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Restructuring: What are we restructuring?

By •Bernard Balogun on 19/10/2017

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•Bernard Balogun (BenPino)
•Bernard Balogun (BenPino)

The word restructuring (re) structural engineering used to be commonly associated with the civil engineering profession). Recently, the word has crept into the political lexicon, and has assumed such currency that each day in the media the word is so emotively used and bastardised so much so that its true meaning is lost in the myriad of the current engaging conversations in the country.

Last Saturday, October 7, 2017, there was a football match, World Cup qualifiers they call it, that was played in Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom. I am not a fan of football. The unison, the euphoria and commonality of purpose prevalent before and after that match were indeed electrifying and delightfully cut across the various nationalities in Nigeria. That World Cup qualifiers (appropriately called Russia 2018) brought every tribe together. It was no longer Igbo versus Hausa person or Yoruba versus Edo person. It was indeed, and evidently so, Nigeria versus Zambia. Everyone in Nigeria, the old, the young, men, women, the educated and uneducated, tall or short, black or not, were all united in their determination and collective prayers for Nigeria to outplay the visiting team. Strikingly enduring was the venue of play, it was not in contention. Why is it always Godswill Akpabio International Stadium and not Kaduna Stadium or Liberty Stadium in Ibadan or National stadium in Eko-Ile? Though the Nigerian team once lost to South Africa’s Bafana-Bafana team ab initio in June 2017 in that stadium, but since then it has been spectacular success and luck all the way.  Nigerians agree, we need a reservoir of that good-luck to get World Cup 2018 in Russia. That unity of purpose brought our desire and prayers in fruition. Nigeria won. The rest is now history.

Can we replicate this wonderful team spirit in the political sphere of our country? That is the task this narrative seeks to achieve.

In an exposition such as this – that tends to treat an explosive, emotive and, indeed, sensitive issue as restructuring - it will be impossible to exhaustively treat or address all shades of opinion in one article. My effort, therefore, is to put up “a random synopsis of ideas” about this national burning issue: the way forward. That does not make me “an embodiment of wisdom” in a matter as sensitive as this, but it is important to get an understanding of the issue, however synoptic it may sound, and the narrative must be future based.    

As a follow-up to this exposition, I have met and interviewed quite a number of proponents of restructuring. These proponents are in three broad categories. The first category is those who just join the bandwagon of clamouring for restructuring without an understanding of what it is. This category of people, their argument, largely, is: “return to regional system of government as obtained in the 60s”. End of discussion, nothing more and so colourless.

The second category of people sounds reasonably convincing, with element of seriousness and freshness in their arguments. I think, I want to align myself with this class of thought. I shall explain shortly.

Third category are people of mixed understanding of the word “restructuring and agitation.”

I have said in my previous article that restructuring and agitation for the balkanisation of the country are not same. Need I remind ourselves that there was (and still is) agitation for resource control, courtesy, our brothers from the South-South region. Of course, agitation for the balkanisation of Nigeria is healthy, but agitation for balkanisation that has “warfare” intonation, forming another army within a republic, soliciting for arms and ammunition to wage war, calling your compatriots from other regions as “cows” and “animals” and Nigeria regarded as a “zoo”, simply because they do not buy into your own idea and approach to issues? It is not a good thing to say.  It is derogatory and it debases and ridicules the very essence of their own narratives, which are certainly not healthy and progressive, thought that could bring about cohesion and appreciation of our collective worth. Such inane remark must be repulsed and totally condemned by all right thinking persons, who genuinely appreciate the value of a united country like Nigeria with its huge population. In that sense, it means they have nothing to bring to the table for a scrupulous national discourse. However, the point must be made, agitation in any form that recognises and follows legitimate and constitutional processes are welcome and, indeed, supported. That is my position.

