By Cecilia Ijuo
Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, says restructuring Nigeria is inevitable for all-inclusive advantages it will confer on federating units and enhancement of national unity.
Ekweremadu stated this at a two-day Retreat by Southern Senators Forum in Calabar on Friday, and dismissed the fear in certain quarters that restructuring would cause the break-up of the country.
He explained that restructuring was not the same as exclusive resource control as the renewed and aggressive search for oil around the Lake Chad, Sokoto and Benue River Basins in recent times appeared to suggest.
According to him, whereas federating units will have more control over their resources in a restructured Nigeria, there would always be an Equalisation Fund to ensure that every region thrives above a reasonable threshold.
“In fact, oil and gas is among the least strategic endowments of the nation today and in the years ahead. Oil is fast losing its import in the global economy.
“Many of the heavy buyers are not only finding alternatives to oil, but are also setting deadlines for the phasing out of oil-powered engines and automobiles.
“But, what else can cure our fixation on oil except a return to the original master plan – the quest for a return to the old covenant and original foundation laid by the country’s forefathers.
“This quest is to revive the original master plan, removing those ugly and excess weights introduced by successive military regimes.
“It is an admission that we cannot continue to do the same thing that has failed us for more than half a century and expect a different result.
“If you are driving to Abuja from Ibadan and you face Lagos, you can only end up in Badagry or the Atlantic,” he said.
The lawmaker pointed out that the subject of restructuring appeared to have had divided opinions.
He recalled that Nigeria’s independence was delayed till 1960 to give room for more dialogue and ensure that no part of the country was left behind.
He explained that it was wisdom of the founding fathers that ensured that the current map of Nigeria was retained.
Ekweremadu said that there was no other viable option than restructuring if Nigeria must reap the blessings and promises of self-rule.
According to him, it must be done in a way that every part of the country will have a true sense of belonging.
He urged Nigerians to embark on more responsible and patriotic public discourse and enlightenment to break down the meaning and processes of restructuring, saying that the fears inherent in restructuring needed to be addressed.
“I believe that the man from Zamfara is unlikely to stand against a return to true federalism if he is made to understand that such would allow the state to exploit the abundant gold and granite in the state.
“The woman from Kogi will not likely oppose restructuring if she understands how rich the state is in solid minerals such as coal, iron ore, ornamental stone, gemstone, limestone, feldspar, phosphate, mica, and granite.
“And, how restructuring the country will give the state constitutional access to those mineral deposits could transform Kogi to one of the richest states in the country.
“The man from the North-East will not likely oppose decentralised policing if he understands that his family and business will be better protected,” he said.
The deputy senate president said the Nigeria Police Force needed to be decentralised as a significant component of the envisaged restructuring exercise.
He said the rating of International Police Association and the Institute for Peace and Security of Nigeria Police as the worst police in the world called to mind the imperative of restructuring of the nation’s police.
He pointed out that the rating had been the worst on all the measured parameters because the police had not been effectively decentralised.
He said, “Nigeria is the only country in the world with a federal system of government but running a unitary system of policing.
“Again, it is not realistic to expect the North to easily give away the advantages the status quo confers on it.
“Since revenues, appointments, projects, and other various opportunities are shared mainly on the basis of states and local governments, we will not realistically expect the region to give up the numerous states and local governments it currently enjoys.
“We will not expect the region to give up all these to embrace regionalism or creation of more states to strike a structural balance.
“But, we stand better chances if we engage in good faith, responsible and respectful dialogue to make every section of the country to see the bigger picture.
“Such healthy dialogues will also show that a man cannot enjoy his perceived advantages when his neighbours are angry since a man who feels unjustly treated will never be interested in peace.”
Ekweremadu said that restructuring could only be addressed by adopting a piecemeal approach rather than seeking to do everything or so much at a go.
According to him, as the people begin to reap the gains of gradual restructuring, they will drop their fears and crave for more.
He said that if some Nigerians insisted on addressing all the issues at once, it would create the grounds for the suspicion that there was a hidden agenda.
“Interestingly, quite a number of prominent voices in the North have also thrown their weights behind the restructuring of the country. I am sure that many will join in due course.
“We must leverage on the influence of those who are on the same page with us on the vexed matter.
“This is having at the back of our mind a restructuring outcome that guarantees our indivisibility and promotes national integration.
“A restructuring that will guarantee our unity and national integration must address the issue of power rotation among the constituent parts of the country.”
He called for the devolution of powers to make the centre less attractive as well as a single-term presidency that would rotate among the geographical zones.
The legislator said that such may prove reassuring to ethnic groups and promote national unity and loyalty to the nation, while constituent parts would be reassured that power would come at a given interval.
He commended the forum for raising the standard of ongoing national debate on restructuring, adding that he was impressed by the aptness and auspiciousness of the theme of the retreat – National Unity and Restructuring.
He said: “As we sit back to listen to the erudite minds here gathered, and as we share ideas, let patriotism and dedication to a better and greater Nigeria, rule.
“Let us bear in mind that we cannot restructure without unity, and certainly that restructuring will better guarantee a united and prosperous Nigeria.
“So, we should never fear to restructure and we should not restructure in fear.”