We are offered the example of California, a successful American state and the 6th largest economy in the world, as an argument for Nigeria to be restructured into a ‘true federation’.
The Californian Argument in support of Restructuring sounds like a Brazilian Argument in support of Football: Brazil speaks Portuguese and plays excellent football, therefore let us learn Portuguese so we can also win the World Cup three times. Yet, fluency on the pitch requires more than language fluency, just as Californian success wasn’t just down to a federal framework.
Over 70% of Japanese territory is unsuitable for residential, industrial or agricultural use and Japan, like the UK, France, and 150 other countries, operates a unitary system of government. Despite the burden of that unitary system tying together over 6,000 islands, 430 of which are inhabited, or perhaps because of it, Tokyo has managed to become the city with the highest GDP in the world, outstripping even Los Angeles and New York. Japan as a whole has less territory, less natural resources, and three times the population of California, yet it has the third-largest economy in the world, with the world’s highest life expectancy to boot.
All this to say that a federation may be a road to the fantastic, but it is by no means the only road to the fantastic. While Germany and the USA are successful federations, there have been failed federations like Yugoslavia; and China, despite her vast land mass, complex history and 56 ethnicities, operates a unitary constitution.
The salient question for Nigeria today is whether political structure is our fundamental problem. In other words, could Nigeria’s problems survive radical political restructuring as effortlessly as power failures have survived the privatization of PHCN? In answering this question, we must remember other bandwagons in our history: Indigenization, commercialisation, deregulation, monitization… each runs is course, raising new billionaires, sending hundreds of state agencies to the grave, dissipating state assets, and leaving the country in a bigger morass.
Is ‘Restructural Phensic’ the right medicine for Nigeria’s bullet in the head?
The Restructure Train must be understood for what it is: like other trains before it, it is an engine driven by vocal intellectuals, sometimes hired, sometimes well-intentioned, dragging along the masses with no sense of history, on a track laid by corrupt politicians and leading to a destination of milk and honey, for politicians. It is great in theory: socioeconomic improvement will happen when powers devolves from London to Lagos with independence, or from Abuja to the ‘grassroots’ with restructuring. At its most cynical, it is more jobs for the boys. At its most idealistic, it is a pious hope that kleptomaniac governors, assemblymen and politicians who have been raiding their billion naira budgets for ever will suddenly become paragons of integrity and transform their states into clones of California, once they get more constitutional powers and trillion naira budgets. But African Political Power is like Musical Chairs for assassins: once the dancer captures a chair, he shoots the DJ and every other dancer stupid enough not to flee the room, and spends the rest of his life trying to hang onto power and resources…