There is a fourth voice and that voice seems to stand alone. Senator David Bonaventure Mark, the immediate past Senate president, calls for attitudinal change. And I agree with him. Again, attitudinal change (this is more of a personal mindset) is not same as restructuring on a broad perspective. That must be clearly understood. Attitudinal change can be applied at home, on our roads, in our schools or work-places. For instance, I may decide to be more responsive and present cordial relationship with my wife and children and, indeed, my neighbours as against my previous barefaced and stern looking dispositions. It is an improved trait transition from negativity to positivity in a holistic mindset. On traffic, I solemnly resolve to obey and respect traffic lights and traffic personnel on our roads, will not beat traffic lights with impunity. No over-speeding, no phoning while driving, no driving against traffic, respect for other road-users, etc. These are fine attributes of attitudinal change. At school or work-place, we do the right things, timeously report to school and/or work, display some level of discipline, show respect to our teachers and constituted authorities. That, in a sense, is a personal overhaul of attitude. When these traits are replicated by all male and female adults across our respective homes and extend such wonderful traits across the country, of course, we shall have a saner society, a society where things work well with a deeper propensity to contribute to the growth of the country. Attitudinal change, PHCN officials shall be dedicated, responsive and efficient. No inducement before PHCN metres are assigned to homes. NNPC officials, with changed hearts, will diligently approach their duties with dedication, promptitude, efficiency, and honesty devoid of corruption, not with the notoriety of corruption associated with that organisation. Ditto the Nigerian Customs Service and the Nigerian Immigration Service.  And that is, in a nutshell, the attitudinal change being canvassed by David Mark and, it is, a welcome development and it should be embraced and, indeed, encouraged by all.

However, this narrative is not about attitudinal change, but about restructuring, the emotive issue in the political space for now.

Restructuring

The Nigerian nation, at the moment, is at the threshold of a major political juncture. The various agitations from the various nationalities, especially on the vexed issue of restructuring must be appropriately and quickly addressed. And this is the time to do so as further procrastination will be dangerous and likely to lead to the precipice. God forbid! This agitation has so retrogressively brought to the back-burner the twin issues of unity and development, and we cannot continue this way.

Perceptibly, the earlier we quickly address this pantomime situation in the polity, bordering on restructuring across the land, the better for us as a nation, a nation genuinely desirous of progress and development, which have eluded us for some time now.

How do we get out of this quagmire of restructuring?

As a first step, certain sections of the Nigerian Constitution must be amended to reflect the current reality on ground. What is the current reality? The Constitution as it stands today empowers/gives the legislature, in this instance; the Senate has the final say on any major political decision, major political decision that has far-reaching impact on the lives of every Nigerian. In any case, such political decision does not obliterate judicial pronouncement.

The 2014 National Conference report, for instance, submitted to the Senate many months ago, for their necessary legislative action had become a piece of decorative material in a shelf in the Senate chambers. This is one clear case of insensitivity by the Senate against the electorates.

Indubitably, the unspoken decision of the Senate to subject the valuable and historical document, put together by highly resourceful professionals and political elders in the land, to procrastination because the document recommended some remarkable and far-reaching reforms; reforms that will obviate some powers of the legislature on sensitive issues. On many occasions in the past, when the nation direly needs the legislators’ attention to find solution to nagging national issues, that is the moment they find it convenient to proceed on their recesses. No feelings for the electorates who elected them in the first place. In fact, the senators, by extension members of the House of Representatives, are far alienated from the electorates and their national interest.

Let us face this matter squarely, the composition of the Nigerian Senate as it stands today, or at any time in the future, do not have the political will to make such far-reaching decision in the overall interest of the Nigerian people. Has states been created during a civilian rule? And this is not to suggest a return to military autocracy, but a subtle reminder of how we achieved statism in Nigeria since 1966. The Nigerian electorates must decide, and this is the time, “to take their destiny in their own hands.”

It is in view of the above explanation, I like to respectfully submit that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliates, as pressure groups that have creditability in the eyes of Nigerians, to jointly and urgently too, sponsor a bill in the National Assembly that will amend the Constitution, essentially to take away powers of the legislature where it exist on matters such as: Agitation for restructuring, state creation, address of issues pertaining to marginalisation, devolution of powers to states and local governments, fiscal monetary policy as regards monthly federal allocation.

If we continue to trust the National Assembly to take decision on our behalf, in respect of restructuring, we may never get anywhere with their apparent lackadaisical attitude. The current pantomime situation will only get worse. Please, do not get me wrong. I am truly an unrepentant optimist.

