General Martin Luther Agwai and the Restructuring Agenda
On December 15th, 2016, Intervention published an editorial position in which the paper, among others, called on selected notable leaders to intervene in the advocacy on restructuring Nigeria by some politicians with a view to clarifying the risk of unintended consequences involved in such a process at a time of deep divisions among the elite. We had argued that if devolution of powers is what the restructuring agenda is all about, then it so conventional and ordinary that it does not have to be promoted the way it is being done as the only way out. And we expressed suspicion that this is another grand strategy of escapism by members of the elite who are intimidated by the difficult task of welding disparate ethnic and other groups or identities into a coherent national whole as has been accomplished by their counterparts in even more difficult circumstances. We stated that privileging strict territorial delimitations corresponding to national groups is neither helpful nor possible in the age of ‘spaces of flows’, no matter the current understandable frustrations. Not when all the countries that made it into the big powers club in the 21st century are statists or substantially so.
The editorial in question as reproduced below was written in response to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s return to the issue at the time. When we took that position, we had no idea who was going to go a long that direction, whether on the basis of reading what we wrote or on his or her own independent analysis. We are happy that someone such as General Martins Luther Agwai has cautioned against restructuring with probably the best empirical indictment of it that is possible. His intervention in the ‘debate’ on restructuring is a major component of his interview in Daily Trust on Sunday, (January 8th, 2017). One major point of credibility in his intervention is that, although, as he said in the interview, he could be drafted into politics, he is yet to be a conventional politician looking at such a major issue from the lens of electoral fortune. Second point of credibility is that we are told that some intelligence seers have put it across that Nigeria is doomed without restructuring. But what sort of intelligence is that which General Agwai would be so ignorant of, having been a former head of the Nigerian military and well located in international military operations coordinated by the UN system? Third, General Agwai’s is an intervention by someone who some people call junior Gowon in terms of not being a controversial or heady personality but reconciliatory in character and a mixture of Nigeria’s territorial, cultural, civil-military bridges. For someone who is thus exposed in a positive manner to express a categorical opinion on a national matter as he did in that interview deserves to be situated.
We cannot say that he has said everything there is to say on the issue in question. But he has touched on key aspects. He warned Nigeria`s ‘secessionists’ to learn from the South Sudan story; he argued that there is no end to majority/minority imbalance because new majorities and minorities will always arise even if you succeed in breaking away or restructuring; not many people want to see a strong Nigeria, he said and drew attention to how lizards come in only when there are cracks on the wall. But, Nigeria can, in his view, be a force to be reckoned with in the world, much, much beyond Africa. He put the blame squarely on the nature of the elite we have, pointing out that “there is no problem in this world that doesn’t have a solution” if the owners of the problem are determined to solve it. For him, the problem lies in closing the inter-subjective space where standpoints will clash and produce consensus. In other words, the problem does not lie in what we call subjective or biased positions but in disallowing biases from ‘clashing’. General Agwai made a sound division between negotiating and dialoguing in this process.
Our inference from the totality of his submissions is that restructuring and secession are not too far from each other in the Nigerian usage; those pushing the case for restructuring need to be careful because they are sure to meet the same problems all over again. They should rather re-examine the situation they are dealing with rather than risk deflating the future of the true giant of Africa.
This is a very welcome intervention. General Agwai is providing leadership, a very fresh one for that matter. That is leadership that is not defined in terms of when one is a minister, a governor or a senator but leadership in terms of cautioning against pitfalls of one option or the other. As long as Nigeria remains uniquely underdeveloped, cries of discrimination and marginalization will rent the air. So, development strategy or business model is what needs restructuring in favour of what can most urgently provide majority of the people with the safety nets that would stabilise them against search for meaning in exclusionary identity practices inimical to the national idea.
If Nigeria has had the good fortune of a more coherent ruling elite with a transformative self-conscious, most of what constitutes the roadblocks to stability today would not be the case. Without that fortune, the country is still battling with citizenship, for instance. Without condemning everyone and failing to recognise certain very innovative steps that have been taken, the point is that Nigeria, except for occasional flashes, has been shooting below its endowment. But Nigeria can be kick started. A major requirement for that is the kind of idealism people like Martin Agwai conveys: the idea that Nigeria is a global rather than an African player.
