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 communique of the Third Dialogue of the Awolowo Foundation derided as the contrast between political leadership in Nigeria and other countries 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 communique, 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.