Therefore, a statutory body that will be saddled with the responsibilities excised from the Senate’s legislative list be established. This statutory body could be given any appropriate nomenclature. The body should be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice and assisted by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. They shall be appointees or nominees of the Federal Government. The composition of this body shall not exceed 250-men and women of proven integrity. They shall be men and women who have no criminal records and intelligent enough to represent their places of residence, not states of origin. They shall run full-time. Their emoluments should not be something extra-ordinary, but attractive enough to draw the right calibre of personalities envisaged. 

The life-span of this august body should be two-year duration. After five years interval, another august body shall be inaugurated to address national burning issues as spelt out above. Candidly, I think, the suggested august body should be nominees of states and constitutionally so recognised.

Consequently, as a result of the amendment to the Constitution, and establishment of this august body, the House of Representatives shall cease to exist, constitutionally.

For purposes of cost-saving effect, the Nigerian Senate shall be part-time and they shall meet for 180 days in a year. Their salaries should be handsome enough to attract the right calibre of persons, not the present humongous salaries they earn now for literally doing nothing, that is not beneficial to the Nigerian people.

Whatever decision taken by this august body shall be forwarded to the president for assent and immediate implementation, without any recourse to the Senate, since their roles in such matter had been constitutionally abrogated.

Devolution of Power

Consequently, this august body shall recommend devolution of powers to states and local governments and scrap the following ministries and its parastatals. These are: Agriculture, Education, Labour, Information & Culture, Power, Housing, Roads, Housing, Solid Minerals.

If need be, and in the wisdom of this august body may recommend that some of the scrapped ministries be reduced to parastatals under the Presidency. However, ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Defence and, of course, the Armed Forces, the Police, Civil Defence, Peace Corps, FRSC should remain in the Federal list.

That aspect of the constitution that talked about each State to produce one Minister should be abrogated. The federal permanent secretaries should head such parastatals. The purpose is to have a weak centre and strengthen the states and local governments. This means that electorates at states and local council areas must take their civic responsibility, a lot more serious, by voting for a credible, matured and genuinely committed person for the positions of governors and LG chairmen. The current practice of “money for hand, ballot card for your box” must be discouraged. Our attitude in this respect must change in the overall interest of an enduring, virile and progressive state/council.

This devolution exercise will encourage States to be proactive in their revenue generation drive. Each State has its own peculiar problem and knows how to go about it or prioritise such problem in line with the desire of the local people.

On roads

There should be no such a thing as federal roads. Any road that runs through any state becomes, automatically, the responsibility of the state involved to construct, reconstruct, rehabilitate and generally maintain.

The Abuja-Abaji expressway that runs onto the boundary of Kogi State is the responsibility of FCT to handle. Then that of Kogi government begins from where FCT stops. The road that runs from Okene to Ukpella (the Edo State boundary) is the responsibility of Kogi State government to handle. Edo State government responsibility begins on the road from where that of Kogi ends. With this kind of arrangement each state government will be challenged to be responsive to the yearnings of its citizens, by providing good and motoring inter- and intra- city road net-works in any giving state.

Agriculture

Let each state develop its agricultural potentials according to its pace and aspiration of its citizens. For instance, if Gombe State government is known for the production of gum Arabic in commercial quantity, let that area be maximally exploited by the State and go further to establish cottage industry in designated councils in the State. Consequently, providing job opportunities for not just the youths of the area but also every employable adults in the area. There shall exist opportunity to attract foreign investors.

In Benue State, for instance, reputed for production of mangoes, oranges, yams and other food stuffs in large commercial quantities, can maximally exploit/harness for commercial gains, establish cottage industries, and consequently export its finished products. This is a source of foreign exchange earning to the state and providing gainful employment to the youths and employable adults from the State. In fact, foreign investors may be attracted, provided there is an attractive environment for such investment.

South-west, especially Ondo and Ekiti States are major producers of cocoa and timber woods, with high economic values. These states and others in South-west should primarily focus its attention on the harnessing of these agricultural potentials of the states, establish cottage industry that will offer employment, consequently entrepreneurs shall emerge.

South-eastern states are well known for the production of leather shoes, ladies’hand-bags, belts, etc. Let the states in this region provide an encouraging environment for these businesses to thrive and provide soft loans to these enterprising youths. Ministry of commerce and trade in each state in the region should help these youths, with entrepreneurial skills and market their products abroad. Engage the youths in all ramifications.

