The combination of, on the one hand, the stubbornness of the advocacy for the restructuring of Nigeria, defiance of the advocates and, on the other hand, the resoluteness of the opponents of the re-structuring is what is increasingly defining the inter-relationships among various communities and sections of the country. It is, perhaps, because either no sufficient answers to the lingering questions about the structural and operational frameworks of the country have been found or the characters behind the agitation are simply up to something sinister that the issue keeps growing.
Evidently, the restructuring crusade is now a national project or, more precisely, a franchise from which a lot of groups in the country are deriving either some material benefits or just some psychological satisfaction. Although its numerous dimensions continuously make it look like an undefined or even ill-defined and therefore an unclear cause which is being pursued along an uncleared course, it still appears as the most engaging issue at the moment.
The renewed agitation for the actualisation of the Biafra Republic by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPoB) led by Nnamdi Kanu which is not only a militant version of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSoB) but is also an expression of the unfaithfulness of a lot of Igbo elements in the Nigerian nation has already generated varied reactions. While some of the reactions are simply a re-enforcement to the agitation, some others are clearly hostile to it.
The perception that the structure of Nigeria is defective which has given birth to the agitation for restructuring is as entrenched and dominant in some quarters as the belief in some other quarters in the sanctity of the existing geo-political configuration of the country and the resultant determination to preserve it. Already the current scenario has provided the solid ground for contestation of ideas about the major features and characteristics of Nigeria.
Clearly, each part of the country has its own peculiar argument over the issue of restructuring. The struggle for the actualisation of Biafra by IPoB, the insistence on the adoption of the so-called true federalism by Afenifere which is the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group that regularly pursues strange political agenda, the demand for resource control by some pressure groups in the Niger-Delta region and of course some other similar but weaker agitations are all varieties of the restructuring crusade.
All the various arguments over the issue are clearly indicative of both the substantial discontent of their respective proponents and huge disconnect between such proponents and the objective realities that have continued to characterise the operational mechanisms of the country. Almost all the vital elements of such arguments are perennially constituted by some negative sentiments which are inimical to not only the corporate existence of Nigeria but also the survival of the federating units.
It is on the basis of particularly the clear disconnect that the advocates of the restructuring or fragmentation are associated with both arrogance and ignorance. Their total disregard for established channels for transmission of grievances is as much a display of arrogance as their low appreciation of the organic linkages among the various communities and sections of the country a manifestation of ignorance.
Successive governments, however, provided opportunities for the groups from the various parts of the country to not only express their grievances but also recommend ways in which the real and perceived imbalances could be addressed. Almost all the conferences organised by past governments for the purpose of either constitution-making or just dialogue on some other national issues very well served as fora for hot debates on all the thorny issues relating to the corporate existence of the country and national unity.
Additionally, the National and State Assemblies which are populated by elected representatives of the people are the valid institutions that possess the legitimacy and competence to put forward all complaints of Nigerians for deliberations with a view to finding answers to the lingering questions about the structure of the country and/or any other issue(s). Where and when such institutions are however either ignored or ridiculed in the course of agitation, it will definitely be difficult, if not impossible, for the leadership in the country and even all the right-thinking citizens to appreciate the desirability and potency of such a project.
Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari, by saying, in his address to the nation upon his return from London where he stayed for three and half months receiving medical treatment, that Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable, he simply re-echoed the position of the country’s past leaders. Even where and when some of such past leaders deliberately created opportunities for the agitators to vent out their anger over the existing structure of the country by organising talkshops, they still maintained this kind of disposition which, in the context of strict leadership orientation, is both natural and significant to the actualisation of changes in the form and content of any geo-political entity.
Yet, it is only the naive among Nigerians who will believe that the agitations will just fizzle out. The history, nature and scope of such projects as well as the clear utmost determination of their respective promoters to pursue them are enough to necessitate the call for absolute caution and sincerity in handling the issue of restructuring by the government.
While the advice that such a weight matter should be taken up with the National Assembly as emphasised by President Buhari as a valid one, there has always been the need to adopt effective measures towards the moderation and neutralisation of the advocacy. The responsibility for the moderation of the phenomena and neutralisation of the forces behind it lies on the shoulders of the National Assembly members, especially those from the areas where the agitations are most pronounced.
It was, in fact, the failure of the law-makers to act speedily and appropriately that necessitated the deployment of military to the South-East and the subsequent declaration of IPoB as a terrorist group both of which have generated widespread commendation. The introduction of the military option by the government has now resulted in not only the decimation of the strength of the group but also in restoration of normalcy in the South-East and even some other parts of the country.
On its part, the All Progressives Congress (APC) can, as the ruling party, be said to have taken some steps in this direction. Its decision to step up a committee on restructuring led by Governor Nasir Ahmed el-Rufa’i of Kaduna State perhaps strongly testifies to the party’s resolve to address the issue which, even with all the reservations so far expressed over the competence of el-Rufa’i to be dispassionate having earlier denounced the restructuring advocacy, is obviously a confidence-building measure.
It is therefore expected that the agitators and, more importantly, their representatives in the National Assembly as well as all the other stakeholders will take full advantage of this initiative by keying into the activities of the committee so that they can push their cases forward. A lot more people will consider such kind of struggle as more strategic and it is most likely to be more rewarding than the uncompromising disposition or even violent postures of all the various groups of agitators.
It is important for IPoB to realise the fact that violent demand for restructuring, ironically, only helps to tighten rather than loosen the federation which means that it is only a meaningful and effective engagement at various levels that can produce positive results. The widespread condemnation of IPoB’s activities and the actions taken to nip them in the bud is a testimony to this fact.