Since Nigeria’s adoption of the federal system of government, in replacement of the republican system instituted by, and inherited from, the British, the country has received a fair share of clamor for “restructuring”. However, the concept being clamored for is seen to be as vague as the expectation from the end result, if the said concept ends up being implemented. While some believe “restructuring” is to bring about fiscal federalism, others are of the view “restructuring” is to bring about some geographical regrouping as in the time Nigeria was compacted in regions. To this end, this paper seeks to examine the concept of restructuring, and how much good it can be, or otherwise, for the country Nigeria.
The concept of restructuring, no doubt, has ensued hot debates and simmering discussions in the Nigerian political and economic climate. The extent of this concept’s importance is duly reflected in domestic clashes and even a civil war. However, while some have clamored for the restructuring of the nation, subsequent suggestions as to how this “restructuring” is to be implemented serves enough proof that the concept is not only misconceived by some, but that some are also ignorant as to what they actually want from what they mean. Even more, sometimes, the concept of restructuring is conflated with other political concepts, further deepening the already muddled up and unresolved confusion. Accordingly, it is this same confusion and further conflation that has led to the statement by the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, in response to 2019 presidential aspirant and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar thus:
…what we required [now] was not geographical restructuring but good governance, honest management of public resources, deeper fiscal federalism, and a clear vision for development.
While this forms the backbone and basis upon which this article is written, it is important to note a particular difference in the Vice President’s understanding of restructuring, as opposed to the 2019 presidential aspirant, which thus further increases the question as to what “restructuring” particularly means: a fiscal federalism?, a geographical reformation?, or a devolution of political powers?
In any case, it is particularly apparent that the concept “restructuring” does not have so much of a general meaning or interpretation. An attempt to define restructuring in order to capture all conceptions under one umbrella was made by Obi Nwakanma, where he defined it to mean:
the refinement of the institutional structures that undergird the workings of a system in order to either firm it up or prevent it from collapse, or make it more efficient and beneficial to those which the system ought to serve.
It is still the case, though, that this definition is as vague as the concept itself and does not do much in helping to understand “restructuring”, particularly in the context it is usually used. No reference to a geographical regrouping; fiscal federalism; or devolution of powers. Even, the definition, if followed, only increases the confusion, as it relates restructuring to governmental institutions, primarily. Summarily, it remains apparent that the term “restructuring” as employed per issues besetting Nigeria translates to mean; geographical regrouping – in the form of some return to initial times when Nigeria was grouped in regions of similar ethnicities to aid coexistence and cooperation, to an extent of governmental autonomy; or fiscal federalism – in the form of realignment of financial powers between the central and the comprising units to an extent of fiscal autonomy; or a devolution of powers – which involves more autonomy being streamed towards comprising units, without necessarily regrouping them.
On another end of the fence, some scholars have agitated that restructuring of any sort will not help ameliorate the issue besetting the nation, rather, the only true and complete option is the practice of “true federalism”. But, what is the yardstick of true federalism in fact? In any case, even, practicing “true federalism” as espoused by the proponents of this theory will particularly result in a massive realignment of powers in the political and economic climate, which will amount either in devolution of powers or fiscal federalism, and this generally points back to restructuring contextually.
Accordingly, in order to know whether or not restructuring is in fact for the good of Nigeria, it is important to know, and note, which concept of restructuring can best put an end to the primary issues spurring the clamor.
2.0. MAJOR CONCEPTS OF RESTRUCTURING
Having previously stated the disparity in understanding with respect to restructuring, as well as its lack of a generally accepted and all-encompassing meaning, and streamlined, contextually, the most possibly valid interpretation of restructuring, it is somewhat imperative to address each possible interpretation. To this end, a conclusion will be arrived at whether a possible interpretation – if not all – of restructuring, if implemented, will best mitigate the issues spurring the clamor.
