A Lecture delivered by General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, CFR, GCON, on the Occasion marking the Six years Anniversary of the Restoration Government at Yenagoa, Bayelsa, 12th February, 2018
Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, Mr Chairman and distinguished citizens on the High Table, our royal fathers in attendance, captains of commerce, industry and enterprise in the hall, our Lords temporal and spiritual, illustrious patriots in the audience, please permit me to stand on existing protocols.
Let me begin by placing on record my profound gratitude and appreciation to the government and people of Bayelsa for inviting me to give this public lecture. Once again, I have found myself and my companions received with warmth and enthusiasm in prime Ijaw land and at another period of great political ferment and tremendous expectations in our country.
Either in war or in peacetime, I have always found myself drawn to the great people of this land. The Ijaw people are heirs to a great tradition of heroic resistance to tyranny and freedom fighting. Indeed what I said in an earlier lecture bears repeating:
In terms of population, the Ijaw nation is regarded as occupying the fourth position in the Nigerian nation, coming after the Hausa/Fulani, the Yoruba and the Igbo people. But unlike the majority three whose population allowed them to dominate the old tripartite regional arrangement, the Ijaw people are usually grouped as part of the vast minorities of ethnic groupings in Nigeria.
Yet this minority label notwithstanding, the Ijaw nation has been in the forefront of the quest and struggle for true federalism in Nigeria. Put in another way, the Ijaw people have been in the forefront of finding a just answer to what is known as the National Question and the issue of political justice in modern Nigeria with armed uprising as a constant option.
The Ijaw people were the first to hand down an armed challenge to the nascent military state in Nigeria. Coming shortly after the first military coup, the exploits of Isaac Adaka Boro in the Niger Delta creeks have justly entered the heroic folklore of the Ijaw people as a classic instance of the struggle for freedom and self-determination. Boro himself has entered into legend as an iconic Ijaw figure and symbol of national liberation.
Mr Chairman and illustrious audience, nothing could have been more apt and appropriate than the subject matter of the lecture I have been invited to give; nothing could have spoken more to the grave existential pressures that subsist in the nation at the moment and the political emergency in which we have found ourselves. Coupling the vexed issue of restructuring with the intellectual optimism inherent in a new dawn is an inspired feat of prognosis. Any human society bereft of hope, faith and optimism must wilt and wither away.
The dawn of a new era is usually preceded by a dark night of struggle and strife. It was the same with the struggle for restructuring and inclusive federalism. While the battle raged, no weapon known to humanity was considered too vulgar and lowly: Blackmail, violence, extortion, religious manipulation, economic sanctions and intellectual persuasion were freely deployed. But at the end of the day, when all weapons of intimidation and coercion seem to have exhausted their capacity, calm reason and rationality appear to have prevailed.
A brief historical excursion into restructuring
Every now and then, Nigeria seems to be seized by a strange linguistic effervescence. A particular word or concept, hitherto innocent and innocuous, suddenly takes hold of the political imagination of the country. And then all hell is let loose.
In the past it used to be resource control or fiscal federalism. Going further there were buzz terms such as hidden agenda, self-succession, army arrangement, Sovereign National Conference, and going much further into the seventies we had a romance with diarchy and its discontents.
Now it is the noise of restructuring rumbling across the firmament of the nation. In recent times, no phrase or political terminology has been a greater source of pains and perplexity to Nigerians than the notion of restructuring or devolution of power.
The two words are often used interchangeably in contemporary Nigerian political discourse. Yet it is only by an extreme generosity of interpretation that they be lumped together to mean the same thing. For example, restructuring may not necessarily involve devolution of power, whereas devolution of power does not necessarily entail restructuring. Yet despite the semantic confusion, it has come to point in some parts of the country when no contrary voice can be uttered against restructuring without the person casting a furtive glance across the shoulder.
