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Segun Gbadegesin: In whose interest is political restructuring?


Segun Gbadegesin: In whose interest is political restructuring?

by Segun Gbadegesin

The matter of political restructuring continues to generate political heat in the public domain. It is not unusual to have the kind of robust debate that we have had especially since the beginning of the new administration of President Buhari.

Even for a party that made change its political totem, the pursuit of change could be unnerving. Who knows what is on the other side? And how does one manage the transition state between the undesirable present and the desirable future state? Every business organisation that seeks profitability must face these questions at some point. Does a political community that seeks stability and prosperity for her citizens need to worry about such issues?  The answer is obvious.

There is, however, a major difference between a political community and a business organization. A business organization that refuses to change in the light of new developments and the competition around it, will collapse under the weight of its own redundancy.

On the other hand, in a political community, power is wielded by those who are entrusted with it, ideally on behalf of the people, but realistically for the interest of the powerful few. If business calculations feature at all, it is the business interests of the few that drive political calculations. Thus, the clamor for change may fall into deaf ears for fear of the unknown or for calculations of self-or sectional interests.

What is lost to those calculations is the inevitability of change which, as Heraclitus observes several millennia ago, is the only constant. Especially, in situations of universal frustration with the status quo, where life is akin to the state of nature condition, change is the only certainty. But in the eternal wisdom of J. F. Kennedy, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.

There have been many attempts at obfuscation. We manufacture confusion where there is none just so we could slow down or disrupt the course of change. There has been fear-mongering of the worst kind. A few weeks ago, I was at the annual convention of the National Association of Yoruba Descendants which had restructuring as a theme. While almost every speaker appeared to have a clear vision of what restructuring meant and what social and economic gains might accrue therefrom, there was a holdout. An otherwise smart and obviously learned gentleman expressed the fear of the unknown. “The Southwest had no oil-fields”, he observed. “From where would our wealth come and how are we to feed our populations if advocates of restructuring had their way?”

Note that this was a convention of a Southwest Nigerian organization in the most federalized nation in the world, where presidents and congressmen and women jealously guard state rights against the intrusion of federal might. I bring it up to show that in the current debate on restructuring, the resistance to change is not a sectional one. There are equal opportunity resisters in all the zones of the federation.

Resisters hide behind such platitudes as “we need mind-restructuring, not political restructuring”, “ we must pursue poverty alleviation not political restructuring”, or “we need constitutional amendment not political restructuring.” Still others continue to ask for the meaning of restructuring, or they dismiss true federalism as nonsensical because, in their confused judgment, there is nothing like false federalism. But pray, how else does one describe a unitary system that camouflages as a federal system?

I have tried, in several comments on this page, to isolate the issues and clarify confusions. But it appears for one who is determined to avoid thorough understanding, there is nothing much that can be done even by the most down-to-earth simplification. But I have also learnt from the wisdom of the elders that the one who genuinely asks questions deserves satisfying answers.

From recent debates on this matter, there are two questions that deserve answers. First, to the still yet to be convinced about what restructuring is, perhaps a better approach is to first answer the question what restructuring is not. Second, an answer is required to the question “in whose interest is political restructuring?”

Restructuring is not secession. This horse has been flogged so mercilessly that by now one would expect it dead and buried. But in low and high places, the argument is still being frustratingly canvassed that talk about restructuring empowers and inspires the rhetoric and threat of secession. This is far from the truth.

Secession demand is for an out of a marriage that both believe no longer works. The demand for restructuring is for an acceptable modification to the terms of the relationship to make it happy and endure the vicissitude of life. The one is negative while the other is positive. There is no denying the fact, however, that if the positive drive is discountenanced, it sends a wrong signal to those who might resolve to engage the negative gear.

Restructuring is not against national unity. Advocates of restructuring are some of the most patriotic and nationalistic groups whose love of country is beyond doubt. What they espouse are the principles of governing a diverse nation so that the ideal of unity in diversity is preserved and respected. They are genuinely concerned that when diversity is blurred for the sake of uniformity, the country loses out on one of its most profoundly potential contributions to the world political community: the idea of the many voluntarily becoming one without losing their diverse cultures.

Restructuring is not the imposition of the will of one group or section over others. In the first place, it is, in reality, impossible for advocates of restructuring to impose their will on the nation since their demand must go through the crucible of public opinion and be acceptable to all for it to be adopted as the law of the land.

Second, that an individual or a group or section is persistent in the advocacy of a cause does not reveal anything about a motive and none can be judiciously attributed. In the case of restructuring, advocates have good arguments and must hope that they can persuade opponents to their side. This has always been the rational course of our political debates since the days of the nationalist struggles.

Restructuring is not an irrational pursuit of danger. A person who runs towards an obvious danger without minding the outcome is at best irrational, at worst, insane. While some may think that advocates of restructuring are irrational, they are nothing but. As I observed above, the fear of the unknown is what is irrational. Surely, a demand for the return to a principle of governance that worked well in the past cannot be considered irrational. Besides, the only danger is to continue the path that has not worked for the good of the people.

Political restructuring is the alignment of levels of government vertically, and branches of government horizontally, for the deepening of democracy and the promotion of the welfare of citizens.

Advocates of restructuring have variously asked for devolution of power to the states, regionalism, or return to the 1963 constitution, which gave more power to the regions and prioritized derivation as a revenue formula. It is disingenuous to conclude that advocates are mired in confusion because of the differences in their demands. We know better that when there is a consensus on moving with restructuring, all metals will be thrown in the fire and subjected to the heat of public debate.

In whose interest, then, is political restructuring? Every level of government, every branch of government, every zone and every state of the federation, labor, the poor, the rich, and most important of all, national unity, stands to benefit from a well-planned political restructuring.

With states cooperating in zonal arrangements in the areas of education, agriculture, mining, and infrastructure, economy of scale kicks in for maximum benefit for citizens. As current experience demonstrates, the future of fossil fuel is bleak. In any case, this nation is sufficient evidence that it has been a curse against development and national unity. Do we really need further evidence in favor of restructuring?

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