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The Labour Movement And The Future Of A United Nigeria – By Samuel Egwu


The Labour Movement And The Future Of A United Nigeria: What Role for Restructuring?,  Samuel Egwu, University of Jos, Jos. 

The fight within the political class in the country is threatening once more, the corporate existence of the country.  This battle has been unfortunately waged through the intensive mobilization of poor Nigerians including the working people of the country using identity sentiments 1. 


The quote above lifted from the concept note developed by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for this colloquium underscores the importance of the colloquium. Despite the pressures of ethnic and regional divisions to consume all national institutions including those that are founded on cross-ethnic and cross-regional ties and the more objective grounds of socio-economic interests and material survival, the NLC has continued to provide a strong national platform to discuss divisive political issues like the present clamour for restructuring.  While it is true that there genuine voices behind the quest for to national unity, development and the democratization in the demand for restructuring, for many others it is a veneer for advancing narrow ethnic, regional and political agenda. We therefore must agree with the NLC that what is required is a class-based perspective is necessary to prevent the consumption and internalization of the petty-bourgeois regionalist and ruling class perceptions espoused in the debates and its negative effects on the consciousness of Nigerian workers.

It may appear unfortunate as the NLC concept note tend to suggest that the working people have been mobilized to be partisan by accepting some of these canvassed positions which are heavily identity-based rather than ideological. The problem is very simple to explain. The era of globalization and the assumed end of ideology creates problem of class consciousness for the working class movement and the fact that ethnic, religious and regional social movements provide alternative rallying points of identity to workers and petty bourgeois elements alike appear to compound the problem. Unless the leadership of the working class movement mount concerted programmes of political education, the fate of the Second International will befall the Nigerian working class movement. Rather than lining up behind communist and socialist parties to launch revolutions in Europe, they preferred to line up behind their bourgeoisies in the name of nationalism to take up arms against their fellow workers.

These are most trying times for Nigeria’s unity and an electoral democracy that appears to be consolidating considering improvement in the electoral process and the power alternation which occurred at the national level for the first time in the 2015 general elections. We have seen a bizarre resurgence of ethno-regional identity and the extremist positions articulated by ethno-regional groups including their youth wings from the different geo-political zones of the country. In a fundamental sense, at the core of the forces tearing at the fabrics of national unity and coherence is contestation of nationhood, the true meaning of citizenship for many Nigerians and the perception that Nigeria’s federal system has failed to assure the constituent elements of “shared” rule and “home” rule. These are genuine cumulative grievances from Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonial history of bad governance and manipulation of differences. They are therefore not mere problem of structural imbalance and inequities within the Nigerian federation, but the fall out of a non-inclusive process of economic growth in which class inequalities is overshadowed by elite politics of access to power and economic opportunities.

However, there is need to be weary of elite politics and how they frame national debates to suit their own narrow interests. For instance, despite making some useful recommendations because of its diluted composition, the political elites who dominated the 2014 National Conference came with heavily divisive agenda as follows:

1. The South-west and South-east group pushed for devolution of powers, and advocated that the existing six zones should replace the 36 states as federating units (federalism);

2. The North-central (Middle Belt) group, comprising largely minority ethnic groups, was mostly concerned about marginalization and stoutly defended creation of more states in order to cater for the smaller minority groups within their multi-minority states;

3. The South-south group, sharing the same fears of minority domination, preoccupied itself with the right of resource control under the states and not zones or regions; and

4. The ‘core’ North comprising for the most part, the Hausa-Fulani ethnic majority groups in the North-east and Northwest states of the country, was prepared to allow only minor amendments to the constitution while it sought to retain the status-quo.

All this draws our attention to the fact that the resurgence of ethno-regional identities including the extreme demands to balkanize the Nigerian state as presently constituted represents the different layers of contestations for the meaning of nationhood and citizenship in contemporary Nigeria. They are therefore cloaked demands for social justice and equity, a democratic system of governance that delivers services, an electoral system that makes elected public officials accountable and the entrenchment of a culture of rule of law in which those who steal public resources are duly punished to restore sanctity to the management of the public space. Unfortunately, they are frame in divisive and undemocratic rhetoric that can be misunderstood by the ordinary Nigerian.

