The Tinubu litmus test

President Bola Tinubu mounted the saddle on a note of controversy. Then he went many steps further to deepen the controversy surrounding his presidency with some uncommon, if not unusual, actions. Contrary to the expectations of those who gave him a chance, Tinubu went clannish from the outset. He made lopsided appointments in favour of his Yoruba ethnic group a state policy.

The tinubu litmus test

Like Muhammadu Buhari before him, Tinubu does not feel any qualms reserving the critical positions in his administration for the Yoruba. That is why we have the Army, Police, Immigration, Customs, Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, Attorney-General of the Federation, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Bureau for Public Enterprises, Marine Economy, Digital Economy, and lots more, all under the headship of the Yoruba. Tinubu is not just unapologetic about this, he is doing it brazenly.

The North, the part of the country that has always been pampered by successive Nigerian governments, is ill at ease with this. That is the major reason a section of the region is up in arms against him. Some are already scheming his fall. But it does appear that Tinubu came prepared. He had a clear-cut agenda even before he was declared President. He knew what he wanted to do with the office. He is rolling out his agenda, one after the other. But does his agenda include the restructuring of the country? We can only hazard a guess at this point in time.

Restructuring, as we know, is the heart and soul of Nigerian politics. Regardless of the differing interpretations given to it by Nigerians, those who prefer to call a spade by its proper name know what it means. If Tinubu were still the progressive that he claimed to be during his National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) days, Nigerians will not dissipate so much energy as they are doing at moment arguing about restructuring. It would have been taken for granted that Tinubu as President would take steps to ensure that the present arrangement that is anti-progress is done away with. But those who used to know Tinubu are no longer sure of who he truly is. So far, Tinubu has only succeeded in dropping hints about changing the political face of Nigeria. The reference being made to state policing is a case in point. The debate has been raging. But whatever comes out of it will largely depend on what the President is disposed to.

But the real elephant in the room is restructuring. Everybody in Nigeria understands what this issue is all about, but many choose to avoid or sidetrack it. Nigeria as it is is a behemoth. It is saddled with a convoluted structure. It is a structure imposed on it by the military. As an institution, the military knows nothing about democracy. It operates a regimented system. The arrangement that serves the military is such that authority flows from one source. Substructures exist at the pleasure of the superstructure.

In bequeathing a Constitution to Nigeria, it was this military approach to governance issues that carried the day. Nigeria is a federation. Yet, it operates a unitary Constitution. A Constitution that created a supreme centre that subordinates the constituent units to the point of subservience or near inactivity. This is the structure that Nigeria has been grappling with since 1979 after 13 years of military interregnum. But it got even worse after the military incursion that ushered Nigeria into the present phase of civil rule that began in 1999.

It is important to underline the fact that the Constitution Nigeria got from the military and which it operates at moment is a negation of the federation that the founding fathers of Nigeria negotiated with the colonial administration that gave the country independence. Since the violation of the terms of agreement upon which Nigerian was bonded together, some sections of the country have been squirming with discomfort. They have been agitating for a return to true federalism. Successive governments in Nigeria have played host to these agitations but they never gave a listening ear to the agitators. The reason for this is simple. The matter is sensitive. It will bring about a radical displacement. The North finds this possibility scary. For the region, therefore, any talk about restructuring sounds inchoate. It jars their ear lobes. They are suspicious of a Nigeria that will be run on the basis of the independence or republican Constitution of 1960 to 1966. The fear in the North is that a Nigeria restructured along that line will not serve the interest of the region. For this reason, northern-led administrations have at best scuffed at such a suggestion.

In the South, the sentiment moves in the opposite direction. The West of the country has been vociferous in its agitation for restructuring. The same thing is true of the East. The only difference is that the position of the East is sometimes moderated, or thwarted, by separatist outcries. Regardless of that caveat, the entire south of the country wants a restructured Nigeria that will return the country, to a reasonable extent, to the terms of the union that the founding fathers of the country negotiated with the colonialists. But the real snag is that neither the northern nor southern-led administrations have been courageous enough to tackle the issue of restructuring headlong. Consequently, the agitation has continued unabated.

The closest Nigeria came to restructuring was during the regime of Goodluck Jonathan as President. His 2014 National Conference was a milestone. It came up with recommendations that, if implemented, would have taken care of the unending agitation for restructuring. But it was never implemented because Jonathan was carried away by his quest for a second term.

Now, someone who has a record of long-term agitation for a restructured Nigeria is in the saddle. He has, for a long time, been in the trenches crying for a Nigeria that will work for all. Incidentally, he is now at the commanding height of Nigeria’s governing structure. What do Nigerians expect? They would want Tinubu to go radical in this matter just the way he pursued his lopsided ethnic appointments with a single-mindedness that shocked those who thought they knew him. As the unconventional President that Tinubu appears to be turning himself into, Nigerians will applaud him if he goes the whole hog in seeing to a restructured Nigeria. That will be his ultimate litmus test. If he shies away from this all-important matter, he will have nowhere to hide on judgment day. History will simply record him as the Nigerian President that reigned only for the sake of his ethnic group.

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