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Why there is persistent, acrimonious demand for restructuring

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By Adele Jinadu

What is restructuring, and why is there a persistent and acrimonious demand for it in Nigeria today? Stated simply, restructuring, which has gained progressively powerful currency in the country since 1999, is a demand for constitutional or political reform to bring about changes in the country’s federal system the better for it to serve as a mechanism for democratically managing the country’s ethnic diversity. But to state what restructuring means so simply is to raise more fundamental questions about it: “restructuring for what, and for whom?” The question, thus, goes into the heart of the country’s historically long-simmering problem of the nation-building and state-building processes in the country’s begun long before independence in 1960.
Put differently, restructuring, in the context of the country’s current political conjunctures, has reopened the old debate about the inadequacies of the federal solution as an ethno-federal solution in the critical 25-year period that led to the country’s independence in 1960.
For restructuring has now brought out more poignantly than ever before, inadequacies in ethno-federalism as a solution to the country’s citizenship question. This is so, whether it is formulated as a demand for a) true federalism; b) fiscal federalism; c) creation of more state; d) parity in the number of states between the Northern and Southern geopolitical zones and between and among majority and minority ethnic groups in the country; e) devolution of power from the federal to the unit level, which is in fact wrongly phrased, since power is not devolved but de-concentrated in a federal system, through the recalibration of the legislative lists, on the basis of subsidiarity, to give fewer power to the federal level and more to the unit level of government in the federation, by reducing the number of items on the exclusive and concurrent list, which is in reality a federal exclusive list, by transferring items, by implication, to a residuary list, which is in effect an un-enumerated exclusive unit level list; g) return to regionalism; h) local government autonomy, making it a third level or tier of government; i) return to parliamentarianism and unicameralism; j) state police; and k) confederation, which is a code word for the dissolution of the federation.
Ethno-regionalism was the outcome of a negotiated consensus among the mainstream leadership of the country’s inheritance political elite, superintended and brokered by Great Britain in the critical period between 1945 and 1960. It has had two important lasting, among other, consequences: It laid the foundations for a) the transformation of regionalism into ethno-regionalism as a halfway station towards fully-fledged ethno-federalism in the country in 1960; doing so, b) the emergence of ethno-regional as opposed to national political parties. The mistake of the 25-year period was that it gave a half-hearted and inadequate answer to the citizenship question, “To whom does the state belong” at the central administration/federal and regional/unit levels of government posed by the country’s intertwined nation-building and state-building processes in an ethnically divided society, with the imminent dismantling of colonial rule in the country.
Restructuring is now a modern-day reformulation of this citizenship question and it indicates a weakening or break-down in the fragile elite consensus that has sustained the Nigerian federation since independence. Therefore, to provide a context for the demand, it is important to beam the searchlight on the social forces and processes that brought about the negotiated ethno-federal consensus. During the critical 15-year period during which the consensus was negotiated and compacted, particularly after the introduction of the Richards Constitution in 1947, three salient features that have continued to define, frame, and structure the contours of democracy and federalism in the country took shape: a) the development of ethnic-based political parties, as clones of ethnic associations; and, as a consequence, the political mobilization of ethnicity by the country’s emergent political the parties; b) the definition and conversion of regionalism, from administrative regionalism to political regionalism or political devolution under the Richards Constitution, 1947; and c) the transformation of political regionalism into ethno-regionalism, leading gradually into ethno-federalism, through constitutional reform under the country’s 1951, 1954 and 1960 Independence Constitutions.
It is instructive, therefore, to situate the current demand for restructuring within the material and historical context of the development of federalism and competitive electoral politics in the country. Beaming the searchlight on the context will shed a penumbra of light to illuminate critical but typically neglected defining moments and important “missed opportunities” in Nigeria’s constitutional and political history that aggravated the governance problems that restructuring is now formulated as the answer. It will suggest that restructuring in its current reformulation, as demand for constitutional and political reform, misdiagnoses the governance problems for which it is proposed as a solution. My argument is that the problems are historically deep-rooted and are primarily not only ones of constitutional reform or review, important as constitutional reform is. They are inherent in the country’s political economy, the material and mainstream political culture that provides the environment within which competitive party and electoral politics and federalism intersect in a symbiotic but problematic manner. In fact, it is not farfetched to speculate that the current demand for restructuring in some of its forms reflects deep cracks in the elite consensus caused by disgruntled ethnic fractions of the country’s political leadership, who have lost out in the power struggle at the federal level and are seeking more favourable reentry doors into the recesses of federal power.
The self-seeking demand of these fractions of the leadership for restructuring has, however, acquired a wider audience and a larger field of supporters, rising to a high crescendo. It is given force and legitimacy by bad and anti-people governance, reinforced by unconscionable impunity that desecrates the constitutional guardrails of ethno-federalism and democracy, and rising insecurity at both the federal and state levels. As a result, the demand has assumed the status of a self-fulfilling prophecy and is now canvassed as, perhaps, the only cure-all prescription and solution for the country’s rapidly deepening political and socio-economic crisis of democracy and development.