It is therefore commendable that the NLC has provide this platform for a counter narrative that coheres with the stand point of the working and ordinary people of this country. However, this counter narrative should not reinforce the ‘myth’ of an indissoluble Nigerian nation which has come to stay regardless of the imperfections and the level of injustice and inequity. Nigeria’s continued existence as a united entity is desirable but only on the basis of the principles of social justice, democracy and the rule of law.

What is restructuring?

What is restructuring? What is it that requires restructuring? Is restructuring desirable? It is important to answer these questions in the light of two issues raised by the NLC concept note. One is that the space for the articulation of positions is dominated by the political class, civil society and the contending groups of agitators who use violent language and deploy ethnic and religious sentiments which have the potentials of shaping the opinions of the Nigerian working people and dividing them along regional, ethnic and religious lines. A related concern is that, details of the restructuring agenda are not often clearly explained by leading voices who are either genuinely confused or out rightly mischievous.

At the core of restructuring is the need to continuously align political structures and administrative units within the federal system with their expected functions in order to allow for maximum efficiency in the mobilization and control of resources as well as delivery of services in the overall interests of the citizenry and the constituent elements. In a federal system therefore, issues of division of political and economic power are central to concerns about restructuring. Restructuring has remained a recurrent decimal because our federal arrangement has not ensured a stable political accommodation and has not ensured equitable power and resource sharing2.

Against this backdrop, restructuring the Nigerian polity has a long history, beginning with the creation of the modern Nigerian state by British colonialism. It started with the British dilemma of how to effectively govern the colony and effectively manage the natives to guarantee the maximum exploitation of their resources. The act of amalgamation of the Colony of Lagos and the protectorates of southern and northern Nigeria in 1914 was an apt solution to the dilemma at the time. However, in the course of colonial rule and the emergence of nationalist agitation, the colonial authorities had to confront the emergent political realities as determined by the politicization of ethnic and geographical identities which the colonial state actively encouraged through its divide and rule stratagem.

The creation of three regions in the aftermath of increased demand for political participation by the emergent nationalists and the re-organisation of provinces within the regions in the 1950s was equally a part of the political restructuring aimed at creating more or less stable administrative units that can promote effective governance. However, despite being a product of a series of negotiations between the different regional elites mediated by British colonial administrators at conferences in Lagos and London in the late 1950s, the three regions at independence proved to be the basis of the structural imbalance and the cut throat regional competition for political hegemony that brought the first Republic to premature grief. It brought to the fore the famous Mills Law of Instability that once the structure of a federation is so lopsided to the point of making one component part a master of joint deliberations or enjoying veto power, the consequence is instability as Nigeria witnessed in the first Republic.

However, while it is easy to blame the machinations of military rule for what happened, the military confronted this anomaly of the regional tail wagging the federal dog3 by breaking up the four regions and creating in their stead a twelve-state federal structure. The creation of additional states since then has resulted in the present 36-state federal structure and a Federal Capital Territory. In the 2014 National Conference, agitation for additional states resulted in the recommendation of eighteen states. The critical point, however, is that the military not only transferred to the federal government revenue sources that hitherto were enjoyed by the regions, but rendered the states mere fiscal and political appendages of the central government. However, because the dangers to national unity posed by the civil war were still fresh in our minds, these unitary measures were celebrated by all the ethnic fractions of the Nigerian ruling elite.

Today, we are all confronted with the danger of over centralization of power and resources and the devious ways it has stifled the development potentials of our federal system. It is this present desire to re-engineer the federal system and enable the principles of self-determination and non-centralisation of power to thrive that makes restructuring a worthy enterprise. I agree with Rotimi Suberu and Larry Diamond that:

Nigeria’s fourth Republic, now bears the burden of multiple debilitating legacies of military rule: a flawed and contested constitutional framework, arising from an undemocratic process of constitution-making that lacks legitimacy; a culture of militant ethnic agitation and mobilisation (especially in the Niger Delta); the persistence and resurgence of inter-communal violence, the politicization of religion, and most important, a federal system that has been centralised, battered and bloated by successive military administrations concerned primarily with concentrating control over resources while shoring up their sagging legitimacy by creating ever more states and local government4.

