BEYOND RESTRUCTURING: BUILDING STRONG INSTITUTIONS IS THE EFFECTIVE SOLUTION TO NIGERIA’S PROBLEMS
By Chinedu George Nnawetanma
The restructuring of Nigeria has been the staple of conversations across the country for quite some time now, in the light of the glaring inability of the extant political, economic and legal structures of the country to support the actualization of the Nigeria of our dreams. It has gotten a cross-section of Nigerians talking fervently – from bloggers to newspaper columnists, and from casual observers to political bigwigs like the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
However, the issue of restructuring has also continued to divide opinions. While many Nigerians are of the belief that there is a pressing need for the restructuring of the country, others have distanced themselves from the idea, and an intermediate group has asked for clarification on what exactly restructuring entails. I want to unequivocally align myself with the school of thought that supports the political, economic and constitutional restructuring of Nigeria wherein power will be devolved from the center back to the federating units.
Clearly, the country (as presently constituted) is incapable of accommodating the needs and aspirations of its citizens. Restructuring will – at least in theory – tackle some of the challenges embedded in the current configuration by addressing the structural imbalance in the polity, freeing the federating units from the stranglehold of the center, promoting healthy economic competition among those federating units and quietening the cries of marginalization.
Nonetheless, unlike many other advocates of the restructuring of Nigeria, I do not believe that it is the elixir to all of the country’s ills. Simply revamping the political, economic and constitutional frameworks of the country will not bring about the transformation that we desire, because Nigeria’s problem goes beyond its defective administrative structure. There is also the systemic defect.
When Nigeria is restructured, what is the guarantee that the newly minted structures of the country will not be abused by those in power and the masses alike the same way that the current structures are? For instance, Nigeria presently has laws proscribing virtually every offence imaginable, from bribery to examination malpractice and from traffic misdemeanor to domestic violence, yet we are one of the most lawless countries in the world, flouting laws at will and obeying them only when it is convenient.
The incidents of motorists breaking basic traffic rules all in a bid to get to their various destinations in record time are commonplace on Nigerian roads. Demanding monetary inducement before performing official duties has become the norm. What is the guarantee that our disposition to these laws and responsibilities will suddenly change when administrative power is devolved in Nigeria?
Similarly, there are two anti-graft agencies set up to tackle the country’s culture of corruption, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), yet the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) alleged that Nigeria lost $32 billion to corruption between 2010 and 2015 – an average of more than $5 billion per year! What is the guarantee that these bodies and agencies will suddenly be up and doing in a restructured Nigeria?
Then again, a certain Federal Character Principle is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and a certain Federal Character Commission was set up to enforce it, yet a President of Nigeria can make more than 70% of his political appointments from one section of the country and no one will even bat an eyelid. What is the guarantee that the gatekeepers of the Nigerian democracy will be alive to their responsibilities when a regional premier or a state governor (depending on which variant of federalism we decide to adopt) blatantly contravenes provisions embedded in their regional or state constitution in a restructured Nigeria?
If Nigeria decentralizes its police system, what is the guarantee that a state governor will not deploy it as his private army to bully the populace and harass his political opponents? Restructuring will not solve these ingrained problems. It will only mitigate Nigeria’s superficial problems in the short-term, while the systemic ones linger and grow more deleterious and intractable.
Over the years, the fundamental factor that has scuttled and undermined Nigeria’s progress and viability is the fragility of our institutions. The absence of strong institutions in Nigeria has made it almost impossible to enforce rules, whip people into line and ensure that actions and inactions have consequences. This feeds into and is, in turn, reinforced by a host of other defects that have bedeviled our polity, including bad leadership and misgovernment, disempowered and spectating followership and a morally bankrupt value system.
The more advanced societies and democracies that we often look up to, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, have been able to function effectively because of the presence of strong institutions therein that enable their systems to self-regulate, check the excesses of the ruling class and empower the citizens to be alive to their civic rights and responsibilities.
Accordingly, it has left their leaders with no choice but to render selfless service to their communities, while the followers have been empowered to expect and demand good governance from their leaders and enlightened to understand that the task of building a virile, functional and progressive nation is not the exclusive preserve of those in leadership.
Conversely, due to the absence of such institutional mechanisms and regulatory frameworks in Nigeria, we have been going round in circles. The leaders have taken advantage of this to exploit the system and convert leadership into a vehicle for embezzlement, self-aggrandizement, nepotism, cronyism, influence peddling, political repression and other forms of malfeasance. The hapless followers, failed by their leaders, have also been forced to exploit the system in order to make ends meet, thereby instituting a value system and political culture of rascality, materialism, subterfuge and corruption.
In his 2009 state visit to Ghana, the former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, advised African States to build strong institutions in order to escape from the maze of underdevelopment. But, the question is: how can these strong institutions be built? Since leaders chart the course that everyone else has to follow, the onus lies on them to build these strong institutions. Hence, the natural first step in building strong institutions in Nigeria is sanitizing our leadership recruitment process so that individuals with the drive and motive to alter the status quo and institutionalize good governance and the rule of law will get in and those with vested interests and questionable character will be shut out.
Nigeria, just like those advanced countries that we look up to and aim to emulate, is not lacking in individuals with the commitment to make positive change. The problem is that our electoral process does not allow them to get in. Our leadership positions are sold to the highest bidders at the expense of the candidates with the best ideas, while those who will maintain the status quo and toe the established line are preferred to those who could shake it up. Our electoral process and justice system must be strengthened so that the votes of the electorate will really count and the outcome of elections will no longer be determined in the homes of party chieftains and godfathers.
Secondly, since a country gets the government it deserves, it is pertinent that the electorate and the general public are empowered to make the right choices in the democratic process and elect candidates with unimpeachable character and proven track records over those who make vague promises and dole out a few naira notes and bags of rice at polling stations. They must also be enlightened on their civic responsibilities and be made to understand that the task of building a strong, progressive and sustainable society must not be left to the leaders alone.
Only when these are accomplished will the restructuring of Nigeria have the effect that Nigerians envision. In the absence of that, then the entire process of restructuring becomes just another academic exercise and cosmetic change that deals with the superficial issues instead of tackling the underlying causes of the problem.
Chinedu George Nnawetanma is a volunteer researcher at the African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage), Enugu. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org