By Ehichioya Ezomon
The “restructuring day” appears to break in Northern Nigeria, thanks to a vocal protagonist of reordering of the prevailing system, and convener of Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi.
In a no-holds-barred interview with Vanguard, Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, calls for a return to regionalism that he says is better off for Nigeria.
He says the unitary system of government installed by the military, which abolished “true” federalism in 1966, was an aberration, and the foundation of the problems confronting Nigeria.
His words: “Let us go back to the concept of true federalism, which I believe in, but which was destroyed. The concept of true federalism, which was working for us, and should have worked for us for a long time from 1960, was disrupted in 1966.
“That moved us away from federalism to a unitary system of government under a military regime. That was the beginning of all the problems that we are having today.”
To Abdullahi, restructuring means a return to true federalism in which the federating regions will exercise such powers and obligations as did the Eastern, Midwestern, Northern and Western regions before the January 1966 military incursion into politics.
And like a long-starved dog would grab a piece of yam without realising it isn’t a piece of meat, some advocates seem in a hurry to swallow wholesale the Northern restructuring gambit.
Of course, the dominant advocates of restructuring are in Southern Nigeria, whom the Northern elite have railed against as plotting to divide the country to disadvantage the North.
On the contrary, though, Southern elite, joined by a sprinkling of Middle Belters, have advocated reordering of Nigeria’s politico-economic system as a way of solving the nation’s problems that have snowballed into overwhelming security challenges.
Southern elite have persuaded, cajoled and even blackmailed the North for a silver lining to no avail. Rather, their persistence has hardened the Northern position on restructuring of Nigeria.
Hence, the North’s reported support for restructuring, coming out of the blue, has elicited Southern advocates’ modest response of “congratulation” to the bearer of the “good news,” Prof. Abdullahi.
Former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said of the North’s about-turn: “At last, reason and patriotism is beginning to prevail. I congratulate the elder statesman (Abdullahi) for harkening to reason. We are on the brink of disaster if we do not restructure. Every patriotic Nigerian must harken to this call now.”
And to Ohanaeze’s Secretary-General, Uche Achi-Okoaga, “restructuring is long overdue,” which should be embraced by sceptics “to save Nigeria from total political disintegration.”
Yet, as exciting as the piece of news from the North, why the “sudden” change of mind from the section of the country that’s seen restructuring as against its collective interest?
Isn’t North’s gesture to Southern advocates of restructuring a red herring or a Greek gift offered in anticipation of gaining an upper hand in the 2023 general election?
The clamour for zoning of the presidency to the South has never been more intense, with each of the three Southern zones of South-East, South-South and South-West laying claim to the position.
The South-East has gone a step further with the incumbent and opposition political parties “speaking with one voice” towards getting the presidency to be zoned to the area in 2023.
Perhaps sensing, as usual, a discordant tune from the South, the North has revved up its determination to hang on to power after the expiration of President Muhamaadu Buhari’s constitutionally-mandated eight-year tenure in office in 2023.
And what a better carrot to serve the South than a promise to restructure the country – a gesture the North may’ve reckoned has more attraction for and traction in the South than the presidency!
Surely, the South will prefer a genuine and achievable restructuring on the basis of true federalism that allows the federating units to have control over their affairs, and develop at their own pace.
That means a welcome to regionalism, as canvassed by Abdullahi, that would mesh with the wishes of Southern elite, especially of the South-East and South-West, who witnessed the advantages of regionalism in the First Republic that’s cut short by the military.
Despite the elation about North’s new stand on restructuring, Southern advocates may not wholly buy into it, as Northern elite reportedly have no appetite for honouring political promises.
The pledge by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to effect true federalism, if voted into power in 2015, continues to be tied to the “body language” of President Buhari, who’s given cold shoulders to restructuring that features in the manifesto of the APC he heads.
Opposition PDP hasn’t faired better regarding restructuring, which the party, and its presidential candidate and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, made a special theme in the 2019 polls, but has literally abandoned since losing the franchise.
Remarkably though, Atiku, during the campaigns, limited his advocacy for restructuring to Southern Nigeria, perhaps in the knowledge that the subject was a hot-button in the North.
In other words, Buhari and Atiku, as Northern elite, who lead the APC and PDP, respectively, have had a muffled voice on restructuring. So, how would the Southern elite trust the Abdullahi stratagem on North’s acceptance of restructuring of Nigeria?
Is Abdullahi speaking for the North, whose elders recently censured him over his unsubstantiated claim that many people from the North were killed in the South-East during #EndSARS protests?
The Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development described Abdullahi’s statement as “false, unfortunate, insensitive, callous and meant to instigate Nigerians against one other.”
Will the same elders and elite not disown Abdullahi on his claim of Northern acceptance of restructuring “as his personal opinion” not worth the consideration of advocates of reordering Nigeria?
Thus, Ohanaeze’s Achi-Okoaga has urged opponents of restructuring to see it as not connoting “turning Nigeria inside-out,” but a shift from frivolities, analogous and straightjacket institutions, and governance structure…
“To some people, when they hear restructuring, they think it is to change the name North to Nothing or South to Something,” Achi-Okoaga said, likening Nigeria to a dilapidated structure that needs rehabilitation or reconstruction.
“When a building is dilapidated, you reinforce or strengthen it, but if the dilapidation is beyond repair, you pull it down to avert impending calamities,” he said.
“It is the case with Nigeria. It requires to be reinforced or strengthened in all ramifications – economically, politically, legally, socially, etc., and where necessary pull down completely to rebuild.
“I urge any other person, groups, or segments still sceptical… to embrace the raging and intractable wave of restructuring, in order to save Nigeria from total political disintegration,” Achi-Okoaga said.
As the “buzz” over North’s acceptance of restructuring looks to have a limited resonance in the South, Prof. Abdullahi and Northern elite should recalibrate their compass to include zoning of the presidency to the South ahead of the 2023 polls.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos
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