But it would be an incomplete picture to pin down the troubles of Nigerian federalism on the colonial legacy and the distortions visited on it by decades of authoritarian military rule. The nature of elite politics is such a key factor especially the tendency to mobilise along ethno-regional fault lines and to politicise ethnic and religious differences. The implication of this is that even deliberate measures to encourage the emergence of nation-wide political parties through constitutional engineering have failed to produce the desired effects.

Even worse is the tendency for exclusive policies and practices of the elite to turn consociational measures aimed at promoting integration and national unity into sources that threaten the unity and integration as exemplified in the abuse of indigeneity clause in the constitution. The crisis of citizenship and the internecine conflict between “so-called” indigenes and settlers has become a source of a festering sore that has resulted in deadly confrontations between groups defined along this line. Thus, while citizenship expands at the global level, it is contracting within Nigeria rendering meaningless what may be called a Nigerian identity and citizenship.

Since the return to civil rule, and after rejecting proposals for sovereign national conference to confront the many thorny issues frontally, two major dialogue platforms have been organized which sought to deal with matters of restructuring. Both the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and the 2014 National Conference organized by the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made recommendations that seek to address the problem, but perceived political agenda of the conveners undermined the outcome of the exercises.

Contending Perspectives on Restructuring

There is a maze of confusion about the meaning of restructuring. This is evident in the contradictory positions held by many of the leading voices. There are at least four different senses in which demand for restructuring has been articulated. For some restructuring is the return to the romantic federal arrangement of the first Republic in which each region had its own constitution, controlled its resources expressed in the salience of derivation principle and healthy interregional rivalry that accelerated socio-economic progress in each region. The proponents feel that the present six geo-political zones can become the constitutional framework of this federal arrangement. Embedded in this proposal is a new regime of fiscal federalism based on the principle of derivation and the contributions by the regions to the federal purse on the basis of negotiated formula.

This position is supported by the ethnic faction of the elite from regions that previously were ethnically homogenous and was pushed at the 2014 National Conference and other platforms, but stoutly rejected by geo-political zones dominated by ethnic minorities whose collective memory of oppression in the first Republic makes the proposal unattractive. Minority ethnic nationalities that struggled for creation of new states to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the ethnic majorities therefore prefer the existing state structure to a return to regionalism. They also suspect regionalism as a deliberate attempt to weaken Nigerian’s unity, for which they had committed to defend as demonstrated during the civil war. Nevertheless, the assumption is that stronger regions accompanied by substantial autonomy would create a less buoyant federal system that would be less attractive and therefore result in moderating inter-ethnic competition for control of the central government. Proponents of this position also argue that regionalism would restore the healthy competition which thrived in the first Republic and would result in rapid socio-economic development of each region. Embedded in this proposal is a new regime of fiscal federalism based on the principle of derivation and the contributions by the regions to the federal purse on the basis of negotiated formula.

More often than not, proponents of return to regionalism tend to forget that bitter regional rivalry and the struggle for political hegemony among the regional political elites partly brought the democratic experiment in the first Republic to premature grief. They also forget that fear of return to minority oppression will make this proposal unattractive. It is worsened by fear from some section of the country that regionalism could encourage secessionist forces considering the resurgence of Biafra dream in more recent times.

For others, restructuring is about ‘resource control’ without tinkering with the present state structure. This perspective of restructuring which is canvassed by the oil-bearing states in the Niger Delta draws from the history of fiscal federalism in the first Republic when derivation was a major principle of revenue sharing, the perception that as a region of ethnic minorities they have been stripped of their natural assets by the Nigerian state controlled by ethnic majorities, and that the externalities arising from oil exploration such as gas flaring, water pollution and destruction of aquatic resources and farm lands make resource control imperative. Advocates of resource control as a route to restructuring also draw from the fiscal arrangements of more mature federations where sub-national entities retain control of their resources and pay tax to the federal government.

