On Saturday, June 25, 2016, at a meeting between Nigeria’s former Vice President- Alh. Atiku Abubakar, GCON and some Ohaneze Youth leaders at his Asokoro residence, the question on everyone’s lips was whether he meant R-E-S-T-R-U-C-T-U-R-I-N-G. He had recently at a book launch declared his support for restructuring Nigeria.
According to him, that was the only way forward for the country in the light of the Biafran agitation and renewed militancy in the Niger Delta. It was borne out of the belief by many Nigerians that the Turakin Adamawa was either merely playing to the gallery so as to be in the news or voicing out his discontentment with Buhari’s Government. This was owing to the “Atiku Myth”. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, perhaps, no other Nigerian has exhibited so much understanding and control over the levers that power the Nigerian polity like Atiku. As such, whatever he says or does is bound to be scrutinized with political prisms. According to the myth, at the height of his political trajectory, in the build up to the 2003 presidential election, his boss President Obasanjo had to go on his knees to plead with him to make the PDP Governors who had overwhelmingly declared support for him (Atiku) to switch their support to Obasanjo thereby paving the way for his re-election.
Yet, on that fateful evening at Asokoro, he pleasantly surprised the Igbo leaders present by stating that he, Atiku meant Restructuring. In fact, he stated that he had always believed in the necessity of restructuring Nigeria. Also, he stated that as far back as 1999, before he was sworn in as Nigeria’s Number 2 Citizen, at an International oil and gas conference in the US, he had stated his support for the privatization of the NNPC. He said President Obasanjo took exception to that statement then but confessed just months ago that one of his regrets was not privatizing NNPC while in office as president.
Most importantly, Atiku boldly stated that the present structure has not favoured the North, a truth which no other Northern leader has had the courage to speak. Certainly, the North as a region under Ahmadu Bello was more productive than the present 19 Northern states. Today, the poverty index in the North is quite higher than in the South. Quotacracy which is an inherent aspect of the present structure has been a curse in disguise for the North. While providing them with short term local advantages, it has limited their international competitiveness. For instance, from the cut off for the 2016 entrance exam into Unity Colleges recently released, Amobi- a male pupil from Anambra has to score 137 whereas Adamu his brother from Yobe passes the same exam with a score of 2! Today, the world is a global village and Atiku has realized that the Adamu from Yobe will be grossly disadvantaged to compete for jobs at the international stage where merit is the watch word. Besides, Quotacracy in education opportunities creates a wrong impression that Northerners are less endowed intellectually. After all, Jamiu Aliyu- the Kebbi State born US based automobile designer did not get to become one of America’s foremost brains through quota but by merit. Aliko Dangote as well did not become Africa’s richest man by quota but by merit and hardwork.
Atiku’s support for restructuring Nigeria at this critical juncture in Nigeria’s political history marks him out as a statesman and a patriot. If an ambitious politician like Atiku can support the clamour for restructuring despite his presidential ambition, why should others not follow suit? By that statement which he made and which he has been defending eloquently, he has joined the ranks of Northern progressives like Bishop Hassan Kukah, Alh. Balarabe Musa, Senator Shehu Sanni, Alh. Yerima Shettima, etc who have steadily been preaching restructuring without recourse to primordial sentiments. Therefore, it is ridiculous for the ruling party- APC to try to vilify him or chide him for taking such a courageous stand. Rather, the APC as a party should borrow a leaf from her national leader- Senator Bola Tinubu who recently reiterated his support for restructuring Nigeria now. Indeed, Senator Bola Tinubu has again shown why he is regarded as one of the political fathers of modern day Nigeria. For avoidance of doubt, Senator Bola Tinubu is a man whose views on Nigeria can only be ignored by fools. He, it was that made the Buhari Presidency possible by providing not only the vehicle for the mission but also fuelling it, both ideologically and materially. Before coming into power, the APC was seen as a party of progressives owing to her support for restructuring and other progressive ideas as espoused in the party’s ideology. It will amount to dubious hypocrisy for the party to now condemn restructuring simply because it is now in power. Nigerians expect the APC National Chairman- Chief John Oyegun to break his criminal silence over the issue by speaking out. He either supports Atiku, Tinubu, Shehu Sani and other progressive elements in the party who have been bold enough to support restructuring Nigeria now or joins the opportunists who seem to have hijacked the soul of the “party of change”.