But what really is restructuring? Ironically, the ordinary dictionary meaning of restructure is to reinforce or rearrange, alter or change a current structure with a view to enhancing its overall performance and efficiency. This also engenders profound semantic difficulties. To panel beat, alter or change an existing structure is also to preserve its fundamentals without repealing its organic nature.
Consequently, it can be seen from this definition that for any human organization or social entity, restructuring, or constant and ceaseless self-invention, is a precondition or sine qua non for survival. No human organization can survive for long without occasionally restructuring itself.
Etymology of Restructuring
Contrary to what many people think, the struggle for restructuring has been with us ever since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates into a unified country known as Nigeria. In fact in the Crown Colony of Lagos, restructuring has been going on since the naval bombardment of the city in 1862. The colonial authorities were constantly tinkering and searching for the most convenient mode of administration for their prized overseas possession. It briefly led to the anomaly of Lagos indigenes being regarded as British citizens while the rest of the country endured colonial subjecthood. ( The reason why Chief Fani Kayode, a citizen of Nigeria, could not pass through immigration in Malta in company of his friend and professional colleague, Chief Femi Okunnu who by virtue of being a Lagosian was British)
Famously it was reported that the first civil war in Nigeria was not fought among Nigerian nationals or between Nigeria and Biafra but among British colonial officials duelling over the most suitable form of governance for the amalgamated territory. Such was the intense ferocity of the infighting that at a point Whitehall intervened, overruling the submission of the ranking British administrator of that period in favour of the more cogent and superior argument of the subordinate.
The new colonial thinking aligned itself with the fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious nation in which the constituting nationalities are in different states of political and economic development. Given this reality of different modes of cultural and spiritual production, it was thought that rather than imposing a unitary and arbitrary blanket on them, it may be better to allow the constituting regions to develop according to their own internal logic and peculiarities.
This was the first major battle of restructuring and it led to the regional federalism that Nigerian enjoyed in the run up to independence and for the first five years after independence until the military put their dirty boot in. After amalgamation and in consonance with Lord Lugard’s originating vision, Nigeria was ruled very much like a dual-nation state with a unitary organogram. The colonialists firmly discouraged interaction between the two entities.
When leaders of the three regions met eventually several decades later, they could well have been visitors from different planets and not the same nation. This mutual misgiving and misunderstanding was to lead to the infamous incident of 1953, which led Ahmadu Bello to explode that the mistake of 1914 had been discovered. He was lamenting the forcible conjoining of two separate and distinct entities.
Yet between 1954 and !956 when self-government was inaugurated for the three regions, the ice had significantly thawed among the leaders as a result of quality interaction and sustained contacts. Although mutual suspicion, such as inevitable among rivals, simmered just below the surface, the three leaders were able to do the needful in the overall interest of the new nation.
This new spirit of cooperation was to yield bounteous fruits in the epic conferences that preceded independence. Sir Ahmadu Bello, the northern leader, was persuaded to moderate the confederal position, which he had adopted to protect the social, educational and economic vulnerabilities of his region in favour of a federal arrangement.
Zik was prevailed upon to modulate the unitary utopianism of a borderless Black intellectual who saw the entire country, nay the Black world, as his oyster in favour of regional federalism. In the case of Awo, political realities on ground and the need to sustain the momentum and tempo towards independence forced him to jettison his Utopian federalism.
Tragically, this new cooperation could not be sustained as independence opened up new vistas of competition and struggle for economic and political domination. Consequently, the ominous fact remains that in the history of the country, no civilian government has been known to successfully undertake even a minimal restructuring of the country. The only exception was the Balewa administration, which summarily expunged the mid-west from the old west in an attempt to restrict Awolowo to his ethnic stronghold, contrary to a subsisting elite consensus, which recommended the wholesale reinvention of the entire country.
In triumphant exultation, Balewa would openly declare that any other ethnic group that dared the federal might would face a similar fracturing. This misbegotten restructuring, accompanied by the open persecution of its leader, set the old west on the course of open insurrection and the nation itself on what one of its finest poets described as the path of thunder. It led directly to the first military putsch of January 1966.