There appears to be appreciation of the basis for demand for resource control by other sections of the elites considering the problems of ecological disasters associated with oil exploration and the relative neglect of the region. This has informed support for increase in the share accorded to derivation from the present 13% to between 17-18% at the last two national conferences. However, the idea of resource control is resisted despite the reality that every state of the country is potentially in the position to claim derivation from different types of solid minerals that are available because of the fiscal disparity among states already occasioned by the present 13% derivation. But this is a dialogue that must continue as a part of the constant search for adjustment in a federal polity.

There are also groups and individuals who have canvassed restructuring in terms of increased access to political and economic resources and institutions of governance. Many who fall in this category have vaguely argued that governance in Nigeria must be restructured. However, they fail to articulate how governance can be restructured. We however do know that issues of structure of the Nigerian federation and governance may be related, but there is no organic relationship between structure and governance. Regardless of structure, governance is driven by the central idea of public accountability and particularly the inclusive participation of citizens in the running of their own affairs and delivering services on the basis of social contract that underlies electoral democracy. There are many African examples of ethnically plural society that have enjoyed political stability and social progress in a unitary rather a federal political arrangement.

Finally, there an idea of restructuring that what Nigeria needs is reverse the unitary trends in the Nigerian federal system inaugurated by successive military regimes and sanctified by the 1999 Constitution which is also said to be a military imposition. This perspective argues that many, if not most of the sixty-eight (68) items on the federal exclusive legislative list should be put under concurrent legislative list to enable states make policies on them. On the contrary, they argue that the constitution should limit exclusive legislative list to items such as defence, currency and monetary policies, foreign policy and commerce (banking, inter-state economic relations, while all other matters not mentioned should belong to states. The 2006 National Political Reform Conference and the 2014 National Conference held major debates along this line. This approximates my understanding of restructuring today, and I turn attention to it in the section that follows:

Case for Devolution of Powers and Reform of Nigeria’s Federalism

Despite being characterized as hollow, absurd and a unitary state in federal disguise, Nigeria’s federalism remains a reference point to many African countries as a deliberate effort to create a constitutional device for coping with the problems associated with a deeply divided society. However, because the evolution of Nigeria’s federal system has been shaped by factors such as the mutual fears of domination among the regional elites, the legacy of military rule and the patterns of competition for power and resources among the elites, it has fallen short of demands for non-centralization of power and considerable measure of self-determination. The demand to devolve or decentralize political and economic powers away from the overbearing centre to the states is the closest approximation to the idea of restructuring.

This demand has been framed by many Nigerian groups in terms of a return to “true federalism” as it was deemed to have existed in the first Republic. While it is agreed that federalism is a constitutional technique for managing diversity, it hardly makes sense to speak of “true federalism”. Federalism is simply a normative term that refers to the advocacy of a multi-tiered government combining elements of shared rule and regional self-rule based on the presumed value of achieving both unity and diversity by accommodating, preserving and promoting distinct identities within a larger political union. In practice, its application can take a variety of forms, and, indeed has included some new variants and innovations. It is this reality that has led many scholars to reject Kenneth Wheare’s classical formulation that makes American federalism the ideal.

The attraction federalism offers deeply divided societies lies in non-centralisation of power, the distribution of power and responsibilities between the central and sub-national governments in ways that enable the latter exercise some degree of autonomy in matters that are more efficiently handled at local level. Here lies the formal basis for exercising power in a territorially demarcated power arrangement that can provide for a guarantee of local autonomy and action. It should be added that while power arrangements enshrined in the law and the institutions of federalism remain important to establish the legal and jurisdictional claim of one level of authority against the other in case of encroachment, the cultivation of federal culture is the real source of flavour in a federal polity. At the heart of this federal culture is a dialogic framework which allows for inter-governmental cooperation to address common problems, the institutionalization of both formal and informal channels and platforms for dialogue, policy consultations and the immense possibilities for trade off and compromise.

Despite the discordant tunes and lack of a common understanding on what constitutes the basic direction and substance of restructuring demanded by different Nigerian groups, what appears as a viable option for Nigeria’s unity is to reform the essentially unitary system in which the  federal government has overbearing powers. By extension, this proposal seeks a review of the 68 items on the exclusive legislative list and putting them on concurrent legislative list to enable states to make legislation on those items.

