Restructuring: Panacea for Nigeria’s governance challenges — Emeka Anyaoku
By Paul Ejime
Elections and their outcomes are triggers and drivers of political violence, conflicts and instability in Nigeria. But the level of uncertainty has heightened with every second ahead of the country’s crucial presidential election in February 2023.
Many commentators are even warning that the scheduled elections might not take place because of aggravated insecurity, divisiveness and disaffection in Africa’s most populous nation of more than 200 million people.
The ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which came to power in 2015 riding on the crest of a pledge to fight corruption, end insecurity, promote economic prosperity, and for political restructuring, insists that the government has done its best, often citing some improvement of infrastructure.
Government and Party officials even boast that the administration has brought better quality of life and made Nigerians safer more than during the 16 years of the now opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) administration.
However, official statistics and reality do not support these claims. Bandits, terrorists and so-called “unknown gunmen” continue to launch deadly attacks recently at an airport, train coaches and station and in sundry towns and villages, especially in the northern states and other parts of the country.
The number of deaths and the cost of destruction are mounting.
Kidnapping for ransom and herders/farmers clashes are rampant; inflation, unemployment, as well as government’s local and external debts are at an all-time high, with delayed salaries for workers in some states and perennial strikes by university teachers, agitating for improved service conditions.
Also, corruption, nepotism, cronyism, impunity and hunger are widespread, with anger boiling over during the infamous, bloody and destructive #ENDSARS national protests by youths in 2020 against police brutality.
Fuel scarcity, which many thought was a thing of the past returned to the oil-producing nation recently, compounding the erratic public power supply and leading to general high cost of living.
Nigeria’s health system remains fragile and underfunded, characterised by unsatisfactory conditions of hospitals and health facilities, forcing scores of skilled personnel abroad (brain-drain), while the ruling class continues to enjoy wasteful external “medical tourism.”
Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth and one of Nigeria’s internationally renowned Statesmen, is among those who believe that the “perilous state of the nation” requires urgent remedy.
“Nigeria has never been more divisive, unstable, insecure and un-progressive than what we have now, and I am old enough to know,” Anyaoku, who turned 89, in January, told this writer in an impromptu chat at the weekend.
“Without restructuring into more viable, possibly six federating units as against the present 36 states and devolution of powers from the all-powerful central government to the units, the country is going nowhere,” warned the Nigerian diplomat.
He said his proposed restructuring would unleash the innovative and creative potential of the federating units for growth and development, stressing that the present governance structure, which is considered too expensive to run, cannot effectively deal with the country’s myriad of governance challenges.
Anyaoku should know, not only in his capacity as a senior traditional Chief in his home State of Anambra, in south-eastern Nigeria, but also as a seasoned peace-maker and bridge-builder astute in preventive diplomacy, conflict resolution and management, locally and internationally.
He has served in top positions at the United Nations and as Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth before heading for 10 years, the 54-nation organization with combined population of more than two billion people, and membership across Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, until his retirement in 2000.
Even in Nigeria, apolitical Anyaoku has not only strongly advocated, but actively led impactful political peace initiatives.
In 1998, during one of Nigeria’s critical moments, following the sudden death of military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha and Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election who died mysteriously in prison, Anyaoku was in the forefront of mediation efforts along with now late Ghanaian Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of United Nations.
Their intervention along with other well-meaning figures within and outside Nigeria paved the way for the return of democracy in the country in 1999 after prolonged years of military rule.
Also, Anyaoku in conjunction with Annan and former Nigerian Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar midwifed the famous Abuja Peace Accord signed in January 2015 by 14 presidential candidates, including the then sitting President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition APC.
That Accord, under which the presidential candidates pledged to restrain their supporters and also accept the outcome of the 26th March 2015 election, sought to prevent a recurrence of the 2011 post-election violence that led to more than 800 deaths and high political tensions in the country.
The Anyaoku-Annan initiative also led to the creation of the Gen. Abubakar-led National Peace Committee (NPC), which now performs a similar function.
It is believed that despite pockets of violence, the spirit and letter of the Abuja Peace Accord, which was supported by the EU, United States, ECOWAS and the UN, played a huge part in the acceptance of the result of the 31st March 2015 presidential poll by President Jonathan, which saved the country from possible political catastrophe.
Asked if the 2023 election can be postponed until his proposed restructuring took place, Anyaoku said: “not necessarily so, but all the political parties and their candidates have to commit to it (the restructuring),” for the country to move forward, he explained.
Reminded that the ruling APC had made a same pledge, but failed to deliver on it, the Nigerian Statesman says: “it is the duty of the electorate to hold politicians and political parties to account” on their election promises.
There is a near national consensus that the 1999 constitution bequeathed to Nigeria by the military requires critical amendments, meanwhile, the report of a 2014 National Conference organised by the Jonathan administration on the reform remains unimplemented. There is also no agreement on the form the political restructuring should take.
“Nigeria is a pluralist State and you cannot manage the diversity under the present governance structure,” Anyaoku affirmed, but refused to be drawn into the raging debate over zoning of the presidency by the political parties or his choice among emerging presidential contenders.
Even so, Anyaoku agrees on the need for the continued intervention by Statesmen and women, the civil society and other stakeholders, including faith-based and opinion leaders, to address Nigeria’s deteriorating security crisis and governance deficiency.
In this regard, he said he has provided his suggestions to organisers of an initiative by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, to which Nigeria’s Nobel Literature Laureate Wole Soyinka has also been invited to join.
Since its independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has survived numerous political conflicts and upheavals, including a bloody civil war of 1967-1970 during Biafra’s unsuccessful secessionist bid by the Eastern region.
The national crises are mainly ethnic and religious in nature, often morphing into electoral violence, mass killings and political instability.
Oil-rich Nigeria nicknamed Giant of Africa because of its large population as the most populous Black nation with largely mismanaged human and natural resources, has become a notorious expert in pulling from the precipice and proving naysayers wrong.
Nigerians are also known for their resilience, but near-misses may not be for ever and national potential by itself cannot make a nation great.
Analysts have therefore, warned that Nigeria must get its act together and assert the leadership position, which the rest of Africa and indeed, the world at large expects and demands of it.
The year 2023 could yet mark a turning point and a defining moment in the country’s chequered political history. Whoever succeeds the Buhari administration has a steep mountain to climb!
Paul Ejime is a Global Affairs Analyst and an Independent Consultant on Corporate Strategic Communications, Media, Peace & Security and Elections.