The subject of restructuring Nigeria is one of the most discussed topics in the country. It is not uncommon to hear Nigerians talk about how the current arrangement isn’t working and that the country needs to be restructured.
Many are of the opinion that the solution to the myriad of problems in the country is restructuring. On the other hand, there are those that think restructuring the country isn’t really the way forward.
In this post, we take a look at restructuring, the reason why Nigerians are calling for restructuring and how the country can be restructured.
How Can Nigeria Be Restructured?
One of the major reasons why many are considering restructuring as the way forward is because of the marginalization of certain ethnic groups in the country which has led to disharmony and friction along those ethnic lines. The issues around marginalization, restructuring and secessionist tendencies can be said to be a cry for justice in the different zones from the Southeast to the Southwest and South-South.
A solution to the problem of marginalization is the creation of a platform where Nigerians can have an honest dialogue and tell themselves the uncomfortable truths. This can be done by engaging the agitations and addressing the self-evident marginalization that several groups have experienced in post-civil war Nigeria. Unfortunately, when some ethnic groups talk about marginalization, they are often treated with unjustified suspicion.
Over the years, these hurt feelings and the suspicions have hampered the progress of nation-building in Nigeria creating the foundations of state failure which if further mishandled can break the bonds that hold the country together.
However, this article isn’t just dealing with the issue of marginalization. The question is if Nigeria can be restructured, how do we go about it?
First, it is important to note that there are several rational arguments for restructuring the company but the most important step is to reflect on these arguments with the goal of proffering a solution that is in the collective interest of the nation.
Taking a further look at discussions around restructuring, one of the first steps is to understand some important concepts including federalism, fiscal federalism, and devolution of power. These are terms that have been frequently used in our national political discourse but have sometimes been misunderstood or misapplied.
This is a system of government in which constitutional powers are shared in one national political entity between a central government and sub-national units, such as regions or states in such a manner that one tier of government is not superior to the other. Examples of federations include the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Canada, India, and Brazil. Such countries usually have two tiers of constitutionally recognized federating units, but India is a notable exception with its Panchayats and Municipalities that are a third tier of the federation. This Indian distinction has important implications for a constitutionally restructured Nigeria.
Looking at Federalism, there are variations in the strength of federal powers in relation to sub-national units in many countries. For instance, the United States, for example, went through conceptual battles between its Founding Fathers in the country’s early years, with the “federalists” favoring a strong center that nevertheless left the states with enough space and powers to grow without suffocation, and the “anti-federalists” that wanted stronger states and a weak center. The federalists won. In the European tradition of federalism, the sub-national units or regions have tended to be more powerful than central governments.
This is an aspect of public finance. According to W.E. Oates, an authority on the subject, Fiscal federalism is concerned with “understanding which functions and instruments are best centralized and which are best placed in the sphere of decentralized levels of government”. In other words, it is the study of how expenditure and revenue side are allocated across different (vertical) layers of the administration. An important part of this subject matter is how a central government deals with transfer payments or grants from its revenues that it shares with lower levels of government.
Understanding this conceptual nuance is extremely important because in much of Nigerian public discourse we assume that fiscal federalism necessarily or exclusively means a federal system of government. In reality, however, it could mean the exercise of these transfer functions in a system of government that may not necessarily be a federal one.
Devolution of Powers
This concept simply means the surrender of powers from a central government to sub-national units, but this in itself is not necessarily federalism because it can as well occur in a unitary system of government, as is the case in the United Kingdom. The implication for us in Nigeria is that we must not conflate devolution of powers with the federalism that I and many others argue is necessary for Nigeria. The two are not necessarily the same.
Now that we understand these, how can we restructure the country with these concepts in mind?
Well, the way forward is true federalism which is the ideal form of government that can create national unity and cohesion given the diversity inherent in our national make-up.
This type of government requires a fundamental overhaul of the 1999 Constitution presently in force to achieve national unity and cohesion as well as the development of the component parts of the federal state at their own pace. Nigeria today is called a “federal republic” but in reality is a unitary state. This reality is the result of military intervention in our polity through the first coup of 1966.
Overall, one of the major gains of restructuring is the justice and equity that will be achieved. This is very important because the current constitutional structure of Nigeria and concentration of power at the center in Abuja favors some parts of the country and disenfranchises others especially those parts of the country from which the natural resources rents support the current structure. It disenfranchises them because they have no control over these resources (which should not be the case in a truly federal state), and also because the arrangement places excessive political power in the hands of whichever groups control power at the center.