Restructuring Nigeria: A Panacea or Mere Illusion in Addressing Igbo Imperatives for the 21st Century World?
by Dr. Okenwa Nwosu
The term “Restructuring” has gained currency in popular political lexicon of Nigeria. In face of a new political leadership team that promised change but ended up providing more of the same or worse and associated fall in standard of living for the average citizen, the mere mention of restructure instantly excites and grabs the attention and interest of many. Just as “Change” served those who peddled it well during the 2015 general elections, sociopolitical pundits today wish to be seen draped in the gaudy garb of “Restructuring”, particularly now that the Nigerian polity is desperately looking out for whatever can pull the tottering nation back from the brink and restore things back on an even keel. Restructuring, when seen as mere reshuffling of cards while leaving the deck intact, comes across as an innocuous and nonthreatening means to sell “Change” to a skeptical buyer. The Igbo elite corps are extraordinarily enthused about the concept to the extent that many of them also have publicly proclaimed Restructuring to be the much-sought-after panacea to Nigeria’s chronic malady in nation building.
In Nigerian political parlance, there is no precise way to define Restructuring or even to explain what the term is all about. In this case, Restructuring means different things to different folks. To some, the only way to go about the Restructuring that shall be acceptable to them is to restore Nigeria to the geopolitical balance, equity and unity of purpose that had existed during the immediate post-Independence era of the early 1960’s. To this group, when one hears Restructuring, what one instinctively anticipates is restoration of Nigeria to the halcyon days of the First Republic parliamentary democracy. But the overwhelming percentage of contemporary political pundits and operatives have no experiential knowledge of the First Republic and thus may find it impossible to fully fathom essence of the romanticism and nostalgia attached to the epoch in minds of those who lived through it. The majority usually understand Restructuring to mean just making Nigeria to work in consonance with the norms and standards that work elsewhere worldwide. To this group, what exists today (a. k. a. the status quo) is a crucial reference point upon which anything meaningful must hinge. Restructuring could thus be accomplished through the implementation of recommendations of the 2014 National Conference or making some thoughtful amendments to the subsisting 1999 Constitution, for example.
The Nature of Restructuring That Nigeria Must Have
Mere mention of the term “Restructuring” without making the additional required effort to fully expatiate is akin to what the Igbo metaphorically speak of as making a fecal mound without the apical component. Restructuring must not be seen just as a preferred alternative between the options that exist at the extremes (hard-core Unitarist, on one end and dyed-in-the-wool separatists, on the other). If one were in a Math class where the goal is to balance an equation, then staking one’s stance on a middle-of-the-road position would be adjudged to be the smart thing to do. Similarly, predicating one’s choice based on apparent clamor by a deafening cacophony of voices emanating mostly from wishful thinkers and not those who have historically dominated and controlled the political dynamics of Nigeria over the decades should be dismissed as reveling in futile persuasions.
For Restructuring to make sense, the exercise must be able to effectively address and remedy the major crippling maladies that militate against making the principle of natural justice to become the yardstick for deriving the charter of relationship among the constituent parts that make up the country. Nigeria has been characterized as a vassal state which is operated as a polity comprising the master and slave classes. If the objective is to succeed in building of an egalitarian society where equality of opportunity and access is a fundamental policy of nation building, then mere cosmetic changes of convenience can never possess the impetus required to transform Nigeria from where it finds itself today to where it is supposed to be. The fear that mere platitudes and conciliatory words may not be able to persuade fellow Nigerian compatriots who find favor in the status quo to concede any of the privileges that they presently enjoy underscores the demand that the best resolution to the current impasse must be to devolve governance away from the center to the greatest extent humanly possible. When the needed consensus for attaining such far-reaching transformation is not forthcoming, the option of inevitable breakup of Nigeria becomes clearly evident.
Is Restructuring a Mere Postponement of the Evil Day?
Many believe that there are profound cultural and ideological reasons why the thought of doing whatever it shall take to retain the unification of Nigeria, as envisioned by former British colonial masters using the standards that made a lot of sense in a bygone era, must be rejected now. For administrative convenience and to save costs, colonial administration found it very expedient to operate the disparate territories that comprise Nigeria from a single account in the London Colonial Office. Despite this underlying imperative, the colonial administrators in the field in Nigeria still saw it fit to administer the Northern and Southern parts of the country with two different approaches.
