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Opinions of Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Columnist: Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa

Restructuring as Nigeria’s final lap

Some weeks ago, news broke out that the Central Bank of Nigeria was in talks with the government of Zamfara State to buy five billion naira worth of gold. Many were shell-shocked at such strange development, given the position of the federal government on issues of mines and minerals as part of the items listed in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution, which has hitherto been held as being the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government.

Even though the CBN and Zamfara State have offered some feeble defences on this transaction, it has raised fresh agitations within the Niger-Delta region, which has been denied control and use of minerals within their territory. The Zamfara gold has only thrown open the absurdity of the present unitary government of Nigeria stylishly termed federal. The new slogan in the Niger-Delta that has trended online is: ‘if Zamfara can sell gold, Niger-Delta can retain and sell its oil’. Whether this is right or wrong is not the issue presently but rather that these fundamental contradictions have only highlighted the need for restructuring of the federation to achieve an equal sense of belonging by all the federating units. The regions should be allowed to develop their resources according to their capacities and through mutual agreements, they can engage in bilateral commercial arrangements that will allow exchange of goods and services between themselves. What this translates to is that the federal government has to shed weight, very urgently.

Even though it is not expressly stated in the demands of the organisers of the EndSARS protest, the entirety of their agitation speaks of a genuine desire for change, contrary to the slogans of the All Progressive Congress, APC and the deceptions of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, these many years. What the protesters are yearning for is nothing but a call for restructuring. The youth are tired of the status quo and ‘audio promises’, as they have now labelled the empty statements of the politicians. To imagine that we have had to remind APC of its own promise voluntarily made to restructure Nigeria, by amending the Constitution to achieve devolution of power is nothing but betrayal. The EndSARS protest is thus a loud testimony of the demand for restructuring. Never in our history have we seen it like this, with people from all sectors of our national life uniting for a cause. Now, everything that should define our nationhood is in shambles; from insecurity to a dwindling economy, decayed infrastructure, corrupt leadership and over-bloated bureaucracy, there is cause for us all to worry about Nigeria.

What has made the situation worse now is that the President seems to be living in denial of the true facts of the imminent disintegration of the foundation of the nation, given the utterances of his spokespersons, to the protests. The mood of the nation since the Edo State governorship election should have given enough warning signals to the powers that be as to the angst of Nigerians over certain unpalatable policies of the government. How do we cope with rising inflation, increase in electricity tariff and insecurity across the land? Everybody has now voted for restructuring, from South-South leaders in PANDEF, to Northern leaders in NCF, South-West leaders in Afenifere, South-East leaders in Ohaneze Ndigbo and indeed Middle-Belt leaders. The question then is this: who is opposed to restructuring or frustrating its manifestation?

Some people ask for the meaning and nature of restructuring. It is very simple. Restructuring means fiscal federalism or resource control, state police and devolution of powers to the States and Local Governments, which will empower every part of the union for greater productivity. Before the 1966 military incursion, Nigeria was practicing true federalism, whereby the regions controlled their resources as autonomous political territories. With over 250 ethnic nationalities, diverse cultures, multiple faiths and irreconcilable historical experiences, federalism is the only suitable form of government for Nigeria. To insist on anything contrary to federalism for this nation is to ask for its eventual balkanization. Today, of the 37 units making up Nigeria, only one of them is viable, being the Federal Government. The 774 local governments merely exist in name, almost choked out of any meaningful impact, by the states. The States and Local Governments cannot functionally respond to critical issues in their locations without the intervention of the Federal Government. That is unacceptable.

Why should Lagos and Kano States not be allowed to grow their separate economies in accordance with their growth, capacities and resources? Sao Paulo is the second richest city in Brazil with a GDP that exceeds those of countries like Argentina and Paraguay. In Australia, there is healthy competition between the regions in mining, agriculture and industries. The monthly IGR of Lagos State is now in excess of N300B, which exceeds those of five countries in Africa. How do we hold down the development of such a State in the name of unitary federalism?

