Tinubu: Reunite the country, restructure or fail


AFTER several decades of navigating the country’s predatory political waters, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 71, attained his lifelong ambition with his inauguration on Monday as Nigeria’s sixth civilian Executive President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. But be careful what you wish for, goes an ancient Chinese proverb. After bruising political battles, including a highly contested and narrow election victory, allegations of graft and ethical deficits, and doubts over his health and fitness for the office, Tinubu takes charge of a fractured polity, wracked by insecurity, a broken economy, and a population of over 200 million persons, divided and seething with discontent. Do not envy him.

Nigeria is indeed troubled; a tottering giant, the world’s largest agglomeration of Blacks, Africa’s largest population and biggest economy, and ranked by the World Bank as the 32nd largest economy in the world by GDP.

The country is insecure, more than at any other time in its history, the Nigerian Civil War 1967-70 inclusive. The economy is reeling, headlined by N77 trillion debt, a collapsing currency, and record inflation, unemployment, and revenue shortfalls. Infrastructure is shabby and grossly inadequate. The education and health systems are in crises, and human capital is fleeing abroad. It is ranked 16th of 179 countries in the 2022 Fragile States Index of the Fund for Peace.

Much worse, the country is deeply divided. All its fault lines, ever present right from amalgamation, have widened. Mutual suspicion and animosity between the ethnic nationalities, faiths and regions have spiked, exacerbated by the exclusionary and sectional policies of his immediate predecessor and ally, Muhammadu Buhari and of the ruling All Progressive Congress. National cohesion is at its lowest ebb, and the unity necessary to jointly confront the existential problems facing the country is glaringly absent.

Elections further divide, rather than unite Nigerians. The one that brought him to power even more so, influenced by the trauma of the Buhari years, and the emotional investment in it by significant sections of the polity.

The country’s administrative structure is dysfunctional. A natural federation of over 250 ethnic nationalities, diverse cultures, world views and aspirations, is constrained by a centralising constitution that over-empowers the centre, weakens the component states that lack the authority to control their own resources, or secure lives and property within their territories.

The PUNCH is from today running a six-part series of editorials setting a broad agenda of national survival and recovery for the President based on current challenges and his own campaign promises.

We start with national cohesion and restructuring. Buhari deepened and widened the fissures in Nigeria’s diversified social and political topography. He alienated significant segments of the country – southern states especially, Christians and northern minority ethnic nationalities.

His undisguised favouritism emboldened the rapacious Fulani militants/herders to expand an ongoing campaign of massacres, violent land grabbing and ethnic cleansing. Once active mainly in the North-Central states, southern Kaduna in the North-West and Taraba in the North-East, the Fulani marauders have spread to the South. Their culture of entitlement, with the tacit support of the federal security agencies, has widened the wedge between the country’s nationalities.

A Belgium-based researcher found that between 2017 and May 2020, Fulani herders murdered 2,539 persons and kidnapped 253 others in 654 attacks. The Global Terrorism Index said the main driver of the increase in terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 was from terrorist activity by Fulani militants, accounting for most of the terror-related 1,158 deaths that year.

All through, Buhari, his officials and the security agencies were openly partisan. In Benue, where the state government said 6,000 indigenes had been killed and two million others displaced by Fulani herders, and in Plateau where locals say 102 communities have been forcefully occupied and its inhabitants evicted, the Federal Government and the security agencies engaged in bullying the state rather than stopping the carnage. Buhari spent eight years making excuses for the herders and their bloody depredations.

In appointments, Buhari broke all records of sectionalism, religious particularism and nepotism. He alienated other regions, faiths and ethnic nationalities.

Breaking with the unwritten understanding to balance the country’s diverse units and faiths in appointments to public offices, the APC entrenched those exclusionary tendencies.

Tinubu will have to reach into his famed networking toolkit to heal the wounds and unite the country behind him. It is a daunting task. In his desperation to swing the ascendant Northern establishment to realise his ambition, he ran on a same-faith ticket, further alienating Christians and the North-Central.

Hostility from the South-East echoes the tensions of 1967 that preceded the civil war. Most South-Easterners made considerable emotional investment in the candidacy of Peter Obi of the Labour Party, who had presented a fresh face in politics and gained a national following. His loss at third place amid an acrimonious election reignited old grievances, separatist agitation, and propaganda to delegitimize the entire polls.

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Tinubu won only 37 percent of the vote in an election where the ethnic and religious divisions rose to fever pitch. In some zones, he scored dismally, reflecting these divides and animosity towards him and his party. His mandate is decidedly a thin one.

