BEFORE long, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will move closer to each other in their understanding of and positions on the controversial issue of restructuring. In their public service careers, they did not start out from the same position on the spectrum, for the president was contemptuous of the topic, and the vice president was somewhat more accommodating. Both are now eagerly approaching the equivocatory median that pleases no one, and in no time, given their rate of progress, they will become indistinguishable. The president, long used to military ethics and the unitary system of government, puts proponents of restructuring on the back foot, and the vice president, also accustomed to legalisms by training, wrong-foots advocates of restructuring with his discourses and definitions. Judging from their harsh and censorious statements last week, when they once again waded into the debate on restructuring, both leaders have put the onus of defining the subject and convincing the populace on the advocates.
Of the two leaders, President Buhari is the more unyielding. He does not give a damn about restructuring, and has been very consistent about not touching any part of it, any whiff of it, with the longest pole available. He has derided its advocates, accused them of acting in bad faith, and described their efforts as an attempt to do the impossible or, worse, even balkanise the country. He has stuck to his guns, and in all his travels abroad he has met advocates of restructuring with utter derision. He loathes restructuring, and has remained very eloquent about his stand on the controversial and objectionable position. Prof Osinbajo on the other hand has not been quite as persuasive. That is the problem with intellectuals, especially with their on the one hand and on the other hand methods. More, as a son of the Southwest, where restructuring is de rigueur and indeed has become the intellectual and political staple, the eminent professor has squirmed over his views and laboured unconvincingly to take a position that agrees more with his vice -presidential duties to the nation than with his private and intellectual understanding of the hot topic.
Their opinions, as quoted by newspapers last week, bear these observations out. Speaking in Paris last week during his interactive session with Nigerians on the sideline of the Paris Peace Conference, President Buhari angrily damned the advocates of restructuring. He said: “There are too many people talking lazily about restructuring in Nigeria. Unfortunately, people are not asking them individually what they mean by restructuring. What form do they want restructuring to take? Do they want us to have something like the three regions we used to have? And now we have 36 states and the FCT. What form do they want? They are just talking loosely about restructuring. Let them define it and then we see how we can peacefully do it in the interest of Nigerians. They are just saying they want Nigeria restructured and they don’t have the clue of what the form the restructuring should be. So, anybody who talks to you about restructuring in Nigeria, ask him what he means and the form he wants it to take.”
Prof Osinbajo, on the other hand, was more discursive, but with some of his premises warring against his conclusions. He should have kept it simple and sparse like the president. After second-guessing the public and determining that their definition of restructuring was skewed towards mainly geographical understanding instead of strengthening of the states, the professor added: “…Going back to the old regions and creating more states would not solve our problems. One of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference is the creation of 18 more states. Can you imagine a situation where you have 18 more states?…This would entail devolution of more power to the states to enable them control more of their own administrative decisions, such as the creation of councils and community police, special courts or tribunals etc. The point I am making is that the state must have more powers and more rights…The states, as they are currently constituted, now with better educated people and with more people working, do not generate enough tax for the economy to survive. So, when we talk about restructuring, we must ask ourselves the question, what type of restructuring? Today, everybody depends on oil; every month state governments gather in Abuja to share revenue.”
It is obvious that both the president and vice president will not take any step to effectuate restructuring. They are sure that they and their party will come to no harm in this or any other election despite shunning and insulting the issue and its advocates. What is even much clearer, judging from the temper and structure of their arguments, is that sadly both leaders have little understanding of the topic, and an even lesser competence in setting out their arguments in skilful, persuasive and visionary formats. Start with the professor. He snickered at the 2014 national conference that proposed 18 additional states. Why would he conflate the 2014 conference with restructuring? There have been many other conferences in the past; why would he fail to mention them? The truth is that all the national conferences remain exactly what they were, conferences, not restructuring, with some of their ideas quite far-fetched and others sensible. But overall, regardless of any overlap, they remain distinct from the issue of restructuring.
Prof Osinbajo also spoke unflatteringly of regionalism, as if it had become both a bugaboo and a taboo. He is of course at liberty to oppose the return to regionalism, though that doesn’t make him right and its proponents wrong, but who told him that advocates who argue for regionalism insist that that is the only structure they could embrace? Like the president, it is shocking that Prof Osinbajo makes the fundamental error of assuming that restructuring advocates have taken an inflexible position on the nature of restructuring . This error is compounded by their suggestion that those proponents must first come up with a universally acceptable definition of the concept before any discussions would be entertained. This is inconsiderate. Then, thirdly, among the many errors the vice president committed in his opposition to restructuring, he bemoans the insolvency undermining governance in the states and the general view that with the exception of two or three states, the others are unviable. But is that precisely not what the advocates of restructuring are complaining about, that the country must be structured geographically, economically and politically in such a way that makes the states or regions efficient and viable? Why turn round to use unviable states harassed and repressed by a unitary constitution and unimaginative governments over the decades as litmus test for restructuring?
President Buhari has never managed to present dispassionate and engagingly analytical views on the subject. As far as he is concerned, there is nothing wrong with the present structure, not now and not in the future. However, a leader must be in denial to suggest that the current structure is sustainable and productive, and, worse, he must lack vision to argue that that structure will suffice for the future. Some parts of the country may fear that restructuring could disadvantage them, but what really ails these patriots is paranoia and a troubling lack of understanding of the fundamentals of state structures and equilibrium. The president derides the pro-restructuring group as lazy talkers bandying imprecise definitions about, loose talkers who can’t seem to find the right structure between regionalism and the current 36 states. How does an analyst begin to take on the president, seeing how alarmingly misadvised on the subject he is and will remain whether the country likes it or not. Had he developed an intellectual and deeply analytical foundation for his position, he could be taken on. But his views are merely sentiments, without foundation of any kind, and without form and direction.
The question to ask the president is what would he have done had he found himself in the position of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, in the 1920s? Would he summon the depth and courage to abolish the Ottoman Sultanate, undergird the republic with secularist principles, including abolishing Islamic institutions and emancipating women, and replace Arabic script with Latin script, among other revolutionary changes? It takes vision, and it takes a huge amount of courage. Instead of thinking about Nigeria’s future, instead of being honest in their observations of the factors predisposing Nigeria to decades of instability and ethnic and religious rivalries, instead of thinking expansively about creating a national identity which would form the fulcrum of the existence of the people, Nigerian leaders are asking a harassed and oppressed people to define what they mean by restructuring. Could both the president and his deputy, who always claim to know how the people feel in their moments of sorrow, not own the idea of restructuring and find a definition sensible and functional enough for the people to embrace?
Nigerian leaders may not want to hear it, but the fact is that their economic panaceas — they have no social and political panaceas — are both simple and simplistic. Worse, they have no understanding of the position of Nigeria in the world, at the centre of the black people of the world, and as potential liberators and innovators of the continent. That is why they have elevated simple solutions to arcana, and spoken contemptuously of the yearnings of the people who call on their leaders to, for once, rise to a higher level of statesmanship. There will be no definitions of restructuring from the people, and there will be no expatiation on what system of government the people want. If Nigerian leaders cannot see into the future nor perceive the revolutionary changes needed to stabilise the country and unleash the people’s energies and creative potentials, then let them continue to ossify in their conservative and reactionary politics. The problem with the call for restructuring is that having read copiously about great empires and great statesmen, and having been inspired by these statesmen from the Babylonian Empire right down to the last century, Nigerians are numbed by their leaders’ inability to read very widely or be inspired by any person or idea. With no one to bridge the chasm, it is not surprising that the country is wobbling and Nigerian leaders do not even perceive it.