In recent months, strident calls for the devolution of powers and ‘restructuring’ of the Nigerian State have gained traction, heightened in the midst of numerous socio-political, economic and security challenges besetting the nation.
The calls are further buoyed by spiralling secessionist agitations by regional groups who have latched onto citizens’ disenchantment with the political class, economic downturn, rising insecurity, crimes and violence wracking swathes of the country.
PREMIUM TIMES recently reported how intelligence failure has largely crippled the abilities of the country’s security outfits to respond to crimes and violence even as they too have also come under deadly attacks by non-state actors especially in the South-east and South-south.
On the precipice?
Today, Nigeria is regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world to live in. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index identified it specifically as the third most ‘affected’ by terrorism.
More worrisome is that kidnappings carried out by non-state actors also increased in the past five years. A recent report noted that over $18 million was paid as ransoms for victims abducted between 2011 and 2020. More ransoms have been paid in 2021 for abducted persons, even as many such cases are unreported. Many victims, whose families were unable to pay such ransoms, have also been killed.
PREMIUM TIMES also reported how mass kidnapping of schoolchildren in Nigeria in the last seven years has increased. Due to the inability of the authorities to curb the trend, over 618 schools were closed in recent months by states in the north.
The pervasive insecurity has led to the formation of regional security outfits, which were initially birthed to tackle the perennial armed herders’ incursion into the southern flanks of the nation, but are now used to check other forms of crime.
While the South-west region now has the Amotekun corps, the South-east recently announced a plan to set up the Ebube Agu.
Other regions are mulling the same approach even as the central government totters while combatting horrendous crimes and violence.
In the midst of the challenges, the Boko Haram insurgency which has rocked the North-east for over 12 years is yet to abate with the deadly sect now extending its hold to more states. The sect has a not so willing ally in the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP) which also attacks security forces.
Armed bandits also continue to give security outfits, governors and communities in the north sleepless nights while highways across the nations have practically become a terrain to tread only for the brave and perhaps those who cannot afford the high cost of air travel.
In addition to the precarious multi-dimensional security and economic quagmire, regional groups calling for the breakup of the nation as presently constituted have gained attention and added to the upheavals shaking the nation to its roots.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist, is perhaps at the forefront of calls for a break-up of the Nigerian State.
The group, supported mainly by some Igbo, founded in 2012 by Mr Kanu, wants a separate nation of Biafra carved out of the Nigerian State. This has pitted him and his formidable group against Nigerian’ssecurity forces and led to his forced exile.
Prohibition by the federal government has not deterred its operations as the Eastern Security Network (ESN), its armed section, still has run-ins with security operatives in the South-east. Recent attacks on government facilities and security operatives have been linked to them by the Nigerian police, although the group has denied involvement.
IPOB, despite its emasculation by the heavy response of the government on its operations, is regarded as the largest pro-Biafran independence organisation by membership and has now become a source of worry for Nigeria’s unity.
Its activities are further strengthened by numerous websites and communication channels it uses to further its campaign for secession.
This is not the first time agitation for a state of Biafra would occur. Nigeria fought a bloody civil war between May 30, 1967, and January 15, 1970 which led to a massive loss of lives on the side of federal forces, the Biafran army and over a million civilians.
Agitations for secession are not only restricted to the South-east. In the South-west, which has witnessed a spike in attacks on the farming populace by criminal herders, and rising kidnapping for cash, a similar agitation is ongoing.
Sunday Igboho, a self-acclaimed activist, challenged the federal government when he declared a ‘Yoruba nation’, in an apparent reference to the ‘desire’ of the South-west to secede.
Experts say his crude methods of protesting perceived injustice against the Yoruba and his redress methods, which include superintending over armed thugs and attacking herders’ communities may have alienated him from a large segment of the region’s population especially the elite and the middle-class.
But his gradual inroad into the consciousness of the larger, more populated rungs of the region and less than cursory attention from security forces recently made some of the leaders in the South-west pay more attention to the rising storm.
The group has already threatened that it would not allow elections in the region in 2023 after earlier saying it would ‘kill’ all ‘ambitious’ Yoruba politicians, who campaign for office.
For many who thought the agitations were only limited to the southern part of the country, they were stunned when the National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a prominent cattle herders’ group, said the Fulani ethnic group ‘’is more prepared for division of Nigeria than any other ethnic nationality’’.
Despite these growing agitations, there are many Nigerians who say secession is not the solution.
These opine that the political ‘restructuring’ of the behemoth, Nigeria, and devolution of powers from the central government, which currently wields immense powers, to the constituent units, could assuage the anger of regional groups and tackle numerous socio-political and economic challenges.
A lawyer and civil rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in an interview with Channels TV on May 21 said the agitations could easily be assuaged if a new ‘foundation’ is laid for the country and the current structure and Constitution is ‘reworked’ to ensure a more equitable distribution of power and resources.
‘’The concept of the federal government holding resources and distributing to the regions is no longer acceptable and that is why we support the governors who want devolution of powers,’’ he said.
