Nigerians have a penchant for smartly replying questions with questions. Although dubious, this has proven efficient in averting or deflecting questions on pertinent issues. Eventually, it gets to a point where employing such an approach becomes futile, and the person posing the question wouldnt take a question for an answer. I think we are there already.
But before I proceed, kindly paint this scenario in your head: You were driving alone in a car and one of the tyres suddenly flew off. Luckily, you were able to manoeuvre the car and park safely. This happened at night and in a remote location- no one around, no network coverage to make a phone call and too dangerous to sleep overnight. You have a spare tyre with tools in your boot, but no extra bolts to fix it. What do you do?
Ponder over this; I will come to it later.
Those conversant with social media will remember a cartoon by Mustapha Bulama in 2015 which depicted President Goodluck Jonathan handing over the keys to a dilapidated car labelled ‘Nigeria’ to President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari in which Jonathan says ‘Dont worry. Im sure it still works’ and Buhari is left dumbfounded. That illustration was very apt at the time, but how about now? What is the condition of that car? Let us make a case of Nigeria as a motor vehicle.
The progress of a nation depends on the strength of the economy. Hence, the economy can be likened to the car engine. The revenue generated is synonymous to the fuel powering the engine (economy). The comfort and safety guaranteed by the internal and external features of the car translates perfectly to the peace and security experienced by the inhabitants of the nation due to proper functioning of the relevant authorities. The inhabitants of the nation represents the human presence in the car (even driverless cars have a level of human factor present) with the Government as the driver and everyone else being passengers. (Perhaps we might assume that it is a bus, in order to achieve a driver-passenger ratio that matches the government-to-everyone-else ratio in Nigeria). But there is one more important part of the vehicle which I would like to analyse more comparatively for the purpose of this topic. The tyres.
Tyres are present to provide balance to a vehicle while it is either in motion or when at rest. Balance, as it refers to Nigeria, can be defined as the condition in which substantial items (such as allocations, appointments, representation etc.) is equitably distributed among various sectors (religious, ethnic, zonal etc.) to ensure stability and progress in the operations of the nation. Sadly, the systems we have to ensure balance do not ensure both stability and progress.
Federal character is one of them. As defined by the constitution, it refers to the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation as expressed in section 14 (3) and (4) of this constitution. This appears pleasing to the eyes so much that one might miss the inherent flaws.
A recent Twitter thread by Dr. Joe Abah, a former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms revealed it all. He gave an instance of someone who has just been made the Chief Executive of a big supermarket with such a person being required to be completely efficient and deliver dividends to the shareholders. But this offer comes with terms and conditions: ‘You must obtain your products from every single part of the country and cant just go for quality or what will sell for the most profit… you must recruit your staff from every single part of the country and cant go for the quality or who will deliver the best performance… if nobody applies from one part of the country, you must find them and make them apply, to ensure there is fair representation for all. One does not need to think so deeply to imagine how quickly such a CEO will face an inevitable doom. This is bound to happen whenever merit is subjugated. Federal character only brings stability without progress.
Another system that exists in this polity is the rotational policy also referred to as zoning or turn-by-turn. It is the juggling of the top six positions in the land (President, Vice-President, Senate President, House Speaker, Deputy Senate President and House Deputy Speaker) among the six geo-political zones with a non-negotiable enforcement of religious equilibrium. But unlike federal character, the rotational policy is not recognised by the constitution- neither are the geopolitical zones. It is, thus, only an informal agreement proposed by the stakeholders of this nation to keep Nigeria united. But has this method worked?
According to the zoning formula, with the emergence in 2015 of a North-Western President (Buhari), South-Western Vice-president (Osinbajo) and a North-Central Senate President (Saraki), the post of the House Speaker ought to with someone from one of the other zones in the south- South-East or South-South. But as things would turn out, the majority party in the House of Representatives (APC) had no member from those two zones and the post went to a North-Easterner (Dogara). Filling of the post of the Deputy Senate President faced a similar hurdle as the majority party in the Senate (also APC) could not boast of a member from the two affected zones. Some political astuteness went into play in making sure the South-East candidate (Ekweremadu) retained the position for the zone, having yet emerged on the platform of the opposition (PDP). The South-South were not as lucky when it came to filling the post of House Deputy Speaker, as it went to a South-Westerner (Lasun) instead. They might take solace in the fact that they were the previous holders of the top position. Interestingly, leaving a zone out in 2015 was not a one-off occurrence. In 2011, we had President Jonathan (South-South), VP Sambo (North-West), Senate President Mark (North-Central), DSP Ekweremadu (South-East), House of Reps Speaker Tambuwal (North-West) and Deputy Speaker Ihedioha (South-East) with neither North-East nor South-West zones being represented. The obvious inability to control and enforce this policy would only breed instability. But that is just one of the demerits.
Another disadvantage is observed in the demographic distribution of positions. Although we have always maintained a strict North-South and Muslim-Christian format in filling the posts of President and the VP, Senate President and the deputy as well as House Speaker and his deputy, there is often a marginalisation of the Southern Muslims and the Northern Christians. This is because they belong to the minority religion in their respective protectorates and religion plays a significant role when political permutations begin. Hence, this system does not wholly promote balance in the true sense of the word. This is in addition to the fallback of the federal character system in which merit is not appreciated and qualities are undermined in favour of demography.
Restructuring is strongly advocated by those who perceive an imbalance, especially when they are ones at the lighter end. Restructuring is seen as the panacea to the conundrum facing the country as it regards stability and progress. Restructuring might even be the suitable word to summarise the solution to the scenario earlier painted:
‘Heres what to do. You are to use your tools to remove one bolt each from each of the remaining three tyres and use them to fix your spare tyre. Three bolts on every tyre should be sufficient to drive you through the night- at least, until you get to the nearest mechanic.
But restructuring will only get us back on track if it promises to completely change the tyres (no pun intended) of vehicle Nigeria to a more steady ironclad institution that would ensure balance neither by directly giving everyone a sense of belonging nor by the promise of your turn will come but by promoting merit and character; encouraging hardwork, commitment and dedication to work; and rewarding those with the best qualities regardless of tribe, gender or religious affiliations. Once such a system can successfully command the adherence of patriotic Nigerians, every sector that wishes to be represented would know that they would have to work hard for it. This would curb laziness and spur growth and development- as exhibited in the pre-independence era.
However, the present condition of the car shows little promise. We have our engine just recovering having been recently knocked by recession; we have found those we put in control not in the drivers seat, but seated majestically at the back seat, giving orders- instead of receiving them; the internal and external features have been vandalised and siphoned for selfish purposes, thus compromising comfort and safety; and the fuel supply has been tampered with. This leaves us in such a quagmire that immediate restructuring is only a short term solution. What Nigeria sorely needs is a comprehensive overhaul!
*This article, originally written in 2017 as an entry under the title “IS IT TIME TO RESTRUCTURE NIGERIA?”, was one of the top prize-winners at the 3rd UCJ/Fisayo Soyombo Essay Competition.