After one year in office, Buhari’s Presidency has proved one point. President Jonathan (PDP) was not the trouble with Nigeria neither is Buhari (APC) the solution to Nigeria’s trouble. The trouble with Nigeria is neither the PDP, the APC nor even APGA. Indeed, the trouble with Nigeria is Nigeria itself. An Igbo adage states that “ishi na-eshi nkakwu si ya n’okpukpu” meaning that the shrew’s stink stems from its marrow. A Yoruba Presidency did not provide the solution, an Ijaw Presidency did not, a Fulani Presidency has not and even an Igbo Presidency will not provide the solution. Religion is not also the trouble because even Bishop Hassan Kukah himself despite his established piety cannot save Nigeria as presently structured. President Buhari himself confessed that the present Nigerian political structure has failed when during his media chat on December 30, 2015 he stated that 26 out of the 36 states of the federation could not pay salaries when he assumed office. Today, after several Federal Government bailouts the situation has become worse with some State Governments now asking workers to accept half salary.
That we are talking about Nigeria as a country today is because of the uncommon patriotism exhibited by President Jonathan by conceding defeat despite glaring irregularities in last year’s presidential election. However, the Buhari Presidency has been more divisive than any other Government in Nigeria since independence. For instance, this is the first time since return to civil rule in 1999 that Ndigbo have been shut out of the 11 man National Security Council comprising service chiefs and heads of other security agencies. Today, no Igbo is a service chief or heads any security agency! Even IBB and Abacha never treated Ndigbo so badly. That in itself is a time bomb. How can Buhari ask Ndigbo not to wish for and even die for Biafra when he has officially shown that their security is not guaranteed by his government? That is why Atiku has the blessings of Ndigbo for stating that the only thing that can assuage the ongoing agitation for Biafra is to restructure Nigeria. Whosoever wants to be a friend of Ndigbo must condemn the ongoing deliberate attempt to push Ndigbo into war. For avoidance of doubt, the Igbo is a global brand. Just like the Yorubas, they constitute a big percentage of blacks in the Diaspora and are indigenous to such countries as Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad& Tobago, etc. From DNA evidence, at least 45% of Afro Americans are of Igbo ancestry and the Igbo is the African tribe that contributed most to the making of the Unites States of America. That was why the US Government set up the Igbo Farm Village Museum in Staunton, Virginia in 2009. As such, America cannot for long look aside while Ndigbo are being grinded into the ground.
Based on the foregoing and as well considering Buhari’s body language, it bespeaks irresponsibility for any politician regardless of his/her party or tribe to be talking about political permutations for 2019 when Nigeria is about to implode! A statesman is one who sacrifices his personal interest in order to safeguard the state. Therefore, it is time for Nigerian political leaders to rise and join Atiku, Tinubu and other concerned Nigerians in salvaging Nigeria. The leadership of the National Assembly, the State Governors and members of the Federal Executive Council must all speak out now! As such, the Ondo State Government is being commended for having officially supported restructuring. Also, Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s letter to the international community is commendable as such letters will help to bring international pressure on President Buhari to do the needful. The needful is to restructure Nigeria with the present 6 zonal structure as federating units. That way, the 3 major tribes will have 3 zones and the minorities will equally have 3 zones. That way, the separatists such as IPOB, MASSOB and Niger Delta Avengers may have a rethink. Indeed, the 6 Zonal structure remains Abacha’s best legacy since it was enshrined in the Abacha Constitution.
Finally, Alh. Atiku Abubakar deserves commendation for opening a new chapter in the ongoing national discourse on Nigeria’s structure. According to another Igbo adage, “nwoke luchaa ogu, nwanyi enwere akuko” meaning when men finish the battle, women will start telling the story. Therefore, it is time for Nigerian elder statesmen such as Shehu Shagari, IBB, Obasanjo, Ekwueme, Tanko Yakassai, Ndubuisi Kanu, Emeka Anyaoku, Edward Clark, Soyinka, etc to shout in unison as elders so as to jolt our dear president to reality and draw Nigeria back from this looming precipice.
Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji (B.Eng.)
Engineer, Poet, Political Activist
Former National Chairman, Ohaneze Youth Wing