Restructuring in itself will not bring development. Nigeria will not get out of the misery most of the citizens now contend with simply because it is re-constituted into autonomous regions. Autonomous regions do not offer anything better than what exists. It is even difficult to imagine its workability. How does the North Central or the North East as they are now become one region and function well today? What sort of region is that going to be with Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states all returning to Jos as headquarters? Even the North West which is the least complex in the north will not work if the endless crisis in Kaduna State is anything to go by. The same is the story in the South –South. At the level of language and broad identity, the South East and South West might appear problem free but even then, the kind of majority/minority element Agwai identified must abound. The Nigerian State is still the safety net, provided it is well locked into a continuing renewal process.
In other words, there are very routine adjustments that can be made and should continue to be made to the Nigerian State without much fanfare. For instance, what is so difficult in creating an additional state in the East for the sake of strategic balance? Does this require a UN resolution, protests and brickbats before it is done? Or, the case of adjusting the number of local government councils such that they correspond to some clearer criteria since they were created without any such criteria! This might have been excused by the very situation in which they were created but nothing says they cannot be reviewed as time goes on. It is certainly not strange to ask questions if Lagos and Kano are in the same population range of figures but do not have nearly the same number of local governments. Is this not what the National Assembly can or ought to take occasional strategic review of and update as may be necessary without much ado? What are its researchers problematising? Revenue allocation formulas are not constructed to last a nation’s life time. Why is it such a big deal to manage that process in Nigeria? The elite have lowered politics to very low, everyday issues that are simply managerial, thereby completely taking Nigeria from the concern for lofty heights.
What General Agwai has achieved with his intervention is to brilliantly contest the space with an alternative to restructuring in the nebulous, escapist and black box sense that it has been canvassed so far. His view is bound to restore the faith in Nigeria by those who might have become confused and weakened by the situation of Nigeria today. While it is true that a number of things happening can be disheartening, the way out is not in jumping into another black box without caution. General Agwai, therefore, provides an opportunity for everyone to take another look at his or her own discourse of Nigeria.
We are not unaware how this could be such a difficult thing to do for those who have reduced politics to tricks, treachery and scheming and who, as Agwai correctly noted, define Nigeria in relation to their inability to win election to be senator, governor, local government council chairman or become a minister. When progressive agents set agenda, the tendency is for incurable promoters of insularity to try to undermine it, block it, claim victory or paint others as the black leg. They call it politics. However, it is in the nature of Nigerian politics to neutralise such politicians.
It bears repeating that this newspaper is not condemning advocates of restructuring. It simply doesn’t agree with them, believing that a strong but informed state is still what Nigeria requires to move out of where it is now to where it ought to be. This caveat is important in relation to the reproduction of the editorial below being misunderstood. Not that it would matter but just not to leave anyone in doubt about what we had said in the editorial in question. This basic honesty is in keeping with our directive principle which is “Journalism” about, after and beyond peace through the constitutive force of transformative representation”.
Atiku Abubakar and the Burden of Restructuring Nigeria
Many record it as a strong point on the credit side of Atiku Abubakar’s politics. That is, Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999 to 2007 maintains a robust presence on the political circuit, including the boldness to utilize platforms to canvass his convictions. This cannot be said of many other politicians who rely on other unwholesome instruments to achieve their agenda in politics. But, in the course of doing that, he has recently got caught up in the campaign for restructuring of Nigeria.
Atiku returned to the topic of restructuring again last week at another book launch similar to the one last May where he announced his arrival as a leading voice in favour of the restructuring agenda. Last week, he reinforced the views expressed in May by saying that he found it odd and unhelpful for anyone to rule out the negotiability of Nigeria or to equate such a position with an attempt to break the country. No form of human relationship is immune to being negotiated, he postulated and went on to, uncritically, accept what is said to be intelligence assessment to the effect that failure to re-negotiate Nigeria will produce disintegration of the country. Anyway, Atiku added how he had always spoken on the need to restructure the federation so as to devolve more power and resources to the federating units. He mentioned how he told an audience of mostly northerners at a recent outing in Kaduna how restructuring is in the interest of the North and of Nigeria, crediting the north with being the source of most resistance to restructuring.
But, in its present usage, the concept of restructuring must be the most elusive concept in Nigerian politics. And this is simply because an otherwise straightforward and uncomplicated principle of federalism has become highly politicized. That politicization speaks to the decay of Nigeria. And the decay manifests in both material and mental disposition of many a citizen generally and in their low sense of the depth of the crisis in which Nigeria is enveloped in particular. It is so low among the political leaders that such a very pedestrian issue as devolution is raised to a very high profile status by major political leaders, including Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice-President.