Debates on restructuring in Nigeria today, however, should bear in mind the following:

1. All federal systems are dynamic and evolving in response to changes in elite perception of power and demand over available resources.

2. While all enduring federal systems provide for substantial political autonomy of the constituent elements and control over resources, the trend in most federal systems is towards a stronger central government that guarantees minimum standards for the constituent parts and capable of making interventions that promote the welfare of citizens.

3. Tiers of government are not the same in all federal systems; a tier of government is determined by constitutional assignment of responsibilities. To this extent, the local government is a tier of government and its autonomy needs to be preserved precisely because of important development functions assigned to it even where it is clearly not a part of the federating units.

Even then, there are other dynamics that have fueled crisis for the Nigerian federal system that can mislead one to conclude that the federal solution has failed in Nigeria. These dynamics are best captured in terms of Nigeria’s development trajectories which repudiated a state-led process of capitalist modernization in favour of market-based solution. For instance, precipitous economic decline since the 1980s and the imposition of market-based orthodox reform policies have not only accentuated regional and ethnic inequalities, but the rolling back of the state and its increased dissociation from social protection and welfare services has had the consequences of removing the social glue that bind citizens to the state. In the context of politics in which ideology becomes increasingly de-emphasized people tend to fall back on ethnic and religious identities; not necessarily because of primordial attachment but in the search for solidarities that advance material survival and wellbeing.

There are also issues related to the weaknesses of democratic institutions including those for managing elections, the legislature and the judiciary, to mention a few examples. Although the credibility of elections has improved, many years of electoral authoritarianism has mean that citizens have been denied meaningful opportunities for participation and voice. A truly representative democracy, for instance, would give opportunities and voice especially to diverse ethnic groups and interests. Such a democracy will provide safeguard for transgression against minority groups and other groups who perceive exclusion and marginalisation.

Reinforcing the weaknesses of institutions for horizontal and vertical accountability is the reality that government is not accountable to the people and the level of corruption remains very high, partly because of the over bearing nature of the executive at all levels. It is in this regard that the presidential system comes into conflict with the basic tenets of federalism. The evidence seems to suggest that the presidential system seems to promote personal rule which is at the expense of the shared and limited rule that is the fundamental underlying principle of federalism. This is precisely the reason to pay greater attention to issues of democratic governance and the importance of holding governments to account at all levels. The failure of governance is not a function of structure, but of the failure of democratic institutions and the failure of citizens to hold their leaders to account. The preoccupation with problem of structure tends to neglect the fact that the failure of governance is one of the underlying factors that fuel agitation including insurgency and demand for breakup of the country.

It is also important to make the point that Nigeria has essentially failed in its nation-building project as envisioned by her founding fathers. Infact, the country has abandoned the unity project that was launched in the aftermath of the civil war and we have crippled national institutions meant to reinforce unity and the creation of a national community. For instance, our Federal Character Commission furthers the opposite of “ethnic balancing”, federal unity schools that once brought together youths of different ethnicities and religions together increasingly recruit students from their localities, while federal universities overwhelmingly recruit students and lecturers from the host state. What is more, even the NYSC scheme has been massively subverted; not only do many graduates serve in their states of origin; there are campaigns in some quarters to abolish the scheme. These are not problems of structure as such but the willful subversion of national unity by vested interests which are blamed on the structure of the Nigerian federal system.

It is against the foregoing background that Suberu and Diamond came to the conclusion that Nigeria offers rich materials for reflection on a number of crucial institutional theories as follows:

1. The relative impact of constitutional and military authoritarianism on interethnic outcomes;

2. The relationship between form and character of federalism, on the one hand, and success or failure in ethnic conflict management on the other;

3. The relative auspiciousness of presidentialism and parliamentarianism for deeply divided developing nations; and

4. The latent tension between integrative and accommodative solutions to the dilemmas of national unity.

These are the dilemmas that we must bear in mind in the engaging the challenge of re-federalising Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria’s federalism lives truly to the spirit of the founding fathers of the modern Nigerian state in promoting unity in diversity.

