WHY NIGERIA NEEDS RESTRUCTURING NOW AND HOW IT CAN PEACEFULLY DO IT.

Author:Aka, Philip C.
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION

    General Muhammadu Buhari's election as President of Nigeria in March of 2015 raised new hopes for change among many Nigerians and followers of Nigerian events troubled by the persistent chasm between the country's potentials and the performance of its governments. (1) Buhari is not known for his strong suit in economics and foreign policy, two strengths a chief executive needs to be effective in the modern world. (2) Instead, the Nigerian literary giant, Wole Soyinka, labelled him an "economic illiterate," (3) while in foreign policy, Buhari's first outing as Nigerian military leader held him out as a leader of insular dispositions with little interest in international relations. (4)

    Given his middling track record, nobody expected Buhari to perform leadership miracles that Nigeria had not thus far experienced in the near-sixty years of its independence from Britain in 1960. The most that was expected was that his election would replace a good government with a better one when the country returns to the polls in 2019. (5) But Buhari's lackluster performance three years into his presidency has not borne out even this minimalist expectation. (6) Coming after the equally middling performances of three prior presidents under Nigeria's latest experiment in democracy since 1999, known as the Fourth Republic, (7) this disappointing result suggests a deeper problem: Nigeria's state-building ailment is a structural issue not amenable to managerial window-dressing. (8) An intractable disease requires a drastic treatment. Like Buhari said of political corruption when he ran for president in 2015, (9) Nigeria will die if it is not robustly restructured without further delay.

    Predominantly Muslim Hausa-Fulani elites from the northern portions of the country have dominated the Nigerian government since the country's independence. (10) This is despite the fact that northern leaders participated lukewarmly in the decolonization struggles that led to Nigeria's independence in 1960 (11) and complained soon after about the "mistake of 1914" that amalgamated the North and South by fiat. (12) Yet, these same leaders have repeatedly sued for "unity" (i.e. an undivided country) (13) in a nominally federal system that they have, especially since the civil war (1967-70), implemented in a unitary format during military and civilian regimes alike. (14)

    Restructuring Nigeria along the lines of the proposals made in this Article will unlock creative energies that will stem the country's hemorrhaging brain drain problem and minimize disruption in its leadership role in West Africa and beyond that could arise from an unplanned change. Restructuring will also help the work of redrawing Africa's artificial, colonially-bequeathed boundaries that the African Union must perform in this century. (15) Conversely, irrational fear of disintegration (separation anxiety) only increases the chances of an "outright collapse" by 2020 of the type a group of U.S. intelligence analysts predicted in 2005. (16)

    This Article marshals reasons why Nigeria must be restructured now and presents concrete proposals, embedded in constitutional democracy, (17) for achieving that restructuring peacefully and nonviolently. Consistent with the purpose of this piece and in line with the tenets of constitutional interpretation, (18) "restructuring" is defined broadly to include complete separation from the country for disaffected ethnic groups. (19) Although Nigeria's Fourth Republic has been rocked by numerous centrifugal challenges that include an active religion-based terrorism, the ongoing campaign for self-determination among the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria (20) provides the context for the restructure argument this Article makes.

    The ensuing discussion falls into three main parts. Part II is a historical background account anchored on a portrayal of Nigeria as a state afflicted with a separation anxiety syndrome. Part III identifies and discusses four reasons why Nigeria must restructure without delay, including dissatisfaction of the Igbo with their Nigerian marriage as an integral factor. Part IV provides suggestions on how Nigeria could achieve peaceful and lasting restructuring, including a discussion on how a restructured Nigeria, in the sense we use the term, would look like. The facts and analysis in this Article cover materials through mid-May 2017, when this piece was accepted for publication. The still-evolving nature of this topic makes it difficult to provide a real-time analysis, consistent with the canons and stringency of scholarly work.

