RESTRUCTURING: Can it resolve Nigeria’s Social, Economic and Political Problems?
RESTRUCTURING: Can it resolve Nigeria’s Social, Economic and Political Problems?
By Kola Ibrahim
No doubts Nigeria is in a deep crisis and many different recipes are being put forward to get out of it, one of the most frequently heard is “restructuring”. Now restructuring means different things to different people based on interests. However, there are some common terms that seem to unite various advocates of restructuring. Restructuring have some common features such as resource control, devolution of more power to states, state police, regional government and creation of more states. The question is: can restructuring on the basis of these terms resolve Nigeria’s social, economic and political problems?
In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, the issue of restructuring again became a theme of the election. The bourgeois opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, became champions of restructuring of the country. In fact, some of the middle class supporters of Atiku backed up their support with the fact that Atiku promised to restructure Nigeria. Thus, restructuring became a selling point of the PDP in the last elections. Indeed, coteries of ethnic jingoists masquerading as champions of various ethnic groups or good governance used Atiku’s clamour for restructuring as excuse for throwing their feather-weight behind him.
The federal ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), feeling left behind by restructuring mantra made spasmodic responses, which at best remained uncoordinated and unconvincing. In the first instance, President Muhammadu Buhari, the symbol of APC ideals openly rejected, contrary to the party’s programmes, any call for restructuring or serious reform of the governance structures of the country. As far as he is concerned, the problem is not with the structures but how they are utilized. As alternative, he believed that tackling corruption is more important. In fact, he dismissed with a wave of hand the so-called Report of the undemocratically convened national conference organized by former president, Goodluck Jonathan in 2014; which the restructuring advocates see as their faith book. In fact, Buhari rightly referred to the national conference as waste of public fund; rightly because the conference had no mandate of Nigerians, and was more or less a political jamboree of the Jonathan administration to curry political favour of various sections of the Nigerian society. Yet, over N10 billion of public funds were wasted on this, with advocates of restructuring and prudent management of nation’s resources themselves pocketing millions of naira as allowances. Interestingly, not one of the recommendations of the report was implemented by the Jonathan government. This however does not mean that the Buhari government had not equally wasted several billions on political jamborees and media whitewashing.
However, when the clamour of restructuring became a political score point against the APC, with people citing Buhari’s comments as a sign of the party’s duplicitous abandonment of its campaign promises, the party hurriedly set up a committee on restructuring headed by one of the anti-restructuring figures, Nasir el-Rufai, the Kaduna State governor. Obviously, the step is mere face saving for the party. However, few weeks to the elections, the vice president, in an attempt to reconcile the party’s promise on restructuring with Buhari’s opposition to it, tried to underplay the issues pertaining to restructuring of the country’s governance structures, rather emphasizing on ‘delivering good governance’ to the people.
Obviously, from available facts, it is clear that both the APC and PDP, and coteries of their supporters are only using restructuring as a political slogan when it is convenient for them. For instance, the PDP, in its 16 years in power, was openly opposed to any serious talk about restructuring. In fact, the governments formed by the party made continuous efforts to concentrate more power to the federal government. It took serious battle, mostly legal, before 13% derivative was conceded to the oil producing states. Also, the federal government under PDP-controlled Obasanjo government played the big brother role on state and local governments, with the withholding of Lagos State local government allocations for several months and illegal creation of excess crude account being some of the actions of the PDP governments. Of course, the PDP governments under Obasanjo and Jonathan set up national conferences in 2005 and 2014 to ‘address’ issues on national restructuring. However, these conferences, aside lacking legitimacy in terms of democratic representation and participation, became talk shops and mere drain on public treasury.
More importantly, these national conferences were aimed at furthering the political nests and interests of the government in power. For instance, the same Obasanjo, who was vehemently opposed to restructuring set up the national confab, firstly to silence the opposition parties, especially the south-west based Action Congress (AC, which later transmuted to ACN, and was a cardinal member of four-party coalition that formed APC), and to further Obasanjo’s agenda for a third term in power. The constitutional amendments engineered by the confab were majorly aimed at securing a third term for Obasanjo. Also, the national conference organized by Jonathan government in 2014 had as one of its agenda a 6-year single term that could have assured Jonathan of additional six year tenure.
Furthermore, both efforts, and indeed, several other efforts since the colonial and military eras, at restructuring or discussing issues of restructuring through national conferences and constitutional amendments have been undemocratic and elite-oriented. Majority of Nigerians are not allowed to elect democratically their representatives into such processes, while the outcome of those processes only ended up having an autocratic approval.
The national confabs and constitutional amendment processes have as central aim the preservation of the interests of the ruling class, whether under the colonial rulers, military regimes or current civilian regimes. The current Constitution was written by General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s military administration, there was no democratic element in the drafting or approval of this document. The calls during the years of military rule for a democratically elected “Sovereign National Conference” to decide upon how Nigeria would function were ignored. Virtually all the constitutional or national conferences have ‘no go’ (untouchable) areas. Yet, the ‘no go’ areas are the fundamental areas that need discussion and review, as they border on the basis of existence of Nigeria as a nation, and the manner of its sustenance economically, socially and politically. But none of the sections of the capitalist ruling class want to go this length.
