The calls for the restructuring of the national political space have become unceasing in recent years to make the narrative below increasingly relevant, to serve as a wake-up call and abort those dire consequences which continue to jeopardise our relationship as a nation. Conversely, a positive response to the calls for restructuring will forestall the inevitable frustration of the misplaced hope of more Nigerians for a better life.
Indeed, there can be no end, in the foreseeable future, to a do-or-die fight for the post of President of our nation. The unbridled struggle to be top dog has generally been motivated by the prospect of almost absolute power over our lives and the nation’s resources, particularly the lucrative proceeds from the oil wells in Niger Delta. The underbelly of the arbitrarily created 36 states and 774 local governments, under military dictatorship, has ultimately become exposed as these political contraptions would literarily collapse, without, what some have described as the ‘blood money’ from the Niger Delta.
However, it is likely that if modest resources were allocated and limited powers devolved to the centre for the exercise of its exclusive responsibilities, there would be less attractive to commit huge financial investments in order to buy or capture power on behalf of one’s political club (be it military, civilian, ethnic or regional association).
Our political godfathers, in their wisdom, attempted to bring some sanity to the acrimony usually generated by the struggle for the lucrative centre, with the concept of rotating the presidency along the North/South axis. However, this solution has not brought with it much comfort because the subsisting constitutional provision for a maximum of 2×4 year terms could means that each of the six geopolitical zones would produce a President every 48 years (that is, assuming that each geopolitical zone’s President enjoys their full eight years lordship over the treasury!) This arrangement implies that all other eminently gifted, qualified and socially committed presidential materials, from other zones, would be wasted in 40 year cycles with, unfortunately, no guarantee that the best available candidate would emerge from the geopolitical region, whose turn it is to produce the President!
Thus, in a political culture where plundering takes precedence over public service and wealth creation, all Nigerians become victims of the greed of a parasitic political class -invariably championed by autocratic leadership. Arguably, the greatest threat to our tenuously contrived democracy is dictatorship! However, for peace and stability to prevail, our constitution should enable the best available presidential materials from each geopolitical zone, to contest for, and attain the post of President. Consequently, we must adopt a constitution that ensures that no one person remains in power long enough and becomes so formidable as to successfully engineer term elongation and perpetuate dictatorship!
The National Assembly demonstrated great courage in throwing out President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term ambition. The legislature, thankfully, pulled us back from the precipice, but discerning and patriotic Nigerians still warn against complacency. Indeed, if poverty deepens and social injustice and disrespect for the rule of law, by the executive, remain unchecked, a National Assembly wholly made up of surrogates may prevail, vis-à-vis the godfather syndrome, as witnessed in Oyo and Anambra states, under the Obasanjo administration. Ultimately, a constitutional dictatorship could evolve and Nigerians would, again, fall into real bondage as the dark days of insecurity, instability and one-man-rule will return with a vengeance.
So, how can we prevent such an ugly scenario in a nation, which is in the grip of irrepressible ethnic/regional aspirations for the office of President? Instructively, some eminent Nigerians have rightly argued that the first requirement for a stable, just, egalitarian and progressive nation should be the adoption of a truly federal constitution, where the centre devolves more of its powers to the states/regions, as engines of growth, so that these states/regions will freely exploit their internal human and mineral resources and pay appropriate dues to run the federal government at the centre.
Arguably, such a modified structure would motivate each region to look inwards and optimally develop its own God-given resources, rather than wait for monthly handouts from a potentate centre. In such a manner, all regional governments would become actively engaged in putting their citizens to work to create additional wealth with a commensurate improvement in mass social welfare.
It may be expedient, therefore, from the foregoing, to consider the adoption of a six-year collegiate presidency that will douse the tension and vicious attrition created by the usual battles to install a “one-man” President, in the incessant, vociferous clamour and grandstanding by each geopolitical group for their turn, whenever an incumbent’s tenure ends. Under this arrangement, every political party would field a team comprising six candidates selected from each of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones for the post of President. Furthermore, every member of the victorious party’s presidential collegiate team will serve as President for only one year while the other five members of the collegiate would serve as Vice Presidents with direct oversight responsibilities for discrete sets of ministries and/parastatals. Furthermore, the five Vice Presidents would also be rotated annually from one set of ministries to the other, so that in a six-year term, each member of the collegiate would have served for one year in every segment of federal administration, with one year as de-facto President, all united in the joint pursuit of their party’s publicly declared manifesto; consequently, no member of the Collegiate can pursue their own personal agenda while in office.
Nigerians can afford to sleep with both eyes closed, with such a stable political foundation, as it will become impossible for anyone to consolidate their hold on power and remain long enough to perpetuate an oppressive dictatorship! Notably, also, the abiding desire of geopolitical groups to see their sons or daughters as the nation’s top dog would always be realised, as each region would perpetually have a member in the collegiate presidency. Nigerians would, therefore, permanently enjoy the advantages of the multiple contributions of more eminently qualified and socially committed presidential materials. The collegiate presidency would be expected to play as a team of stars rather than the culture of a distant, dictatorial lone star complex, as is currently the case.
On the level of state and local governments, the same collegiate system of administration, comprising ethnic nationalities will also be put in place to harmoniously carry along the majority of the communities in each state and ensure national cohesion. However, there are very cogent arguments for the abolition of the clearly wasteful and unviable 36 states structure with the related huge oppressive operational costs that do not positively impact on the welfare of most Nigerians. The choice, therefore, is ours to make; do we want to live in caged apprehension that sustains acrimony in our body polity or do we truly want to break the chains of bondage to release our true potential as a rich resource endowed nation?”
The above article was first published on June 29, 2006, but is reproduced here for reasons that border on it continued relevance to the country’s extant political realities.
Postscript: June 2019
The increasing calls for restructuring suggest that the current political arrangement is unsustainable and that serious adjustments are required to release our true potential as a nation. Evidently, such an achievement would not be to the advantage of self-serving politicians, who prefer the current inequitable and unjust social contract, which accommodates their selfish interest, while conversely the rest of us, continue to wallow in poverty. There is no doubt that the current federal structure is horribly skewed against national peace, stability and rapid economic development.
It is refreshing, however, that after a strategic convention in May 2018, Ohanaeze Ndigbo advocated as follows: that “the tenure of the office of the President shall be a single term of six years. There shall be five Vice Presidents, one from each of the geopolitical zones”!
Hopefully, other ethnic groups will recognise this sensible path to creating a progressive, equitable and enduring first world nation.
Belated Happy Democracy Day!
Henry Boyo is a well-known writer and commentator on National issues. A former lecturer of physics at the University of Lagos.