The Nigerian Restructuring Debate: Positions from the North. – Dr Usman Isyaku


A paper presented at the Zaria Discussion Forum on March 7, 2021

The institutional arrangement for governing the Nigerian state has been a subject of debates since the First Republic. These debates are mostly centered on ethnic, religious, and regional sentiments to gain political relevance, and to balance a seemingly dominated political space by powerful actors from the northern region under the parliamentary system. Following a bloody coup that dismantled the republic by a tribal military group, a Unitary system was introduced by the Military Government under General Gowon to centralize power by replacing the regions with newly created 12 states as federating units. Subsequent military regimes have added new states and Local Government Areas which gave rise to the present-day structure comprising of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. These historical events were products of continued agitations for a fair and equitable governance arrangement that will favour ethnic nationalities who felt marginalized by much larger groups. In some cases, even among dominant tribal groups, resistance against poor development infrastructure distribution, and underrepresentation of people who are located at distant peripheries of major administrative towns or cities gave rise to more states.

It is important to note that the repeated calls for changing the Nigerian governance structure is not a new thing. In the past, several calls for “regional autonomy”, “resource control”, true federalism”, and “sovereign national conference”, were proposed by different regional groups mainly of southern origin to capture political power at the center, or to renegotiate federal revenue sharing arrangement is the most recent catchphrase that is used to refer to the same issues, and at the center of the current restructuring debate is the need for an institutionalized rotational presidency between the north and the south. Restructuring means different thing to different people, with clear ideological, procedural, and compositional differences between people of varying tribes, regions, religious and political affiliations, education levels, leadership positions, business, and commercial interests. The aim of this paper is to summarize and examine the positions of northern elders and politicians on the subject
matter with the purpose of generating a healthy debate amongst younger northern intellectuals.


Systematic review of published documents, voice recordings, newspaper articles and interviews
on the subject matter.

Sociopolitical Groups:

Prominent socio-cultural and political groups in the north have joined the restructuring
debate and these are their respective positions:

a. Friends of Democracy: This is a group that comprises of 11 members of retired
northern politicians, journalists, administrators, civil servants, and academics. They
recently issued a statement that was ratified by all of them on the current restructuring
debates, and they suggested the following approaches as possible scenarios to consider:

• Return to the old regional system comprising of the northern, eastern, and western regions.
• Reduce the 36 states to 6 regional governments.
• Retain the current structure but devolve more powers to the states.
• Return to the old 12-states structure.

• Return to the 12-states structure.
• Present states should be designated as regions and have full resource control.
• States should be allowed to create new LGAs to serve as administrative units.
• States should be allowed to regulate and fund education, agriculture, and health sectors.
• Onshore mining should be controlled by the states while offshore mining should be under the control of the Federal Government.
• Policing should be decentralized to the state levels in addition to joint efforts with the Federal Government.
• Taxes should be shared between the states and the Federal Government based on the new arrangement.
• Federal character should be retained.
• Proposed the introduction of a unicameral legislature to save costs.

Bases for Recommendations:
• The present structure is not viable economically.
• The additional states were derived from the need to appease minority tribes and spread federal spending more evenly.

Purposes and Guiding Principles for such Recommendations:
• Creation of more economically viable states that can be financially independent of the center.
• Independence of states legislature will ensure more accountable governance
• Empower the states to create new local administrative structures as appropriate.
• Foster fiscal responsibility and resources allocation reforms.
• Representation of tribal, religious, and cultural groups based on merit and competence in filling leadership positions.

b. Northern Elders Forum: This is also another sociopolitical group that comprises of retired northerners that have served at different capacities in politics, military, security agencies, finance, academia, civil service, and business. Their positions as expressed by some of their leaders such as Professor Ango Abdullahi and Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed are as follows:

• Return to the old regional system that we inherited from the colonial powers after independence.
• Replace the presidential system with a parliamentary one.
• Regions should be the federating units.

Bases for recommendations:
• Existing states are not independent and are not operating under a true federal system.
• States are not viable.
• Presidential system was forced on the country by the military and it is not working.
• Executives and legislatures have failed to manage the country better.
• States and LGAs have brought more division to the country than unity.
• More wastage of resources.
• Devolution of powers and dealing with problems of insecurity and ethnic divisions.