2.1. Geographical Regrouping:
Proponents of geographical regrouping as the endgame of restructuring, in a bid to avenge for the issues the current structure brings, pose the argument that if Nigeria had not been amalgamated and further broken into bits of states, the country must have been far ahead than it already is. Thus, restructuring, primarily, means, to them, the regrouping of comprising states into regions with similar ethnicities, or the further creation of states for some ethnicities that feel marginalized in some states. It is apparent this is the view the former Vice President and 2019 presidential aspirant holds when he stated that “restructuring” means a “cultural revolution.” Accordingly, it can be submitted that this same mindset fuelled the quit notice issued by Arewa youths to Igbos in the North; the civil war as led by Major General Ojukwu; the Niger-Delta militancy, et al. The feeling that dividing their ethnicities allowed them to be successfully marginalized. Thus, the primary way out is to start their own republic where they can be sure of proper representation, in a form of secession or ethnic cleansing primarily done by the Fulanis.
The truth, however, remains that the proponents of this theory cannot really be proven wrong. This is particularly because their point of reference – which is the republican era of Nigeria – saw great a development for Nigeria in so much Nigeria was termed an emerging economy and the giant of Africa. Accordingly, grouping Nigeria into regions will automatically amount into a devolution of powers from the central to comprising regions which grants autonomy to an extent. Thus, during the republican era, regional governments knew how best to tackle their own issue and there were massive developments. Free education in the West, massive exports from all regions was the order of the day before crude oil came to ruin the party. The point however remains that Nigeria being in regions produced the best of Nigeria. Even, until the late 70s, Nigeria had so much economic strength the dollar and Naira were parallel.
On the flip side, they also argue that the breaking of Nigeria into bits of states have only increased marginalization, made states overly dependent on the central, reduced states participations and dragged Nigeria into the abyss, and these are arguably true.
2.2. Fiscal Federalism:
Basically, fiscal federalism is a concept that relates to the financial relationship between existing layers of government involved in administration. It concerns itself with the study of how fiscal instruments are allocated and shared in governance, across layers of administration. People putting out the suggestion that restructuring primarily concerns itself with fiscal federalism are of the view that the primary thing in need of realignment in the Nigerian political and economic climate is the fiscal arrangement and policies. This is the side the Vice President belongs to as apparently reflective in his response to his predecessor. Major peddlers of this suggestion further assert that the form of government Nigeria currently practices is a clearly unitary system under the guise of a federal system, and as such, Nigeria does not practice true federalism. Accordingly, the writer will not be judged prejudiced when he states that people who believe true federalism is the solution to Nigeria’s besetting issues, as opposed to restructuring, are those on the extreme pole of “fiscal federalism”.
In any case, peddlers of fiscal federalism as the primary and major interpretation of restructuring are not entirely wrong in their basis and rationale. The fiscal arrangement in the country currently favors the central far more than comprising units, and, as such, comprising units are left in the mercy of the federal, causing overdependence, which is typical of a country adopting the unitary system of government. A primary example of this can be seen in the revenue allocation system, where the federal government entitled itself to a whopping 52.6%, giving state governments 26.7% and leaving the local governments with 20.6%. Including this fact, it is further submitted that the different revenue allocation methods have consistently resulted in an increase of the financial powers of the federal government against the other levels of government.
Some against this argument, however, argue that even with restructured policy structures, corruption inherent in the system will exist to defeat the purpose. Yet, the reference of the republican era of Nigeria seems to deal the argument some blow. And, in all, the argument still stands that the fiscal arrangement of Nigeria is doing a great disservice to the country, and it is stalling its growth. Even better, regardless whether Nigeria is practicing federalism, or a unitary system under the guise of federalism, a restructuring of the fiscal arrangement can be done under any system of government.