The more immediate context for the contemporary demand for restructuring is the euphoria over the return to democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999 that was progressively and seriously diminished, giving way to a deep sense of despair about the “unfulfilled possibilities” of democracy and federalism in the country. The despair reached such a low point that significant fractions of the country’s political leadership began to consider whether the exit option was not an appropriate one because of the perception among some ethnic groups of the trend towards the inequitable distribution of the price of ethno-federalism among the country’s ethnic groups.
The demand for restructuring has another context: the country’s long and seemingly intractable f flawed history of democratic political succession at the federal level, and with it the problem of accountability and legitimacy continues to raise. The politics of federal political succession is the silent but powerful unseen hand directing recent demands for restructuring, as indeed it was for earlier demands for constitutional reform after the country’s 1964-1965 electoral crisis. The reform, coming in 1979 under the 1979 Constitution, 13 years after the crisis, included entrenched consociational provisions, such as the federal character clauses for power-sharing and the spread requirement for the election of the country’s president and state governors. It also included party reform in 1979 and later in 1989 proscribing ethnic-based political parties.
The provisions were designed to mute or circumvent the strong and persistent mutual fear of domination among the country’s ethnic groups.
The failure of the power-sharing clauses and the proscription of ethnic-based political parties to douse the mutual fear of domination is revealing. It shows, to some extent, the limits of reform, although it matters, and can make a difference. What it shows also is that constitutional reform is not the only problem or solution; and that beyond and in addition to it, searchlight should also be beamed on material and cultural processes, such as the country’s political economy and party system, and the social forces driving and contending over public policy institutional processes that equally pose serious problems for democracy and ethno-federalism. In this respect, for instance, what advocates of an idyllic or mythical true federalism or the recalibration of the legislative list or a return to parliamentarianism as panacea fail to consider are the huge imperfections in the country’s 1947, 1951, 1954, 1960, and 1963 constitutions, notably the unresolved minority question and the role of the party system in aggravating rather than rising above, the mutual fear of domination among the leadership of the country’s ethnic groups, sowing distrust among them, and diminishing the prospects for building up the social capital, so vital for turning the country’s nation-building into a state-formation process. It was the imbalances and injustices of the regionalist and later the federal solution between 1947 and 1963 and the constitutional and violent constitutional crisis and violent political electoral conflict the federalization of the ethno-regionalized party system exacerbated between 1951 and 1965, that ultimately unraveled the First Republic.
It is important to emphasize this point, to counter the disingenuously unhistorical claim about “true” federalism that once existed in Nigeria but which is now passé, and to which, including parliamentarism, the country should now return. The reality, the historical fact does not bear out the rhetoric of true federalism, or unproblematic parliamentarism either under the 1960 or the 1963 constitution. Then, as of now, the imbalances and injustices triggered threats of secession either as strategic bargaining and blackmail ploys or an exit option. What is disturbing about some formulations of the current rhetoric of restructuring, couched in hate speech is their unseemly and strident adversarial tone. It blurs the realities that give the restructuring demand some of its potency, casting “us” and “them” as enemies, emphasizing what divides exclusively into ethnic terms, while ignoring ties of solidarity that bind across multiple identities, and on which the federal ideology of “unity in diversity” of the Nigerian state should be firmly anchored. Thus, the nationality question is diverted from what it should be: a human development and human security question, as articulated under Chapter of the Constitution of Nigeria.
This leads me to another argument, framed around the following. The country must not unwarily fall victim to the fetishism or magic of legal-constitutional design or restructuring. Rather, it must begin to embrace the broader Aristotelian view of the constitution as a moral constitution, not simply or a strictly legal document. This Aristotelian concept of the constitution was endorsed by Nigeria’s 1976 Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) when it observed in its report that the failure of earlier constitutions in the country was because they muted or disregarded this moral notion of the constitution, what Rousseau, following Aristotle postulated as the Spirit of the Law: “Such is the preoccupation with power and its material benefits that political ideas about how society can be organized and ruled to the best advantage of all hardly enter into the calculation. Perhaps, the constitution is in part to blame for this. Our 1963 Constitution like its predecessors spoke only in terms of power and of rights but never of duties…A constitution should never be simply a code of legally enforceable rules and regulations. It is a charter of government” for cultivating and nurturing a democratic culture, which binds and restraints all, and which is anchored as much on the spirit as on the letter of the law. This is the message of the epigraph, quoted from Ladipo Adamolekun and John Kincaid, at the beginning of this Lecture in their observation that previous debate on federalism in Nigeria had characteristically “focused not so much on the virtues of federalism versus unitarism but on the form and character of federalism.”
Adele Jinadu, Senior Fellow Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria delivered this lecture at the Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan College of Arts & Social Sciences, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Nigeria on Wednesday, June 16, 2021,

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