Chinua Achebe famously told the world that the trouble with Nigeria is purely and squarely one of leadership. For him the leadership deficit- the failure of vision among the first post-independence generation of Nigerian leaders, the so-called founding fathers of Nigeria, is the reason why Nigeria has failed both as a state and a nation. In his treatise, Achebe pulled no punches in condemning what he saw as the skewed political goals and objectives of this set of leaders he thought was basically self-aggrandising.

All of this was just over 40 years ago and what Achebe said has become something of a political verity among generations of Nigerians since then. But Achebe’s observation, spot-on for the most part, would amount to a misdiagnosis when not placed in appropriate holistic context that takes into consideration what constitutes the leadership of the country at any point in time since independence, while equally examining the non-human aspect of the political ecology within which the leaders have to function.

Viewed against this backdrop, there can be no better conclusion but that the problem of Nigeria at this present time is the structure of the Nigerian state and not whoever that twisted structure periodically throws up as president through the country’s flawed electoral system that is often rigged against the best of the people emerging as leaders. It is only after the question of structure has been resolved that the issue of an inept leadership becomes truly meaningful. In the unbalanced equation of the calculations that is Nigeria’s political system, one is superior to and is the father of the other.

In this case, the question of an appropriate structure trumps the inadequacies of an incompetent leadership. The problem associated with an inept leader or leadership system, as the Nigerian example has shown, can be greatly mitigated if the structure is right. But where the structure is inappropriate there is only so much that the leaders can achieve no matter how competent they are. What is more, a flawed structure provides a cover for a multitude of political sins, including inept leadership. There is always an excuse to explain away the failures of leadership.

The problem Nigeria faces today in the form of economic imbalance/insolvency, insecurity and political instability, all problems that show Nigeria up as a failed state, is fundamentally one of structure. This is the foundational problem that has assumed different forms and taken strange byways to trouble the peace of Nigeria following the abrogation of the 1963 federal Constitution by the military in May 1966. The dissolution of the four regions structure and its replacement with a 12-state structure by the same military in 1967 means Nigeria’s federalism need not return to a regional arrangement but it has to be federal in every sense of it at the very least.

Otherwise, this structural problem will continue to bedevil the country and make development impossible for as long as it remains unattended. Let us get the structure right and we would have got right a whole lot, not all, of the problems that have made Nigeria ungovernable, including the leadership issue that Chinua Achebe diagnosed way back in 1983. If this fact of our structural situation is not admitted, we cannot come to an acceptance of the truth that no matter who becomes the president today, the problem of Nigeria can only get more complicated and unmanageable for as long as it is allowed to fester.

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That is one truth too bitter to swallow by those who are fixated on one individual resident in a sprawling national estate called Aso Villa in Abuja- an individual they think they are justified to scapegoat and hold accountable for the mess we have come to accept even if we didn’t all create it. Some of them bent on being tenants in this same national estate choose to be political and otherwise pretend that they possess a magic wand that will turn things around once they are elected president. This is a lie. And to say this is not to support the present occupant of that residence who himself has far more in his plate than he seems able to chew. The most that he has so far chewed by way of subsidy removal and floating of the national currency, among others, is proving indigestible just yet.

The point, therefore, is that no matter who emerges as president at any time soon in the country, especially now, such an individual will be stymied by the same issues that are currently being grappled by the present government and are at the centre of current political debates. Which is to say that the problem of insecurity, food inflation and sundry issues connected to the economy: banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and the struggle between competence and ethnic background in the selection or election of Nigerian leaders is directly or indirectly tied to and can only be meaningfully resolved when the structural challenge of Nigeria’s skewed federalism is finally done and indeed done away with. Nigerians should be engaging their legislators for urgent reforms in the structure of the polity rather than shadow-boxing President Bola Tinubu.

It is obvious that this is not the kind of observation that opponents of the president want to hear and for any one to make it, such a person has to be on the pay roll of his administration. For these opponents, Tinubu is the be-all and end-all of all Nigeria’s problems. Given the winner-takes-all, zero-sum politics of the Nigerian state, it is inevitable that politicians will turn a collective problem into the family patrimony of one individual. Which is not the same thing as saying that the removal of oil subsidy and the floating of the naira have not had adverse consequences on the people of Nigeria or that President Bola Tinubu has pressed all the right buttons in the management of the economy.

There is a lot his government has to account for in the manner Nigerians have been impoverished in the last nine months. His government has said more than enough about how things must get worse before they can get better. The bitter pill that is being prepared and administered on Nigerians from the alchemy of his presidency, those bitter pills that Nigerians must ingest before they can be free from the albatross of economic and socio-political malaise should not be such that by the time they take their full effect the patients for whom they were prepared would have been long dead.

Here then is Bola Tinubu’s opportunity to step in and intervene to moderate for a moment, not halt permanently, the steep fall of the floundering currency rather than allow it to continue to “float” without control.