Ironically, politicians switch positions when it is convenient for them. For instance, Atiku Abubakar was Nigeria’s vice president under an Obasanjo government that was opposed to restructuring. In fact, Atiku oversaw the sale of national patrimony to government cronies, thus concentrating public resources and wealth in the hands of the few. At this point, the likes of Bola Tinubu and Osinbajo, alongside many governors and politicians of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and later AC and ACN, were the champions of restructuring, calling for devolution of economic resources to state governments, while some were even calling for regional governments. Also, many state governors from the south-south, in agitation for increase allocation from federal purse, supported restructuring and devolution of power to state, alongside resource control.
In fact, the first legal clash between federal and state government was over the control of royalty from oil resources in the offshore; otherwise dubbed ‘onshore-offshore dichotomy’. Interestingly, the then federal minister of justice, late Bola Ige, who joined the Obasanjo/PDP government from AD, defended federal government’s interest against the south-south state governments, who were demanding increased control over oil wealth. Bola Ige as a leader of AD and Afenifere (the Yoruba socio-political group controlling AD then), was an advocate of resource control and devolution of power and resources to states (key issues in the restructuring debate). As said earlier, Osinbajo, as Lagos State Attorney General under Bola Tinubu government defended the state against Obasanjo government’s encroachment on local government fund in Lagos.
Today, the politicians have switched sides. The same politicians who were shouting restructuring to high heavens years back, and even included it in their party’s manifesto, had to abandon same, now that they are in control of the instrument of wealth distribution i.e. federal power. Also, politicians of yesteryears, the Atikus of this world, who were at best comfortable with the existing structures, have now become advocates of restructuring because they needed to hold on to a catch phrase, having lost power. All this shows the duplicitous character of Nigeria’s bourgeois political class, and their sameness. They only switch camp based on how their pecuniary interests of access to power and wealth are guaranteed.
For socialists, as much as we agree that the political and economic structures of the country is fundamentally flawed given the colonial heritage of the country, and the neo-colonial backward capitalist orientation of the Nigeria’s political class. Nigeria’s economy, flowing from its colonial foundation, is premised on primitive accumulation, mostly through control of political power at various levels. Nigerian politicians therefore manipulate political and social structure of the country, even if means destroying any faÃ§ade of democratic ethics, in order to retain and maintain power.
However, the problem of restructuring is more of revolutionary system change than mere reform of structure or devolution of power or resource control. Indeed, inasmuch as the current set of backward capitalist political class and the capitalist system they operate continue to hold sway, there cannot be any serious change to the lives of the common people let alone a serious development of the country. For instance, if states are allocated more resources, it will not mean better lives for the people or improvement of social and economic structures, as long as the same set of capitalist political class is in power to implement neo-liberal capitalist policies. Lagos State for more than a decade has earned more money internally than many states combined, yet the state, aside being the most indebted state in the country, has one of the worst social and physical infrastructures and services. Oil wealth that has accrued to oil producing states in the Niger delta through federal allocations and thirteen-percent derivative, has not translated into serious improvement in living conditions of the people of the region, yet sudden billionaires have emerged from the region, albeit through state patronage. Even, the little resources that have accrued to other states have been looted and mismanaged. The litany of corruption cases against many state governments is a testament to the fact that mere handing over more resources to states without fundamental social and political change will amount to naught. In fact, it has the tendency of worsening the current underdevelopment and misery across the country, as the problems facing the country becomes atomized, while state governors become mini-dictators and corrupt big-men.
Also, giving more power to states for control of police or regionalizing governance will not resolve any of the basic problems facing the country. Currently, many state governments, even without state police have become terrors over their people. The creation of para-military security structures have meant serial attacks on ordinary people. Through empowered tax collectors, many people have been sent to jailed or maimed by agents of the states. In virtually all the states, democratic local government structures have been crippled, with elections into local governments becoming mere jamboree to maintain the control of the state over local governments. Furthermore, many politicians, including government officials use ethnic and base sentiment to hold on to power at all cost. How will regional government solve the problem of underdevelopment now, when it could not solve it in the early post-independence era, when there was even a limited commitment by politicians to some developmental programmes?
Behind the terrible mismanagement of nation’s resources and the inability of the nation’s resources to engender genuine development is the neo-colonial and neo-liberal capitalist agenda of politicians through enforcement of capitalist policies of privatization, commercialization, trade liberalization, devaluation, etc. All of these have led to the nation’s wealth and resources that should have been used to develop the country being handed over a tiny clique of rich few in the corridors of power and big businesses. It is this arrangement that has also led to crooked federalism and democracy, in which people are made mere spectators or cheering crowd every four years, in their affairs.
Therefore, the only way to move Nigeria forward and genuinely restructure it is by revolutionary socialist change that will see the economic mainstay and resources of the country being controlled and managed by the working people themselves, through genuine democracy where working people, youth and the poor will have full right to decide any major political and economic decision of the state from grassroots to the national level. This kind of arrangement cannot be freely given by either the APC or PDP, or any of their junior partners but by working people and youth organized in their mass organisations to demand end to capitalist rule and the phony democracy being practiced.