‘’We must first of all address the foundation. Even if we get the best of people to manage and pilot our affairs, the faulty document will not allow the people to get to their maximum potential,’’ he adds. ‘’That document cannot be amended by people who are beneficiaries of that error (lawmakers). You hardly find a leader who has benefitted from that faulty system coming to correct the system. Except for Malam Shehu Yar’adua (ex-president). He is the only leader who came out to say the system that produced me is faulty and I don’t want to leave it as a legacy and he set up the Uwais panel, and they came up with some fantastic and impressive results which is lying in the coolers such as the 2014 national conference…’’
Globally, devolution ensures that decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect.
Devolution also provides greater freedoms and flexibilities at a local level, meaning councils can work more effectively to improve public services for their areas.
Meanwhile, the governors of the 17 southern states, under the aegis of Southern Governors Forum (SGF), recently resolved to ban open grazing of cattle and also called for the restructuring of the country.
They have since been joined by other groups such as senators and members of the House of Representatives from the region, and recently the members of the minority caucus in the House of Representatives from the 19 northern states.
History of agitations, ‘restructuring’
Nigeria is not new to agitations for ‘restructuring’ and redistribution of power from a usually powerful central authority, although the Biafran war was perhaps the only time such upheavals were allowed to fester and then cascade into full-blown war.
Post-colonial Nigeria, which also emerged after agitations, at independence retained the parliamentary system left behind by the British overlords to the chagrin of many, who wanted a break from the past.
The new constitution then effectively established a federal system with an elected prime minister supported by the head of state, a largely ceremonial office.
The nation also started off with the western, eastern and northern regions for ease of economic and political administration but agitations soon began in earnest after the colonial overlords turned their backs. The provinces which were colonial legacies were abolished later in 1976.
After the highly volatile 1962 census, ethnic conflicts erupted across the nation leading to the formation of the midwest region in August 1963. This was carved from the then Western region so as to accommodate Nigerians who believed they were neglected.
The three earlier prominent regions, largely controlled by Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and the Igbo, had done little to assuage the feelings of abandonment by other ethnic groups. The undercurrents would later lead to more conflicts as regional leaders, apart from tackling themselves, also sought to protect their enclaves to the detriment of other minor groups, who craved greater recognition.
There were also internal rumblings in the regions. For instance, while the western government was battling to keep a unified front amid its internal crisis, a boycott of the federal election in December 1964 took the country to the brink.
Following the controversial elections of October 1965, the country was further polarised when in January 1966 some army officers, predominantly Igbo, killed Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and two regional premiers in an attempt to overthrow the central government.
The attempts by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, a major-general, who took charge of the nation’s affairs after the coup, to set up a unitary government after abolishing the regions were resisted by aggrieved groups.
The offshoot of the coup also led to distrust in the polity and cleavages in the military itself as the arrow-heads of Nigeria’s first coup were accused of deliberately promoting Igbo dominance.
In July 1966, northern officers staged a countercoup, where Mr Aguiyi-Ironsi was assassinated. A young Yakubu Gowon, who subsequently came to power had to contend with intercommunal clashes in the north and threats of secession in the south.
Mr Gowon’s attempt to craft a workable political structure, including promulgating a decree which divided the four regions (northern, eastern, western, mid-western) into 12 states, (six in the north, three in the west and three in the east) only led to more conflicts and agitations.
In May 1967, the Eastern region’s consultative assembly gave warlord Odumegwu Ojukwu permission to establish a sovereign republic, Biafra, which set the stage for the tragic 30-month civil war where millions lost their lives.
Years later, after coups, counter-coups, changes in administration amidst unending ethnic tensions and attempts to paper the cracks, Nigeria has moved from the era of regions to having 36 states and a federal capital territory.
But the agitations are yet to abate on what works best for the largest nation of black people.
‘’Underlying all of these (agitations) is the fact that changes have to take place as the country evolves,’’ says Emman Shehu, Director, International Institute of Journalism, Abuja. ’’Even the American nation, in terms of democracy, their constitution has evolved. We like talking about the American constitution but even their constitution has evolved. It isn’t what it was by the time it was created by the founding fathers.
‘’Every country evolves as anything that is living evolves. But the Nigerian problem is that there is too much politicisation of almost any issue you can think of. And this is made worse when we approach general elections. It is like people who have lost in the previous elections try to use restructuring as a threat to get what they want.’’
Experts have defined restructuring as a transition from a lopsided federal political structure to a true federalism ‘’characterised by political inclusiveness, people-oriented constitutional amendments, resource control, electoral process, political representation, sharing of offices, citizens’ rights, protection of lives and properties, and building of enduring political infrastructure.’’
Restructuring is also viewed as a constitution review strategy aimed at helping the central government shed some of its powers and responsibilities and granting implementation to constituent units. It is aimed at bringing the government as close as possible to the people at the grassroots.
A few nations have successfully navigated this curve and delegated some of the powers of central governments to self-governing subsidiary governments, creating a de facto federation and ‘regionalised unitary structures’.
Some of these include Spain, the United Kingdom, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, China, Philippines and Serbia.
Past constitution amendment processes/conferences in Nigeria
There have been at least nine attempts at crafting a suitable constitution for Nigeria in its democratic sojourn.
