Tactful tackling and finesse gave way to emotional and charged outbursts at the launching of the Centre for Confederation, Democracy and Good Governance in Africa, (CoCDAGGA), at the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja, Nigeria Friday, August 26th, 2016. But for the moderating presence of Cardinal John Onaiyekan and his intervention, the launching might have been all heat and no light. Although the Cardinal did not appeal to anyone directly, his conceptualisation and overarching stand on restructuring did take the thunder out of implosion that began to build up between protagonists and antagonists of restructuring. Instructively, it was from the same podium at The Yar’Adua Centre on May 31st, 2016 that the current phase of the debate on restructuring Nigeria was inaugurated by Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President of Nigeria. Atiku was not physically in the room yesterday but he was the elephant around whom debaters positioned themselves. In the end, it was a useful launching because protagonists of restructuring got the political education they certainly never addressed their minds to. It became clear that many people posing restructuring in the way they do in the current debate have no idea that they are lighting a candle in a petrol station.
The morning took off with Cardinal Onaiyekan saying, among other things, how he came to accept the invitation. It is because Caritas, an organisation of the Catholic Church is among the three or so organisations that make up the organisers. Caritas, he said, is beyond charity but also involved in justice, good governance and, in his own words, everything that has to do with human development. His second reason is solidarity with those who believe that things are not working but do not then blame everyone else but themselves instead of standing up to do something positive. In other words, he classified promoters of CoCDAGGA among those who are standing up to do something which includes starting the change from the self, lighting a small candle so that evil doesn’t thrive. That is in opposition to those who are satisfied with the status quo in the belief that to do otherwise is to ask for too much from life; those who though say something must be done but thinks that some amorphous ‘they’ should do so. In that way, those who belong here are guilty of self exemption because the bad situation was caused by ‘they’, not me. So, if they are Christians, then ‘they’ must be Muslims, if they are Northerners, then ‘they’ must be Southerners and if they are men, then ‘they’ must be women. Such people “have all kinds of reasons for blaming the other”, the Cardinal added.
But what is it to stand up and do something? For him, it is not necessarily to attack or protest or be in opposition but a radical change of attitude. We can call it a revolution but even then, revolution is never complete. The end of one revolution is the beginning of another. Conceptualised that way, he thought the number of people in the hall was enough to start the revolution. He was problematising CoCDAGGA’s clarion call which says ‘Join the Revolution’.
Dr Ibrahim Lame, a former Minister of Police Affairs was then called to the podium. He dismissed restructuring and centralised quality of leadership as the primary contradiction. For him, the military intervention in politics has produced a Nigeria in which people do not even know that there are better ways of doing things. Countries in Nigeria’s class at independence but which have made better progress did so because they never tampered with leadership recruitment. If you have people who were never trained for leadership, you have problem, he submitted, pointing out that the military lack the skills to lead. The former minister argued that, in spite of their differences, Nigeria had a leadership cadre that was equipped to lead up to the time of the military incursion. That, he said, is why people still make references to the Zik, Awo, Ahmadu Bello, etc.
Surprisingly, Lame voted not just for state but also community policing. He has two arguments for this. One is that a federal police set up which is under 400, 000 is grossly inadequate in policing a country of about 200 million. Two is that such has worked everywhere else. He mentioned Israel which he credited with having one of the best security systems in the world and which community policing is part and parcel of. The same with the United States and Egypt which he said combines a national standing police force with a local one. Dismissing the fear of state governors privatising local police, Lame said the answer to that is not avoidance but an umbrella of peace, justice and accountability.
He told the story of how an attempt to add the circuit television component to policing in Nigeria when he the minister was hijacked and the concessions to Nigeria’s peculiarities he won from the key company was lost. According to him, a quotation three times higher than what he got was imposed on the project eventually. That took him back to attacking restructuring because as he said subsequently, people who cheat the country that way do not do so because Nigeria is a federation or confederation. For him, they do so because they do not have the capacity to do what is right. And what is then important, to him, is question of how Nigeria might develop the capacity of those who lead, what institutions are needed to develop. Going frontal, he declared recent advocates of restructuring to be insincere, saying he knew them, that they are some of the richest people in Africa who should be told that the restructuring agenda is not another avenue that would give them illegal wealth or opportunity “to steal my money” but an economy that would serve everyone.
