Last Sunday, this column dealt with the question of whether the British royal family can be put together again. The question today is along the same line, just much graver: Can Nigeria be put together again? By the way — and just in case you’re wondering — the column on the British royals was submitted two days before the death of the queen’s consort, Prince Philip. I wrote the column even as news broke that contingents of armed men had assaulted the state police command headquarters and a federal prison in Imo State.
Along with the continuous incidents of “banditry,” mass murders and kidnappings, the news from Imo State was another reminder that Nigeria is precariously approaching total chaos. So, I needed to suppress the nagging feeling that in writing about the royals I was engaging in trial pursuit. I continued only after reminding myself that readers have much broader interests than Nigeria’s dysfunction.
On that score, let me begin with a disclaimer, albeit an ambivalent one. I am not an opponent of restructuring. But then, I am not necessarily an advocate either. The clamour for restructuring is, of course, entirely understandable. The impetus has been there since 1966, when a military coup shifted much control from the then regions to the Federal Government. The pattern was cemented when the regions were subsequently broken up into states. The implications of the shift became magnified by the unprecedented ethnocentric abuse of political power during this presidency. And then there is the related grim determination by some leaders to make Nigeria the dominion of one ethnic/religious group.
This has given rise to myriad groups advocating the restructuring of Nigeria to bring about “true federalism.” There is an idealised call for a return to the political structure similar to what existed before January 1966. Among other things, the regions largely controlled their resources, including generation of their own electricity corporations. In fact, the regions sustained the Federal Government, not the other way around. The more radical advocacy is to balkanise Nigeria entirely.
If actualisation of these advocacies will bring peace and prosperity to Nigerians, I would enthusiastically support them. But I have my doubts, and history bears me out. I tend to believe that our problems derive not so much from the structures of government as from the values of those who govern and those who are governed. In other words, no amount of restructuring will rid our societies of poverty and mayhem in the absence of concomitant values to those ends.
The Nigerian Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) literally embodies the more radical advocacy for restructuring. As stated on its website, “NINAS … is the multi-ethnic alliance of the indigenous peoples of the Middle Belt (part of the former northern region), Ilana Omo Oodua (the former western region) and the Lower Niger (Former eastern & mid-western regions).” The site doesn’t list the leaders, but according to a write-up, they include Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (retd), the former Chief of Staff; Jonah Jang, the former governor of Plateau State; Professor Banji Akintoye, senator during the Second Republic; Chief Nnia Nwodo, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; and Dr. Bitrus Pogu, the leader of the Middle Belt Forum.
Though NINAS is ostensibly interested in restructuring, its stated objectives are more along the lines of balkanisation. It rejects the very idea of Nigeria as a nation, as is implicit in its stated purpose: “To promote and foster self-determination of the indigenous peoples of the target area, in particular and among ethnic nationalities which inhabit other parts of the colonial creation that metamorphosed to become the Nigerian state of today.”
Although NINAS outlines a process of drafting a new constitution, it has already charted out the constituents of a balkanised Nigeria. There will be four essentially independent countries: the Arewa Federation (consisting of the North- East and North- West), Middle Belt Federation (North Central), Yoruba Federation (South West), and the Lower Niger Federation (South-East and South-South). Ideologically, the last three federations will constitute the Alliance Territory and the Arewa Federation will be the Sharia Territory. In the ideological map, the Alliance territory looks much like the current map of Nigeria, but with the topmost part lined off.
Ostensibly, this would be the answer to the current problem of Islamist zealotry. The Middle Belt Federation and the Yoruba Federation will still have a substantial number of Muslims, but they presumably won’t be of the Boko Haram and “herdsmen” variety.
The audacity of those seeking to Islamise all of Nigeria by all means certainly justifies this vision. Still, we know too well that the core North is unlikely to agree to any arrangement by which it would, in effect, be chopped off from Nigeria. And even if it does, that probably won’t stop Islamist violence elsewhere in Nigeria. Let’s not forget that one of the worst cases of such violence in recent history was the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan. The perpetrators were the Janjaweed, many of whom were Arab mercenaries from Chad.
In any case, among the links posted on NINAS’s website is one with the headline: “Northern elders threaten to mobilise against the APC over insecurity.” The first paragraph of the story, originally published in The Guardian, reads: “Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development (CNEPD) has cried out in alarm that the northern part of the country is under siege by Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers, whose criminal activities have grounded educational, economic and socio-political activities in the region.” These people seem to be crying out for an alliance with the rest of Nigeria to combat a common scourge.
It’s worth recalling the bloodletting and destruction in Western Nigeria in 1964 and 1965. It resulted from rivalry between two indigenes of the region, but it ultimately plunged the country into a civil war. Sure, fingers understandably pointed at the Balewa administration. But it could only have been a partisan accessory in a regional power struggle. There is no guarantee that such a political rupture will not happen in a Yoruba Federation, as it may the others.
Besides insecurity, NINAS also blamed the current structure for poverty, corruption, lack of accountability, police brutality, poor healthcare, and anemic electricity. Excising the core North from the rest of Nigeria will certainly improve the country’s economic indices. But does anyone seriously believe that it will be a cure for corruption, police brutality and other forms of impunity? We may be asking too much of restructuring and discounting the factor of values.
No doubt Buhari’s political values are a major factor in the current political ferment. Yet, like Donald Trump in the US, Buhari may well be an aberration in Nigerian politics. Never before has Nigeria had such a parochial head of state and one hopes that never again will it have another. That’s reason enough to cool off on the restructuring fever to give future administrations a chance. Sure, some of the damages Buhari has caused may be irreversible, much like Trump’s damages to American politics. But the trajectory can be reversed just as President Joe Biden is doing in the US. The parallel is not exact, but you get the point.
Even if radical restructuring is inevitable, it is worth strengthening existing features of true federalism in the meantime. More about this another Sunday.
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