Nigerians across diverse backgrounds appears to be united on the new slogan of ‘’restructuring’’. This term is not new to the political lexicon of Nigeria but is now increasingly used as a once and for all solution to our numerous problems as a nation. Aspirations for restructuring, like other similar aspirations before it appears to be the new utopia of the Nigerian people. The problem with this renewed and heightened call for a tinkering with Nigeria’s current federal configuration, is the lack of unanimity among its proponents about the proper definition of the concept of ‘’restructuring’’.
The concept of restructuring as currently being canvassed raises more questions than solutions to Nigeria’s deep rooted socio-economic misfortunes by the loud voices of lamentations of the various stages of the country’s journey to nationhood beginning with the British colonisation. Some historians have blamed the current dysfunction of our nation state on the colonial experiment of amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates of all British territories around the river Niger area, between Dahomeyfrom the west stretching across the Benue river to the east just before the Cameroun Mountains and from the lower belt of the Sahara desert in the north, through the confluence valley through the Niger delta to the shores of the Atlantic ocean, in the process bringing together hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, city states and ancient African kingdoms into a single geographic space known today as Nigeria. It is generally believed that a process, in which the people concerned, had no input by being consulted on the nature and form of the emergent modern state of Nigeria, within whose boundaries they are bound to live in, has continued to create socio-political tension that is straining the very foundation of the basis of national unity and purposeful cohesion. Therefore, it is the believe of many that there is an urgent need to renegotiate the terms and conditions for oneness of the Nigerian people and not in Berlin by European colonisers this time but by Nigerians drawn from all sections of the country with the aim of coming up with a more acceptable to all socio-political structure of state to ensure a more equitable and just distribution of resources. However, the clamour for restructuring along ethnic lines is not only retrogressive but a recipe for an infinite smothering of the Nigerian state out of existence.
No nation on earth has a perfect structure of state as every case is a work in progress. Nigeria’s current structure is not an exception. However, Nigeria’s problem is not so much that of structure but the operation of the structure by various operators of state affairs at all tiers and arms of government. Nigerians yearn for ‘’true federalism’’ in the mould of the first republic semi-autonomous federating units. The Romanization of the first republic obscures the fact the 1963 constitution didn’t quite work out because it created a wedge between national citizenship and regional indigeneship. The inability to resolve the conflict of citizenship and indigenship by the first republic leaders led to the eventual collapse of that structure. So long as Nigerians allow their diversity to be a fault line, no structure will work positively for the nation. No nation was divinely decreed into existence. Nation states evolve as a result of the resolve of the constituent peoples to make it so. In the process of evolving into nation states, colonialism plays and continues to play a critical role through, trade, diplomacy and in some cases, conquest by warfare. These interactions have its pains as well as gains. The emphasis on the pains of colonialism by pan-African historians has obscured its enormous gains. Great Britain, Nigeria’s colonial master was firstconquered by the Normans and was subsequently colonised by the Romans. The name, Britain is believed to be the anglicised form of the Roman, Britannia. The lessons not learnt from our colonial experience is the strength in unity of the British people, which made a small Island nation of about 18 million people to colonise a country of 50 million people at the time.The systematic conquest of the various kingdoms and city states that make up Nigeria by the British was possible because the native peoples did not present a united front against external aggression. The British engaged on individual basis each native kingdom and city state in diplomacy, trade and warfare to ease the process of colonisation for its own benefit otherwise no nation on earth could have conquered a united Nigeria in its current form. However, one unintended benefit of colonialism was a coalescence of the various native peoples into larger ethnic groupings by the way of backward integration of sub-ethnic groups into larger tribes that led to a new identity for the natives, which roughly corresponded to the administrative federating units that were the regions of the first republic.
British social scientists and anthropologists, who carried out extensive exploration of the British sphere of influence around the Niger area, successfully isolated and identified similar norms, culture, tradition and language of otherwise distinct peoples leading the current ethnic groupings by which Nigerians are identified.Before this backward integration, there was no ethnic group known as Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa-Fulani. In the western region, it was Oyo, Ijebu, Egba, Owu, Ijesha, Ife etc. In the eastern region, it was Aro, Bende, Onitsha Ado, Wawa, AlaOwerri etc. Hausa was never a tribe but a language widely spoken by a common wealth of ethnic groups that shares commonalities in geography, culture and tradition. The Hausa language was thus enriched greatly by the original vocabularies of the various adoptive ethnic groups that congregate under the cultural common wealth of northern Nigeria. This backward integration was so successful that the various warring ethnic groups that now identifies as Yoruba of the southwest region of Nigeria fostered a common socio-political identity with which they negotiate a fair share of national resources. Interestingly, the man who is often credited by historians with working hard on the political unity of the Yoruba in the modern era, ObafemiAwolowo, was an Ijebu; an ethnic group that does share with the rest of the Yoruba, the Oduduwa ancestry.He was greatly aided by no less a person than Sir AdeyemoAlakija, a Saro[ descendant of returnee ex-slaves from Brazil]. The Yoruba Identity was further enhanced by the traditional sanction of the Ooni of Ife, who some historians admit is not a bloodline descendant of Oduduwa, the patriarch of the seven original ruling dynasties of Yoruba land, as the supreme leader of the Yoruba tribe. Similarly, the Igbo tribe was united under the political leadership of NnamdiAzikiwe, whose origin is traced to Onitsha Ado; a distinct group among the larger Igbo ethnic groupings that traces its roots to the ancient Kingdom of Benin. The political leader of the north was Ahmadu Bello, a descendant of migrant Fulani from Futa Djalon. His administrative genius was deployed to build a very cohesive northern region by assimilating and integrating the various diverse ethnic groups in the north in an Arewa identity. The high point of this effort was when Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a son of the servant of the Madaki of Bauchi, whose origin was traced to the Jarawa, a small ethnic group in then Bauchi province as Prime minister of Nigeria on the strength of the majority seats won by the NPC in the first republic federal parliament. The success of the backward integration of the Nigerian peoples and culture is a clear indicator, that we were not really different as a people. We simply didn’t realize how intricately linked we were. If the Oyo, Ife, Ijesha and Ijebu resolved to unite under the Yoruba identity, the Aro, Wawa and Bende came together under the leadership of a descendant of Benin Kingdom through Onitsha Ado and the confederation of various ethnic groups in the north assumed a new, unified, Arewa identity, then they all can come together and adopt a Nigerian identity by way of forward integration. All it will take is a resolve to be Nigerians and not physical restructuring because we are who we decide to be. Therefore, the rigidity with which Nigerians currently hold on to their ethnic identities, which are largely colonial creations that was further deepened by political expediency by our founding fathers and has led to the clamour for restructuring along ethnic lines is a sad narrative that should have no place in a modern nation. The diversity of Nigeria is simply the beautiful plumages of one big bird and should not be allowed to degenerate into deep fault lines that are largely based on a superficial ethnic grouping. We need to let go of the rigidity with which we hold on to this superficial ethnic identity.
Unfortunately, the desired forward integration of the current ethnic groupings into a Nigerian identity has been hampered by the failure of African social scientists and anthropologists to further the study in isolating and identifying the common similarities among Nigerian peoples and culture. The unfortunate practice of some leading intellectuals in Nigeria, to reduce public discourse to promoting ethnic supremacy of one group over another has drastically rolled back the existing backward integration that was achieved over five decades ago making restructuring along ethnic lines a recipe for disintegration.