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Restructuring:  Referendum And The Repackaging Nigeria Needs – Onwuasoanya FCC Jones

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Bogus and mostly impracticable jargons are instruments of distraction to politicians and propagandists. They deploy trickery to keep the ordinary busy with irrelevancies while they go on with their jamboree. While sincere politicians proffer practical solutions to social, economic, political, religious and other issues confronting the people, deceitful politicians cash in on the mood of the time to bamboozle the people with promises that even they know are unattainable. The biggest problem of an average Nigerian citizen now is hunger. Anything that can put food on the table for majority of Nigerians, has solved 97% of the problems confronting Nigerians, and issues of terrorism, agitation, crime, etc would have been radically reduced. Will restructuring or referendum put food on the tables of majority of Nigerians?

When the economy of the nation is stabilized, most problems of the nation would have been solved. No nation becomes very successful if it is not able to open itself up enough that foreign investors will be interested in bringing their businesses to such country. Nigeria’s biggest selling point is its population, and if we do not get notable investors to see our country as viable for their investments, we shall continue to bicker. We need to make Nigeria attractive to the world, we need to change the wrong perception outsiders, especially the economic giants of the world have about us, by sending out the right message about our nation to them and also imbibing positive attitudes. For instance, no good entrepreneur will consider bringing his investments to a country where corruption thrives and rule of law is not respected.

Restructuring is now competing for space in the media with the change mantra as every politician is trying to do outdo the other in proffering the best form of restructuring needed in our body polity. While this word is not new in our national political lexicon, there has not been a time, it is abused and misused as it is being done, presently. It will not be a surprise to find out that a good number of those mouthing restructuring do not really know what that political process really entails, and a bigger number of those who have the slightest idea of what this process entails, are not ready to gamble it, should they get the chance at the top.

Most Nigerian politicians have found in restructuring, a fitting word to play tricks with on the Nigerian mind. The question they will not want to answer or do not have answers to for the long-suffering Nigerian masses is what really they want to restructure. Fortunately, most of those who have become advocates of restructuring are people who have had their times in very sensitive offices in this country, and at that time, saw restructuring as a kind of taboo word, which no one should talk about, because of their erroneous understanding of what that means. The question we should ask both proponents and those opposed to restructuring is; what really does restructuring mean? Bringing it a little closer to home, we may ask; what really do we want to restructure or what should be restructured about Nigeria?

I do not understand restructuring to mean anything close to dissolution of Nigeria or whittling down the entity in such a way that any of its components will become disentangled from it. Rather, like I had argued in an essay in the past; the restructuring Nigeria desperately needs, is the restructuring of leadership. Our leaders have to change their orientation about leadership from being about themselves and their cronies, to being about the people and the country. If we can have an appreciable number of our public officials and political office holders who understand that leadership should entail selfless service rather than self-aggrandizement and stealing of public wealth, Nigeria will be better for it and Nigerians will not even give any thought to our heterogeneity. Ordinary Nigerians do not even recognize the differences in our tongues, religion or culture. 

Restructuring which many English dictionaries define simply as “rearranging”, can take many different processes depending on who is carrying it out. For the normal politician who wants to be faithful to the most acceptable understanding of physical restructuring of the country, creation of more States, legislative constituencies and local government areas is a perfect idea of restructuring. He might also decide to merge some of the existing political units in the country, thereby reducing the number of States, legislative constituencies and local government areas. Whichever format it takes, the Nigerian child, mother or father will still not be satisfied and the cry for restructuring may just take a different slogan, if the style of leadership does not change. Like I argued in a short Facebook post recently; “Even if evey family in Nigeria becomes an independent republic, there will still be disaffection with the Nigerian system if our concept of leadership and political representation does not change.

There is another group of restructuring advocates who think that restructuring means rearranging the sharing formula of national cake, or what they have come to term, ‘fiscal federalism’. This school of thought believes that things would be better for us as a nation if every State of the Federation is allowed to manage its resources by itself and possibly pay some tax to the central government. Like the other group seeking a physical restructuring of the country, this group may not also be able to come up with a credible argument on how this arrangement will eradicate all the problems confronting the country, including; corruption, militancy, ethnic tensions and agitations. Oil, which at present is the highest revenue earner for Nigeria for the moment, cannot be found in every area in the States that are classified as oil producing States. Have the proponents of this idea thought about how best to accommodate some communities and even local government areas that do not have oil in their areas when this so called fiscal federalism is implemented, or will they argue that these communities depend on those who have oil to survive? If this will be their argument, what then is our problem with sharing the oil wealth with other parts of Nigeria?

