Why the North must trust Atiku on restructuring, by Gideon Dzakwa
For some time now, debate about the restructuring of the country has taken a center-stage in many political discourse. For many of the protagonists of restructuring, the political economy the country operates currently is convoluted and thus the need to fashion out a new governmental structure that will devolve more responsibilities and resources to the state governments. Proponents of this idea argue that Nigeria had a more functional governmental structure during the first republic in the early 1960s with strong regional governments before the military took over the business of governance.
And, since the days the military twisted the country’s federal structure by making the state governments weaker and creating a stronger and domineering central government, agitations have been persistent over the decades about the lopsided nature of the federal arrangement in Nigeria. While some label their agitations on the recourse to true federalism, others call it restructuring and the only difference between the two is merely in nomenclature as true federalism and restructuring essentially talk of the need to restore more strength to the state governments. Indeed, the divergence of opinion between the pro and anti-restructuring elements have remained the distinguishing parameter in the ideological leaning of politicians in Nigeria. The pro-restructuring element are called the progressives and the elements who believe that the current order of lopsidedness should be sustained are known as the conservatives.
All along, the agitations for restructuring had been limited in the main to the southern part of the country, and the refusal of the northern political oligarchs to be part of the pro-restructuring dialogue has largely fed the perception that the north is a principal beneficiary of the status quo.
However, the decision of former vice-president Atiku Abubakar to take a lurch into the restructuring discourse is in itself, paradoxically a restructuring of the political landscape on the topic. This is the first time that a top ranking political figure from the north will be adding a voice to an issue that has remained a southern monologue for almost half a century.
So, the question to ask is: what has propelled Atiku to be a party to the musical chairs of restructuring. I have heard quite a number of persons kibitz his sustained propositions encouraging stronger state or regional governments as being a decoy to appeal to the masses ahead of his interest to contest the 2019 presidential election. Some others even query why he couldn’t champion the cause at the time he served as vice-president of the country. Plausible as these observations might seem, I will prefer to contextualize Atiku’s action on the model of a rational actor participant, instead of reading his action through the lens of some simplistic political reward.
As a rational actor, Atiku is probably not unawares of how unpopular the call for restructuring is in the north. He also probably understands that the advocacy of restructuring will seem like undercutting a system of elite patronage across the country for which the elite might choose to bitterly resist and even gang up against him. Being a member of the elite class himself, this is a classic case of class suicide. And it is for this reason that I am tempted to disagree with those who contend that Atiku’s restructuring stance is in view of his likely presidential election politics. In the north where he comes from, restructuring isn’t a political elixir; it’s a poisoned chalice.
A rational actor politician wouldn’t likely pick on restructuring as a silver bullet. And so, to understand Atiku’s position on restructuring and the chutzpah he has employed to the campaign, we must look beyond politics and see why restructuring actually benefits the north more than the south. It will be an interesting academic research topic, for instance, if we find out the ratio of tax inputs each of the three regional governments in the colonial and post-colonial eras make into the purse of the government at the center. I strongly contend that if, indeed, agriculture was the mainstay of our national economy before the discovery of crude oil, and it is not improbable that the Northern regional government would be richer than the regional governments in the south combined. And if that is true, it begs the question: why is the north afraid of its golden heritage?
In the last half century, Nigeria has expended billions of dollars into building infrastructure aimed at crude oil exploration in the oil producing states of the south. This is in addition to several other MoUs and technical support agreements that Nigeria has secured from multi-national oil companies to explore crude oil in those states. Fifty years down the line, technology that feeds on crude oil is fast becoming obsolete and so, too, has earnings from crude oil exploration lost its glamour.
In fact, it is doubtful if the recorded $30 billion Nigeria makes from crude oil exploration annually is enough justification for the huge investments the federal government has made through the years as a feasible business model.
So, if the crude oil receipts that sustain our current political economy is gradually and steadily losing its flavor, isn’t it high time we began to restructure our economy and government?
In the present circumstance, the easiest way out of the impending conundrum is agriculture. And that is where the north is not getting its agenda right viz-a-viz restructuring. In the present circumstance, the north should uncloak itself of the phobia for restructuring, but rather begin to ask questions about restructuring on what terms?
By focusing on agriculture, it implies that the tectonic plate of Nigeria’s economy has shifted in a way that favours the northern part of the country. If Netherlands that is not has expansive as Niger State can generate up to $100 billion on agriculture in one year – that is more than three times our annual earnings from crude oil – why then should Niger State not ask the federal government to make sufficient investment in agricultural exploration to the volume of our national investment in oil exploration in, say, Rivers State? The way to go for the north in the emerging reality is to come to terms with the fact that the petro-dollar wealth that had fed our elite is running dry and the situation demands of us to be circumspect to decipher a new frontier for our national wealth. I believe this is the future that Atiku is able to see for the north.
As we speak, the bulk of what we consume as food in every part of this country comes from the north. But for the fact that we are a nation that fails to keep reliable statistics, it is very tempting to make the blind conclusion that the cash value of the commodity exchange between the north and the south in respect of food and crude oil, leaves the north with a huge deficit.
Truth is that the crux of the dichotomy between restructuring and anti-restructuring forces in the country is the fear of the unknown about what happens when state governments no longer have expectation of cash envelops from Abuja at the end of every month. I do admit that these are very valid fears, and like the saying goes: there is never an easy way out.
The challenge is therefore on Atiku and other promoters of the restructuring agenda to espouse a strategy that will give guarantees to states that there survival will not be compromised in a restructured Nigeria. It is a challenge that posterity has placed on us and it is a challenge upon which the north particularly should contemplate on about the way forward. We should not throw away the baby with the bath water.
Gideon Dzakwa sent this piece from Yola, Adamawa State.