In the last few weeks, a national consensus seems to have coalesced around the issue. Restructuring is unavoidable and inevitable for Nigeria. It is not a done deal yet; neither are the procedures and modus operandi cast in marble. But with the APC Committee on the subject turning in one of many of the cardinal imperatives of restructuring report with a bold approval and the PDP buying substantially into the project through its legislative caucus, a new vista of bi-partisan cooperation has been opened.
History does not behave like a straightforward arrow, which moves forward in precise projection. lt is full of detours, diversions and digressions. It picks up speed only to lose steam in midstream. Some historians and philosophers have even concluded that it is unwise to predict how history will turn out or to jump into conclusions based on transient trends.
If we cast our mind to the recent battle for restructuring in Nigeria, we see all the rich ironies of history in slow motion. Four years ago as the battle for the restructuring of the nation raged unabated, President Goodluck Jonathan convoked a National Political Conference with the express mandate to look at the grave political issues facing Nigeria and come up with acceptable solution.
Given the urgency of the situation, one would have thought that the convener would have acted with express resolve once the conference turned in its report. But for reasons best known to him, President Jonathan delayed and prevaricated until he was defeated in a landmark presidential election, which for the first time in the history of the nation had the opposition winning by a landslide.
In his own case, and as if government is a radical discontinuum, General Mohammadu Buhari would have nothing to do with the Confab report. In fact it is on record that the former infantry officer went as far as to flatly assert that he would make sure that the report ended up in a permanent cooler – the achieves. This was not just a case of benign indifference but active hostility.
But reason seems to have prevailed on all sides. If he were to be so minded, President Buhari has the executive capacity to prevent the report of his party committee from seeing the light of the day, after all it was only during his New Year address that he pooh-poohed the whole idea of restructuring preferring what he referred to as process. Sensing the mood of the country, many PDP legislators who had vehemently and even violently opposed the idea of restructuring have now quietly dropped their objection.
It has not been easy, but we must thank all those who contributed to the current atmosphere of optimism and the climate of give and take, which has made restructuring possible in the country. From the most elderly statesmen to the most vibrant of youth organization, I must say kudos to you. As usual, the Ijaw people, either collectively or individually has not been found wanting.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture, I want to point out the rich contributions of several Ijaw organizations and the ubiquitous Internet fora to the debate, which has been acknowledged by even some of our past military rulers as unusually vigorous and illuminating. More specifically, I want to single out for heroic acknowledgement, the brilliant, forthright and just intervention of the able and proactive governor Seriake Dickson who made his points with dignity and gravitas without caring whose ox is gored.
As a matter of fact, there ought not to have been a quarrel about restructuring in the first instance. It is a just and fair portion for all sections of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation weld together by colonial fiat in the sense that it unleashes the genius, the creative spirit and the visionary energies of the people within the nation space without any discrimination. But in an atmosphere of fears masquerading as facts, it became impossible to separate fallacies and fantasies from reality.
Mr Chairman, to be sure, restructuring does not lead to an automatic El Dorado. It is not a panacea for good governance but a strategic ancillary. Restructuring is not a once and for all cure or talisman but a means to an end. Any restructuring which leaves Nigeria with the current level of grinding poverty, feudal squalor, biblical misery and state larceny has not achieved anything.
By decentralising and devolving power away from a bloated and overburdened centre to the margins, genuine federalism aims to liberate the local genius of the people and unfetter their creative and enterprising spirit. Local productivity is radically enhanced and so is accountability and transparency in governance since there is a face to government. Surely, there is less to steal at the centre and less humongous resources available to placate the larcenous appetite of executive brigands.
It should be recalled that whereas the battle for restructuring has always been an intra-elite affair, this is the first time it is assuming a popular dimension, reaching its highest decibel of hype and hysteria with the struggle for ethnic self-determination by MASSOB/IPOB. What began as a cry of marginalisation has morphed into a bitter separatist drive and calls for a national referendum to determine the status of the union.