Solid minerals

Each state should develop and market its own solid mineral resources buried within its territory and pay royalty to the Federal Government. The amount of royalty payable by States shall not be across board. There shall be percentage differentials. Oil-producing states shall pay as much as 45 per cent, based on its accruable there-from, while the non oil-producing states shall pay about 25 per cent. 

The three mega-states of Lagos, Kano and Rivers shall have special arrangement regarding revenue generation into the coffers of the Federation Account; an acceptable and achievable formula by the states involved and the august body to propound the sharing ratio.

Revenue formula

The present revenue sharing formula should change, since the states are expected to take on more responsibilities that will directly impact on their citizens in many directions, responsibilities which were hitherto those of the Federal Government. An acceptable revenue sharing formula should be formulated by this august body, whose statutory responsibility it is to find an appropriate sharing ratio.

Conclusion

In recent years, the Covenant Christian Centre in Lagos has been organising an intellectual-driven programme entitled ‘The Platform’ where notable Nigerians with intimidating credentials are invited to speak on specific national topic. Some of the speakers this year were Prof Patrick Utomi of Lagos Business School, Victoria Island, Lagos; the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Segun Adeniyi, a journalist of high pedigree and one-time Special Adviser on Media and publicity to late President Umar Yar’Adua and, of course, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, among other distinguished speakers. The Platform is usually telecast on Channels TV every October 1, but this year, it was telecast on Monday, October 02. Bishop Kukah was asked to speak on the topic Restructuring, an emotive word in recent times.

Coincidentally, on my own, I voluntarily decided to write on the same vexed issue of restructuring. It was, therefore, a relief, knowing Kukah for his eloquent and powerful delivery on any given topic, that my “self-imposed” assignment is “half-done” as I was certain, I shall have sufficient references to draw from his presentation. I must confess at the end of the Bishop’s presentation, I was confused and did not know which of his references to quote to support my own narrative. Was it the historical revelation that a certain man called Ahmed Barber from Niger Republic actually gave Yoruba, Hausa the current names these tribes bear? That even the Igbo people, because of their marketing/trading prowess, was also given their name, courtesy same Ahmed Barber. That the word “geographical expression”, which men and women of my generation thought was a creation of Papa Obafemi Awolowo was, indeed, first used by an English statesman in 1814, before Chief Awolowo himself was born. And we now know that Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah is “in-law to the Yoruba and the Igbo people”. I am inclined to believe that my Lord Spiritual added this in closing about a madman, who saw policemen on parade and joined in the parade. “Left, right, left, right, they matched on” and the officer commanding the parade, looked at the madman, took his eyes away, looked at him again, then asked the madman: “Kai, you wan join police?” The madman quickly retorted “I de craze?” In all of this confusion, I was able to bring out for the benefit of our individual worth and reflections Bishop Kukah’s conclusion thus.

For a start, let us, encourage each one to hearken to the admonition from this respected man of God, who had assiduously worked and preached peace and unity of purpose of this country, at great risk to his precious life.

His words: “Finally, Nigerians, we have earned and got every reason to be angry, but please let us remember for the sake of this country, a lot of our citizens have given their lives to defend this country as soldiers. They have died and are still dying. It is a reason why we must take very seriously the issue of building a new country together. That challenge is before all of us. That is why our hearts may be broken. Our bodies may be broken. We may be frustrated, but I leave you a nice song. You know Don Williams died this year. One of the songs he sang, one of my favorites: ‘Some broken hearts never mend. Some memories never end. Some tears will never dry. Our love for Nigeria will never die.’

This is our country. This is God’s gift for us. Obama said to Americans: ‘Yes, we can.’ But, because we are Nigerians, we will stay here to redeem this country. I say to Nigerians yes, we must. In the rendezvous of victory, there is room for each and every one of us. Let us pray, because that day is nearer to us than we ever imagine.”

Food for thought!

Finally, we fear to communicate with one and another because we do not know each other well. We do not know each other well because we fear to communicate. Let us learn to communicate without fear. There is strength in communication and better understanding when we discuss amongst ourselves scrupulously and with decorum and respect for one another, irrespective of our regions.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria, my beloved country.

Bernard Balogun (BenPino) writes from Wuse District, Abuja: 08037879275; bernardbalogun1@yahoo.com.

Source News Express

Posted 19/10/2017 10:51:15 AM

 

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