Restructuring, zoning and northern oligarchs, By Osmund Agbo

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You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep”
– Navajo Proverb


As the year 2023 draws near and political activities begin to pick up steam, there is the overall expectation that the Presidency will rotate to the South and maybe even micro-zoned to the South-East. Of course, some notable northern politicians want nothing to do with any of that. In an unprecedented act of concession however, we all should be super thrilled to hear that the almighty nephew of Mr. President is now a strong advocate of merit, whatever that term meant to Mamman Daura.

In an exclusive interview granted to Vanguard recently, Chief Olu Falae advised that Nigerians should do away with zoning and focus on restructuring before the 2023 general elections. I totally agree with the former finance and one-time secretary to Ibrahim Babangida’ military government. Let our focus be more on long-term solution instead of quick fixes that attempt to assuage the feeling of inclusion in one group while the rest cry foul in protest. Even a three-term presidential ticket zoned to the southeast will not begin to make a dent on the gross structural injustice inherent in the current system. That said, I see nothing wrong having to support the emergence of a Nigerian president of southeast extraction while working to restructure. The two are not mutually exclusive and Nigeria certainly could walk and chew gum at same time. It might be one good faith effort to reassure a sizable percentage of our nation’s population that they too constitute an integral part of a whole.

Few days ago, I came across a post credited to Prof. George Obiozor where the erudite scholar made a compelling case to either restructure Nigeria or allow the ethnic nationalities to go their separate ways. In that submission, he challenged his audience made up of mostly Nigerian diaspora in UK to show just one example of a multi-ethnic state in Europe where one group is positioned to dominate the rest that hasn’t broken up.

Prof went to town in chronicling the fate that befell former nation states from Yugoslavia to former USSR that failed to rise up to the challenge of inclusion and representation that sustains such multi-ethnic societies. Lastly, he gave the reason why the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are still standing despite the ethnic differences of the constituents. In UK, he said, the system is led by men who permitted regional autonomy to the Irish, the Scott and the Welsh. Switzerland, another success story is an example of a nation where four ethnic groups that make up seven cantons constitute the federation units and agreed to a rotational presidency. His last two examples have gone to show that an ethnically pluralistic society is not antithetical to building powerful nations. Multi-ethnicity is not an incubus.

The former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs whose prior portfolios included being a high commissioner to Cyprus, Nigerian ambassador to Israel and later United States, is a man whose words many would want to take seriously. What Ambassador George failed to reckon with however, that Nigeria is not UK and that Muhammadu Buhari is not their president. Someone also need to remind him that our own version of House of Commons is populated by jokers who crave the glamour of celebrity lifestyle instead of the sobering demands of statecraft.

In a Daily Post publication of 31 August 2020, the paper reported the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) statement following the recent calls for memorandum by Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. The group opined that such a call is of no value and went on to describe the whole exercise as a sham.

The Forum noted that prior efforts ended up being a jamboree that encouraged monumental waste of time and resources while giving false hope with nothing to show. Instead, they advocated for what called a Nigerian Peoples’ Conference, the operational details of which appears more convoluted then the entity called Nigeria.

I find it a bit counter-intuitive for a group like NEF to argue that tasking an already existing, legally constituted and tax-payer funded body like the Nigerian senate to carry out a review of a constitutional document encourages waste whereas starting what they called “A Nigerian Peoples’ Conference on Review of the Constitution” from the scratch would be more cost-effective.

In another related development, the northern leaders, who were members of the 2014 National Conference, in a meeting in Abuja some time ago and speaking on the platform of the Northern Delegates’ Forum (NDF) made a claim that the North was not given fair representation in the said conference. In conclusion, they disowned the recommendations of the conference and stated that it was designed to ”put in particular our delegates and the North in general at a disadvantage”. It’ important to note that the confab was led by no less a person than the 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Justice Idris Kutigi from Niger state.

President Buhari from day one has never been a big fan of restructuring and had made no pretension to the contrary. He had been quoted on several occasions to have said that no human law or edifice is perfect and that Nigeria’ problems have more to do with process than structure. What the President may have failed to recognise is that the structural deficiency he acknowledges to be the problem is a consequence of a supposedly federal constitution that operates like an overbearing feudal system reminiscent of medieval Europe. Today his handler wants us to believe that every matter relating to the subject of restructuring belong in the legislative list. While such is the case in a functional democracy where there is true separation of powers, they quickly forget that we have been here long enough to know that nothing even close to that obtains in Nigeria. Even the dream of it can’t be nurtured without the blessing of the Presidency.

In each of those scenarios, these northern oligarchs led us on a wide goose chase, wanting the rest of Nigeria to believe that their actions were fired by the zeal of patriotism. Such antics have become all too familiar and nobody is living in such a fool’ paradise anymore. There is hardly a doubt that the default policy position of these power intoxicated elite class is to indulge in an endless game of political whack-a-mole. An effort to kick the can of an inevitable reform down the road while continuing to profit off an unjust system that consigns every other group to a of indentured servitude.

In making the case for restructuring Nigeria, many progressives continue to expound on its many virtues to the clogged ears of these oligarchs. The hope, however, is that one day, these “owners” of Nigeria will come to their senses and become faithful converts; a product of ludicrous wishful thinking. By trying to wake the one pretending to be asleep, southern intellectuals especially have become so befuddlingly naive to the point of forgetting how African men behave when in power. They need to be reminded that it’ the lure of power that continues to breed generations of “strongmen” on the continent who given a choice would rather die than give up their privilege. You have to be willing to severe their heads from the throne which is the only way they let go.

I worry, however, that every passing day the prospect of resolving the Nigerian question peacefully continues to dim. These motley bunch of rent seeking sleazebags would do whatever is necessary to protect their privileges. Those conscienceless prerogatives that are daily exercised on the backs of teeming population of Nigerians living in abject poverty.
Paradoxically, the worst victims of this dangerously egocentric politics are not domiciled in the south but instead are fellow northerners who they claim to represent. These terribly unfortunate victims are left to live a of beggarly existence and forced into a situation of utter hopelessness that make them willing recruits in the hands of terror organizations. These oligarchs whip up tribal and religious sentiments in a whim to pit compatriots against one another while gas-lighting the uninformed into buying whatever they choose to sell at any given time. They are lacking in even a single strand of patriotism.

Unfortunately, these cabals continue to oppose, overtly and covertly every effort designed to quench this raging inferno that is about to consume us all. For in the end, those who make peaceful revolution impossible, said John F. Kennedy, will make violent revolution inevitable. Nigeria does not have the luxury of time.

Dr. Agbo is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and writes from USA. Email: ‪[email protected]