While expatriate administrators ran the show directly by themselves in Southern Nigeria, the task of administering and governing the Northern Region was farmed out to the Sokoto Islamic Caliphate feudal ruling order. If those who coupled the country together at the very beginning and had all the coercive means to impose their will on their subject population saw the impracticality of ruling over the entire colonial possession as an integral unit, what makes contemporary Nigerians to believe that we’ve got what it would take to run the same country as a monolithic entity from a central location as is the case today?
The futility of attempting to operate a unitary Nigeria has become clear even to the worst skeptics. Perhaps, this evolving mindset helps to explain the essence of ongoing informal presentations at the Chatham House, London where leading constituents of Nigeria are being serially hosted and provided the platform to state and hopefully, to better elucidate their stance relating to the country’s future. Thus far, only leadership entities that still perceive the interests of their folks to be best reflected in a unified Nigeria make it to the invitation list. This could be a subliminal way of stating that the only future which makes sense to the organizers must be that in which unification of Nigeria is guaranteed. If so, the ongoing talk shop at the Chatham House might be alienating a huge segment of the polity which cannot assure anyone that Nigeria can still stay unified once the polity opts to tread down the path of Restructuring. The differences that subtend the cleavages between Nigeria’s South and the Arewa North, for example, are as profound as the wide ideological gulf that exists between an Islamic and secular Western democracy.
Prejudging the outcome of the sort of Restructuring that can cure the ills of contemporary Nigeria is akin to one playing God or as some would say, biting off than one can chew at one time. Truth be told; there is nothing innocuous or guaranteed once there is a consensus to launch the Nigerian polity on the path of Restructuring. This uncertainty is, perhaps, what scares the dickens out of those who had assuredly taken the country and its citizenry down the trajectory of perdition in the past 50 years. The fact is that Nigeria has been in the firm grip of well-known retardants of nation building and socioeconomic development, and the current trend has no end in sight. Even more important is the fact that huge segments of the Nigerian polity, even whole ethnic nationalities, believe their folks’ to be the slaves of the vassal state. Ndiigbo have articulated a case in which, since May 24, 1966, they see their own ancestral lands to be confiscated and the geopolitical space overseen by an occupying force that derives its authority solely through the barrel of the gun. The ongoing Operation “Python Dance” has glaringly portrayed the underlying basis for this popular perception among the Igbo leading pundits.
Way Not to Look at Restructuring
Some interest groups, including the Igbo, see Restructuring of Nigeria as a gambit whose outcome shall preserve current advantages, advance future ambitions and minimize potential losses, going forward. The Igbo, for example, consider their folks to be heavily vested in Nigeria through their humongous financial commitments in procurement of landed properties and commercial enterprises in all the nooks and crannies of the country. The extent of Restructuring which the Igbo business elite would readily embrace must, therefore, guarantee security of their investment exposures that abound far beyond the borders of their ancestral homeland in the Lower Niger. This same class of Ndiigbo fear that any possibility of national fracture, which can precipitate breakup of the country into small sovereign units, must be opposed since such development could readily translate into heightened operational costs, forfeiture of assets and shrinkage of market arena for their businesses.
As important as the business class is in assuring the Igbo place on the national scene, preferences of the typical Igbo business elite do not adequately or fully represent the true Igbo dilemma in contemporary Nigeria. Preponderance of Ndiigbo engage in retail business which is heavily dependent on importation since Nigeria, till date, is still incapable of manufacturing even the basic consumer products with which to service needs of the domestic market. Since importation is subject to intense bureaucratic oversight by whoever wield the political clout to do so, the Igbo business class often find themselves chasing their own tails in a dance in which their detractors hold all the aces. The outstanding order issued by Arewa youths for Ndiigbo to vacate all 19 Northern states before October 1, 2017 or face forced ejection and associated confiscation of the victims’ assets is obviously a rude awakening to those who see nominal unification, as practiced today, as preferable to insistence on self-determination pursuit aimed at restoring ownership rights and control by our folks over Igbo ancestral lands and the nature’s bountiful gifts therein.
