Some scholars would argue that federalism, in its most ideal manifestation, is a sort of political utopia. Nigeria is listed on Wikipedia as one of the countries practicing a federal system. In spite of this, debates about the true condition of Nigeria’s federal political structure have continuously emerged ever since Nigeria’s independence in the year 1960. Over time, the subject matter has entertained a vast range of opinions and suggestions from scholars and laymen alike across multiple fora of discourse. While certain groups have canvassed for the amendment of the Nigerian constitution to enable the decentralization of power and resources among the units of the federation, other groups have gone a step further to recommend physical restructuring, bestowing complete agency to these units. Nevertheless, it would seem that the singular thread tying these ideologies together is the belief that Nigeria does not practice true fiscal federalism.

The advancement for a comprehensive rejig of the system by groups and individuals to reflect the true philosophy of federalism has become a constant throughout Nigeria’s political history. The 1946 Richards Constitution birthed the concept of federalism in Nigeria, dividing the nation into three main regions: the Northern, Eastern & Western regions. However, Nigeria’s liberty over the governance of her own affairs remained impeded by the British colonialists. Indigenous leaders decried these restrictions, and started pushing for independence from British rule. Following Nigeria’s eventual independence in 1960, the military took over the helm of affairs not too long after, and with their command structure of power centralization, drastically watered down the federal system of the country making Nigeria a single sovereign nation.

The military enjoyed complete and unchallenged dominance until 1993 when the annulment of the June 12 elections saw intense backlash from the Nigerian citizens who demanded that the military government restore power to the civilians. This period saw issues relating to the federal structure of the nation brought to the fore once again and this created a dichotomy: retain the unitary structure or fully embrace the federal system. Since the complete installation of democracy in 1999, Nigeria is still battling with issues of central monopoly, lack of state autonomy, and perceived injustices or imbalance of power by various parts of the country.

Niger State governor, Umaru Bago, recently threatened to shut down the hydroelectric dams if Nigeria failed to pay 13 per cent derivation for the water supplied by the state, asserting that despite being a major supplier of hydropower for years, the state has never been adequately compensated. About a decade ago, the former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, clamoured publicly for the total overhaul of the nation’s system of government to effectuate the utilization of potentials inherent in the state and local governments for the sake of economic growth and development.

“The 36 state governors are demanding a truer federal system in terms of fiscal and political federalism. I associate myself with this demand in its entirety,” Fashola proclaimed.

Power devolution, in tandem with the domestication of control over raw mineral resources across all states of the federation, has amassed lots of support from many individuals as a major step in restructuring Nigeria, giving more agency to the states and promoting self-reliance along with development. Ethno-regional organizations such as Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndigbo have previously expressed their support for increase in the share of allocation, positing that given the potential of all states in the country to be self-reliant, a reworked derivation principle in favour of states will, in the final analysis, be beneficial to all. Furthermore, there have been calls for the definition of roles and functions covered by the state and local governments, as well as a review of revenue allocated to them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of restructuring, mere prescriptions or suggestions do not suffice. The onus rests on the legislative arm of government, democratically designed by the people in the form of the national assembly, to deliberate on the numerous recommendations via public opinion, with the aim of applying the necessary amendments to the constitution for the benefit of the citizens. Then again, there may not be much confidence of the general populace in these politicians to advance positions that will actually favour the citizens, as opposed to positions that will only benefit their inner caucus.

In an interview with, professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, Moses Achonu, aptly noted the tendency for political actors to hoist the restructuring agenda as a sort of political holy grail that will redeem Nigeria from the economic doldrums and facilitate sustainable national development.

“The problem with talking about restructuring is that it has been discussed to death and has become a political football that politicians play every election cycle to win the support of the Nigerian intellectual and middle classes who, since the 1990s, have been advancing restructuring in various mutating forms,” Prof. Achonu said.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has been in the driver’s seat for nearly a decade now, controlling the affairs of the nation. The party overthrew the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015 with former President Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. Pandering to the socio-economic atmosphere and overall mood of the public at the time, APC’s 2015 campaign manifesto championed the implementation of a pure federal system. The document contained a promise to “implement efficient public financial management strategies and ensure true federalism” and “restructure governance in a way that kick-starts our political economy so that we begin to walk the path of our better future”. However, Nigerians were quick to notice the sudden volte-face when former President Buhari declared in his 2018 New Year speech thus: “When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.”