2.3. Devolution of Powers:
On the spectrum of interpretations, with respect to what “restructuring” is to contextually mean, there are some who are of the belief that restructuring refers to a devolution of powers between the central and comprising units of government to an extent of individual autonomy. Similar to the fiscal federalism proponents, they are of the view that too much power, generally, lies in the central, and, thus, comprising units are forced to derive any means of importance from the permission of the central. Again, these proponents of this theory are not entirely wrong. Proof of this assertion may be found in items on the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists of the constitution, and how the exclusive list had been receiving more items, to the deduction of the other lists, from the first constitution to the current one.
Their point of reference is also the republican era of Nigeria, where the regional bodies were allowed enough autonomy to conduct their affairs as though they were totally independent, leaving just a brush of the work on the central. They thus hold the view that more powers released to individual states will help them conduct their affairs, without interference from, and excessive dependence on, the central.
These are the major contextual interpretation that have reflected in many uses of “restructuring” as a panacea to the issues besetting the Nigerian federation. However, does any of them mean good to the extent of fostering growth and unity?
3.0. RESTRUCTURING AND NIGERIA
The clamor for restructuring might have died down a bit, but history is replete with instances where this is the case, and then there is the sudden clamor all over again. However, there are no actual proof as such that restructuring is to do Nigeria any good this time and age. From the republican era being referenced by majority of these proponents till now, there have been countless changes in all things – law included. For example, it was easier to leave a union some fifty years ago than now. Accordingly, as it has been pointed out that restructuring means different things to different people in terms of context, it will be best to address each contextual meaning and their viability.
Thus, with respect to those for geographical regrouping, the Vice President’s contrary view seems the best answer; such meaning of restructuring is somewhat archaic and does not really solve much. Even, it might create more division and increase the marginalization some already feel. Besides, putting states together or creating new states can do well in creating some identity crisis as this will be inevitable as a result of the following inexistence of some states or the sudden existence of some. Undoubtedly, regardless the autonomy they might receive, the structure of the federation will make it difficult for the central to relinquish some powers. If geographical regrouping is the actual interpretation of restructuring, then secession is the best choice.
Fiscal federalism on the other hand looks like a viable, better and more modern way of viewing restructuring. If properly implemented and states are allowed to manage their own finances to a large extent, they can execute what they want how they want it, without the evident Father-Child relationship between the central and comprising units. However, how can you manage your finances when you do not have the power to? A primary problem with the Nigerian federation is not that states are not allowed to spend money, but that the federal government tells them where to spend money. Take Lagos State as a good example, the state does have enough money to run its expenses, and its economy is even larger than that of some African countries. However, some major roads are heavily dilapidated, and it is not because Lagos State does not want to fix them, or cannot fix them, but because the federal government already hijacked that responsibility.
The last major interpretation, devolution of powers, also serves a fair interpretation to the term restructuring. However, devolution of powers, alone, does not seem so viable. The states consisting the Nigerian federation have not really proved impressive with the powers they have. The few responsibility laid on them have birthed reports of salary arrears, terrible educational and health care facilities. The things in their purview, as seen in the concurrent legislative list, are as though they do not exist in reality, and in all, it does not seem as though lack of power is the cause of this ineffectiveness.
Having examined major contextual interpretations of restructuring and their individual viability, it really does not seem the case that the panacea to the issues besetting the Nigerian federation is restructuring. Proponents of restructuring keep referencing the republican era of Nigeria as though it was the genie that answered some good wishes, but this was not entirely the case. This is where the statement of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, is most useful. What Nigeria needs is “…good governance, honest management of public resources…and a clear vision for development.” People entirely forgot that the primary reason the system of republican Nigeria worked was because there were honest leaders pioneering good governance for the primary benefit of the citizenry. There were not free education and massive exports because of regional government, those were existent because of good leaders who had clear visions for development, and worked towards the vision becoming tangible, seen and real. Without an iota of doubt, some elements of restructuring are indeed needed, but elevating “restructuring” to the savior status of the Nigerian federation is more like a farce. Good governance is the restructuring we need.