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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Columnist: The Nation

Jonathan on restructuring

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, surely remains his old self, gentle and naive. Even with the hindsight of over five years as a president, and morphing into an African peacemaker, albeit with limited success, Jonathan remains the gentle dove, who hopes that the dominant political elite that has held the country hostage, can be persuaded to rein in their greed and become patriotic.  His recent position on the issue of restructuring shows that his naivety is ingrained.

In his contribution at the 2020 Daily Trust Dialogue, which he chaired, former President Jonathan is hoping the ruling elite will restructure their minds. He mentioned the troubling issues like nepotism, ethnic and religious differences as challenges requiring the restructuring of the mind. The news report, mentioned some others who spoke at the event to include Chief Nnia Nwodo, Professor Attahiru Jega, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, most of who discussed restructuring from the prism of politics.

For this column, the major reason why Nigeria must either restructure or die is economic. Of course, I will be naïve not to appreciate that politics trumps economics, especially in a country like ours, where according to one of the participants at the dialogue, Chief Audu Ogbe, politics is the only viable industry in the country. But looking at restructuring from the prism of politics is perhaps why the hegemonic power holding Nigeria down would do everything it can to frustrate a national rebirth, through restructuring.

But the actors forget that without a restructured national economy, they would have no nation to exploit. As presently configured, even before COVID-19, nearly all the states of the federation were at the mercy of economic forces completely beyond their control. As the intellectual colossus, Prof Jide Osuntokun, while making a comparative analysis with the Canadian federalist model, wrote recently in his weekly column, in The Nation Newspaper, under the heading: Obiozor’s Ohaneze Ndigbo: An Outsider’s perspective: “we used to have this kind of federalism in Nigeria at least between 1957 and 1959.”

He went on: “Each state-controlled its resources and transferred agreed sums to the centre to run the federal government. The federal government was the creation of the regional/state governments and not the present warped practice of the federal government creating unviable states and feeding them from federal seized revenue acquired by force of arms without negotiations.” The double whammy presently afflicting Nigeria, is that the federal seized revenue is no longer enough to sustain the federation, while the states are hamstrung by the unitary constitution that authorises the seizure of state revenues, to engage in meaningful economic activities.

So, as presently configured, Nigeria is in a quagmire, operating under the spell of self-induced strangulation. As should be clear to everyone, the nation is bleeding profusely from the strangulation on many fronts, and unless a miracle happens, the increasing state of anaemia will inevitably result in exsanguination – death from loss of blood. President Muhammadu Buhari, who campaigned that he had the magic wand to the northeast bleeding, apparently has mere iodine, for an injury that is already gangrene.

To make matters worse, President Buhari has exacerbated the gangrene by his ill-advised policies on nepotism, ethnic and religious preferences. Of course, when former President Jonathan raised those issues at the Daily Trust Dialogue, he was gently throwing the darts at his successor, who has interestingly found him a worthy ambassador of peace for troubled African nations. Interestingly, just like the departed President Donald Trump, President Buhari has an army of die-hard followers, who are blind to this debilitating shortcoming.

But regardless of how long he stays in power, President Buhari will likely not deliver the kind of progress he promised, at the military front, the economic bough and the anti-corruption battlegrounds, because the fundamentals are not in place to achieve the results. On his part, Jonathan who is now fondly remembered by some Nigerians, because of the overwhelming challenges the present regime is grappling with, compared to his, would agree that the nation didn’t make much progress even while he was in charge.

Of course, the nation has not made the desired progress since the 1970s, despite the huge resources forcefully seized from what ordinarily should be the federating units. So, while the nation has earned billions of dollars from the forcefully appropriated oil resources of the Niger Delta, for instance, majority of Nigerians have become poorer, as few elites in the corridors of economic and political power, hide in the maelstrom of the confusion foisted by the perpetual constitutional crises, to cream off the commonwealth.

By former president Jonathan’s inference, at the Daily Trust Dialogue, he is hoping that the kleptomaniac and parasitic elite, thrown up under this national atrophy will see the reason to become patriotic, and stop the practice of nepotism, ethnic and religious bigotry, which are the essential fuel they used to rise to prominence and also escape from justice. That possibility is very remote. But like the case of the chicken and the egg, it is still by elite consensus or a military fiat that a federal constitution that would enable the growth of the units of the country can be brought to fruition.

The challenge is how to get the vital number of that kleptomaniac and parasitic elite, to come to their senses that the nation is dying, and it is in their self-surviving interest to recreate the country unless they are willing to become citizens of a failed state. Perhaps, the need for an elite consensus to make progress may bring us back to Jonathan’s forlorn hope that the elites can restructure their mind, to enable the nation build the necessary consensus, to restructure the country.

For this column, the least the nation must do to survive the maelstrom almost overwhelming it is to devolve powers to the states. As has been severally argued on this platform, the ‘legal’ strangulation of the states, accentuated by a unitary 1999 constitution, is at the heart of other national challenges we are faced with. Even the conservative Mallam El-Rufai committee set up by the All Progressive Congress (APC), recommended the devolution of power, as a panacea for the debilitating crisis almost overwhelming our country.

Yet, like the ill-fated dog which on a hunting expedition chooses to ignore the owner’s whistle, the ruling party is ignoring the recommendation of its own conservative faction, even as members of the progressive belt may be ruing the political alliance. It is appropriate to ask, which should come first: restructuring of the mind as Jonathan posited or the restructuring of the laws of the land. Those who think the country can march on without any fundamental change are welcome to their grave illusion.

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