Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Insistent Call For Restructuring

SINCE 1993, when a sustained wave of national discontent, arising from the annulment of the June 12 Presidential elections rocked the country, there have been repeated calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity.  But the advent of a democratic dispensation in 1999 blunted those calls. It was not the case that the proponents of an all-encompassing dialogue that would chart a way forward for Nigeria and its disparate ethnic nationalities had abandoned their cause. Rather, the dominant analysis in 1999 was that a democratic dispensation would find some incremental ways of dealing with the most pressing national challenges staring the country in the face.
However, after more than a decade of operating democratic structures, Nigeria’s challenges appear to have multiplied. Deep down, inter group relations appear to have reached an all time low, as the Boko Haram sect, which has made the routine spilling of Nigerian blood its raison d’ĂȘtre, takes its unending campaign of terror further. It is against this background of a nation in the throes of disintegration that the clamour for a national dialogue has resumed with fervour. Interestingly too, what used to be seen as an exclusive agitation of the south, with only a few “progressive” northerners supporting has now been taken up by the very elite of the North. Below are some of groupings have made the case for a national dialogue in recent times.

National Summit Group
On February 10, opinion leaders from the six geo-political zones gathered in Lagos to make a case for the urgent need to restructure Nigeria. Those gathered were of the view that there was need for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference to properly restructure the nation. Meeting at the banquet hall of Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Lagos, venue of the two day summit, the summit leaders pointed at the Boko Haram insurgency, poverty, fiscal federalism, unemployment as some of the reasons why action must be taken quickly to rescue Nigeria from the brink. Those who attended the summit include;
Prof Ben Nwabueze, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr Fredrick Fasehun; Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Edwin Clark, Mr Shehu Sani, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chef Olu Falae, Sen Felix Ibru, Alabo Graham Douglas, Am Grace Eke, Prof Saliba Mukoro, Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Yakubu Alkali, Obong Victor Attah, Ms Ankio Briggs, Mr Femi Falana, Oba Adeyemi Adedapo, Mr Mike Ozeokomhe, Chief Missioner of Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh Abdulraham Ahmad and Prof Akin Oyebode.
Others are Alhaji Yerima Shetima, Maxi Okwu, Ralph Obioha, Prof Kimse Okoko, Sen Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, John Nnia Nwodo, Naseer Kura, Sen Ben Birabi, Chike Ogeah, Kenny Okulugbo, Prof Ishaq Akintola, Mahmud Othman, Prof Bolanle Awe, Mrs Ganiyat Fawehinmi, Saint Oi and Adewale Balogun among others. Some of the resolutions of the conference include;
? That the dialogue should be continued and held in all six geopolitical zones of Nigeria dovetailing into a major national summit at the Federal Capital Territory Abuja in ensuring a total mobilization of all Nigerians and state institutions, including the legislature within the shortest possible time.
? That the National Summit Group should ensure wider attendance at future dialogues and was commended for its efforts so far.
? That the ultimate goal of the dialogue should be the convocation of a peoples’ national conference of the constituent units of the country that will give birth to a truly peoples Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
? That a steering committee whose membership would be continuously reviewed as more Nigerians come onboard be established, to ensure that no interest is excluded.

