In recent times, more voices have claimed restructuring is a key step to managing the brewing crisis in the country as well as satisfying marginalization concerns by the aggrieved regions.
Speaking in this exclusive interview with NewsWireNGR’s Osaruonamen Ibizugbe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele provides clarity to this concept of restructuring and explains how a restructured Nigeria would be for the benefit of all.
- What is wrong with the present structure and what are we demanding a change for?
To my mind, the call for restructuring is nothing abnormal. It is nothing unusual, and it is something that should be expected in this kind of arrangement that we have in Nigeria.
I have always believed that our strength lies in our unity but it’s a unity in diversity and that is the whole essence of the call for restructuring. The amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorate was done not by Nigerians but by our colonial masters. The truth about it is yes, we’ll continue as Nigeria, everybody wants to live in Nigeria but some people have made a point and you cannot ignore it. They want to live in Nigeria, but nobody wants to live in Nigeria as a slave or as a second fiddle or a second-class citizen. So whether the issues are real or imagined they still need to be examined. They need to be revisited.
And as far as I am concerned, the call for restructuring is a sensitive call that must be accorded attention. It will be arrogant or insensitive on the part of any public office holder to see the call for restructuring as something that is not deserving of our attention as a government. When people are talking about restructuring, my own understanding of it is that we need to sit down and further discuss how we can better structure our arrangement. Even in marriages, husbands and wives do sit down, a pastor would’ve married them but the marriage is between the two of them and it’s a lifelong thing. After the wedding, remember, everybody would go home, the pastor would go home. Our colonial masters presided over our wedding in this country, they presided over the wedding by amalgamating the northern and southern protectorate and successive military regimes followed that arrangement that was earlier made by the colonial masters.
So in a democracy and in the face of growing insecurity and tension in the country, people are now genuinely saying; let us come back together, let us discuss, let us restructure, let us address basic issues that has to do with how we relate, how we manage our collective wealth, how the federating units relate with the center. These are issues that summarise as restructuring and we cannot run away from addressing these issues.
- Are some states truly marginalised and are there not other ways to address these claims of marginalisation?
I believe these issues go beyond marginalisation, there will always be a reason for a state to agitate and that applies to even those that appear not to be marginalised. It’s only a relative concept. If a state is doing very well supposedly in one area, in some other area it may be disadvantaged. So it’s not about any particular state, it’s not about any particular section of the country. It’s about Nigeria, it’s about how we can run this country in the way that no one feels marginalised, no one feels treated like a second class citizen, no community feels left behind.
There are minority groups in virtually every part of the country, in virtually every state of this federation. What becomes of them? What is their fate? Who addresses issues that bother on their collective welfare? What is Nigeria? Nobody is going to define Nigeria for us. Beyond the way it was defined by our colonial masters, beyond the way the military had tried to define all the states in the country were created by the military. Other than our colonial masters, it should not be anything beyond Nigerians to say let us sit down, let us restructure. It is the refusal to even want to entertain that discussion itself that are considered to be arrogant, that is considered to be dangerous and we need to keep this country together.
- How would this restructuring thing benefit each region? Say the south-west, south-south and most especially the south-east?
To my mind, everyone would be a beneficiary. For instance, some of the provisions in our law need to be reviewed. Because restructuring is not just about physical but also a legal issue. It’s also about reordering our law in such a way that our mode of interaction, our mode of relationship is altered for the benefit of all. A lot of Nigerians are worried that many of the items on the exclusive list, that is provisions that give the federal government exclusive rights to deal with certain things In modern days ought not to be so. In other words, remove these matters from the exclusive list, put them on the concurrent legislative list so that states can as well be able to legislate on these matters and implement programs and policies that flow. That’s an aspect of restructuring that nobody seems to be talking about. That’s not in the interest of any particular region, or any particular state or community.
- Are states doing enough in terms of looking inwards for alternative sources of revenue rather than focusing on oil?
Definitely! States can do better. I don’t think there is any state that is doing enough. Even if you look at Lagos state that has the highest volume of internally generated revenue today, it is still looking forward to doing better than it is. Rivers is looking forward to doing better than it is and most of the other states that you would say are even doing well in terms of internally generated revenue have capacity to generate more funds internally.
However, we’ve seen that sometimes it’s almost impossible for states to thrive under certain pieces of the legislation unless you rewrite our law. It’s so frustrating that some people are saying we need more than an amendment, they say we need a totally new constitution. But of course, what we can do as lawmakers is to amend the existing constitution and if you’re going to be talking of a new constitution, that still requires an amendment because you now need to make provision for referendum that would make it possible for Nigerians to say we are tired of this extant law, of this existing constitution and we want something different from that.
- Do you see the current amendment of Nigeria’s constitution putting a halt to the agitations and calls for restructuring?
I’ll put it this way, it depends on how it is handled. Our hope and expectation is that it will, if we are all able to do the right thing. We just finished our zonal public hearings across the country, there were 12 centres in the 6 geopolitical zones. We have heard Nigerians and I will tell you, most of the issues raised at the public hearing were not new to anybody. They were issues that we have been trying to grapple with as a National Assembly, as a country but Nigerians have spoken again and so loudly.
It’s now about us having the courage and the audacity to do the right thing that would make us to be on the same page with the majority of Nigerians. There might be some people who may not agree to some of these issues, some say they want a state police for instance, there might be some people who would not agree to it for some personal reasons, for some community reasons, for some cultural reasons but it majority of the people want it, so be it and if you say that is the law, the law should be written in such a way that it will grant the right of a state that wants it. If a state feels like they don’t need it, you don’t have to force them to have it. For those who need it and can afford it, they should have it.