Dr Malachy Ochie, a Political Scientist who represented Arthur Nwankwo, the Enugu based publisher and Lame’s successor on the podium took a completely opposite direction agreeing with Lame only in respect to community policing. He disagreed with the notion that the primary contradiction is leadership recruitment, pointing out that developing the capacity of leaders doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The problem, for him, is the foundation of Nigeria. And, if as the Bible says, the righteous can do very little if the foundation is weak, then the critical question is what accounts for the period of stability from Independence to the military coup and the instability thereafter as Lame had delineated.
Dr Ochie proceeds to answer by saying that Yugoslavia disintegrated because it refused to restructure and that this was the same with Czechoslovakia. And even the 2007 election violence in Kenya, crisis in Sudan and the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia. Declaring Nigeria to be a colonial creation in which the people were unilaterally forced together to exist as one with no with no inputs from them, he was sure that was an arrange marriage. We will come face to face with the moment of contemplation if the country avoids restructuring because, according to him, Nigeria is being spoon fed.
Calling history to the help of his argument, he spoke of how the northern region voted for confederation in 1953 and how the south-west formed Egbe Omo Oduduwa to protect its interest. He brought in how only a few days back, Fulani herdsmen slaughtered eight persons in the village next to his in Enugu State, pictures of which he said are all over the internet. June 12 is still fresh, he also said and added that nobody should squirm should some states in the north want Sharia. The way out, in his opinion, is to constitutionalise the zones, each with a regional legislature and its own police while the Federal authority retains powers over immigration, foreign affairs and defence. By his analysis, this is also the answer to Boko Haram, the details of which he said he would not go into but which someone from the floor demanded of him to. The debate was becoming all too interesting. Oby Ezekwesili who was moderating tried to calm nerves and got the conversation going by trying to fill the gap created by the non-appearance of Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto State governor.
All three speakers were then huddled up there to clarify their initial submissions and extend the conversation. Onaiyekan was asked to speak first. He did not see why we should be so sad because the problems we are discussing are everywhere. He warned that there is no way of dismembering ourselves apart so easily because it could be a gory, painful and unpredictable outcome. We have had major restructuring, he averred, citing creation of states except that such have all been by military fiat. Unfortunately, in his reckoning, Nigeria has not been able to sincerely assess where the military has taken the country.
He talked of his addiction to talking peace and how peace requires effort. The binder, for him is his thesis of ‘the primacy of human nature’ by which he meant that, having been created in the image of God, every human being craves peace. He made a point about divine dignity which this reporter missed out in jotting down, especially how he connected that to the restructuring everyone is talking about. But he made his point of departure very clear by conceptualising restructuring as attempt at liberation from the oppression the majority experiences. What he sees as the problem is how everyone has determined who the oppressor is, to the point of something like “If we are not affected by Boko Haram, then it is ok”. In warning against that, the cardinal said “I don’t think it leads us anywhere”. This was before he sent verbal missiles in the direction of the Nigerian elite whose members he identified with organising their own tribes behind them to fight other ethnic groups of origin even though what they do to the tribesmen is a different thing.
When it came to his turn, Lame basically restated his earlier position. What new he brought in being the conclusion: we are still trying to shift the burden of Nigeria’s crisis to the ordinary people who are though not part of the rottenness. There is nothing wrong with the existing constitution as long there are ways of amending it. The key issue is how to stop corrupt leaders.
Dr Ochie took the second opportunity to clarify that he had not come to advocate confederation. Done with that, he proceeded to disagree with Onaiyekan that state creation is a form of restructuring. For him, it was a methodology by which the military created mandarin millionaires and that is why they are, in his view, unviable. Becoming more specific, he wondered why the east should have only five states. That is a form of marginalisation, he stated.
Oby Ezekwesili’s preference for another round of this was resisted. Agitators from the floor angling for a fight had their way. And the floor was opened for them. Dr Jibrin Ibrahim came up to introduce himself as someone who had taught comparative federalism for over two decades and is in a position to say that there is no such concept known to Political Science as true federalism, dismissing it as a strictly Nigerian concoction. He followed that up to assert the inevitability of restructuring but not as a once and for all exercise. Rather, in his analysis, it goes on all the time, in one form or the other. Third, he detects in the current narrative of restructuring a sub-text. He claims that subtext to be ethnic federalism. His corrective, in apparent reference to Dr Ochie’s analogy, is that Yugoslavia collapsed precisely because it restructured. Short of wondering how Dr Ochie could use Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Ethiopia as success stories of restructuring when the opposite is what history shows, Ibrahim enjoins all advocates of restructuring to tell the truth or come out with what they actually have in mind.
The occasion continued but the day was done at this point.