Towards timely, peaceful and constitutional restructuring of Nigeria

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By Bolanle Bolawole

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One issue that pervades discussion in the country today is the insecurity that started in the North-east region via Boko Haram but which has now spread to the other regions via murderous Fulani herdsmen, bandits, cultists, kidnappers, ritual killers, and common criminals, making everywhere unsafe and everyone afraid even in the so-called safety of their homes. As would be expected, resistance to this violence has also spawned its own violence everywhere. In the North, there are all manner of vigilante groups armed or allowed to be armed by the same Federal Government that is disarming or refusing their counterparts in the South the same opportunity to come together to secure themselves and their territory. The inability and or reluctance of the Federal Government to secure the country and provide safety to the people apart, preventing those who want to fill the void from doing so, especially in the South, has been an issue. Amotekun was declared illegal in the South and the Federal Government has muzzled the governors of the region and will not allow them do the needful. Those ones, too, have cowardly beaten a retreat. While the FG’s case is akin to that of someone who will not do but will not allow those who will do to do; the case of the Southern governors on this issue of insecurity can be likened to someone who never wanted to do anything in the first instance and who now has an excuse for not doing so. The blame for the worsening insecurity in the land must be shared by both.

Retired Gen. Ishola Williams added a new dimension to the discussion on insecurity when he made a distinction between insecurity and safety. What Nigeria suffers, he said, is absence of safety and not insecurity. According to him, insecurity is when the country is attacked and or invaded from outside; that is, external aggression, whereas absence of safety is when the attack comes from within and or is internal. Nigerians with their funny dichotomies! Remember, Augustus Aikhomu made a differentiation between misappropriation and misapplication of funds; Jonathan made his own differentiation between stealing and corruption. Ahmad Gumi recently made his between bandits and criminals. And now this one from Gen. Williams!

If I may ask, the Fulani Bororo herdsmen that are said to have converged on Nigeria from all over the world – Libya, Mali, name it – at the invitation of Nigerian Fulani leaders, what should we call that? Is that not foreign or external aggression? It is not only State actors that can compromise another nation’s security; non-State actors do. Much of the internal security issues that the country suffers today have been put down to the activities on non-State actors – the invading Fulani herdsmen wielding dangerous weapons. From reports, other non-State actors like ISIS, SWAP, al-Queda have joined in this invasion and, not contented with limiting their atrocities to the North, are now said to be heading down South.

So, Nigeria has been under foreign invasion, at first on invitation by desperate politicians desperate to grab power, but having tasted the pudding, these invited foreigners are no longer ready to leave. There are also those of our leaders who consider conquering the whole of the country for Islam as a life-time ambition. They rate this project higher than the safety or security of the country. In fact, it is in a state of insecurity, and it is through wars, killings, raping and looting that they seek to achieve this ambition. What they have at the moment and the platform on which they stand was achieved not by peaceful means but through jihad.

So, Gen. Williams must understanding that we have today a twin issue of insecurity and safety. We are whacked from without and within. Many may not know that Williams was one of the few brave army officers who withstood Babangida on his annulment of June 12 and the persistence of the military to hold on to power; for which he prematurely or was so retired from the army. I salute you, Sir! I can also attest to the fact that he was a founding member of the Nigerian chapter of Transparency International in those giddy days of Sani Abacha’s dictatorship. We had hooded together in a hotel in Cotonou with the then ex-military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, elected as leader. Oby Ezekwezili was there, too.

Insecurity apart, the economy is another vexed issue today, which is evidence the country under the APC/Muhammadu Buhari administration is being poorly governed as well as bing badly run. Many may only be hearing that there is insecurity or lack of safety in the land but may not have experienced it personally but only a few can say they have not seen the adverse effects of a once boisterous economy mangled by Buhari’s poor handling and sent into depression twice already. Sometimes ago, I read of the richest men in the country themselves also losing billions in the twinkle of an eyelid; meaning, then, that the rich also cry! Galloping inflation or stagflation; rising unemployment and, with it, rising crime rate; and flight by all and any means of Nigerians fleeing from Nigeria. Nowadays, not only the youths are voting with their legs, even retirees are doing similarly! Decrepit infrastructure everywhere; a debt profile that is drowning the government already without anything tangible to show for it, and, to make matters worse is the insensitivity of Buhari as he hands over the machinery of government to his Fulani ethnic stock. And, oh, the impunity and audacity of these people! Despite the outcry,they have continued unfazed!