It takes Two to Tango: Restructuring Cannot be Accomplished Unilaterally
Restructuring only makes sense if a consensus to embark on the process can be established upfront. This is exactly the reason why, after decades of spirited push by the likes of NADECO, PONACO, MNN etc to reconfigure Nigeria, it is not only that no visible change is evident but also overall state of things tends to be declining fast. The elephant in the room, as far as all talk about restructuring in Nigeria is concerned, is the Arewa North which, somehow, is still able to sustain its hegemonic spell over vassal state jurisdictions that emerged out of the First Republic’s Northern Region. There is no reason to expect that the Arewa North’s veto power over Restructuring of Nigeria shall be set aside anytime soon. In fact, a recent vote predicated on the matter in the Senate was defeated by a majority “No” votes at the National Assembly.
Eagerly anticipating that Restructuring shall be the panacea for curing Nigeria of all its ailments when a vested interest group wields the veto power to block any change in the status quo is, by all measure, “hoping against hope”. Since the constituents of the Oduduwa Southwest, Middle Belt and ethnic nationalities of the Lower Niger have already declared their interest to see the country restructured immediately, one must then proceed to find the effective means to persuade, goad or compel the Arewa North to play ball or else. It is, after all, undemocratic to allow only a handful of constituents that fall under the aegis of the Arewa North to hold and exercise a veto power over the hundreds of other ethnic constituents that make up Nigeria.
The quest to call the bluff of the Arewa North must have informed decision of the June 30, 2011 Lagos Conference convened by Movement for New Nigeria (MNN) to revert supreme sovereign authority over Nigeria back to the indigenous ethnic nationalities that had owned today’s Nigerian geopolitical space for millennia before arrival of the European colonizers. The constituent nationalities have been empowered by solemn resolutions of the MNN Lagos confab to express their wish for the future through conduct of their respective regional Referendums to agree own how best to organize themselves at the local and regional levels as well as whether to seek larger national integration with other regional federations (as shown in the broken map) or to take their fate into the own hands and choose to become sovereign entities.
Igbo ambivalence toward radical devolution of Nigeria, which can result in emergence of sovereign Biafra, is fueled by the seemingly contradictory choices of wishing to see the unacceptable status quo changed while, at the same time, assuring that material losses feared to be closely associated with such a monumental transformation is totally avoided. Talk of wishing to eat one’s cake and still have it. The Igbo elite corps, particularly the business class, could thus be said to be interested in making the omelet but resent the breaking of eggs. Some extol the virtues of Nigeria as a large market for operating profitable retail trade and would consider any geopolitical tinkering that can restrict such an opportunity as being inimical to core Igbo interest.
The status quo has consistently engendered the scenario where the archetypal Igbo retail trader, who is domiciled in all nooks and crannies of the country, often tops the list of victims killed and dispossessed during the recurrent bouts of violent upheavals that are a regular feature in contemporary Nigeria. Crude oil-export-driven economy of the past half century has run into hard times from which recovery is nowhere in sight. Nigeria’s future economy, therefore, demands that whoever play successfully therein must first rethink, re-strategize and retool. Business model that relies solely on importation within an economy that is increasingly starved of adequate access to foreign hard currency, as is the case in contemporary Nigeria, cannot be said to be suitable for the futuristic ambitions of Ndiigbo, particularly the youthful elements within the fold. Since economic relevance must, out of necessity, shift from mere retail of important consumer goods to indigenous manufacturing that adds value to local raw materials and creates employment, exclusive focus on land mass is wrongheaded.
Ndiigbo need, more than anything else at this juncture, unimpeded access to global maritime trade routes that are offered by the deep seaports of Nigeria’s eastern Atlantic coastline which include Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar among others. Direct Foreign Investments (FDI) shall pour into the currently shuttered Nigerian Eastern Economic Corridor (NEEC) as soon as the ethnic nationalities cohabiting the Lower Niger have solemnly resolved to pursue their regional political and economic destiny together. It is doubtful that any Restructuring of Nigeria, particularly when such is attempted despite all the foot dragging by other competing interest groups, shall offer Ndiigbo the latitude they need to maximize their capabilities in the emergent 21st Century global scene.
Restructuring, as is currently being bandied about, is NOT a panacea on which Ndiigbo should bother to expend huge political capital and goodwill. Push for greater autonomy, which shall guarantee the Igbo and their neighbors full ownership of the ancestral lands and all resources therein, must be looked up to as the Golden Grail of our peoples’ future.