It means that Nigeria is not about to experience a political leader who would describe the country as an improbable story but yet go against all odds to weld together diverse identities, the best example of which is still the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Roger Cohen’s memorable insight on this in his March 23rd, 2015 tribute to Lee Kuan Yew at his death at 91 in The New York Times is that after pointing out the improbability of the Singaporean story because of its lack of the ingredients of a nation such as “a homogeneous population, common language, common culture and common destiny”, Lee still made it to work by welding a “combustible ethnic and religious hodgepodge of Chinese, Malays and Indians gathered in a city-state of no natural resources”. Cohen then argued that 20th century produced few greater statesmen and perhaps no greater pragmatist as against many nations with less ingredients of disaster but where “sectarian differences have proved insurmountable and often the catalyst of war and national unraveling”.
Instead of such a statement in statesmanship, we are being told that separate development or apartheid kind of federation would solve the problems. What this brings out most clearly is what the communiqué of the Third Dialogue of the Awolowo Foundation derided as the contrast between political leadership in Nigeria and in other lands in that “First, in those countries, the political elite, regardless of their cultural differences, promote economic growth as the major goal of society. All resources are mobilized to achieve this goal by a truly modernizing elite”. Tatalo Alamu, the noted columnist, therefore, correctly identified the trouble with Nigeria when, nine years after the 1994 communiqué, he opined that “On paper, political restructuring is easy. You can carve up a country into a thousand regions and prefectures. But how do we restructure the soul and mind of the contemporary Nigerian ruling class to make it amenable to the minimum standards of the political modernity that has been foisted on us?” (See “Sambisa and Other Forests”, The Nation, May 11th, 2014, p. 3), It cannot be put better. The quality of the domestic ruling class is such that it cannot even manage a decent devolution exercise without adding to the misery of the populace.
Second, the Nigerian State is so weak now it cannot supervise a devolution process without infecting it with impunity that would undermine it. The state itself is in more urgent need of restructuring into a functional, responsive and responsible state. Three, the contemporary global moment is the moment an aspiring regional power such as Nigeria MUST seize to kick start rapid industrialisation before the global order is reconfigured. If the country misses this opportunity, it will take more than a hundred years before it ever does again. Nigeria in its present level of squalor and degeneracy cannot last much longer, not to talk of another hundred years.
Four, after the horrors of SAP, the June 12 crisis and the trauma of recent insurgencies, the people of this country should be hearing about a New Beginning, not vexatious promotion of nothingness in a futile effort to give conceptual respectability to a wishy-washy notion about restructuring or any such mindless notion that offers nothing to anybody but only heightens tension and increases confusion all over the place.
For these reasons, the agitation for restructuring is not a progressive alternative capable of transforming the country to where, by endowment, it should be today. It is also the poverty of the concept rather than the northern opposition Atiku talked about that makes it an uninviting gambit for all reflective leaders, even in southern Nigeria. In The Guardian, (September 18th, 2016, p. 14) Alhaji Buba Galadima gave us a likely scenario in terms of response to restructuring in the southern part of the country.
Apart from Duro Onabule, (see his column, Daily Sun, August 19th, 2016, p. 47), it is Femi Falana who provided the most succinct advocacy for restructuring but along economic justice, the type Atiku has never talked about. In a response that justifies quoting at length, Falana said “… Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar recently reopened the debate on restructuring. While the Presidency dismissed the call, many interest groups have commended Alhaji Abubakar for his intervention. It is interesting to note that the attention of the Nigerian people has not been drawn to the restructuring of the national economy, which has been carried out in the country by successive regimes to enrich a few people. Incidentally, it was Atiku who presided over the restructuring of the nation’s economy through the liquidation of public assets and the privatization of the commanding height of the economy. The policy led to the official cornering of the commonwealth by imperialism and its local lackeys. All public enterprises and major assets including oil blocks were sold to the so called “core investors”. …My submission is that the nation cannot be seriously restructured without equitable redistribution of wealth. Therefore, those who have cornered our commonwealth should not be allowed to talk of restructuring in a vacuum. In other words, the campaign for restructuring should encompass the decentralization and democratisation of political and economic powers, which have been privatised by all factions of the ruling class. In particular, the struggle for federalism has to confront the control of the national economy by imperialism and the comprador bourgeoisie”. By geography, Falana is a southerner. Why is Falana’s idea of restructuring not the one canvassed by advocates of restructuring?
