The Bridge Builder: Structuralist Vs Essentialist

My debut column elicited a lot of comments on social media. I appreciate the comments, feedback and concerns. Going through the comments, I can discern two strong schools of thought. The first, for purposes of identification I refer to as the Structuralists and the second, the Essentialists. I got the terms from my interaction with Sam Amadi one of my favourite intellectuals.

The Structuralists, are those who believe, with good reasons, that the problem with Nigeria is the structure and the definition of structure is wide and varied. But for the purpose of this essay, I will group them together. The Structuralists range from those who think the error started from amalgamation to those who believe that jettisoning the three regions was the original sin and those who talk vaguely about “true federalism”. They argue that nothing will work in Nigeria until we resolve the structural issue. Resolving the structure also range from dissolving Nigeria either to the three regions or pre 1914 ethnic nationalities or six geo-political zones. Another option is return Nigeria to “true” federalism meaning, among others, fiscal federalism, devolution of powers and return to derivation. The Structuralists argue, very convincingly, that a building on false foundation cannot stand hence the need to return to the foundation.

The Essentialists, for want of a better name, are those who posit that the lack of leadership, weak institutional framework and absence of rule-governed systems and processes, among many other issues, which are fundamental to nation building are the problem; and that while we wait for the structure to be rebuilt, we should focus on the present. The Essentialists, broadly agree with the need to “restructure” Nigeria but while we wait for the restructuring our national resources are vanishing; our competitiveness as a nation is fast eroding and the capacity to manage a post- restructured Nigeria will be non-existent. They argue that suspending national revamp and rebirth while waiting to resolve so- called structural issues is now a bogey for non-accountable leadership at all levels.

Let’s go back in time to seek to understand the structure of Nigeria. First, Nigeria is a colonial convenient contraption, the amalgamation was not intended to bring together some lost brothers like East and West Germany. It was purely administrative. That agreed, we also need to point out that most countries in the World are creations of conquest or convenience. The United Kingdom is an example. Since the amalgamation, efforts have been made to build a nation from largely tribal units not large enough to cover the cost of colonial government individually. If the colonial masters were to create nations along linguistic lines, your guess would be as good as mine how many countries would be existing in the Niger area. I therefore agree with the view that our colonial masters seized sovereignty from multiple tribal states and aggregated it in a new structure called Nigeria.

The success and entrenchment of the British created state gained validation when the fight for independence started and ended as a Pan – Nigerian movement and not an ethnic or tribal resistance. The Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba did not fight for separation and independence from the colonial creation called Nigeria rather the fought for independence from Britain as Nigeria. Contrast this with India where the Muslims had opposed a united Indian nation as far as early 1900s. By 1940 the Muslim league passed the Lahore resolution that called for majority Muslim state.

The major ethnic groups planned to replace the colonial masters in the control of the British convenience shop in Lagos. However, each of the dominant groups were already in control of the conveniently created regions which did not reflect any tribal, linguistic or ethnic homogeneity. The three regions were examples of social engineering that was structurally defective in that it created administrative centres not cultural or language homogeneous units. The regions were created without much thought about minority rights. With this point in mind, let us attempt to imagine why we all refer to the regions with nostalgia.

In my view a competent bureaucracy, led by British bureaucrats, created a functioning and performance – driven society that enabled efficient extraction of resources while building modern social infrastructure. This competent colonial state recruited competent local staff, on merit, who managed the regions after independence. The regions were run as self-funding and self-accounting administrative units hence the derivation formula in revenue allocation.

The revenue allocation concept became necessary because of convenient collection process at national levels that was cost effective for the colonial government. One of the historical fallacies used by the Structuralists is the notion that the regions were generating the bulk of their revenues internally. Truth is, average percentage of total revenue from federally collected taxes 1960 to 1963 for the Northern region was over 70 per cent, Western region about 76 per cent and Eastern region about 63 percent. The derivation principle at that time meant that regions collected about two thirds of what they generated or consumed per tax collected. We deduce from this that the regions internally – generated less than 30 per cent of their revenues, so to speak. The regions were already showing signs of stress from minority agitations against domination by the major ethnic groups. The creation of Mid-West region was only the beginning of an inevitable breakup of the regions.

The coup, pogroms, counter-coup, state creation, civil war and military rule combined to create the mongrel called Federal Republic of Nigeria. We must be the only federation where the centre created the federating units. The post-civil war sentiments against strong component regions that can challenge the centre, the creation of states and the control of oil resources as war booty started the weakening of the Nigerian state. I will return to this at another time.

The question confronting us today is how we deal with a cocktail of issues: a growing population, a consumptive elite, poor leadership at all levels and weakened institutions. It’s now 16 years since we returned to democracy and 23 years since June 12 1993, and we have not restructured the country and yet over 250 billion dollars have entered our national treasury since 1999. Should we wait till restructuring takes place before demanding for accountability and basic good governance from our political elite? Can somebody explain which part of our constitution permits government expenditure without oversight? Or what in our structure rendered State Houses of Assembly incapable of holding Governors accountable?

What part of our structure abolished merit – driven recruitment, admission and promotion? What in our federal character rules says that you can employ or admit somebody who failed an exam? What part of our rules allow for admission and recruitment to happen without a national pass grade while respecting quota system? What in our laws forbid a state from saving part of its national largesse from Federal Accounts and Allocation Committee (FAAC)?

In the words of Martin Luther King “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

It is a fraudulent to hold out restructuring as the Holy Grail of Nigeria’s problems while ignoring the need for “vigorous and positive action now”. The restructuring of Nigeria along the lines of justice, equity, inclusiveness and law will definitely do the country a world of good. Reducing our administrative centres and increasing derivation may reduce overhead cost and increase competition.

Till that is done, I am of the view that we must concentrate on the “now”.

How to rebuild Nigeria under the existing constitution and ensure that those born in 1999 who are about leaving secondary school have access to university education that can equip them for the 21st century life. While waiting for our various republics, it may help that we restore the concept of probity, transparency and meritocracy in public life which is required in any country anyway.

The post-civil war generation should not inherit the prejudices of a failed past but build new coalitions that can re – negotiate the structure and, more importantly, the essence of the Nigerian state.

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