In office, he should immediately commence moves to reform and clean up the electoral system. Democracy is hollow when elections and their outcomes do not inspire universal acceptance.

He must run an inclusive government in appointments and policies. He needs to reassure those alienated in the last eight years that they have an equal stake in the country. This will attract virulent push-back from the political bloc that helped him into office and whose sense of entitlement has grown larger and may dog him throughout his tenure.

He has to carry along the South-East, the South-South, and North-Central regions. The Christian community, especially in the North, traumatised by killings, terrorised by both the Sharia states, bandits, Islamic jihadists and mobs, need reassurance. The resentment at the insistence of the APC on a Muslim-Muslim ticket will not be assuaged by the appointment of minor aides. It will take more substantial outreach and engagement.

In this, he has to stop the rampage of the Fulani militia. The Open Doors World Watch List 2023 said Nigeria accounted for 89 percent of Christians – 5,014 out of 5,621 –martyred worldwide for their faith in the year to October 2022.In the first 200 days of 2021, adds ACI Africa, a news outlet, at least 3,462 were killed, including 10 priests and pastors, equating to 17 murdered daily.

There must be swift punishment for criminality. The security strategy in the South-East, where separatists have launched a campaign of terror, must change from heavy-handed profiling, to one of even-handed law enforcement and engagement with critical stakeholders and communities, respect for the rule of law, and community policing.

But national cohesion cannot be fully accomplished without a strong, immediate commitment to restructuring the country back into its natural contours of true federalism. As this newspaper has persistently canvassed, Nigeria’s viability as a going concern is questionable under the current arrangement. Tinubu must break from the inertia and brinkmanship of the Buhari era and throw the full weight of his Presidency in favour of dumping the 1999 Constitution altogether and fashioning a realistic people’s constitution along the general outlines of the 1963 constitution with the 36 states as the federating units.

Nasir el-Rufai, immediate past governor of Kaduna State, who chaired the APC’s restructuring committee in furtherance of the party’s unfulfilled 2015 commitment to restructuring, has recently restated the imperative of a return to sub-national autonomy. Chukwuma Soludo, Governor of Anambra State, rightly identified the “concentration of everything at the centre” as Nigeria’s central problem. A Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, was characteristically blunter, saying Tinubu should not ignore the demand, “Otherwise, even your economic policies will fail, your infrastructure and transformation will fail. We will just go back threading the same old spur.”

Immediate priority: Tinubu should rally federal and state legislatures to immediately invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to facilitate state policing. Nigerians are dying in scores as criminals of diverse shades run riot across the country, overwhelming the overstretched single federal police force. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigerian Security Tracker recorded 63,111 persons killed between May 29, 2015 and mid-May 2023 by non-state and state actors. In 2022, 4,545 persons were killed, and 4,611 others kidnapped.

The single police structure has failed. Tinubu should back, instead of obstructing, regional security operatives and their arming, and support every move for greater devolution of powers to the states.

As governor of Lagos State 1999-2007, he fought many legal battles to advance the autonomy of the states and federalism. He should resume his soldiering for federalism that he dropped for political expediency.

The PUNCH restates its position that Nigeria is negotiable. It is the fundamental right of nationalities to voluntarily organise themselves as they deem fit. Everything should be done to facilitate a renegotiation of a union forcefully put together by a foreign colonial power.

Federalism is described as “one of the most pressing challenges in the history of mankind,” concerned with managing diversity and regulating power “in a way that guarantees freedom and efficiency, unity and plurality, autonomy and coordination.” According to the Federalism Index, while only four countries adopted federal structure in the 19th century, 22 countries adopted or modified federal systems in the 20th century.

Though multinational in composition from its creation in 1831, Belgium only peacefully transformed from a unitary to a federal system in 1993 after tensions arose between its French and Dutch-speaking nationalities. Following stress among its various nationalities and an insurrection by Basque separatists, Spain has been undergoing a continuous process of decentralisation since the 1980s.

In his battle for the APC presidential ticket, Tinubu had famously declared; “Emi lo kan,”  Yoruba for  “it is my turn.”  He should demonstrate quickly whether his “turn” translates to continuing with the current polarising policies and sustaining the restrictive centralising structure driving Nigeria towards implosion, or whether he would be a transformative leader committed to shepherding the country to true federalism and greatness. He should opt for the latter and hit the ground sprinting. ,

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