At the moment, neither Atiku Abubakar nor anybody else for that matter has any idea of how an attempt at restructuring could turn out. Most of such ideas that seem to enjoy popular attention turn out to be fuzzy thinking with imponderable consequences on the field of implementation. Mikhail Gorbachev once thought that Glasnost and Perestroika were great reforms to cure the defunct Soviet State of atrophy. He lost control of the process completely to unintended consequences. The Soviet State collapsed instead. No body or groups is permitted the luxury of experimentation that can rob Africa the benefit of the what has been described as the highest concentration of blacks under one government in human history. Not if all the countries that broke into great power status in the 21st century are more complex than Nigeria in one way or the other, either in racial terms or social stratification or territorial vastness.
While on this, it is also worth recalling how, a few years back, Southern Sudan was thought to be the best answer to the crisis of nation building in The Sudan. Today, Southern Sudan is a reality but a messy one. It is a paradox that Atiku Abubakar who was virtually the Second in Command to the late Shehu Yar’Adua when he broke down all imaginary ethnic, regional and religious barriers, winning elections, warts and all, across the country would be the one standing up for official re-erection of such barriers. That is a very poor politics of History.
Atiku Abubakar is one politician the ruling class might find itself running to and relying upon at some point. Such a politician should exercise caution in lending his weight to an anti-statist notion without a model but the extreme of which was once about regional commands or armies. Whatever reasons constrain Atiku Abubakar to join the bandwagon of the restructuring campaign, he needs to rethink. If it is presidential power, he can still get it without pushing that campaign whose consequences, intended and unintended, could turn out to be much worse than the disease it was to cure. All the cries of marginalization, discrimination, exclusion and neglect are protestations of underdevelopment and of arbitrariness in the use of power in Nigeria. Good governance rather than restructuring is thus the issue and Femi Falana therefore makes more sense about restructuring than other campaigners for the undefined and clumsy concept. It could be our own Brexit in a fragile Nigeria. Nigeria is a society in decay. And all such societies could be very vulnerable, as was the case of Rome centuries ago.
It is in this sense that many Nigerians are wondering why Nigerian leaders such as General Gowon, Abdulsalami Abubakar, TY Danjuma, David Mark, Dangiwa Umar, Bukola Saraki, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Alafin of Oyo, John Onaiyekan, Bolaji Akinyemi, Patrick Dele Cole, Donald Duke, Orji Kalu, Peter Obi, Ledum Mitee and several other respected leaders are keeping quiet on this wild debate. This is not an issue to be approached within ruling class protocol or behind the scene but publicly combated. It is time again to make the point that no amount of ethnic, religious and cultural differences ought to counter the unifying impact of nasty historical experiences of slave trade, colonialism and SAP imperialism that produced this country. Fidel Castro could liberate and build tiny Cuba to the point of sending Cuban troops to defend the dignity of Africans in Angola and Namibia while Nigeria which is almost ten times the size of Cuba was looking on. At what point should we begin to feel embarrassed?
In any case, one key element about the restructuring debate so far is the elite-bias it betrays and total lack of interest from the Nigerian masses. The people are preoccupied with their day to day survival. They are concerned about skyrocketing prices and spiralling inflation. They worry about the education of their children and the high and unreasonable school fees even when the quality is absolutely low at all levels. They are disturbed by lack of quality healthcare and other amenities that make life wholesome elsewhere but lacking in their own country. They are fearful for their lives whether at home or travelling about the country. They fear rampant crimes of kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling, armed robbery and other crimes that have long been forgotten in the rest of the world but which are raging in Nigeria! They bemoan the lack of opportunities that are taken for granted in other countries with similar ratings as Nigeria. They need decent employment that brings reasonable income to their households but are simply not available anywhere.
On top of this situation, we are being drawn into risking dismembering the remnants of a once promising country that should, by now, be the pride of the Black Race and all developing countries of the world but isn’t. It ought to be high time for all other leaders to infuse reason and wisdom into debate on a concept such as restructuring. While Britain is so developed it can cope with the Brexit risk, Nigeria is not. The world is already over flowing with uncertainties.
Atiku Abubakar can be said to have paid his dues. He is qualified to be president of Nigeria. He is not a tribalist or chauvinist of any type; he is very functional and the least anti-intellectual of the lot. And he is a philanthropist, indicating large heartedness. He has an objectionable neoliberal bent but should he win the Nigerian Presidency, he would find out the same way other African presidents have done that implementing the neoliberal package is a source of presidential heart attack, even at the level of social media instrumentalism alone. He simply has no reasons to get desperate. He could still be president of Nigeria without canvassing for restructuring. Although, so much can happen in the next two years: from dramatic realignments to the emergence of an overwhelming dark horse by 2018 to turning point global drama that could drastically influence choices we make here in Nigeria. But, even then, if God has destined him to make it, he still would. And this is not being fatalistic.