Eight years passed on and another election cycle came around. APC has continued to maintain its stronghold via President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The restructuring agenda is not a foreign point of discourse for President Tinubu. As a matter of fact, he made his position known on the 16th of November, 2020 in a speech at the Third Annual Abiola Ajimobi Roundtable titled “The time for restructuring is now”.

Related News

“I do not advocate a blank cheque for states. The more revenue they get, the more they must do and the more they assume the responsibility to use that revenue wisely because the very fate of their people is at stake. The time for state police has come. In fact, it is overdue. This important change requires more funds in state hands, less in federal,” Tinubu said at the event.

“Other items such as stamp duties for financial transactions, tourism, and the incorporation of businesses should also occur at the state level and be removed from the federal charge,” he said.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, we should note that Tinubu has so far succeeded in the setup of a Tax and Fiscal Reforms Committee whose main objectives include the simplification of a complicated tax system and modifying regulations governing business activities for easier transactions. Recently, he has also disclosed plans of rolling out 11,000 buses running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for the sake of affordable transportation. Tinubu has also been commended by many pundits for promoting inclusivity in major government offices through the appointment of individuals from various parts of the country. All of that being said, concerned citizens haven’t failed to point out the fact that Tinubu is yet to lay out his plans pertaining to his restructuring objective.

At this stage, it is not fully certain whether the restructuring agenda still has any substance, or if it has just become mere rhetoric. In fact, the term “restructuring” may appear to have different connotations to different people, according to scholars like Farooq Kperogi.

“The debate over restructuring has been mired in bluster, political grandstanding, and semantic impressions,” Kperogi opined. “That is why I once described ‘restructuring’ as an empty or floating signifier, that is, an intentionally slippery concept with no fixed or stable meaning. No two Nigerians seem to agree on what exactly it means or what it should entail. It’s a giant but blank discursive slate on which different people inscribe whatever they want on it.”

When there is no existing consensus on the meaning of the word “restructuring”, then establishing the best way to go about it becomes a pointless exercise. The term itself has been subject to different interpretations from various ethnic or regional backgrounds. Ethnic minorities, for example, might see restructuring as a regression to a point in the nation’s history where they were practically invisible. This begs a more pragmatic and hands-on approach from political actors. Pundits have posited that a gradualist approach to restructuring might serve the citizens better.

“Take some items from the federal exclusive list and hand them to subnational units, which are states. For now, the states approximate the subnational bureaucratic structure of least resistance and enjoy the broadest acceptance, so it makes sense to keep them. This decentralisation must, of course, be accompanied by an increase in the percentage of the federal revenue accruing to states,” Prof. Achonu stated.

Northern opposition is also touted as another formidable minefield for the restructuring agenda. The Northern political elite have been cited as the biggest beneficiaries of this current pseudo-federalist system. It makes sense, therefore, that they would feel threatened by notions of restructuring because they do not want their dominance of the political landscape to be compromised. Advocates of restructuring from the South may not be helping matters due to their caustic remarks about Northern opposition to restructuring which only serve to stoke the embers of animosity and distrust. Achonu recommended that advocates for restructuring should reason with the North and point out what they stand to benefit from it.

“Northern elites need to be respectfully convinced that, given the poverty level in the North, its burgeoning youth population, and the potential to creatively leverage the North’s land, agriculture, and human capital resources to build a formidable and accountable post-oil economy and political system, it’s in their interest to support restructuring, regardless of its short-term disruption,” he said.

The necessity of restructuring continues to linger many years after Nigeria’s independence. While some parties might want to wave off the idea because they want to maintain their political leverage, experts say a properly structured nation is universally beneficial to all citizens.