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Towards Restructuring of Nigeria (1)

Towards Restructuring of Nigeria

By Attahiru Jega 

There is currently an upsurge of passionate demands for “restructuring”, “true federalism” and “actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra”.

These demands are intricately intertwined and interconnected, and so vociferous that they are overheating the polity.

Sooner than later, these matters have to be addressed squarely but dispassionately. The challenge is on how to address the issue of restructuring the Nigerian federal system without upsetting the apple-chart; that is, how to add value to the structure and systemic efficacy of the federal arrangement, without unleashing instability occasioned by the mobilization of ethnic, regional and religious sentiments and identities.

Federalism is supposed to be “a model of political accommodation and power sharing, as well as a cure for micro-nationalism”.

The Nigerian experience has shown that our federal arrangement has not ensured a stable political accommodation and it has not ensured equitable power and resources sharing.

And, instead of curing micro-nationalism, it has fanned the embers of its conflagration.

Some things are clear.

The demands for secession cannot be wished away, and Nigeria’s unity and continued stay as one indivisible country should not be taken for granted. Statements like: “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable” or “Nigeria’s continued stay as one country is not negotiable” are factually incorrect, wishful thinking and politically abhorrent to those making the demands; these should therefore be avoided, indeed stopped.

On the other hand, Nigeria has come such a long way since 1914 that it would be easier to renegotiate the strengthening of the federation through devolution of power, resources and responsibilities, than to go the route of “separation” and secession.

Secession and separation from the federal republic of Nigeria has far greater costs and consequences for all concerned (those seeking to separate and those from whom are being separated) than remaining under a restructured federal system. Thus, it is in the enlightened self-interest of Nigeria and all Nigerians to sheath the swords of secession, and wear the garb of political accommodation and appropriate and sincere power and resources sharing.

In any case, there is no perfect federal arrangement anywhere in the world. There is nothing in essence, called “true federalism”. Federalism is a lived experience, continuously changing and seeking for improvement.

No doubt, Nigeria’s need for a “reformed, revitalized, decentralized and democratized federal system” is long overdue. We should therefore begin to soberly interrogate some pertinent questions. For example, what should “restructuring” of the Nigerian federation entail?

How can this “restructuring” best be brought about, and through which mechanisms and processes?

Is there anything called “true federalism”? If so what is it?

How should revenues to the federation be collected and shared?

Who should collect them and how?

Why Restructuring is Necessary

Three reasons can be adduced as to why some form of restructuring needs to be undertaken, as soon as is possible, in order to improve upon the current nature and operations of the Nigerian federal system; so as to improve the structure and systemic efficacy of the federation.

The 1999 Constitution, which was hurriedly put together and enacted by the General Abdulsalam Abubakar military regime, was not a product of appropriate inclusiveness and consultation. As a result, it has many inadequacies and flaws, from which our brand of federal arrangement suffers. Although some amendments have been effected to the constitution, the key issues affecting the federal structure have not been touched; but they cannot be ignored indefinitely.

A long period of military rule has resulted in the concentration of power and resources in the central and federal government to the disadvantage of the states, which are the federating units. This has in turn made the contest for political power to occupy federal organs very intense, as capturing federal government is perceived as ensuring control of tremendous power, influence and resources.

In an ethno-religiously diverse country, centralization and concentration of power and resources at the center generates conflict-ridden competition for the control of power at the center.

Only a judicious and equitable de-concentration and reallocation of power and resources from the center to the other federating units can de-escalate tension and smoothen hierarchical and horizontal relations in the federation. In reality, the 1999 Constitution has concentrated too much power and resources in the hands of the federal government, as a comparison of the exclusive and residual lists clearly shows; in this regard the uniqueness or exceptional character of the Nigerian federal arrangement is glaring. Powers, which are traditionally the preserve of the federating units (states, regions, provinces) are in Nigeria handed over either exclusively to the federal government, or are shared concurrently by the federal government and the states.

A dispassionate review of the 1999 Constitution would help to resolve many if not all the thorny outstanding issues.

Severe inequities were introduced and entrenched over time, especially on account of the prebendal politics under civil rule, and the divide and rule tactics under military rule, especially the mobilization of ethnicity, religion and other primordial interests by those who hold andp exercise power at the federal level.

The federal character (equalizing or equal opportunity) principle was introduced to address inequities associated with employment into federal establishments. In practice, many challenges have remained with the implementation of the federal character principle.


The following recommendations covering the structure, power sharing and resources and revenue allocation are offered for further reflection.

(To be continued…)

Professor Jega is of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano.



Share your thoughts on Prof Jega’s article Towards Restructuring of Nigeria with Nigerian Sketch in the comments section below.



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