By E.T OKERE
So, why am I going this far down memory lane? It is simply because we are back to exactly the same situation, some three years later. Today the inevitability of a political restructuring of Nigeria has finally dawned on even the diehard apologists of the status quo.
A forth night ago, the 9th senate set up a committee to review the 1999 constitution. At the inauguration of the committee, its chairman, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who is also the deputy senate president, reportedly said that the committee will revisit the 2014 National Conference. “… The committee will consider the recommendations of the 2014 constitutional (SIC) conference and the – Nasir El-Rufai committee on restructuring”, Omo-Agege was quoted as saying.
This is the same (2014 National Conference) report which President Muhammadu Buhari, upon assumption of office in 2015, said had been consigned to the dustbin.
Omo-Agege is a chieftain of the ruling APC and a rabid “Buharist”. Not only that. He is the second-in command in a senate whose leadership is widely believed to be both an official and unofficial megaphone of the Buhari presidency; or not ready to do anything outside the caprices of the presidency.
So, did Omo-Agege get clearance from the president or the presidency before saying what he said about the 2014 confab report? Most unlikely.
In other words, while the DSP’s statement cannot necessarily mean a disregard for PMB – there is no record that the president has changed his mind over the 2014 confab – he must have been simply inspired by what is currently on ground, which is that the nation has once again come to a bind, that could, most probably, only be overcome with a review of the current political structure of the country, in spite of years of denial.
Omo-Agege was further quoted as saying that “we will also consider the need for the devolution of powers, local government autonomy, full autonomy for the judiciary in the area of administration of justice…”
The question, therefore, is, why do we have to resort to the same tactics of constitutional amendment which is both incapable of achieving restructuring of the type needed to save Nigeria and which may, in any case, even fail to pass at the National Assembly as was the case with 8th Assembly? Why are we going back to the rigmarole?
Three years ago, the call for restructuring was so strident that the APC, whose leaders were virtually abusing anybody who spoke about it, had to set up the Nasir el-Rufai committee to look into the matter.
The el-Rufai committee came up with a report that made 12 major recommendations, notable among which was allowing the devolution of powers, state police, fiscal federalism and the merging of states which so desire.
Today, the situation in the country is such that even diehard anti-restructuring elements – like Omo-Agege – seem to have made a volte face. Of course, the traditional pro-structuring ones have raised further alarm over the foot dragging especially in the face of the abysmal state of insecurity in the country.
The steps that have been taken or being considered by different sections of the country towards tackling the challenge of insecurity in the country has been described in some quarters as a final yielding to restructuring albeit through the back door.
But is that what we want? This question becomes more germane when it is realized that the joint launch of Amotekun by the governments of the southwest states and the suspicion it created in the minds of sceptics, especially in the northern part of the country, is believed to be posing a serious threat to the stability of the country.
In answer to Amotekun, a Northern group a fortnight ago launched “Operation Shege Ka Fasa” said, to mean: “I Dare You”.
Interestingly, a leading politician from the North, Senator Rufai Hanga, while welcoming the emergence of regional security outfits as a welcome development, described Shege Ka Fasa as “a confrontation” to Amotekun (Sunday Sun, February 16).
Hanga was quoted as saying as follows: “What they are saying is come, we are ready for you. This is a serious threat to the unity of the country. If not, they would have applied formally like the Southwest did. Unless government starts to do something now, it will trigger a serious violence…”
Apparently re-echoing the fears of Hanga, former minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, reportedly said: “Those young men who set up Shege Ka Fasa should know that the unity of the country is more important than any other consideration…Buhari should use the opportunity of these groupings to strengthen the unity of the Nigeria. If we misuse the opportunity, we shall be sorry for ourselves” (Sunday, Sun February 16).
The concern here, however, is not whether or not Hanga’s and Babatope’s interpretations of Shege Ka Fasa and fears therefore are correct but what is not in doubt is that a gale of suspicion has enveloped the country.
Some of those who are in the position to know have said that the current situation is similar to that of 1966. We all know the story.
Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei, former president of Aka- Ikenga, an Igbo intellectual think-tank, was similarly reported as saying that the emergence of regional security outfits “… is restructuring through the back door”. For me, this is the crux of the matter.
Again, I ask: Is that what we want? Should we approach restructuring through the back door, knowing full well what such a method, even if some people think that what is happening now is an aberration? Perhaps the remarks by former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, at the height of his call for restructuring should serve as a caveat.
At a public lecture in Kaduna sometime in 2016, Atiku had put forward the following posers: “The question is whether it will happen around a conference table in a direction influenced by us and whether we will be an equal partner in the process. Or will it happen in a more unpredictable arena and in a manner over which we have little influence?”
Despite the assurances by the 9th Senate that the current constitutional review exercise will consider the report of the 2014 confab, some Nigerians are of the view that returning sanity to the country is now outside the competence of the National Assembly.
About a fortnight ago, this column reviewed an article written by eminent lawyer and educationist, Afe Babalola, in which he renewed the call for a Sovereign National Conference and he gave very cogent reasons why it should be now.
As we noted, the main agenda of any national conference in Nigeria of today, sovereign or not, will be restructuring. Given that matters have so deteriorated since after the last conference, and the failed constitutional amendment, can we afford to wait for another “mistake” at the national assembly? Questions, questions, questions.