Pre-colonial Africa had different cultural, social, political and administrative systems, organized into kingdoms, chiefdoms and fiefdoms, headed by black men who were “big”. These big black men wielded enormous and unfettered powers.
In some cases, their proclamations were not just law, they were the law. After the scramble for and partitioning of Africa by the Europeans, their subsequent invasion brought to an end the reign of these big black men.
Power changed hands from the big black men to the big white men. As the wave of independence from colonialism swept the continent from the 1950s, power was once again relinquished to emerging and fledgeling big black men polished and educated in the ways and language of the big white men.
The rise of these big black men offered some gleaner of hope to their people but many of them ended up as despots, plunging their countries into civil conflicts and economic catastrophes of unimaginable proportions, largely due to this big man mentality.
A shared notorious reputation among most of these big black men that held sway in post-colonial Africa was their unbridled tenacity to power and their insatiable penchant for putting on airs and graces with their people.
These big black men ran big governments, and in many instances, their knowledge and delivery of good governance could be written at the back of a postage stamp.
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The Nigeria of today is suffering from this “big” syndrome in its political life. The myriad of problems bedevilling the country is due to its big but defective political arrangement. Prior to the “unification” of the country by military fiat at the end of the first republic, the numerous potentials and areas of comparative advantage of the various regions of the country came to limelight due to the political arrangement of genuine federalism practised at the time.
After the needless and arbitrary incursion of our civic space by the military, coupled with the oil windfall of the 1970s, a new political arrangement that concentrated power and the wealth of the people in the hands of the government at the centre gradually evolved. The government controls the resources of the people, is more powerful than the people, is not accountable to the people, and is also the politician.
The federal government under this strange brand of federalism became ubiquitous and is involved in the ineffectual issuance of things as simple as National identity card and drivers licence. The big nature of government is responsible for the corrupt, lax, and inefficient nature of its activities and administration.
Under this strange brand of federalism, state governments and by extension, their citizens go cap in hand, to the federal government for sustenance, with little or no room for creativity, innovation or invention. This has reduced the masses to passive beneficiaries of a “benefactor” called government. There is a plethora of adverse effects in operating with this defective political arrangement.
First of all, the security of lives and property is determined by one man heading a central policing agency. In a not too distant past, the country was overwhelmed with the barbaric and murderous activities of Fulani herdsmen pillaging farmlands and properties of some residents in the southern stretch of the country.
In Benue – one of the states terribly affected by the herdsmen menace – the governor and “chief security officer” of the state was helpless in handling the crisis because the Nigerian police are under the control of one big man (the Inspector General) who reports directly to only one big man – the president of the country.
This makes nonsense of the claim to the federal nature of our government. In a federal system of government, the federating units are directly responsible for their own security. In the united states of America for instance, there are state police departments, and a military formation called the National Guard, under the direct control of the state governor.
In Nigeria, there have been mixed reactions to the clamour for state police. While some members of the public welcome the idea in order to enhance the efficiency of the police and policing, sceptics are concerned of what it might become in the hands of state governors, whose resume indicates a common penchant for lawlessness.
The current political arrangement also encourages and promotes laziness – physical and intellectual – and ineptitude among public officeholders. As long as the federating units look up to the centre to run their affairs, ingenuity and creativity needed to actualize the development of their constituencies will be a mirage.
This is why many states in Nigeria are insolvent and incapable of self-sustenance. The COVID-19 pandemic currently bayoneting the world provides a compelling case for restructuring.
In Lagos state where the country’s index case was discovered, the state government was able to swing into action and put necessary structures in place to combat the pandemic before the federal government’s intervention.
In Kano state, the government’s handling of the issue was beyond the pale. The state Governor, behaving like a beggar of alms, begged for 15 billion naira before anything could be done to combat the disease, leading to a hundred and fifty “mysterious deaths” in just two days, probably due to the outbreak of the virus in the state.
As long as the country’s leadership is averse to, and continues to be tone-deaf to the calls for restructuring, the embarrassing handling of the COVID-19 issue in Kano, will be a recurring decimal, as federating units will always be at the mercy of the federal government in times of emergencies like this.
As long as restructuring is not an option in whatever political reform embarked upon, development of the regions will remain elusive. For instance, if any state decides to find solutions to its electric power needs by generating power, it will be connected to the national power grid, because it is the exclusive prerogative of the government at the centre to do so.
As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that the power ministry superintends over the steady supply of darkness instead, leading to the stunting of the growth of burgeoning small and medium scale enterprises.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the deportation of almajiris (street beggars of Northern extraction) scattered all over the country, to their state of Origin. Inasmuch as I am of the opinion that a holistic approach is needed to address the issue of the almajiris, restructuring is one of the steps in the right direction to achieve that.
If Nigeria is restructured and reverts back to regionalism, the northern elite will take the gauntlet in advocating for family planning. The current structure makes unavailing, whatever family planning effort or practices adopted by other regions of the country.
For instance, if I decide to have just two kids, and my compatriot in the North decides to display his prolificacy in breeding, siring dozens of homosapiens, from his harem of Eve’s descendants, this reduces the number of our collective resources accruable to me, and the quality of life accessible or affordable to me and my kids.
If the country is restructured, the North will have to provide the resources to cater for its teeming population, which will ultimately lead to the advocacy for the adoption of family planning and child care by the elites of the region.
The current political arrangement in which a unitary system of government is masquerading as federalism is unsustainable. Although the President talked out of the back of his head, by insisting that he doesn’t understand what restructuring is all about, the recession of 2016 and the COVID-19 pandemic are pointers to the urgent need for it.
The earlier the country is restructured, the better for everyone. If the agitation for restructuring is not heeded or is given the axe, by the political elite who have filched the country due to this structure, then the country will restructure itself by forces beyond the control of those who are currently in control of it.