Why The North Is Scared Of Restructuring
That the President Mohammadu Buhari is against true fiscal Federalism and a Restructuring of the country is no longer news. That he intends to consign the National Confab Report on the issue to the garbage bin where he strongly believes it belongs to did not come as a surprise to any discerning Nigerian who is familiar with the thinking and aspirations of the North.
That most of the Northern political elite except Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice-president are solidly behind the President on this issue was not unexpected. What is surprising however, is the conspiracy of silence by our so called Southern leaders in the APC, notable of which are Mr Oyegun , the APC chairman, Bola Tinubu, whom it would appear from all indications have been used but now sidelined and cast aside as irrelevant on issues of national governance . Not to mention our former President Olusegun Obansanjo who is notorious for always wanting to contribute his piece on every national issue except this one.
About two weeks ago, the Arewa Consultative Forum, a Northern socio-political group that professes to speak for the interest of the true North (excluding the Middle -Belt) came out against the issue of restructuring without giving reasons for their opposition to the idea.
Then there was Senator Wakili from Bauchi state who during a recent interview predicted a doomsday for the country should restructuring occur while at the same time acknowledging the fact that he was yet to read the Confab report and does not know what the proposed restructuring entails other than it would reduce power at the center. How can we forget Tanko Yakassi, another notable second republic politician who gave an unsolicited advice to the Igbos to be beware of the Yoruba’s on this issue since according to him, they, the Yoruba’s will abandon them again as they purportedly did during the Nigerian civil War. Here again we see the old established practice of “divide and rule” that has worked very well for the North and which has enabled them hold on to power for 47 years. Will it work again this time on this issue of restructuring? Who knows, not when some of the Yoruba elite, represented by Anifere , the Yoruba socio-cultural Organization and the Igbo’s are in agreement in favor of the implementation of the confab report. We just have to watch and see.
With all these cacophony of opinions from the Northern political elites rejecting restructuring, the question then arises. What is the North scared of and why are they not telling us their real reasons for opposing fiscal restructuring.? The truth is that, their real reason for objecting if revealed, bothers on selfishness and self -preservation. What is most intriguing about this stance by the North is the fact that right from the early years of Nigeria’s independence the North had always been in favor of true federalism.
The late Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello was so adamant on the issue of federalism with regional control of its material and human resources that on one occasion during an interview with a foreign journalist said, “his goal of a Northernization policy was to eliminate all Igbo’s in its civil service and that where there were no qualified Northerner, give the job to a foreign expatriate”. It is in the spirit of this preference for federalism by that erstwhile Northern politician that Pastor Bakare admonished the President and today’s northern elders ,”not to remove the ancient landmark which their fathers had set”.
He also stated that these Northern elites opposed to federalism have conveniently forgotten that during the Constitutional Conferences that preceded independence the North represented by Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa had argued and insisted that Federalism and regional autonomy were the only condition under which they would exist within a Nigerian nation. The truth is that at the time, the north was reluctant to share with the rest of the country the proceeds from their Groundnut Pyramids, hence their preference for regional control of their resources while remaining in a federalist structure. The Yoruba’s in the South west who had always been in favor of true federalism as strongly advocated by Chief Awolowo had similar notions of regional control of their Cocoa. It was only the Igbo’s in the East whose Palm Oil exports did not generate that much revenue compared to the two other regions who did not openly show or indicate any particular preference .
In view of these past historical precedents, to now hear our Northern Elders reject true fiscal Federalism and restructuring of our polity constitutes a total reversal and a betrayal of the spirit of that National Confab to which they contributed and assented to. Again, why they reversal ? For years now after the disappearance of the Groundnut pyramids, the North has thrived, survived and sustained itself from the oil revenue from the south, just like every other region of the country. With their groundnut pyramids gone, their educational infrastructure and standards lacking in comparison to other regions, so much so that they need some form of educational affirmative action to ensure that their students gain admission into unity schools, their poverty rate below the national average of 54% according to a recent United Nations report, their millions of uneducated or poolyr educated youths roaming the streets constituting easy tools for religious violence, the thousands of starving, malnourished displaced persons in the North East, the poor receipts from Internally Generated revenue, IGR efforts, etc etc, it is no surprise that they are opposed to any restructuring that will deny them their financial life line.
So having realized what they are bound to lose in the event of a fiscal restructuring of the country, the North has come to the conclusion that true fiscal restructuring will not be in their favor, hence they now oppose the idea. It is now easy to see the reasons for the mad rush and intensified effort to find oil in the Lake Chad basin. The fact is that, in my opinion the entire opposition to Federalism stance has to do chiefly with what they perceive as their inability to survive on their own without or reduced Federal handouts. They are also aware of these facts, namely that they have over the years failed woefully in developing their human and material resources, improve revenue generated internally due to a non-existent tax base except for the much they can get from Igbo traders and other business establishments, the absence of well- functioning institutions and the expertise to run them etc.