About half of these attempts at constitution crafting actually ended successfully: 1960 (independence constitution), 1963, 1979, and 1999.
Earlier conferences in London had produced three constitutions pre-independence.
The 2014 National Conference, inaugurated by then President, Goodluck Jonathan, on March 17, 2014, was the last of such attempts.
There are already calls for a constitutional conference or as some say, ‘’meeting of ethnic nationalities’’ aimed at amending the constitution and re-appraising the structure of the Nigerian State.
Federal lawmakers have already initiated a move to amend the 1999 constitution, which many have argued is a making of the military when it left power hurriedly in 1999.
The senate committee spearheading the process said it has received over 250 memoranda ‘’which have been analysed.”
“The committee has held several consultations and meetings to deliberate on the process and submissions in preparation for the public hearings at the national and zonal levels.
“Following from the analysis of the memoranda submitted, the issues have increased from 13 to 16, including Gender Equity/Increased participation of Women and Vulnerable Groups in governance, the Federal Structure in governance and Power Devolution, among others,” Ovie Omo-Agege, the Senate President has said.
To restructure or not?
But how far will these measures work to heal the widening lines of disunity etched on the nation across divides? And would ‘restructuring’ and devolution of powers, which is an aspect the lawmakers would be considering, actually bring the needed solutions?
‘’I don’t believe restructuring will totally solve Nigeria’s numerous challenges. However, it will make governing less cumbersome and difficult. What we need mostly I think is the right people in power, even with this current system, the right people in position can still bring solutions,’’ said Habib Oladapo, Programmes Manager, Civic Media Lab.
‘’On the flip side though, after trying 20 years of this system and there seems to be no major success, it is only imperative we try something else, especially one that seemed to have worked in the past. So, although it doesn’t guarantee Eldorado, I would say, yes.’’
So how will the process actually be implemented? IIJ’s director, Mr Shehu, offers some suggestions.
‘’For me the solution lies in devolution (of powers) which is what happens in most countries. The three major areas that should be addressed are the judiciary, state legislatures, and the local governments,’’ he said.
‘’This current administration has asked that there should be such a devolution. The governors have refused. When you empower the local government, allow them the freedom to operate, this is going to reduce some of the pressures. Then, of course the judiciary, allow the judiciary the freedom to operate and then the state legislatures that are held to ransom by the various state governors. That way, we would have progress.
‘’On the issue of security, this is a very important aspect of devolution. People are crying about state police. You only need to look across the nation to see the confrontation the governors have with the opposition or the people that they are not on good terms with. It frightens one to think of what the governors would do if they have the police at their beck and call.
‘’Imagine if they now have state police across the country. It is going to create more insecurity rather than stemming the current insecurity.’’
On security, he suggested an overhaul rather than state policing.
‘’The first step is to create a justice system that is fair to everybody. The justice system does not work fast enough to ensure that people who are involved in misdemeanour are punished appropriately and on time,’’ he said. ‘’The other way is to ensure people trust the law enforcement agents. At the moment, there is a deficit of trust which is obvious if you have had any reason to be involved with law enforcement agencies.
‘’We also need to empower numerically the law enforcement agencies. We don’t have enough to actually police our various communities. It is not by creating state police. We could overhaul the police, do the same thing with the military. Also, their roles should be properly defined.’’
He advises Nigerians to take more than a cursory interest in the ongoing constitutional amendment process.
‘’Devolution is a process and we cannot pack too many things into the process. Even in other countries that practice devolution, you will see that they take things one step at a time…’’
Meanwhile, the PDP vice-presidential candidate in 2019, Peter Obi, says ‘’political restructuring of Nigeria will boost the nation’s economy and end insecurity’’.
He advised Nigerians “to stop misleading others that restructuring is a deliberate plan to divide the country.”
“Rather, it should be seen as a move to build the ailing economy and restore adequate security in the country,” he said.
“Restructuring the country will bring out the comparative advantage of every state and our natural resources that are lying waste will be fully harnessed to boost the state economy,” he added.
‘’The Nigerian government should immediately begin the implementation of the All Progressives Congress Committee on Restructuring which, among others, recommends state policing and devolution of powers,’’ the Nigerian Press Organisation has also said.
“We hold that its implementation will curb the galloping rate of criminality, reduce tension across the country and reset the button of development.”
The APC committee they refer to, also known as the El-Rufai Committee, was set up in August 2017 to articulate the party’s position on true federalism.
The report had recommended state police, power devolution, independent candidacy during elections, referendum on national issues, and for public holidays to be moved to the concurrent list, among others.
The committee had reportedly engaged 8,014 people across the country to come up with the document. It said then that out of 24 issues ‘’which Nigerians indicated interest in, 12 important recommendations were selected.”
The areas the committee recommended some form of restructuring included: the merger of states; derivation principle; devolution of power; fiscal federalism; independent candidacy; judiciary; local government autonomy; revenue allocation; citizenship; referendum; public holidays and state police.
The then National Chairman of the APC, John Oyegun, had said ‘’by the middle of February 2018’’, all structures of the party would have met to consider the report.
But the report is yet to be implemented, six years after the ruling party clinched power.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...