Re-Engaging Nigeria’s Unity Project

The failure of development an governance is reinforced by the failure of nation–building. This is what is often referred to as the National Question. One of Nigeria’s leading historians, Professor Afigbo, provides a clear understanding of the National Question as follows:

The national question is, in ungarnished language, nothing more and nothing less than a laundered or cosmetic expression for the old bogey of Nigerian politics, that is, tribalism or multi-ethnicity or cultural or plural nationality. It is the fact of plural nationality and its implication for the idea of the Nigerian nation. In other words, it is the question of what can, or what should be done to make it possible for the many ethnic nationalities which make up Nigeria to live together in harmony, thus bringing about the forging of Nigerian nation that is united and strong, and thus beloved of citizens (Afigbo, 2000.p.3).

There is a widely shared frustration that Nigeria is not working. The tendency for critics of the failed national project is to blame the problem on colonial contraption; first in the ambitious conquest of Lord Lugard, acclaimed as the most successful ‘freelance imperialist’. This was followed by the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, usually referred to as the “mistake of 1914”. Then, in the course of colonial rule, the colonial state in response to the “Native Question” fomented a system of divide and rule to ensure that colonial subjects did not build a common front to challenge the colonial order. In this way, colonial rule reinforced differences and in some instances, invented differences where none existed. Terence Ranger’s influential work on The Invention of Tradition provocatively argues that this was true of all colonial powers in Africa. In Nigeria, colonialism was the purveyor of modern, political ethnicity, which provided a common consciousness to disparate groups who previously lacked such awareness.

Ethnicity poses a huge problem to the notion of a pan-Nigerian identity. First, because ethnic identity in Nigeria is recent and it is in situation of constant flux, owing its origin to ethnic construction of ethnic identity. Constant decomposition and re-composition of ethnic identity is a constant reality of ethnic experience. Second, ethnicity is invoked by interests that are not necessarily described in ethnic terms and can be mobilized in pursuit of perceived ethnic interests or not related to ethnic interests at all. As Ake5 reminds us, conflicts arising from the construction of ethnicity to conceal exploitation by building solidarity across class lines, conflicts arising from appeals for ethnic support in the face of vanishing legitimacy, and from the manipulation of ethnicity for obvious political gains are not ethnic problems, but problems of particular political dynamics that are pinned on ethnicity. The politicization of ethnicity in Nigeria therefore has to be understood ultimately in the context of intra-class struggles for hegemony within a fractionalized ruling class.

Today, there are three competing ideas about Nigeria’s unity. Nigeria’s former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida has suggested that federalism and Nigeria’s unity and corporate existence belong to the Doctrine of Nigeria’s Settled Issues, by which he means issues of which elite consensus has been considerably achieved. This appears to be a progressive, patriotic and nationalistic position that we all need to support. The caveat however, is that the unity of Nigeria should be taken as given. It has to be negotiated by the contending political elites and must be underlined by sound democratic governance, inclusive growth, and a true sense of belonging to the Nigerian state based on the pursuit of social citizenship.

The second idea goes back to the notion of Nigeria as a mere geographical expression which is destined to break into several independent nation-states. Internal voices in this direction is reinforced by some purveyors of self-fulfilling prophesy in North America who in some scenario building proclaimed 2015 as the end of the Nigerian project. The resurgence of Biafra is the more recent manifestation of this tendency. Apart from Biafran agitators, other Nigerian groups have issued veiled threats to dismember Nigeria as represented by a so-called coalition of Arewa Youth groups who issued ultimatum to persons of Igbo ethnicity resident in northern parts of Nigeria.

The problem of this position is that it crudely ignores the consequence of our liberal post-independent constitutions, which have encouraged Nigerians to live in every part of the country to pursue legitimate activities regardless of ethnicity and place of origin, is that diverse and multi-cultural communities exist in every part of the country. The free movement of people across the length and breadth of Nigeria, which started even before British colonialism, has resulted in trans-regional ethnic and religious ties and truly diverse communities in most parts of Nigeria. Many Nigerians have their life-time investments in regions and states other than the ones they call their own in the Nigerian parlance. The reality today is that these cross-cutting ties have created bonds across ethnic, religious and regional divide around livelihood issues which are more enduring than primordial identities of religion and “tribe”.