The blunt fact remains that this renewed ethnic restiveness is a vote against centralized tyranny and inefficiency as well as the ethnicization of the Presidency, which have become the hallmark of the Nigerian post-colonial state particularly in the Fourth Republic. Successful elections and the restriction of the military to the barracks have failed to resolve the National Question. In fact elections, including a historic regime change, have tended to exacerbate the regional and ethnic fault lines, opening the door to a resurgence of primordial sentiments and new centrifugal forces.
Mr Chairman, distinguished audience, it is not in the remit of statesmen and patriots to gloat over the avoidable misfortunes of their country but they must be forthright and fearless enough to point out lapses of judgement and unforced errors which may lead to national calamities. According to Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist of all time, “insanity is doing the same thing all over again and expecting a different result”.
If we cast our mind back and against the series of misfortunes that have befallen the nation in recent times, it is obvious that some of these disasters could have been avoided or mitigated if we had done the needful. Had the country embraced devolution of power and the decentralization of the Police Force away from the current centralized inefficiency, it might have been possible to avoid or minimize the fallout of the current spate of communal clashes, marauding ethnic militias, violent kidnapping, urban banditry, cyber-terrorism and religious insurgency.
Experience of modern governance has shown that a local community is better surveilled and better policed locally. As a war veteran, it is a known fact that you cannot fight in a hostile community no matter the sophistication of the arms and the distinction of the fighting troops without local intelligence which enables you to familiarize yourself with the terrain, its topography and its social typology.
The normal excuse that a decentralized police can transform into an instrument of oppression in the hands of a local despot no longer makes sense in the face of overriding security developments pushing Nigeria in the direction of state failure. Within the context of overwhelming federal might and deliberately calibrated balance of force, it is impossible for a local constabulary to transform into an instrument of tyranny and oppression.
In any case, experience has shown that whenever and wherever such transformation has taken place in post-independence Nigeria it has always been with the acquiescence and approval of the federal authorities. The earlier we jettison this bogey about local tyranny vis-a-vis the decentralization of the Police Force and do the needful the better for everybody and the safer for the nation.
Mr Chairman, it is heart- warming to learn that no less a person than the Vice President has admitted that Nigeria is too big to be centrally policed. Hopefully, we will soon hear the confession that Nigeria itself is too vast to be centrally governed. You cannot abort a full pregnancy in mid labour.
It has been famously observed that an idea goes through three stages before gaining general acceptance. First, it is firmly rejected. Second, it is violently resisted. Finally it is grudgingly accepted. I believe that we have reached the third stage in the struggle for restructuring in the nation. Or how else do we explain Mandela’s long walk to freedom, Kenyatta, Mugabe, Macarios, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Adams of Sein Fein, all those coterie in South America and now BREXIT, let me stop just not to bore you..
What the nation now requires is a complete and fundamental reconfiguration of its state and national architecture. With the emergence of freely federating, rich and resourceful post-modernist nations such as Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirate and Australia, the older paradigm of nation-formation with a lone and solitary patriarchal figure ruling the roost in statist, unitary splendour is historically superannuated. Many local geniuses are better than one national genius however exceptional.
Restructuring in a democratic polity requires substantial elite buy-in and compliance. Restructuring can never take place in the context of elite sabre-rattling and war mongering. Unless we are ready to settle matters on the field of battle, democratic restructuring requires elite-pacting and intense negotiation on a give and take basis. It is this absence of elite-pacting and consensus building that hobbled the Obasanjo conference eventuating in a walkout. It also plagued the Jonathan conference resulting in the eventual repudiation of its major recommendations by a section.
As we have noted, the only civilian restructuring that has taken place in the country was preceded by a subsisting elite consensus among the three regional titans. The final push to demilitarize the polity, which resulted in the Obasanjo Settlement of 1998, was made possible by a series of elite negotiations and pacting, which commenced with the death of General Abacha and MKO Abiola.