On February 23, Northern leaders, under the aegis of Coalition of Concerned Northerners, called for the restructuring of Nigeria. A meeting held in Asokoro, Abuja by prominent northern politicians, academics, and professionals resolved to support the calls for restructuring of the country in the hope that the lopsidedness in the structure of the nation’s “politics and economy will be a key agenda issue.”
The meeting had in attendance governors of Niger and Jigawa States, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu and Alhaji Sule Lamido as well as other northern leaders, like Dr. Junaidu Muhammad, convener of the meeting; former Senate President, Dr. Iyochia Ayu; Dr. John Wash-Pam, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Dr. Shettima Mustapha, Alhaji Adamu Maina Waziri, Mallam Lawal Batagarawa and Professor Nur Alkali. Also in attendance were publishers, journalists, council chairmen and businessmen from the North.
A statement signed by Dr. Junaidu, said that the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) would liaise with other stakeholders in the North, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Union, Jama’ atul Nasril Islam (JNI), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), women, youth, student bodies and other groups to tackle identified threat to the region.
The northern leaders also expressed concerns about the deteriorating security situation in their region, in the light of incessant wave of attacks by the Boko Haram sect. The meeting also noted threat posed by the resurgent activities of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and the Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra. (MASSOB). The meeting also reflected on the elements that bond northerners together and expressed sadness that the basis of unity of the region has come under serious assault.
As if on cue, the Northern leaders meeting came immediately after Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger state, who also doubles as chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) made a declaration at the inauguration of the Advisory Council of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation that northern states are in need of more revenue from the Federation Account. Aliyu was of the view that the current revenue allocation formula is unfavourable to the North.
The meeting was said to have also received “the shocking details” of the several excesses of the JTF (Joint Task Force) which those in attendance reckoned, amounted to no less than gross human rights abuses. The meeting expressed the view that the threat posed by Boko Haram insurgency could best be attended to without the attendant attacks on individual rights and on businesses.
“The meeting resolved to support the calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian Federation in the hope that the lopsidedness in the structure of the nation’s politics and economy will be a key agenda issue.
“It then called on the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) to liaise with other stakeholders in the North, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern (NU), Jama’atul Nasirl Islam (JNI), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Women, Youth and Student Bodies and other groups to join hands together to tackle the identified threats confronting the region.”
While speaking at the inauguration of the Advisory Board of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, Governor Babangida Aliyu insisted that the time was ripe for the North to demand a reversal of the lopsided revenue allocation formula, which ensures that some states are doing well while others are wallowing in poverty.
He said: “The North today is in very grave situation where illiteracy, poverty and general backwardness are on the rise in the face of unfavourable federation allocation structure in which the northern states are at a great disadvantage.”
The governor further justified the alleged lopsided revenue allocation by citing the situation in his home state. In Niger State, for instance, we receive N4.2 billion to N4.5 billion monthly and spend over N2.1 billion on wages and salaries, leaving behind a balance of N2 billion to be spent on a population of 4.1 million people, including other exigencies of state like social services, hospital and road construction.
“This is unlike the situation where some states collect 20 times more than what we collect with a small population. According to the constitution, the federation allocation formula is expected to be reviewed in every five or ten years and we are expecting that there would be a review of the federation allocation formula within this year 2012. We are expecting a review.”

Not left out of the strident clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria were the governors of the southwest, the region which had been the original base for the agitation. The Governors of the States in the Old Western Region met on February 2nd, 2012 at the Government House, Oke Igbein, Abeokuta. The meeting, which deliberated on national issues and those of common interest to the Governments and people of their respective states, was a follow up to a similar meeting held in July, 2011 in Ekiti State. Some of the issues deliberated on are health, education, agriculture and food security, rural development, transportation and social housing.
In attendance were: Senator Ibikunle Amosun FCA, Governor of Ogun, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Governor of Lagos, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Governor of Oyo, Alhaji Alli Olanusi, Deputy Governor of Ondo and Barrister Pius Odubu Deputy Governor of Edo.
Among others, the meeting resolved that
? That a full-fledged secretariat be established for effective coordination of the goal to fully integrate the states in the Old Western Region
? The proposed secretariat would, when established, immediately develop a Blueprint and Work Plan or integration of the region and build on the work of the Technical Committee for integration
? The Federal Government is holding to too many responsibilities and power that are supposed to be within the purview of the federating states. The Governors considered it expedient to review the existing arrangement and devolve more power to the states.
? The Governors further deplored the imbalance in resource allocation to states that make up the old Western Region given their contributions to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Governors reaffirmed their determination to ensure that justice is done on the revenue allocation framework in the country.
? The meeting expressed deep concerns about the deplorable condition of Lagos – Ibadan and Sagamu – Benin Expressways. The Governors resolved to explore the possibility of taking over the reconstruction and management of the roads. They also considered and agreed on the need to create alternative road and rail lines from Lagos to Asaba.
? The Governors noted the national impact of the gridlock daily witnessed on the roads – job losses, insecurity, economic wastage – and considered them inimical to the socio-economic development of the nation in general and the affected states in particular
? The meeting, therefore, demanded an immediate review of the existing concession agreement on the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway. The position of the road as the artery linking Lagos to other parts of the country makes the review imperative.
? The meeting resolved that states must play a more active role in protecting lives and property of the citizenry beyond mere provision of equipment and logistics to the security agencies
? The Governors resolved to continue to protect all residents and visitors within their jurisdictions
? The management of the distribution assets is what is militating against efficient power supply. The meeting therefore noted that it has become necessary to take ownership of the distribution assets in order to facilitate required partnerships for effective power supply
? Whilst the governors are mindful of the fact that they are popularly elected representatives of the people, the precarious situation in the country requires convening of a broad based Stakeholders Forum consisting of legislators at national and state levels as well as other revered elders and leaders in Ibadan in the shortest possible time.

Author of this article: By Armsfree Onomo Ajanaku, The Guardian.

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