Hence the strident cry of marginalization! Hence the demand for restructuring of the country! Hence also the battle-cry for a complete dissolution of the country as a whole! Nigerians have never been this divided. And the battle to tear the country into pieces has never been this ferocious! The voices railing against Nigeria as a project have never been this vociferous. Many have lost faith completely in Nigeria – just like Femi Falana, SAN, accused me of recently. He may be right. Others still keep faith, despite their own misgivings, that the country can still be salvaged from the vice-like grip of the Fulani, who appear desperate to have and own the country exclusively for themselves or destroy it if that proves impossible. In the latter group are those who think restructuring can still save the day for Nigeria.

So, on Thursday, 25th February, 2021, one such group – Restructure Actualization Movement – held its National Restructure Actualization Summit in Abuja with the theme: Actualizing restructuring for a manifestly great Nigeria. The title of this piece, “Towards timely, peaceful and constitutional restructuring of Nigeria” was a rider to that theme. Restructure Actualization Movement (RAM) used to be known as the 2014 Movement, taken from the 2014 erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional conference which, unfortunately, did not see the light of day. The 2014 Movement, now Restructure Actualization Movement (RAM) under the leadership of retired Gen. Henry Ayoola, believes that the solution to Nigeria’s myriad problems are embedded in the report of the 2014 confab. But this is the same confab report Buhari has sworn never to touch!

Summit presenters included Prof. Jerry Gana (ably represented); Dr. Ene Ede; Engr. Buba Galadima; Mrs.Obiageli Ezekwesili; Ambassador Godknows Igali; Dr. Akin Fapohuinda; Dr. Usman Bugaje; and Hajia Aisha Yesufu coming from the country’s six geo-political zones. Prof. Anya O. Anya delivered the keynote address as well as chaired the meeting virtually. There were virtual call-ins as well as contributions from participants.

Anya posited emphatically that “Nigeria is a plural society – multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural. The early attempts at constitution making took these peculiarities into account…Consequently, the 1960 independence constitution and the 1963 republican constitution were drafted in a manner that recognized the basic principles of federalism such as: autonomy of the federating regions; fiscal federalism that recognised the derivation principles; devolution of power from the centre to the regions such that there was a Federal Exclusive list, a Concurrent list for both the central government and the regions, and a residual list for the regions; and citizenship and indigeneship rights were accorded to all citizens” These safety valves were ruptured by the 1979 and 1999 constitutions; hence the current agitation against both constitutions.

Anya further stated that the 2014 National conference convoked by former President Jonathan came up with “over 600 decisions each of which enjoyed at least 70% acceptability amongst the delegates…It has been suggested that embedded in the report of the conference is a new constitution. If you were to arrange the issues dealt with in the current 1999 constitution alongside the relevant decisions of the conference on each issue and the stipulations of the 1999 constitution were to be reframed or redrafted to accord with the decisions of the conference, a new document would emerge which will be to all intents and purposes a new constitution drafted by the Nigerian peoples, especially if this emergent document were to be subjected to a national referendum”

Campaigning for the 2015 General Election as an opposition party, the APC had played the restructuring card, entrenching it in its manifesto and promising it on the campaign trail; only for it to renege after winning the election. But the avalanche of evidence that the critical public confronted it with silenced it and gave it out as unreliable. Despite this, the party returned again to play the restructuring card when another election cycle approached in 2019, setting up the Gov. Nasir el-Rufai committee which recommended restructuring to the party. After wangling itself into office a second time, it has bluffed all efforts to hold it to its words.

But like Peter Tosh sang, APC and its leaders may run from restructuring but they have no hiding place. This country just cannot remain the way it is. According to Gen. Ayoola, the chairman of RAM, “restructuring is now an expedient, a sine qua non, and simply a change whose time has come”. He listed RAM’s four cardinal programme of action meant to drive its transformation agenda as “Restructured country from agitation to actualization; restructured leadership from self-centred to society-centred; restructured diversity from divergence to convergence; and restructured governance from impunity to accountability”

Quoting Niccolo Machiavelli, Queen Elizabeth II, and Frantz Fanon on the inevitability of change, Ayoola said the question is not whether restructuring is desirable or possible but whether we are willing, prepared, and ready to pay the price. He quoted Thomas Payne who said: “What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem lightly: It is dearness only that gives everything its value”

The question, then, is: Will Nigerian leaders wait until the cost of restructuring becomes too steep or restructuring itself becomes a no solution before gunning for it? Will the ongoing gamble be worth anyone’s while? Will commonsense prevail for the clamoured-for restructuring to be delivered in a timely, peaceful, and constitutional manner as RAM would want it? The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind!
Published in the Sunday Tribune newspaper of Sunday, 21st March, 2021.

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