How to resolve Nigeria’s recurring governance challenges dominated public discourse in Abuja on Thursday.
On hand to proffer solutions to them were former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Ken Nnamani and Senator Ben Obi.
They all agreed that the country was ripe for restructuring because the present arrangement was not working.
Atiku and Nnamani are chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) while Ben Obi is a leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
While Nnamani and Ben Obi focused on the worsening plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s polity, Atiku renewed his clamour for the restructuring of the country.
To Nnamani, the ongoing fierce agitation for self-determination would not help the Igbo cause, while Ben Obi kicked against the under-representation of the South East in key federal offices.
According to Atiku, with better leadership, the myriad of problems facing Nigeria could be fixed in eight years.
Atiku described Nigeria as a country at the crossroads that could only require the coming together of the people to agree on the terms of their living together before the country would move forward. He spoke at the public presentation of The Stream Newspaper.
Senators Nnamani and Ben Obi spoke in Abuja at the presentation of the book: “The Audacity of Power and the Nigeria Presidency: Exclusion of the South East in Nigeria’s Power Politics and the Spectre of Biafra”.
He argued that the hurried amalgamation of over 350 tribes of Nigeria into one country by the British colonial masters had left a serious doubt in the unity in diversity as it is being ascribed to the nation.
Atiku argued that his belief remains that in spite of the diverse Nigerian culture, attitude and level of development, the country can coexist, but on the terms of an agreement on how it can comfortably work with all the ethnic nationalities being part of the entity in all forms.
The former Vice President noted that despite the attempts by successive governments, with varying degrees of successes, to address the problem of lack of unity and the tendency towards primordial attachments through deliberate policies and programmes, the problem has persisted partly because “we have failed to consistently provide good governance; failed to take full advantage of the very many pluses in our diversity – to use it as a source of strength rather than weakness and, consequently, it remains easy to manipulate the people by appealing to their base sentiments.”
He continued: “There are several reasons why we have failed to be welded into one nation after over a hundred years since we became one country. I would like to talk about the nature of the country’s structure as one factor. We purport to operate a federal structure, but over the years our federalism has experienced fundamental distortions to the extent that there is now a huge, acrimonious debate as to the true nature and character of our brand of federalism. I call it Unitary Federalism because while we still have a formal federal system, the centre has become too powerful, relative to the increasingly unviable federating units.”
Atiku regretted that the current federal form of government had failed to yield its expected dividends, noting that “as regions, the different levels of government were fairly viable, notwithstanding their modest financial standing, and were largely administered according to established rules and procedures.”
“Now, as ‘indigenes’ of states, the citizens are largely disgruntled and unhappy. And although most of them don’t pay taxes directly to the government coffers, they often feel short-changed and complain of abject neglect. They hardly feel that they are part of the governance process, and they often hold their leaders in contempt – or at least they are more likely to blame than praise their leaders. Some have emotionally, and for all intents and purposes, completely de-linked themselves from the Nigerian state and now inhabit a surreal world where they believe in all sorts of strange ideas”.
Atiku insisted that Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities must be allowed to come together to discuss and agree on the basis and terms of staying together as one country.
“My take is that we will likely continue to grapple with such problems unless we get the structures of our federalism and governance right. Our current system, which is characterised by a focus on sharing rather than production, is clearly not conducive to development,” he said.
Igbo marginalisation: Nnamani denounces violent agitation
On his part, Sen. Nnamani denounced the violent agitation for self-determination by pro-Biafra groups.
The former Senate President said that violent demonstration would not redress the plight of the Igbo.
He urged the groups to eschew violent struggle for self-determination but admitted that the country was ripe for restructuring and that each state should be allowed to move at its own pace.
Nnamani, who recently defected to the APC, said that the Igbo nation should be proud of her achievements, despite the effects of the civil war.
“We can compete with the United States; the Igbo are known for their ingenuity. If we have a level playing field, we are not afraid of anyone,” he said.
Ben Obi, the Secretary of the PDP Caretaker Committee, decried the continued marginalisation of the South East and advised the leadership of Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, to dialogue with leaders of the APC of Igbo extraction on the way forward.
According to him, “Our people are denied key positions. One of our biggest problems is that, today, if you have a security meeting of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there will be no one from the South East sitting on that Council. That is totally unacceptable.”
“Ohanaeze should sit down with Igbo leaders in APC and resolve Igbo absence in this administration. They should call our people in the APC and show them details of positions held by each geopolitical zone. What we want in this country is equity”.
The authors of the book, Godwin Udibe and Law Mefor, agreed that restructuring was a veritable tool for Nigeria’s progress.
Udibe said: “The way forward for the Igbo is to unite; the book is opening up opportunities for a person from the South East politically.”
Mefor said that the Igbo man has distinguished himself in all spheres of life, stressing that this can be used to advance the socio-economic development of the entire country.