  2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: A STATE AFFLICTED WITH "SEPARATION ANXIETY"

    Nigeria is a state of enormous human and material endowments magisterially located in West Africa. One out of every four or five Africans is a Nigerian, (21) and due mainly to huge deposits of crude oil within its borders, the country boasts the largest economy in Africa. (22) Discovered in commercial quantity soon after independence, by the 1970s, crude oil replaced agricultural exports as mainstay of Nigeria's economy and major source of foreign exchange. (23) As a sub-region of Africa, some of the significance accorded to West Africa in international politics derives from the presumed strategic importance of Nigeria. (24) It is an importance that is, in turn, galvanized by a more active foreign policy powered by oil wealth, which emerged among the few lessons Nigerian leaders learned from the civil war that shook the country to its very foundations less than seven years after its independence. (25)

    These endowments soon earned for Nigeria the sobriquet of "Giant of Africa." (26) It is a moniker that obviously many of its narcissistic and kleptomaniac leaders take a bit too seriously. For one vainglorious month in 1977, Nigeria conducted an extravaganza in the guise of an arts festival where it showcased to the world its ersatz culture and wealth. (27) More recently, one foreign minister claimed "that there could never be a black story, unless it is a Nigerian success story." (28)

    Yet, Nigeria is a state wracked with instability and other acts of governmental dysfunctions which, together, render the country unable to live up to its full potential as an influential state in Africa and the world. One crystal testament of these disabilities is military rule. Hallmarked by coups, counter-coups, assassinations, wars and rumors of war, as well as economic famines in the midst of oil windfalls, military rule in the country spanned an excruciating thirty years before it finally screeched to a halt in 1999 with the inauguration of the Fourth Republic. (29)

    Although the Fourth Republic, this latest installment of civilian rule, is the longest in the country's checkered history, (30) it has not changed the narrative of violence and political instability that bedevils Nigeria. Instead, Nigeria has endured conflicts that, in addition to the hot embers of uprisings in the Niger Delta (location of the country's oil wealth, (31)) now include a bloody religion-based terrorism ongoing since 2009 (32) and campaigns for separation from Nigeria, most notably by the Igbo. (33) As this author reflected elsewhere, while "[i]t is possible that grievances repressed during the long period of military rule are coming to the fore, taking advantage of the freer climate of civilian rule[,]" this fact by itself does not "explain away the quantity and intensity of some of these conflicts." (34)

    "The beauty of democracy is the slow but steady accretion in constitutional change the process makes possible." (35) Yet, after experimentation with the parliamentary model borrowed from Britain and the presidential system adopted from the United States, and after nearly 60 years since independence from Britain, Nigeria is nowhere close to meeting the requirements of a "positive commitment to build a healthy, dynamic and progressive state, such as would be the pride of black men the world over" that the Igbo and other Eastern Nigerians indicated they sought when they declared independence from the country in 1967. (36) Urging U.S. intervention in the Nigerian civil war in 1969, Senator Eugene McCarthy called Nigeria "a nation that never existed." (37) Nearly five decades later, Nigeria has had little success building a state, much less a nation. (38)

    Even the touted strengths of the country are afflicted with unmistakable doses of Achilles' heel that make them unsustainable. Nigeria makes peace abroad that it does not guarantee at home for its conflict-weary citizenry. (39) Its status as the largest economy in Africa is built on the quicksand of an undiversified economy, including services like telecommunication that it consumes rather than produces. (40) Faced with these disabilities, some commentators have suggested that while Nigeria still remains a giant, it is a "crippled" one. (41)

    Overview of Nigeria's recent constitutional history as we are about to undertake leads to the inescapable conclusion that the country suffers from what some analysts call a "separation anxiety," attributable to the memory of its civil war. (42) Beginning with simply "unity" and "faith," in 1978, following the war, the country instructively added "peace" and "progress" among absolute goals that it seeks to promote in its national life. (43) Going further, preambles of two constitutions the country adopted after the war, that of 1979 and 1999, feature language regarding the "resolution" of the people of Nigeria "to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible, indissoluble, Sovereign Nation under God." (44) However, under neither of these two documents did the Nigerian peoples come to any decision to form a perpetual union--certainly not under the 1999 constitution which, unlike the 1979 document, the military government under General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-99) (45) adopted without any input from the Nigerian public. (46) Finally, in a bid to promote "national integration," the...

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