How To Restructure Nigeria (2), By Jibrin Ibrahim

The core reason for the substantive demands for restructuring Nigeria is linked, paradoxically, to widespread concerns about how far the military went in completely restructuring the Nigerian State. They dismantled the tripartite regional structure, which had become quadripartite with the creation of the Midwest Region in 1963. In 1967, just before the advent of the civil war, the Gowon Military Administration made a bold and popular move by creating 12 states from the four existing regions. The move was popular because it addressed the correction of the structural imbalances and ethno-regional inequities of the inherited federal structure. The good move was however followed by bad ones. In 1976, the Murtala-Obasanjo Administration increased the number of states from 12 to 19; General Babangida raised the number of states to 21 in 1987 and to 30 in 1991; while the regime of General Abacha increased the number of states in the country to 36.

This restructuring through the multiplication of states has produced a Jacobin effect that strengthened federal power, relative to the powers of the federating units. We should not forget that there was elite consensus that the First Republic collapsed because the regions were too strong and were pulling away from the centre. Weakening their power base was therefore the logical objective of restructuring. The real issue, however, was not the weakening of the states per se, but the erosion of a counterweight to what became known as the “Federal Might”. Rather than correct the regional balance in the country, the concentration of enormous powers at the centre weakened all political groups that were not in control of the centre. Increasingly, this form of continuous one-directional restructuring led to the emergence of a quasi-unitary state, which mimicked the military command structure of the time.

This tendency was reinforced with further restructuring through the decentralisation policy of the Babangida regime, which was carried out between 1987 and 1991 with the declared aim of increasing the autonomy, democratising, improving the finance and strengthening the political and administrative capacities of local governments. The number of local governments was increased from 301 to 449 in 1989, and to 589 in 1991, and again to 774 in 1996. With local government engineering as a federal prerogative, Nigeria became even less federal in its operations, as a constitutional devise was enacted to fund local governments directly from the centre. Although the governors never allowed this to work, it posed serious questions about how federal the Nigerian State was. Virtually all Nigerians became dissatisfied with the present condition of weak federating units and an excessively strong centre.

There are a number of options for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation. These include:

1) A return to the tripartite regionalism of the First Republic. This is a non-starter as the regions were too large and above all, too uneven then. The North alone was much larger than the combined regions in the South;

2) Dismantling the 36 state structure and reconstituting the federation along the six zonal structure. Nigeria is a very large country and the six federating units might be too large to cater for a much-needed sense of local identity. Some of the zones also clearly lack internal cohesion;

3) Maintaining the current 36-state structure but taking some powers and resources from the federal level and transfering these to the state level. The problem with this option is that the cost of governance has risen exponentially under the 36-state structure and the result has been the lack of resources for development. It is this uneven allocation of available resources to maintain the political structure and its supporting bureaucracies, rather than promoting development hass been largely responsible for the current economic crisis in the country;

4) Returning to the 1967 12-state structure, which sought to correct the uneven distribution of power between the federal and regional governments.

Our view, as Friends of Democracy, is that a return to the 12-State structure is the most viable option for Nigeria at the moment and in the foreseeable future.

The distortion of the 12-state structure by the multiplication of the states to 19, 21, 30 and 36 was done to appease new minority groups that emerged after state creation, to spread federal largesse more evenly and sometimes for selfish reasons. Today, Nigeria cannot sustain the 36-state structure due to its over-dependence on oil revenues that would continue to dwindle in the coming years.

The key principle for restructuring Nigeria must, then, be as follows:

A) States must be economically viable and must rely on fiscal resources they generate themselves, instead of handouts from the centre;

B) States must operate in a democratic manner and be run by chief executives who are accountable to the people, and legislators who are independent;

C) States should have the constitutional and legislative powers to determine their internal structures, such as the number of local governments they desire;

D) States must be allowed to determine their own frameworks and mechanisms for the choice of leaders at all levels, which recognises and combines both merit and the need for fair representation of the broad identities that make up the states – such as geography, ethnicity, religion etc.;

E) There must be balance in the distribution of powers and fiscal resources between the states and the federation, to address the desire for local resource control and the viability of the federation as a whole.

Constitutional Proposals

i. A return to the 12-state federal structure of 1967. The 12-states would be the federating units of the country;
ii. The 12 states shall be re-designated as “Regions” and shall have full control of their resources, while paying appropriate taxes to the Federal Government;
iii. The regions shall have the powers to create and maintain local governments as they desire;
iv. There should be an overhaul of the legislative lists and reassignment of agriculture, education and health to the residual list, in which states alone would have competence but the Federal Government would share a regulatory role with the states;
v. Mining should be reassigned to the concurrent list, with on-land mining under the federating units and off-land mining under the control of the government of the federation;
vi. Policing should also be reassigned to the concurrent list, with only inter-state crime, cybercrime and international crime under the jurisdiction of the federal police;
vii. The power of taxation should remain concurrent;
viii. The Federal Character principle should be retained and strictly and universally observed;
ix. The current Senate should be merged with the House of Representatives under a unicameral legislature.


This memorandum is a product of years of patient and painstaking consultations with a wide variety of stakeholders across the length and breadth of Nigeria. While it does not claim to cover all the divergent interests of all the political, cultural and geographic groups in Nigeria, we believe these proposals, if accepted, will substantially improve and stabilise Nigeria’s federation, cater for the welfare of a large majority of Nigerians and allocate the nation’s resources in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Return to a previous structure is never easy but Nigeria is in dire straits and the time for tough decisions has come.

This is derived from a memorandum sent to the National Assembly Constitutional Review Committee by Friends of Democracy, comprising Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, Ambassador Fatimah Balla, Alhaji Sule Yahaya Hamma, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, Mallam Bilya Bala, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Mr. Hubert Shaiyen, Dr. Kabir Az-Zubair and me.

We lost Balarabe Musa on Wednesday. We mourn him for his long life of commitment and service to the downtrodden. We respect him for his disdain of crass material acquisitions. He lived a life of struggle and knew the meaning of PUBLIC SERVICE. May Allah forgive his soul and grant him eternal rest.

We also lost Jerry Rawlings yesterday. He was a coup leader, young revolutionary, military vanguardist and dictator, leader of a democratic transition, elected president, pan-Africanist, husband of a presidential candidate, Junior Jesus, and so much else. His is a complex legacy for Africa. RIP!!! Farewell

About the Author: Jibrin Ibrahim is a professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

Source: Premium Times

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