Purposes and Guiding Principles for such Recommendations:
• Commissioners and Ministers are all elected representatives of their people. So, appointments would become legitimate.
• People should be allowed to debate the kind of governance system that fit their circumstances.
• A referendum should be done to adopt a new structure.

c. Nasir-Elrufai Committee on Restructuring: In 2015, restructuring was one of the cardinal campaign agenda of the All Progressives Party (APC). To fulfill that promise, a committee was set up under the leadership of Governor Nasir Elrufai to collect diverse public opinion on the subject and provide practical recommendations on how it can be implemented without prejudice to any group or jeopardizing the unity of Nigeria as a single indivisible country. The committee comprised of 27 members, including the Chairman and the Secretary. There were 13 members from the north out of which 9 are from the Hausa/Fulani tribes, and 14 members from the south comprising of 7 Yorubas, 7 Igbos, and 1 from the minority tribes in the south-south. The committee also included 3 northern minority tribes rom the north central. Their position on some key issues is as follows:

• Opposed the creation of more states as suggested by some regional groups. However, one additional state was recommended for the southeast for balance.
• Inclusion of a constitutional provision that would allow states to merge based on mutual agreements or consensus without weakening the federating units.
• Review the current derivation formula and allow the states to control their own resources and pay taxes to the central government.
• Creation of state police, and state control of education, healthcare, housing, commerce, and transport institutions.
• Retain states and federating units.
• Opposed to the replacement of presidential with parliamentary system of government.
• Independent candidature should be allowed in the electoral system despite an overwhelming opposition by Nigerians.
• Retain current land tenure system.
• LGAs should be removed as a sub tier of government.
• Rotational presidency should be within the purview of political parties and their internal arrangements.
• Bicameral legislature should be retained.
• No clear recommendation on resource control but some legislative bottlenecks were highlighted for review before that can be achieved.

Bases and guidelines for Recommendations:
• Creation of more states will become a financial burden on already struggling subnational economies and would weaken the states from performing statutory functions. An exception was made for the southeast which has fewer states than all other regions.
• Growing demand for regional cooperation and partnership that could result into a possible merger of two or more states.
• State control of resources should also include solid minerals and other natural resources located within state boundaries to be equitable in resources control and distribution.
• The Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission should work on reviewing the derivation formular in favour of oil producing states.
• Some items on the Concurrent and Exclusive lists should be revised as a way of devolving powers to the states.
• There is no statistical data to support the argument that parliamentary system of government is cheaper to operate. So political actors can retain the status quo and become more prudent with spending.
• Allowing independent candidates based on satisfaction of some criteria would create more opportunities for political participation.
• Present land tenure has, to a certain extent, prevented serious land related conflicts and crimes, and has served the national security interest on the country.
• LGA autonomy conflicts with the constitutional powers of states as federating units and must remain administrative components under the supervision and control of the state governments.
• Resource control is a highly contentious issue between the north and south, so legislative changes are required before they can be implemented.
• The bicameral system currently under operation is a better fit because it offers better representation of the diversity in Nigerian societies.

Individual Positions:

a. Malam Nasir Elrufai: Is a former Minister and serving governor of one of the most populous states in northern Nigeria, he holds the following positions in the restructuring debate:

• Devolution of powers in the areas of policing, mining of solid minerals and judiciary.
• Rights of residence and freedom of movement for all citizens.
• More funding for security agencies.
• National livestock plan to address farmers-herders conflicts.
• Mergers of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and ban on the creation of new ones to reduce cost of governance.
• Generate consensus on tax collection and revenue sharing between states and Federal Government.
• Payment of realistic salaries and withdrawal of subsidies in electricity and petroleum products.

b. Dr Sulaiman Kumo: Dr Kumo is an academic of repute and holds the following positions in the restructuring debate:
• Return to the 1963 constitutional arrangement that allocates very little powers to the central government. This should be done by considering current and projected future circumstances of the country.
• Removal of the Middle Belt from the Northern Region.
• Conversion of states to Provincial Governments, and should be responsible for education, healthcare, agriculture, and rural development.
• Rejected the resource control but suggested the increase of derivation formula to 25 percent for onshore oil revenues to regions.
• LGAs should become Development Areas under the Provincial Governments.
• Provincial Governments to create their own police force.
• Call for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to kick start the restructuring process.
• Creation of an Interim National or Transitional Government to organize the SNC, and hand over power to duly elected government within a short period of time.
• Referendum to adopt final decision of the SNC.
• Reversal to parliamentary system of government.