Elite negotiations and quality interactions can also result in the moderation and modulation of extreme views and notions of the nation. We have seen the example of the constitutional conferences of the fifties, which allowed Nigeria to have its closest approximation to a functioning federalism.
In 1966, it was again the turn of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be persuaded to change his mind. Uncharacteristically, Awolowo had pushed and canvassed for a confederal arrangement for the country. The Ikenne sage had been shaken to the foundation of his faith in the country by the gory events of January and July.
Apart from the refusal of the federal authorities to remove northern troops laying a siege to the old west, Awolowo believed that he would almost certainly have been killed in Calabar prison if Fajuyi had not volunteered to be killed along with Ironsi. Awolowo was persuaded to moderate his views through interaction with the Lagos and Mid-West delegates. Once again, he became a staunch advocate of federalism. It was this that encouraged and emboldened Gowon to embark on a twelve-state restructuring of the federation.
This elite preponderance in restructuring is a reflection of the situation on ground and is not about to change given the existing balance of forces. Populist pundits may hew and haw about the absence of the people in these deal-making ventures on their behalf and the obvious lack of citizens buy in. But popular restructuring, like popular democracy, is a pious fiction. In any contest, the beginning balance of forces is critical to the outcome. In a country forcibly federated ab initio, restructuring and devolution of power cannot proceed seamlessly without complications. To re-federate you have to de-federate.
President Buhari should go immediately for the clusters of consensus and low hanging fruits by initiating a Bill for the structural unbundling of an overburdened centre through the removal of several agreed items from the current Exclusive List and their devolution to the constituting states in a way and manner that does not enfeeble or endanger the manifest destiny of the nation.
Mr Chairman, I hope to live to see the day in a properly federalized and restructured Nigeria, the return of the groundnut and cotton pyramids to Kano wrapped with colourful hides and skin, huge cocoa plantations to the west, the palm oil and kernel industry to the East and the appearance of yam skyscrapers in Makurdi, Gboko and Jalingo
Honourable Seriake Dickson sir, I hope in my lifetime, that you or one of your successors will transform from an Administrator to a true Governor that will not need to look elsewhere to adequately protect and safeguard his people and their properties. That will be free to plan and execute without hindrance the utilization of her natural resources including oil and gas to the benefit of Bayesians first, and observing and enforcing best practices for environmental protection. That can fully embrace self reliance without the encumbrances of some dubious, resource wasting institutions like NNDC, Ministry of Niger Delta etc. housing at great expense, jobbers in Agbada and Babanriga, masquerading as board members, ministers etc. but can not differentiate between the abode of oysters Cray fish and Periwinkle, nor the difference between a luxury cruise ship, which they know well at your expense and a canoe. That will not contribute her development resources to economic maladies that dubiously pretend to equalize fuel prices from the mangroves of Bayelsa to the fringes of the desert. That will be free to tax tobacco, alcohol, fuel, all produce including value added tax VAT instead of the imposition by the insatiable behemoth dubiously called the federal Government, that is not contented with custom duties, excise duties, education tax, Tetfund and all other levies dreamt out by some vultures to burden our industries. That will be free from the burden of financial sustenance of iniquitous and arbitrary creations with the dubious appellation of Local Government that has bred justifiable resentment all over the South of the country. That will freely determine the level of remuneration that is adequate and realistic for all those who serve in the State.
Finally, Mr Chairman and my dear friend on the barricades, distinguished members of the high table, Your Royal Highnesses and Distinguished audience, In my lifetime, I am anxious as a Yoruba man and an Indigene of the great Izon Nation, to see both Yenagoa and Bayelsa State transform into a modern metropolis and a glittering commercial hub using the tantalizing mesmerism of water, the creeks and the unfathomable mystery and beauty of the mangrove forest to entice the world, all through local initiative and not federal hand-outs.
These are achievable goals for a restructured Nigeria that can learn to keep her people happily together, live within her means and can save for development.
Once again, I thank you all for the invitation.
Alani Izonikieowei Akinrinade