By: Andy Akporugo Jr.
In the first part of this intercourse, I had stated in generous words that the current agitation for restructuring especially in the Niger Delta, suffers internally from a moral deficit and poverty of rhetoric.
By some inverted morality, we are, at the risk of being labelled retroactive for daring to decline, expected to jump on the bus to Abuja to demand further restructure even when we know that the yield of our previous restructure efforts, has not been accounted for by our trustee Governors through any improvement on our lives, even in the most minute of ways. The expression ‘‘once bitten twice shy’’ is a universal prescription for caution, but this time they would have us sin against our senses. They want us to once again, go and fight for money before we come back much later to discuss how we will share it. They want two agitations, one before the other, with that of vesting more political and economic power on the states governments taking priority over the matter of the well-being of the citizen who by their estimation is supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary of the power!
To my mind, this is where they get the concept of governance wrong. The truth is that the individual ought to be the first line beneficiary of governance. Nothing subordinates him to the structure of governance. The structures are only good or bad because of his preferences and the reality of his needs. Certainly, 21st century theories of governance have no room for messiahs. The only job available to be taken by any structure of governance is one of agency and so however we may romanticize with concepts [inclusive of those of ‘‘refederation’’ or ‘‘fiscal federalism’’ or ‘‘resource control’’ and many such high-sounding but low-punching Nigerian efforts at words manufacture] their whole purpose must be to arrive at the people’s preferences, at delivering good governance to them. The people are the principal. At no time thus, not even for a split second, should they be taken out of the conversation.
But for a moment, let’s consider by its fabric, the logic of their argument, even if their agitators, many of them, are those who sat at the dinner table when the previous and current 13% derivation were being shared, to the deprivation of the people on whose account they were received. Their position, if it needs repeating, is that although bad governance by the State governments chokes us by the throat currently, we must yet find air somehow to deal with it later, after we have wrestled more powers for the states. One argument is that we will be more effective in insisting on good ethics or governance against a local tyrant, [by which I refer to most of our state governors] even if he had more powers, than we would against Abuja.
This position would have been plausible, except that it starkly denies our daily experience as a people. It denies the helpless vulnerability that poverty and illiteracy have consigned the people to, especially when set against more economic and political power of self-serving state governments. It denies the proven wickedness of state governments which have ensured that the wealth they have accessed on behalf of the state has been applied to keep their states so undeveloped as to cause the migration of the critical mass of the people whose education would ensure that they are not able to survive in them, and whose departure reduces the possibility of informed opposition against government. It denies the capacity of the State to intimidate the people off their will by sheer use of brute force, in a way that makes it all constitutionally, an internal affair of the state.
My insistence, although I confess my inability to match the size and timbre of the ‘‘people-later’’ restructure advocates, is that we do not need to have the conversation by instalments. We require a ‘people-now’ restructure – the type that deals with the factual concerns over the total absence of good governance, along with whatever prescriptions for ‘‘restructure’’, ‘‘resource control’’ or ‘‘refederation’’.
If this is to be considered, then we must immediately deal with a few small questions, amongst others:
i. What structure may be crafted that truly puts governance as much as possible within the control of the federating ‘‘peoples’’ themselves?
ii. Who are the people, by the way?
iii. What is the fair basis any way for determining ownership of resources? Does Nigeria have any direct claims to ownership of the oil in my community for example? How is the concept of State ownership of resources within its territorial jurisdiction a more valid preposition than that of federal ownership of resource within the territorial space of Nigeria?
iv. Would those who insist on ‘refederating’ along the lines of the 1960 or 1963 Nigerian Constitutions still be keen on their arguments if we insisted that the regional delineations of the time should also be used as basis for resource control? Or are they going to cherry pick because for the instant it seems to favour their pockets?
v. Shall we base the claims for restructure on state formations no less false in their creation than we accuse the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates?
vi. Shall we continue to federate under claims of tribal or cultural homogeneity that accentuate our divides and mutual suspicions? Why does the Delta man feel cheated out of his resources by the North or elsewhere for example, even when those areas are living theatres of lack, suffering and wicked deprivation as well?
vii. Shall we use ‘‘natural’’ private or family or communal ownership of property [which are truly the only legitimate forms of ownership of resource which are not an arbitrary sequestration of ownership by government, whether state or federal] as basis for ownership of resources?
In the third and hopefully, final part of this conversation, I shall consider a few of the above questions and more, and propose what I believe should be a more enduring manner of restructuring, that puts the Nigerian wherever he sprouts from, first, and commences a federation developed far away from mutual spite and the short-sidedness of our stomachs!