Why restructuring strikes a wrong chord in the minds of some people, by Chekwas Okorie

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The National Leader of the UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie,

They have also seen that if there is a disintegration of the country, there will be a human disaster in the North. There is no other area in the world that is as landlocked as Northern Nigeria; they have no access to the sea.

The national leader of the United Pro­gressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, explained to KODILINYE OBIAGWU the reasons behind the recent spate of calls for restructuring of Nigeria. He explains why some northerners are supporting restructuring now and why restructuring will always be a sore point for the North.

WHY does the question of restructuring always strike a wrong chord in the minds of some people?

It does not strike any wrong chord in the minds of many people; it strikes the wrong chord in the minds of some northern irredentists. I can bet that it strikes the right chord in the minds of all those who wish Nigeria well.

 

What would be the basis for restructuring in a situation where there is no common agreement as to the reasons for restructuring?

The basis would be to create an atmosphere of justice and fairness. Those opposing restructuring are those benefitting one way or the other from the injustice. Those asking for it are those who feel done in by the present structure and state of things. The face-off is unhealthy and that is why the agitations will continue.

The military created the structure that we have presently, and justice and fairness were far from their minds when they structured Nigeria. Injustice is embedded in this structure and this has stifled the development of the country. I am not even trying to enter into the never ending debate of particular ethnic nationalities who have felt shortchanged and are the butt of the injustice, but am talking of how the country itself has not developed because of the skewed structure.

As a background, Nigeria was a contraption imposed on ethnic nationalities that make up the country; there was no consensus, nobody consulted anybody before they were all heaped together by the British as they went on to proclaim a country called Nigeria. And since the British did that basically for commercial reasons and not for political reasons, we Nigerians have been trying to live with it and make the best of it.

But the events that led to the first coup in 1966 and the subsequent events changed the entire scenario as the northern military began to change the structure of the country once they were in control. First, without consulting anybody again but themselves, they cancelled the regional structure, which at that time looked appropriate and introduced the 12 state structure. They created more states to favour the North as we went on and arrived at where we now have 36 states plus Abuja that has the status of a state.

In creating the new state structure, the military had also altered the structure of the provinces, which existed in the regions – Mid West, Eastern Region, Western Region and the Northern Region – to give the North advantage over the South.

The same military also carved out 774 local government areas and gave the North West alone, 188 local government areas. The South East with its five states got 95 local governments areas. The injustice here is that the local government areas became factors in revenue allocation and this meant that the South East, got the least in terms of federal allocation. The same military also began to consider landmass as also factors in revenue allocation. These are some of the pointers that changed the geo-political structure of Nigeria to what people are now clamouring against.

The military enshrined the structure in the 1999 Constitution and provided impossible conditions to alter them. And that is why no civilian administration, no matter how democratic, has been able to create one state based on the conditions on state creation in the constitution. The enshrined anomaly is what we see in how a state like Kano will have more than double the number of local government areas in Lagos State, which is regarded as the most populous state in Africa. The revenue from federal allocation Kano receives based on its 44 local government areas, is therefore far more than what Lagos, with its 20 local government areas gets. To portray how rigid the constitutional backing on this is, when Lagos went ahead to create what it called development centers, for the administrative convenience of taking government closer to the people and not for the purposes of receiving revenue, the Federal Government fought it up to the Supreme Court. And that was even when their own son, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was the president of the country.

The issue of restructuring Nigeria is being resisted by the North, because they believe that having conquered the country, restructuring Nigeria is like losing the object of their conquest.

 

Are you surprised with the recent calls for restructuring? 

It is most interesting that the likes of General Ibrahim Babangida, one of those who sat in on the conspiracy that put Nigeria in this situation, has had a rethink. The only thing I am waiting for him to say, is how he thinks the restructuring can be done. I am also waiting for General Abdulsalami Abubakar to add his voice because when the constitutional conference recommended six geo-political zones, as federating units, his government removed it. There is no provision for six geopolitical zones in the constitution but they use it when it is convenient, but not for revenue allocation. They are the people who made sure that there was nothing like referendum in the constitution so that Nigerians cannot have the opportunity to even put to democratic test whether they want to continue with this contraption or not. So even when the agitating youths talk about referendum as a legitimate means of pressing their case, they don’t know that there is nothing like that in the constitution.