Now, what are the benefits of true Fiscal Federalism? First and foremost, it is the locus of governance and power shifts to the states, thereby reducing the powers of the federal Government With states controlling a portion of the proceeds from their natural resources , there will be less need for state Governor’s to go cap in hand to the federal Government asking for money. The consequence is that any state that is not able to generate enough funds internally will be in trouble, because there will not be a lot of oil money available to share. That means, every state will have to develop at its own pace and be fully accountable to its citizens. The scramble for federal appointments will lose its allure as well as the political maneuvering for the Presidency with its enormous powers and appeal reduced. State Governors will be held more accountable by their citizens since most of the state’s money or a sizeable portion of it will be generated internally.
It is quite unfortunate that despite all the avowed advantages of a fiscal restructuring of the country, the President has refused to implement it for sectional reasons rather than the general good of the country. For a President and Party who promised to implement the Confab report during the Presidential campaign to now do an about face on the issue is an indication of an inherent lack of dignity and grace in keeping ones promise. Behaviors like this is what breeds cynicism and loss of faith in a leader amongst the citizenry.
The President must be made to realize that at the end of his term, Nigerians will judge him mainly on the strength of his character, the grandness of his ideas, the decency of his values, his ability to keep his promises and ultimately his actions. He must also be made to realize that the straw that broke the Carmel’s back is not what caused the injury, rather it is the cumulative weight of more straw that did the damage. Nigerians need their leaders to be men and women of their words and keep their promises. They want leaders with a vision that they care about. A vision of hope, inclusiveness, fairness, peace and economic prosperity.
Despite the high hopes Nigerians had for this administration, a majority of them have been let down by the change mantra they were promised. In view of the dire economic situation in the country, the failed promises and the like, it has become very evident that the APC and this administration is akin to a Wolf who goes to the farm house and said to the Sheep, “Come, let me lead you to green pastures”, whereas the promised pasture to be led to is barren and devoid of water.
At the rate the country is going, Nigeria won’t just be unable to win the future let alone reach the finish line. By refusing to implement the Confab report to restructure, this administration deludes itself by believing they know it all, regarding what’s best for the country.
Their contention and insistence that restructuring will not solve Nigeria’s myriad problems which includes the scourge of ethnic hatred, disunity and the many demands for self-rule is both myopic and retrogressive. But like James Holmes, a prominent American writer wrote in his book titled, “Nonsense”, “Our aversion to ambiguity often hinder our ability to make the best decisions and that sometimes, the illusion of knowing is more dangerous than not knowing at all”. This is an administration that is hardly bothered by out-of-context claims or incomplete information by Lai Mohammed and a host of other government functionaries. It seldom suffers self- doubt, hence dodgy claims have become their hallmark. The result is that the wishes and aspirations of the people take a back seat and most often sacrificed on the altar of sectional and religious interest.
With the President and the 10 Northern Governors suddenly talking about hastening the search and exploitation of Oil in the Lake Chad basin, the North is not being sincere when they say they are against Fiscal restructuring of the country. The truth is that, they have always and still desire true federalism, regional autonomy and control of their resources, it’s just that they are not ready. Just as they were against Nigeria’s independence in the past for the same reason that they were not ready for it at the time.
Then it was because they did not have the manpower, educated workforce, reliable institutions etc to compete with the Igbo’s and the Yoruba’s. Today it is because they do not have the resources to survive on their own and develop at the same pace with other groups. They are simply stalling for time. They already have a refinery to process their oil if and when they do find one, a federal capital in Abuja, good roads, Federal military installations etc all financed by oil revenues from the south. Basic infrastructures they need for a new nation. What they do not have are the human and material resources.
They may be quick to remind you that many nations have survived without oil but what they fail to point out is that such countries have a huge manufacturing base, industrial complexes, excellent educational institutions etc to enable them survive. The North lacks the manpower, human resources and a highly educated citizenry to manage their affairs. This is a region whose citizens even lack basic technical and artisan skills such as mechanics, carpenters, computer technicians and repairmen etc and have had to rely on outsiders for such labor and skills. Anyone who thinks any form of federalism or restructuring will take place under this administration is living in a fools paradise and in denial. It will not happen for the simple fact that “THE NORTH IS NOT READY YET”. The reality is that we will have to wait
Nnanna Ijomah Bsc, BSN, MA (International Relations) is a Political Science lecturer resident in New York City.