President Buhari
President Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the world leaders that commended the British Prime Minister, David Cameron as courageous statesman following the referendum that will see Britain exit from the European Union. In a statement issued in Abuja last Friday by the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, President Buhari he respected the courage of the prime minister in resigning in response to the outcome of a referendum that supported Britain to leave the European Union.
Buhari said: “This is a demonstration of courage by a democratic leader who respects the will of the people, even if he didn’t agree with their decision.”
President Buhari noted that by ‘‘putting the will of the people before his political future, the Prime Minister proved himself to be a selfless leader with respect for democracy and voters’ sovereignty.’’
To many Nigerians, President Buhari’s commendation to Cameron for respecting the will of his people came as a huge shock following months or repression of similar voices in Nigeria. Fews weeks ago the Nigerian leader vowed with finality at a meeting with the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmummuni Usman, that his government will not give ears to agitations in some parts of the country because “the corporate existence of Nigeria is non-negotiable” the agitations took a new life of its own as more groups are now demanding for the restructuring of the country.
The Nigerian leaders appears not to have wrongly read the mood in the nation like Cameron read the mood in Britain as his warning that he will crush any agitation exacerbated rather than abate the situation. From the South East to the oil producing South South region, new groups are threatening the corporate existence of the country.
Even in the North, the several hundred ethnic minorities that actually constitute the majority in the region are also gearing up for showdown, especially the perceived non-challant attitude of the federal government to issues affecting their welfare and safety after the Agatu killings by Fulani herdsmen.
Political observers and media managers across the country are of the view that President Buhari needs to do a rethink on his vow to crush agitators as agitation is synonymous with plural societies all over the world. In several countries where dialogue and negotiations are denied the people the end results have always been bloody and disastrous. Slobodan Milosevic failed to adhere to this wisdom in the defunct Yugoslavia and at the end of the day over 140,000 lives were lost during the crisis in the country. Today the country is balkanized into six different nations. The marriage of convenience in the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is long over with several countries caved out of the communist state. Sudan went the same raucous path, before South Sudan was carved out in 2011.
In a bid to stem agitations in the country former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan organised national conferences where the bases of Nigerian unity was discussed by the delegates and agreements reached in several areas. Unfortunately, most of the recommendations of these two conferences have not seen the light of the day and this is partly responsible for the rising wave of agitations across the country.
Recently, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar captured the key areas that led to the rising agitations in the country in his remark at the public presentation of the book, “We Are All Biafrans” by ChidoOnumah, at the Yar’Adua Centre Abuja. Atiku said agitations by many right thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities.
According to him, “our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach it has not served my part of the country, the North, well. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.”
Giving an insight into what led to the present agitations in Nigeria Atiku said it revolves roundfiscal federalism, economy, and centralization of power.
His words“The vast majority of Nigeria’s young population will be forgiven for thinking that our lives have always revolved around oil and that the federal government has always been this domineering and controlling. They may not be aware that the federal system which we inherited at independence allowed the regions to retain their autonomy to raise and retain revenues, promote development, and conduct their affairs as they saw fit, while engaging in healthy competition with others.
“And they may not know that it was the emergence of military rule and the intervening civil war that led to the splintering and weakening of the federating units, centralization of resources and concentration of power at the federal level. The enormous revenues from oil rents encouraged the central government to play an increasingly domineering role in the economy and society. It assumed more responsibilities for infrastructure provisioning, education, social services and business investment.
“We now know that the more resources the federal government has, the more responsibilities it tends to assume. This then generates the need for ever more resources.”
Atiku further added that “Today virtually every section of our country feels marginalized – meaning they believe that other segments of society are prospering in ways they are not. We often interpret marginalization along regional, ethnic or religious lines, but experience has shown that this perception can exist even within homogenous communities due to uneven access to opportunity. For example we have communities feeling marginalized within their states or regions.
“Having established the ‘federal character’ of marginalization in Nigeria, it is imperative that our response to the issues raised by our various ‘Biafras’ across the country is holistic.
“I have long advocated for greater autonomy, powers and resources for our federating states. Some have retorted that state governors will abuse those powers and resources.”
Atiku did not only identify the problems that lead to the present agitations in the country, he also proffered solutions and the way forward.
According to him, “first, we need a smaller, leaner federal government with reduced responsibilities. This means devolution of powers and resources to states and local governments. State and local governments should control education, health, agriculture, roads and other infrastructure. A true federal system will allow the federating states to keep their resources while the federal government retains the power of taxation and regulatory authority over standards.
“The result will be a political and governmental system that empowers local authorities and gives them greater autonomy to address peculiar local issues, while enhancing accountability and contributing to the general good of the country. Such a robust federal system would reduce the tensions that are built into our current over-centralized system.
“Second, autonomy for the component states and localities to determine their development priorities and wage structures. For instance, there is no reason for the governor of Akwa Ibom State to earn the same salary as the Governor of Benue State or for a teacher in Orlu to earn the same salary as the one in Abuja or Port Harcourt.The costs of living and revenue generating capacities vary widely across the country.
“Third, a tax-centred revenue base. Modern democracies derive their revenues from taxation whether or not they have fossil fuels and other natural resources – personal income tax, property tax, sales tax, corporate tax, licenses, and duties. Taxation is a sustainable revenue base and one that compels governments to promote increased economic activities, and respond to the demands of their taxpaying citizens.
“Fourth, enhanced, diversified economic activities and productivity in order to enlarge the tax base. The US, U.K., Canada, Malaysia, and UAE are all oil producers. But because they have diversified economies, oil does not dominate their government revenues and does not have the same distortionary effect it has on our own.”
Political observers are of the view that it is imperative for President Buhari to have a rethink of his position to crush agitators and take measures to address the underlying factors responsible for the agitations as witnessed during the referendum in Britain. . He needs to take a cue from the outgoing British Prime Minister and not pretend all is well with Nigeria as presently structured. Paying deaf ears to the agitations or threatening to crush the agitators will not do the government and the country any good as we have seen in other nations. The earlier the Nigerian leader open channel of communication with the various aggrieved groups in the country, with the aim of ultimately embarking on gradual restructuring the earlier the rising agitations will be contained.
The referendum in Britain, if anything, has given fresh impetus to agitators across the country. Not even the subtle threat from Buhari to IPOB and MASSOB members that they are ignorant of the severity of the civil war because they were not born when the war was fought can stop the present agitations across the country. The least that is expected from the Nigerian leader is to engage leaders of various groups across the country in dialogue and if that would culminate in restructuring of the country all well and good if that is the will of the people.

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