Considering that oil prizes in the global market is having a free fall in price and demand since the last three years and with advancements in technology, viable alternatives are being found for oil in the area of energy generation and it won’t be very long before oil, which is known as the black gold, becomes an almost worthless liquid. Giving that this oil has fed Nigeria for more than fifty years, do we agree that when oil loses its economic value, like it is steadily doing in the global market, and agricultural produce returns as Nigeria’s major source of income, that the Niger-Delta region which has been ravaged by over five decades of environmental degradation as a result of gas flaring and crude oil exploration, will not benefit from revenue that may accrue from agricultural produce and maybe solid mineral deposits that are mostly in the Northern part of Nigeria? 

Fiscal federalism will not also solve the problem of some public officials diverting funds meant for the development of the nation into personal pockets. Corrupt officials will remain corrupt and funds meant for the development of the country whether we are restructured into provinces, regions or even counties will continue to find their way into private pockets and offshore bank accounts, unless we find a way of electing individuals with the right orientation of leadership and political representation into political offices.

While the restructuring debate rages, another political trick finds its way into the Nigerian lexicon of confusion; referendum. A group that wants us to believe they are interested in seceding from Nigeria are dancing with this one, and pushing it as loudly as they can turn up their malfunctioning microphones. Unlike, restructuring, referendum is less ambiguous and if it were necessary will be easier to achieve. But like restructuring, the proponents of referendum are obviously confused about what they really want, it is also possible they do not really want anything, but are only interested in being heard (maybe seeking for relevance).

Being that referendum is an election, it is ironic that the same people who are demanding it like their lives depend on it are the same people discouraging people from getting ready to participate in it. The only difference between referendum and the normal election we know of, is that while the usual election targets to elect people into office, referendum targets to know the opinion of the people on particular issues of national or sectional importance. Those who will vote at such referendum will first of all need to qualify to vote in a normal election. In very simple words; if you are not qualified to vote in an election, you cannot participate in a referendum. Apart from other Constitutional requirements necessary for one to participate in an election, you cannot participate in a referendum if you are not a registered voter and have a Permanent Voters Card (PVC).

Referendum is not something you get by merely shouting about it. There is no doubt that those who propose referendum have such right, but it becomes a kind of comic relief in the talk show that Nigeria has become, if one is talking about referendum without having a blueprint on how to make it work. You do not demand for fairness and lawfulness by promoting lawlessness. Granted, referendum is a feature of democracy, but every nation has its own set of rules and regulations. In Nigeria, those rules and regulations are contained in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended), and some of my lawyer friends have advised me that the request for a referendum on the continued existence of Nigeria as it presently is maybe construed as felonious by the authorities. 

This does not remove the right of any individual or any group to ask for a referendum if they so wish, but they have to give it the necessary kick of seriousness by going about it in a more workable way. Working towards accommodating this in our Constitution is a first step to achieving this, and they cannot achieve by this by remaining outside the corridors of power. The advocates of referendum will be taken more seriously if they can come together and elect individuals sympathetic to their cause into the National Assembly, from where this issue can be taken up. 

Governor Rochas Okorocha’s proposal to the members of the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria(BON), encouraging them to be front liners in marketing the image of Nigeria is the best argument that has been brought forward since the issue of restructuring took the front stage in our national discourse. As a top member of the elite class, Okorocha did not shy away from the issue of leadership failure as one of the problems of Nigeria, but he argued that Nigeria is not the worst of countries and emphasis on our good stories rather than on our bad sides is what is necessary to sell Nigeria to the world and open our doors to investors who will in turn create jobs for our teeming youths and open up new areas of development for the benefit of our nation. Private investors also assist in developing the infrastructure of countries, what they are most concerned about is how friendly the policies of government are to their investments. 

Nigeria is a product and we can make it more viable by selling it to the world.

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