 

With the several reports on constitutional reforms, the latest being the 2014 national conference report, what is needed to make the restructuring realisable?

Unless you go through the National Assembly, then it is difficult to realise. If the recommendations of the 2014 national conference report had been implemented, then Nigeria would have been restructured to a large extent. But it is not going to happen overnight or with a sleight of hand. The conspiracy is well entrenched and so it is going to be a major event to dismantle it.

The 2014 national conference would have gone a long way, but President Muhammadu Buhari, who said that he had consigned it to the archives, knew exactly what he was doing.

 

So what is the viable path to the restructuring?

The National Assembly remains the only viable path for those who believe in restructuring, because it is only by legislation that things will change except the people want to go to war; and no one is talking about that.

It is only the National Assembly, through legislation that can unbundle the Federal Government and reduce the immense power and responsibility in the Exclusive Legislative List. It is only the National Assembly that can say this is the devolution of power and allocate the responsibilities that the Federal Government will be saddled with, like monetary matters, external affairs, defence and others while the rest go to the federating units. The aim is to ensure that the centre will not remain too powerful, while the revenue allocation will be redesigned to reflect greater responsibility down the line.

The National Assembly remains the only viable path for those who believe in restructuring, because it is only by legislation that things will change except the people want to go to war; and no one is talking about that.

Why do you think the calls for restructuring have become rather stringent now?

The call for restructuring has never stopped as a matter of fact it goes on every day. But if there is a new impetus to it, now, it is because they, the perpetrators have realised, like everyone else that it is the only thing to be done for Nigeria to survive; otherwise Nigeria will disintegrate. They have also seen that if there is a disintegration of the country, there will be a human disaster in the North. There is no other area in the world that is as landlocked as Northern Nigeria; they have no access to the sea. It will be unlike during the Nigerian/Biafra civil war when there was a conspiracy against Eastern Nigeria as the Yoruba, Ijaw and the others surrounding the East aligned with the north.

They have also seen the backlash following the threat and exit order issued by northern youth groups to the Igbo to leave the North by October 1, 2017.  Some ethnic nationalities have not taken the order as just a threat against the Igbo alone. The Yoruba are talking of the Odu’a Republic, the militant groups in the Niger Delta in response to that order have also promised to declare their own republic while the Middle Belt have said that they will go with the Igbo. What is left? This must have jolted some voices to revisit the gospel of restructuring. It is ironic that even the northern youths called for a referendum for Biafra, without realizing that it will not work because it will take some restructuring for a referendum to be realised. So if they are talking of restructuring now, it is because the stark reality is staring all of them in the face; there is a need to change things.

 

Where do you see the South East particularly in this call for restructuring?

It leaves the South East better off. The Igbo are spread all over the country. If you give a Nigerian the latitude, freedom, space to develop at his own pace, the Igbo man will prosper. It is the difficult environment we have all found ourselves that has led the Igbo man to migrate to different parts of the world and they are doing very well.

Should the desire for Biafra be discarded, seeing how the quest is possibly estranging the Igbo from the larger Nigeria as it easily evokes violence, war, secession?

No, the quest for Biafra should not be discarded. It is the only thing that will keep Nigeria conscious of the fact that Igbo people have options. The issue of Biafra should and will always be in the front burner; it will only recede as the issues that brought about the agitation are addressed.

Take for an example, Ethiopia, a country mired in inter-ethnic war for decades. As part of efforts to end the war, they drew up a new constitution after a reconciliation of all the ethnic nationalities. And in the negotiations, Section 31 of the Ethiopian Constitution, provided an exit clause. The clause noted that if at any point in time an ethnic nationality feels it wants to exit the Republic of Ethiopia, it will apply and there will be a plebiscite. And if a majority of the people vote in favour of the exit, then the ethnic group will exit. Incidentally, since that constitution was adopted, no ethnic nationality in Ethiopia has attempted to invoke that constitutional provision. The reason is that the government of Ethiopia, at every point in time, is conscious of the fact that the ethnic nationalities have options and so there is fairness, justice in governance and there is a sense of belonging as no one wants to leave, because they are happy.

It makes us look stupid before the civilized world when we say that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable, indivisible, etc. Even marriage, the oldest human institution in the world, daily undergoes various levels of negotiations between the parties involved in order for the union to survive. We should renegotiate our coexistence in order to have a better country.

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