The third idea is that the federal system is distorted and perverted and therefore needs to be reformed and reconfigured.  It is correctly argued that the founding fathers of modern Nigeria found in a federal arrangement a compromise between a larger Nigerian identity and respect for ethnic and communal autonomy. This led them to institute a functional federal system that promoted healthy rivalry and competition among the regions, while fostering development at the same time. Many Yoruba political elites from the South-West share this view and have consistently clamoured for a return to “true federalism” by which they mean restoring the federal principle on non-centralization of power and resources.

However, we know how unbridled ambitions and destructive competition among the regional political elites brought to premature grief, this functional federal arrangement along with the first Republic. In response, the military imposed the logic of centralization of power and resources as earlier alluded to.

Nigeria of today is not a mere geographical expression. The consequence of our liberal constitutions, which have encouraged Nigerians to live in every part of the country to pursue legitimate activities regardless of ethnicity and place of origin, is that diverse and multi-cultural communities exist in every part of the country. The free movement of people across the length and breadth of Nigeria, which started even before British colonialism, has resulted in trans-regional ethnic and religious ties and truly diverse communities in most parts of Nigeria. Many Nigerians have their life-time investments in regions and states other than the ones they call their own in the Nigerian parlance. The reality today is that these cross-cutting ties have created bonds across ethnic, religious and regional divide around livelihood issues which are more enduring than primordial identities of religion and “tribe”.

There are many successful nations today in terms of having a common purpose and strong national bondage that have been created out of multiple ethnic and religious identities. Both Somalia and South Sudan show that that the most homogenous nations in terms of ethnicity are not necessarily the most successful. Visionary and purposeful leadership has created such nations, leveraging on strong national institutions, good governance, equity and justice, which enable each group to fulfill its aspirations. After all, a nation is an imagined community of people who, regardless of disparate ethnic and religious identities share a common aspiration, which is realizable through the principles of justice and the rule of law as enunciated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The lesson to learn is that we must work for Nigeria’s unity, give chance to institutions created to promote national unity to work and begin to give pan-Nigerian citizenship true meaning in the daily lives of people. Our remarkable history of political engineering which led to constitutional invention of national parties, the establishment of federal character bodies and the idea of unity schools and the youth service were all inspired by the ideals of national unity.


Restructuring is not an umbrella category for understanding all the challenges facing Nigeria today. While it is important in the context of our distorted federalism in which states that are expected to be the nodal points of development have been reduced to political and fiscal appendages of the federal government, we need to situate it in the proper context. We need to review the long federal exclusive legislative list, we need to review allocation of tax powers to the various tiers of government, and we need to promote efficiency in the operation of our federal system to guarantee equity and progress for all.

However, we need to problematize governance as a key missing link, and to appreciate that the failure of governance contributes to the numerous agitations. It does not make sense, for instance, to give more powers and resources to states when governors resist legislative autonomy and deny the mutual checks and balance that enhance public accountability in a federal system. Why are the Arewa youths not tackling corruption and callous neglect of education by many northern governors? Why are the different militia groups not taking Niger Delta governors to the cleaners for not showing much for the 13% that comes from derivation, even though this is not what they deserve? You can extend the same question to other groups, including the painful reality that huge allocations given to local governments hardly makes impact in the lives of ordinary citizens.

The Nigerian federal system needs to be restructured and the on-going constitutional review exercise still provides a window despite the setback of the devolution of powers Bill. Nigerians clamour for it because they believe it can address some of the key governance and development challenges. However, the working people of Nigeria must understand the limitations of restructuring which has remained essentially a platform of elite bargain and negotiations for power and resources.

What Nigerian working people need is a state that is committed to their basic social welfare and progress; an electoral democracy that enforces the social contract with the citizens; the realization of true citizenship; and the promotion of people-centred development; and a strong state that intervenes to curb the excesses of the market; and a national state that provides a rallying point of identity to all regardless of ethnicity and religion; and above all, a social democratic order based on social justice, fairness and equity.

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