A former member of the House of Representatives and ex-Political Adviser to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Usman Bugaje discusses the clamour for restructuring within the context of the likely position of the north on the matter.
YOU have lately been under the political radar, what have you been doing?
I am not sure about being under the radar, but I am sure about what I have been doing. I have in the last few years focused my mind on development, for it is pretty clear that without development there cannot be peace. A lot of the security breaches we have in different parts of the country are inextricably linked to development, or lack of it as it were.
Myself, and a host of colleagues, have created the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP), which has focused on the North since it has far worse development indices in the country. But I recognize the fact that until we can change our rogue political culture, provide content to our empty politics we cannot realize any appreciable development.
So even as we focus on development, we are also paying attention to politics. While economy is key, we have to concede that politics is king.
This conference is a response to a debate on the nature and future of the Nigerian federation, popularly termed re-structuring. The term “restructuring” is problematic for many reasons. First it appears to be a transitive verb that needs an object, in other words without knowing what exactly we are re-structuring it does not have a meaning. It has become a cliche for all manners of discontent. The debate in the media has lacked clarity, much less accuracy and precision; terms like “True Federation”, suggest that that there is a false federation.
It has thus become necessary to bring together experts to speak to the issues, provide the records and clarify the debate to allow different communities and interests to take positions that are well informed. So the conference coming up on October 11 and 12, in Arewa House Kaduna, is precisely a conference aimed at bringing the experts to clarify the issues. From this conference the technical committee set up by the Northern Governors and Traditional rulers will proceed to digest the deliberations and come out with proposals for an informed position of the North on the current debate. You may have noticed that the title of the conference is ‘The North and the Future of the Nigerian Federation’.
The ARDP is leading a group of Northern platforms like, Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Northern Elders Forum, the Code Group, the JamiyyarMatanArewa, Northern Youth Forum and a host others. Of course this conference has the blessings of the Committee set up by Northern Governors and Northern Traditional Rulers and will ensure synergy and coordination.
The conference is open to all. Indeed we encourage young people to attend because it is their future that the conference is going to be discussing.
What do you make of the relative disharmony on the issue of devolution of powers by some Northern sub-groups?
I don’t see it as disharmony, it is natural to have diverse views but a conference gives us the opportunity to arrive at some convergence, by bridging knowledge gaps and prioritizing superior arguments. As for the devolution of powers I am not aware of any sub-groups that are against the devolution of powers from the center to the federating units. I think we are all agreed on the principle but we may differ on the details. It is not healthy to have a single view; creativity comes with diversity; mono narratives can be dangerous.
This question is vague, because I can ask you back what is it in the current structure that makes you doubt its viability. I think there are at least two issues here: one, the problem of this country is not just about its structure, and it will be wrong to assume that once we solve the problems of structure we are out of the woods. We therefore need to look further and one thing we can clearly see is that the problems of leadership is a huge problem. Currently the leadership recruitment mechanism in our parties cannot produce competent and quality leadership; it is not calibrated to do so. Two, in any federation structures are continuously evaluated and revised. With time it may be desirous to strength the center and at some other times it may be necessary to weaken it. It is a dynamic process. In short, at the moment Nigeria will be better run if the adjustments are made in its structure but we must realize that this alone will not be the panacea, we have to include a change in the leadership procurement process, to ensure that more knowledgeable, more competent and more conscientious leaders emerge.
I don’t agree. You may be surprised that many in the North are far more ready for a federation that gives more freedom to its federating units and far less regimental than what obtains now. Many in the North complain about their values being diluted by the demands of the federation.
The claim that the south is politically disadvantaged … equal footing?
I think what we need to focus on is equity rather than equality. The land mass of the north is already 78.5 per cent of the total land mass of the country, what can we do about that? So if you want the southeast to have six states, to equal other zones, you have to provide the scientific basis.
Is it population or is it land mass? Whichever formula you agree on, you have to apply it across the whole country and we see how many states that will bring out. Already the total landmass of the Niger State is more than twice that of the Southeast.
What we need is not equality like equity, to each according to his land and population. If oil is an asset, a dwindling one at that, land is also an asset, it is limited too, only that its value rises as the population rises, a simple demand and supply issue.
What do you make of the clamour for reintroduction of the 1963 constitution?
I don’t support the idea introducing a constitution done over 60 years ago, I would rather suggest we take what ever lessons are there and make a constitution that takes our current situation and challenges into consideration. I mean a constitution that looks into the future so that we can have something that can serve us well into the future. Our failure to appreciate the future and prepare for it is part of our major problem as a people. We are most of the time stuck with the past as if life is stagnant. Life is dynamic and if we are not dynamic in our thinking we shall remain behind time and will continue to retrogress. We will also be behind our peers in the world.
How would you react to the position of the Middlebelt on restructuring?
I don’t understand this fixation of the Middle belt. It has views on restructuring that is different from the rest of the North. I can’t see it. What I see is that there are areas where there are agreements across the North and there are areas where there are divergences which seem to me to be natural. These divergences can be minimized and resolved through the kind of conference we are holding where the whole north is going to gather.
What is viable? Life is dynamic, population is constantly increasing, new ideas are spreading, new challenges are emerging, and new needs are arising. Viability here may be sustainability. I think the North has enough in common to remain together, but the shape and form of this togetherness is bound to be determined by the dynamics of society and the quality of leadership it gets. And that is why it is important to pay attention to how leaders emerge.