Did elder statesman, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, catch Nigerians off guard with his suggestion of restructuring Nigeria into the existing 109 Senatorial Districts? It would seem so given the relative quiet that has greeted his suggestion unlike the other models on ground so far. One of the models so far is a return to the regions as they were in 1963. That has been a subject of its own debate between those for and those against. Joda, for instance, does not see that as viable because only three of Nigeria’s dominant ethnic groups are homogeneous enough unlike the rest of the various tribes. So, he makes his own proposition: convert the existing to federating units. They are large enough to be so, he says. As a member of that generation of technocrats who produced the highly informed and very patriotic document called the Second National Development Plan, Joda has credibility but will this fly?
109 Senatorial Districts looks so simple but might the problems lie in its simplicity? It responds very well to the feeling that current sharing favours some and not the other. That is actually its upper credit. This is followed by how the suggestion also responds to the phenomenon of local hegemons over their contenders, a reality which exists in almost all existing states of the federation. Since every state has three districts, it means we should not expect claims of any section being dominant anywhere anymore. Implementing the suggestion does not involve anyone moving anywhere as occurs with state creation. His own argument is also a point. As he puts it, “It can reduce the present intolerable level of the cost of governance in this country; it will wipe out the protocols and all the other encumbrances that we now have to bear and which have now bankrupted us”.
Clearly, reducing the cost of governance and the protocol overhang appear to have structured his intervention but did he go far enough into how they would be run as to achieve these? Would it solve the problem? Federating units, we are told, must come from observable differences. What would be the difference between all the three Senatorial Districts in Abia, Imo, Oyo, Ogun, Kano, Katsina? And, aren’t there too many groups who do not belong where they are now if we follow the model? And won’t we be inviting another round of claims of marginalization, domination and hegemony too soon? The existing Senatorial Districts are not products of any consultation of who should be where.
Could it be that the elder anticipated and provided answers to some of these possible hiccups in his model? Was it the media that did not go into details of his submission? His suggestion implies there would be no more governors. So, who or what becomes the leadership structure in each senatorial district then? Is it the Senator in Abuja or a duplicate? How does that office relate to Abuja? Where does the present system offload its baggage of special advisers, special assistants, commissioners and sundry designations? Will the overall system still be stable if all those layers of the power minded elite are left floating after having tested the forbidden fruit although most people that go by the name advisers, assistants are there for the show. Or did the elder hope that the salary and non-salary conditions of the ‘new’ states would be made so low as a deliberate way of making government unattractive for local elite and governmental power at the point of take off?
It is possible he has provided answers to some of these questions in his submission. The idea of transforming the existing 109 Senatorial Districts into the federal structure looks so attractive, with huge liberatory potential and an offer of fresh air from the protocol overhang Alhaji Joda is worried about. Until that becomes clear, it also carries signs of unworkabaility even as seems he has thought about it. Perhaps, only time will determine its innovativeness or otherwise. It would though that, at the end of the day, there might be no alternative to looking at restructuring as a governance crisis. Nigeria is not being governed, it is not being nurtured. As the Executive Director of the South African think tank, the Institute of Security Studies, (ISS) told a Washington audience not too long ago, it is leadership, governance and poverty that distinguishes Nigeria from Ethiopia. In his view, Ethiopia is governed, Nigeria is not. He did not mean that there is no government in Nigeria. He meant that Nigeria has no core of a dedicated clique of patriots who have decided on where to take Nigeria and how to do it. In the absence of such a unifying developmental clique, all manner of banalities come to the fore at the expense of developmentalism. QED!