the creation of a C-O-R (Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers) State in the East, while the East actively campaigned for the excision of the Mid-West from the Western Region. The East got its wish in 1963 with the creation of the Mid-West Region. The West had to wait until 1967 when twelve states were carved out of the then existing four Regions, with the North split into six, the East into three, and the West and the Mid-West into three States. As a result of further tinkering, the number of States rose to nineteen, before reaching the current thirty-six.
Interestingly, the first military coup (of January 1966) was itself a major “restructuring” project — in fact, the origin of the malady that the “restructuring” advocates are currently anxious to cure. If the change set in motion by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (and continued vide Decree No. 34 of 24 May 1966 by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi) had succeeded, Nigeria would have reverted to a unitary state. The change envisaged the abolition of the four Regions, their replacement with “groups of Provinces”, and the deletion of each citizen’s ethnicity on official documents (including birth certificates). Now that the states have replaced the old Regions (and rendered Ironsi’s groups of Provinces defunct), it is not clear how the advocates of restructuring expect to appease interests that are committed to the currently functioning 36-state structure’s survival. Specifically, what reasons will the advocates of restructuring adduce to convince the existing states to surrender their autonomies and merge into larger regions?
Restructuring, of course, means different things to different persons. While some (e,g, Oduduwa Republic protagonists in the persons of Banji Akintoye, and Sunday Igboho) equate it with outright secession, others (like Olu Falae, former secretary to the government of the federation) and Gani Adams, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, are content with merging the existing States into Regions, with the latter serving as an intermediate tier in a virtual confederal system.
The advocates of confederation argue that a return to the old “Regional” setup is anchored on the fact that the defunct Regions were stronger than, or at least, at par with the centre. After all, the Regions had their own constitutions, parallel to the Federal Constitution. The Regions also controlled their resources. Is this true? The next article tries to answer this question.
M.J. Balogun was, until recently, special adviser to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, New York.