Bases for recommendations:
• The Nigerian state has failed in its basic responsibilities of governance.
• Politicians have failed to follow democratic rules of engagement and procedures in decision making.
• Nigeria is a complex and plural society that defy any attempt to make it homogenous.
• Paradox of governance, being the most governed but badly governed country in the world.

c. Professor Attahiru Jega: Was a former INEC Chairman and Vice Chancellor of Bayero
University, and holds the following position in the debate:

Bases for Recommendations:
True federalism does not exist anywhere in the world. Federalism is always determined by historical circumstances, socio-cultural and economic contexts, evolutionary processes of growth of nations, elite consensus, and good governance.
• Nigerian federal system is failing to meet the demands and aspirations of citizens due to in justices and imbalances in the distribution of power and resources between the tiers of government.
• Military interventions, colonial arrangements and bad democratic processes are the major reasons why the Nigerian federalism has failed to function effectively.
• Previous efforts to correct these imbalances through National Conferences have failed to address the problems because the recommendations are not implemented.
• Bad governance, elite capture, rising poverty levels and identity politics are responsible for the nation’s predicament.
• Return to the 12 states structure or parliamentary system is unrealistic and will cause more harm than good to the unity of the country.

d. Professor Awalu Yadudu: He is an erudite scholar, lawyer, and former Special Advisor in the General Abacha’s government. His positions are as follows:

• Restructuring will not necessarily address the governance problems of Nigeria.
• Going back to the 1963 system will not help because the constitution is very similar to the 1999 constitution that the country currently uses.
• Calls for a constitutional amendment to rectify the deficiencies in the constitution in key areas such as policing.
• New changes should be applied incrementally over long periods.
• Good governance should be the focus not restructuring.

Bases for Recommendations:
• Restructuring is a historically recurring agenda that is used to negotiate for power sharing and resources redistribution by southern politicians since independence.
• Agitations usually correspond to periods that are close to elections cycles.
• Restructuring is mostly a noisemaking agenda by ethno-religious actors to gain more political advantage.
• Restructuring is an unnecessary distraction from vital discussions on good governance.

. Systematic incremental structural changes over long period of time, from 2021 to 2027.
• Reduce the powers of the Federal Government on several issues on the Concurrent List.
For example, healthcare, education, agriculture, and housing should be the responsibilities of the states.
• Increase more resources to the states and LGAs by reviewing the revenue allocation formula.
• Devolve more powers to the states and LGAs.
• Allow the LGAs to create additional Development Areas.
• Set up an agency for intergovernmental relations to facilitate these structural changes and reviews.
• Reduce the cost of governance at states and LGAs levels.
• Increase the effectiveness of internal audits and improved fight against corruption.
• More powers relating to seaports, airports, judiciary, pensions, postal service, and telecoms should be given to the states.
• Elite consensus on restructuring to correct imbalances and injustices characterized by the present structure.

There is a strong consensus among the northern elites on the need to change the federal structure of the country because it has failed to meet the development aspirations of the people. However, even among the seemingly homogenous northerners, there are conflicting and overlapping opinions on the restructuring debate by different sociopolitical actors and groups. As mentioned earlier, these positions often reflect deeply held stereotypes, ideologies, political, business, and sometimes parochial interests of the opinion holders. It can be observed that actors who are currently occupying political offices, or are harboring political ambitions in the future, are holding less radical and controversial positions than those who are retired from service and active politics. In my opinion, any meaningful discussion on the subject matter cannot be achieved without separating personal or group interests from national interest. That seems to be the only way to arrive at a national consensus on how to govern the complexities of the Nigeria state better in the coming decades.

The following questions can provide a framework for further discussions:

a. Is the Nigerian federal structure completely broken and should be replaced, or can it be
made to work through good governance.

b. Who are the beneficiaries and victims of the broken federal structure?

c. Who would emerge as the major beneficiaries of restructuring among the regions and

d. In what ways could the northern and southern regions benefit or suffer from
restructuring if properly implemented?

e. In ow can we achieve a national consensus on the restructuring agenda without doing
harm to regional power relations and peaceful coexistence?

f. Who is responsible for supervising the restructuring debate and implementing the
expected consensus?

g. What are the obstacles to supervising the restructuring debate and implementing the
expected consensus?

h. How can such obstacles be avoided?

i. What is the fate of good governance and existence of Nigeria if the restructuring debate fails?

j What are the next steps?

Thank you


One Response

  1. Well, may take on the above subject matter is to revise Justice Muhammed Wais Recommendation during lata President Musa Ya’adua, which captured some keys issues if implemented will definitely improve our democracy process lead to good governance in Nigeria, however this are; 1. Interning government should be responsible for electing INEC chairman, INEC should be driven their finance independently from the executive branch of government, 2. All political office holdings should resign six months before elections to enable the interning government have full control of the entire process. 3. Only one tenure in office (6 years terms) (no second term) in office. 5. Bicameral legislature should be replaced with unicameral legislature to reduced to dumplicated of functions. 6. There should be only setting allowances by the Legislatures also to reduce cost of governance and encourage patriotism. 7. Parliament system of government should be in place rather than presidential system of government. 8. Exclusive legislative lists should reduce to enable states have more power to manage their affairs. 9. Options “A4′ should be the system of voting. Finally, once we get our elections right every others things will work effectively, elections is the keys for any success in democratically setting. May God bless Nigerians.

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