The drama playing out or about to play out when the All Progressives Congress, (APC), Nigeria’s ruling party, distanced itself from restructuring this week cannot be lost on most observers. The party announced a 9-member committee at the end of its National Working Committee midweek to, in the words of Bolaji Abdullahi, its National Publicity Secretary, explain to Nigerians its position on restructuring of the country. The position, as it turned out, is “devolution of power to states and local governments”, a position which the APC fears might have been “misconstrued to mean restructuring of the polity”. Just in case anyone is still not clear, one more quotation from Abdullahi might be in order: “We have realised for some time now that when people talk about restructuring, we are no longer sure if they are talking about the same thing…”. The implication is that the APC has always had a position on ‘restructuring’ and it is not the same thing as the one in vogue now. That is one side of the drama. There is the other side.
In this same APC, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is one of the most unambiguous and vociferous canvassers for the vision of restructuring the APC is distancing itself from. Both his admirers and critics would acknowledge him as an important politician and a leader in the APC. He could not but, therefore, be the biggest name that came to most people’s mind in the ensuing dance to the music of restructuring within the party. Is there any chance that Atiku’s notion of restructuring will see the light of the day under a framework, the development of which will be presided over by Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State who has already condemned restructuring? How would el-Rufai chair a committee that has an opportunity to wage a conceptual and doctrinal warfare against Atiku and fail to utilise it at a very opportuned moment as this? In the context of the historical tension between the governor and the former Vice-President, it is unlikely that the governor has undergone the kind of democratic conversion that would guarantee that liberalism. And even if he does, what of the APC whose 24 or so governors constitute a significant layer of power? And if Atiku’s standpoint on restructuring is dismissed, would he have to leave the party or declare submission in the name of organisational discipline? Or would the nation witness a clash of narratives in APC’s politics of restructuring? And if there is such a clash, would it be of the proportion to be a national security threat as in the Obasanjo-Atiku warfare without armistice? These are questions to ponder when the drama is seen beyond the persons or individuals involved.
Some people have remained perplexed by Atiku Abubakar’s sustained endorsement of the restructuring campaign especially since May 2016. For a politician with good knowledge of the psychic constitution of fellow politicians, someone who has been in the thick of party formation and who has served as the Vice-President under civilian rule, Atiku as a paid up member of the movement for restructuring had something bordering on the incomprehensible. Could it be that this man doesn’t know his fellow politicians again as far as setting up and staging big born fires, the quelling of which will help in re-arranging the ranking order in their struggle for ascendancy? Editors at Intervention were intrigued enough to caution him in a December 15th, 2016 editorial titled “Atiku Abubakar and the Burden of Restructuring Nigeria”, something he might have misread as an attack.
Intervention postulated in the editorial that an idea such as restructuring which might seem to enjoy popular attention do turn out to be fuzzy thinking with imponderable consequences at implementation, warning against “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”. Putting all the cries of marginalization, discrimination, exclusion and neglect as protestations of underdevelopment and of arbitrariness in the use of power in Nigeria, the editorial emphasised good governance rather than restructuring. It had started by saying neither Atiku Abubakar nor anybody else for that matter had any idea of how an attempt at restructuring could turn out. The restructuring tape is still rolling and winners and losers are not clear yet. It would, however, appear that restructuring is set to turn out a burden for Atiku Abubakar.
In his latest treatise on restructuring at an investiture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he went on to articulate a degree of ‘de-statisation’ that would frighten even first year students of classical federalism. The magical appeal in federalism remains that decentralising and centralising feature unique to it. To give the impression that devolution would amount to removal of the ‘unitary’ element in the face of the incredible fluidity of flows in today’s world is similar to promising to build a bridge over a space that has no water. Even if the current campaign results in restructuring of Nigeria into ethno-regional aparthood that its more vociferous canvassers want, the winners would still be the losers because there is nothing anybody can do about the fluidity in question. There is a big shift in the meaning of most words or concepts under informationalized capitalism that leading politicians, their speech writers and media managers must mind in their language use.
Intervention’s caution in the editorial referred to earlier may be worth recalling. Nigeria is a society in decay. And all such societies could be very vulnerable, as was the case of Rome centuries ago. Secondly, Nigeria is in dire need of nurturing because it is not a society which has been nurtured. Rather, it has been handled very roughly. Nigerians want to hear and see elements of such a ‘New Deal’ in the statements and standpoints of leading politicians who aspire to provide leadership at this crucial moment. Nothing would stop an Atiku Presidency if God has destined him to make it. But it is doubtful that God would excuse anyone from articulating an ideology habouring element of nurturing for a society that has gone through the stress Nigeria has and is still going through.