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The decade after Nigeria’s independence, Africans referred to it as ‘the giant of Africa,’ with the promise of great things to come for the newly minted African country. Fifty-nine years after, it is a different story. Plagued by a myriad of problems, the future of Nigeria in its current form, with less than twenty years as a democracy under its belt, is bleak. Fortunately, the people’s consciousness of the severity of the situation is growing. The country is witnessing a renewed firmament for the push for restructuring and regionalism by the Southeasterners and the Southwesterners. Even Nigerian elites, such as Bola Tinubu, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Emeka Anyaoku, and former Vice President of Nigeria Atiku Abubakar, are lending their voices to support the restructuration of the country.
The increasing clamour for change should be unsurprising considering how numerous the problems are that the country has been plunged into, including poor infrastructure, lack of good governance, endemic corruption in all sectors, as well as ethnic and religious tensions. Nigeria has even been ranked as one of the world’s most terrorised countries with a very high crime rate. Holding down this unenviable position on the top of the terrorism chart, Nigeria stands with other terror-stricken countries like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Pakistan, and Syria.
A country like Somalia where fighting, insecurity, lack of state protection, and recurring humanitarian crises are the norms of the day is not a good country to emulate but if Nigeria continues on its current path, it might even be worse than the crisis situation in Somalia. The humanitarian crisis in Somalia is one of the longest and most complex in the world. The country is experiencing both armed conflict and worsening climatic shocks across different regions, a dangerous combination that has resulted in massive displacements, both within Somalia and across its borders. The number of internally displaced people, many living unassisted, and at risk of serious abuse have reached an estimated 3.7 million in Somalia. The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab subjected people living under its control to harsh treatment, forced recruitment, and carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) reported 982 civilian casualties by July, over half from Al-Shabab attacks. Inter-clan and intra-security force violence, along with sporadic military operations against Al-Shabab by Somali government forces, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, and other foreign forces, resulted in deaths, injuries, and displacement of civilians.
Restructuring in order to enable true federalism represents a first step to solving the many challenges the country faces. Nigeria practiced true federalism and regionalism in the 1960s as enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 Nigerian constitutions. However, with the emergence of the 1966 Military junta in Nigeria came the destruction of this system, and Nigeria has since been unable to return. One of the most viable ideas put forward for restructuring Nigeria is a new system that will subsume the thirty-six states into their already-present six geopolitical zones. These zones would then become self-governing regions, with their own local governments under the auspices of a less powerful federal government. The regions increased autonomy would enable them to look inward and develop more self-reliant local economies, as opposed to relying on ‘handouts’ of oil revenue from the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Western Nigeria is rich with cocoa and limestone, the South with oil palm, coal, and crude oil, and the North with agricultural resources such as groundnut and cotton. As these regions turn inward for wealth creation and development and hold themselves accountable, they will help create a vibrant and diverse national economy that can propel Nigeria forward.
Contrary to popular belief, regionalism does not pose a threat to nationalism. Instead, it furthers the cause of developing a national identity by promoting equitable regional development throughout the country. This is because uneven development among the regions has bred resentment that eventually expresses itself in the form of ethnic and religious tensions. Suffice to say, restructuring would reduce such ethnic and religious tensions. Since Nigerians are largely loyal to religion and ethnicity, it would not be hard to convince them that restructuring might be the solution because restructuring would be done along ethnic and religious lines. Moreover, it will silence the agitation of the unrelenting Biafra and Niger Delta movements by giving them a region with the autonomy they seek.
True federalism will send the old recycled politicians back to their tents as there will be less concentration of power in the center, hence less reliance on the ‘national cake’ the vast oil wealth of Nigeria that it distributes through Abuja to the rest of the country. Hopefully, by removing this concentration of wealth and temptation, this new system can at least begin to address the bane of corruption. While these politicians could take this menace of corruption to the regional level, it is unlikely to be so, as citizens would be better able to hold their regional leaders accountable when they see other regions flourish, encouraging friendly competition among these regions. This form of accountability, one that is closer to home and not in the far-away capital, is what is needed to make Nigeria work.
Nation-building is hard, but not as difficult as Nigerian leaders make it to seem like. Nation-building is also intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident. The real test is in the leadership and the actions that create a real spirit of nationhood, and the willingness of every stakeholder to build a united, stable, and cohesive nation which is why restructuring is necessary because of the destabilisation that the current conditions have bred. Nigeria can either get stabilised Nigeria or Nigerian leaders can continue to play the ostrich by insisting that their ‘processes’ and not the structure, are the problems. High-intensity conflicts, killings, and bandit attacks will continue in various parts of the country, with the theatres of conflict shifting to different regions at different times (South-South, Southeast, Middle Belt in the North-Central, Northeast, and so on) if restructuring is not carefully implemented in the long run.
Nigeria also needs restructuring because it will help her democracy achieve better governance. The periodic rituals of elections have not necessarily improved governance. There are two ways this will happen. One, restructuring will bring greater accountability and transparency to governance because power and responsibility will devolve closer to the people. This will help evolve a better culture and quality of leadership, and will also foster competitive development between the regions.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK