As Nigeria commemorates its more-than-50-years independence, it’s crucial to reflect on the historical milestones that once marked it as the “Giant of Africa.” The era between 1950 and 1960 witnessed remarkable achievements in education, health, agriculture, sports, and infrastructure, positioning Nigeria as a beacon of progress on the continent. However, the trajectory took a dramatic turn on January 15, 1966, with a coup led by army majors, setting the stage for a series of political upheavals that shaped the nation’s governance structure. There is the need for comprehensive geopolitical restructuring in Nigeria, drawing insights from historical events and contemporary challenges.
The ascendancy of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi after the 1966 coup marked a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s political evolution. Ironsi’s suspension of the Nigerian Constitution and consolidation of power towards a unitary system set the country on a path that would impact subsequent administrations. The counter-coup of July 29, 1966, led to the emergence of Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, initiating a series of military regimes that endured until Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s civilian administration in 1979. The oscillation between military and civilian rule, punctuated by coups and counter-coups, defined Nigeria’s political landscape.
Democracy’s struggle amid years of military rule.
During the era of General Sani Abacha, there was widespread condemnation from civil rights groups, demanding a return to civilian rule. The transition in 1999, however, was accompanied by the adoption of the 1999 Constitution, criticized for its over-centralized structure, contributing to economic challenges, insecurity, disunity, and ethnic tensions. Recognizing the urgent need for change, President Goodluck Jonathan convened a National Conference in 2014, aiming to address the country’s challenges. The consensus that emerged from the conference advocated for the restructuring of Nigeria along the lines of true federalism, emphasizing decentralization of governance, judiciary, and devolution of powers to states as Federating Units. This idea found support among various socio-political groups, former heads of state, and prominent figures across the nation.
One of geopolitical restructuring proposals is enhanced security. It can enhance internal security by increasing the quality and quantity of the police force. Each state should establish three layers of security personnel – state police, local government police, and community police. This decentralization not only improves security but also generates employment opportunities. Another is economic Prosperity. Devolving fiscal powers to states can boost revenue by allowing them to explore and develop mineral resources within their borders. This includes bitumen in Ondo, natural gas in Enugu, lithium in Kwara and Kaduna, uranium in Bornu, and gold in Oyo and Zamfara. These states would also have the freedom to develop their agriculture sector, attracting local and international investors.
Some of the proposals regarding restructuring in Nigeria.
Again, in implementing this policy, we must consider ethnic equity. To ensure a level playing field in presidential elections, the rotational presidency concept, proposed by the 2014 National Conference, could be adopted. A six-year, one-term presidency that rotates among the geopolitical zones aims to promote ethnic equity and inclusivity. There must also be geopolitical party structure. Addressing the disparity in the number of states among the geopolitical zones is crucial. A restructured model should ensure more equitable representation in the National Assembly, reducing the potential for disaffection between the zones.
Another aspect is in INEC reforms for electoral credibility. Abolishing the positions of INEC Chairman and Commissioners, and decentralizing the Federal Election Board to states and the Federal Capital Territory, could enhance the credibility of elections. The establishment of State Election Commissions, representing major political parties, would contribute to fair and transparent electoral processes. The National Assembly must also be restructured. Streamlining the National Assembly by abolishing the House of Representatives and increasing the number of senators per senatorial district could significantly reduce the cost of governance. This restructuring aims to create a more efficient legislative body, saving the nation billions annually.
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Nigeria stands at a crossroads and the call for geopolitical restructuring gains momentum. The proposals outlined seek to address longstanding issues and provide a foundation for a more productive and equitable union. It is now incumbent upon the citizens, as ‘We the People,’ to exert pressure on the leadership and initiate the process of decentralization by re-evaluating and nullifying the undemocratic 1999 Constitution. Through collaborative efforts, Nigeria can embark on a new journey towards prosperity, unity, and effective governance.