I got this post through one of my WhatsApp groups and it speaks to the current state of affairs of Nigeria. Please read along with me.

“It’s difficult to comment on this EndSARs protest. The reasons are not far-fetched. The Government has responded reasonably well to almost all demands and in record time too. One wonders why the youths are still protesting. If it’s based on the reasons stated by the time the protesters started the Govt has done well. But, truth be said, in my own opinion, the protest has continued because people are just angry with the way the country is. They are disillusioned with the governance of the country. They have been patient and hoped for change, the Government keeps claiming Nigeria is getting better but to the common man he knows his life is not particularly better now than the way it was in 2015. It is even open to discussion if it has not gotten worse! Based on facts, these protesters can’t logically argue why they are still on the street, but deep down he/she knows it’s difficult to palpate the change that has been so much anticipated from this Govt.

I know this because I saw how people prepared for the botched Labour strike. People hitherto supporters of the Government were ready to hit the streets to tell PMB in particular that they are disappointed in him. The consensus and support amongst different stakeholders in the country for that strike has been unprecedented for this administration. I knew it then that the Government was lucky to make Labour back down. But alas! People were just waiting for the opportunity.

Why are they angry? The petrol and electricity hike, I guess was what tipped people over. Let us not forget that this administration has increased PMS price before but the streets were silent. The reason in my opinion was simple. Majority still had some confidence in PMB. That is no longer the case. That support base has waned seriously. Those who tell the President otherwise are deceiving him. While the Government may still have some justification for the PMS hike, the people cannot fathom the basis to keep paying crazily more for the electricity that is just not there. And to add salt to injury, you can be in the same street and you have different rates for electricity under the guise of cost reflective tariff!

And what do we say about the cost of food in the land? Well the ever increasing inflation rate should answer that. A bag of rice now is more than the minimum wage! Yeah, the people were patient to see the results of the rice revolution. They anticipated. They waited. Now, Nigeria is said to be the highest producer of rice in Africa. Bravo! But what is the explanation for this killing increase in price. Before the revolution, rice was between 5k-8k. Now, so-called local rice is hovering around 25k, foreign above 30k. Even if we are expected to jettison the foreign, why is the local this expensive? Why? We can continue to give excuses for the Government, but what the common man wants is just to eat. If they can’t afford chicken peri-peri at least they should be able to eat pocket-friendly local rice. I don’t think that is too much to ask for. Check other food stuffs, Garri, bread etc, just getting totally out of hand.

At a point, the only argument left for the administration was that at least security is getting better. But can we still say that in all confidence? BH is increasingly getting bold all over again. But even if we say the capacity of BH is not like 2015 and preceding years, what do we say about the spreading menace of bandits? Kidnapping is now a national emergency even if the Govt hasn’t declared it so. Yet call to rejig the security apparatus has met deaf ears. People have even questioned if the President is aware in time, place and person!

So in my opinion it’s all these disillusion in the governance of the country that is behind this agitation. EndSARs just provided the opportunity. They want to tell the President in clear terms – You are not doing well!! Perhaps some of us feel its political jobbers that are behind this. I don’t think so. Obviously they want to take advantage of it and they will do it. If we notice some of the protesters have tried in their own little way to ward off political opportunists but surely this kind of protest won’t last without some funding. Those who wish to create anarchy in the land will surely seize the opportunity. They had wanted to bring the President /administration down from day 1. They threw several things to make the people rise against it but consistently the masses had looked away. They actually had trust in the Man at the centre until now. It is not strange that opportunists cash in on things like this. Lest we forget, a similar thing happened during the protest against the last administration. Tables have turned now, nobody should cry foul.

I hope the President is reading this whole scenario well. I hope he gets the right message from it. His legacy is obviously being questioned. He should be mindful of what he will be remembered for. He can’t blame anybody, he asked for this position 3 times before he was given on the 4th time asking. He also has the luxury of a renewed mandate. History will not accept any excuse from him.”

I have nothing more to add, save to call upon the President to do the needful, NOW!

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