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Olusegun Mimiko: Restructuring, National Development, And The Yoruba [MUST READ]

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Dr. Olusegun Mimiko delivered this lecture at the Annual Yoruba Youth Assembly on February 1, 2018 in Ibadan, Oyo State.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is perhaps no subject worthier of discussion in today’s Nigeria than restructuring, and the implications thereof for national development. Concerns about what all of these portend for the Yoruba nation are also justifiable. This position is brought into bolder relief by the New Year message of President Muhammadu Buhari, wherein he averred unequivocally that, ‘When all aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.’ It is also instructive that a few days after the famous Obasanjo release about government performance, the President/party made a volte-face (at least the committee set up by it) and recommended restructuring.

One wonders why there is so much dissonance in policy on such a fundamental issue especially on issue that was canvassed by the APC in its manifesto. This may actually be lending credence to the assertion in some quarters that APC was not actually prepared for governance.

May I just mention at this juncture that when APC and the president eventually come up with their position on restructuring; (if it is generally in line with the El-Rufai committee recommendations) it must be effected before the next elections. Otherwise it will be justly perceived as yet another vote catching gimmick.

The questions to ponder over as we attempt to inquire into the theme of today’s event, however, are: what is restructuring? What is national development? Does there exist a nexus between restructuring and national development? What is the place of the Yoruba in the entire narrative? With this compass in place, my task becomes rather simple. It is to suggest answers to these questions, draw conclusions, and probably provide some admonitions.

I am thrilled to note that one thing protagonists of the restructuring argument deserve to be applauded for, is their refusal to allow naysayers to confuse the issues. To be sure, not a few attempts have been made in the past few months by antagonists of restructuring to obfuscate rather than educate. They tried, deliberately obviously, to give the impression that there was no particular meaning to restructuring, and therefore, suggested that Nigerians needed not bother themselves about an idea that is formless and inchoate.

Some said the question was better posed in terms of economic, rather than political restructuring. Some suggested that the problem with the country is simply attitudinal, and talks of restructuring miss the point. In all of these, the protagonists of restructuring have remained firm in their commitment. That they have yielded no ground, and refused to allow the wanton attempts to diminish an otherwise credible discourse is indeed worthy of commendation. It in this sense that I salute the organizers of today’s event for the good sense they have demonstrated in once again mainstreaming an issue that is certain to define the future of our country, and especially at this unusual times.


The bitter truth is that it is from the crucible of the crises of governance and nation-building, which Nigeria represents, that the logic of restructuring derives. The critical ingredient that has made it impossible for the country to rise to the fullness of its potentials is the warped structure upon which it is predicated. The argument is simple. A multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-religious entity like Nigeria cannot be successfully administered other than with a federalist constitution. This basic point was admitted way back in January 1950, when as precursor to the 1951 McPherson Constitution, the General Conference of representatives from across the evolving country averred that, ‘… the policy of greater regional autonomy is so widely accepted, we do not fear that there will be any desire at the centre unnecessarily to interfere with purely regional legislation or administration.’

The acute centralization of governance in Nigeria, even in the face of the evident heterogeneity of the polity, does not make for creativity, patriotism, and healthy competition. Rather, it does damage to the essence of comparative advantage, about which David Riccardo had written more specifically almost two centuries ago. It promotes a loose sense of ownership, which is at variance with the essence of patriotism. It is for these reasons that virtually all plural societies that have done well today, did so on the basis of one variant of federalist constitution or the other, always predicated upon the principle of unity in diversity.

Those nations, which developed in spite of not having an overtly federal constitution would seem now to be in full realization that sustenance of the dynamo of social engagement, entrenchment of national unity, and mainstreaming of development are all greatly influenced by the degree of regional autonomy that is allowed. It is the reason why countries like Britain are progressively moving away from a unitary structure, and in the direction of greater regional autonomy, by which federalism is personified. It is for the same reason that many a united nation in the time past have now become bedrocks of agitation, some benign, some violent.

A superpower state, the Soviet Union, and its ideological soul mate, Yugoslavia, both fragmented under the weight of unitary constitutions. In Ukraine, Spain, Senegal, Cameroon, Philippines; everywhere, the need for internal autonomy has taken a life of its own. Back home in Nigeria, the restructuring and self-determination advocacy, as Olaopa (2017) aptly notes, continues to be ‘the rallying cry for progressive politics.’ It has been so for more than half a century. Today, the genie, I dare say, is now completely out of the bottle, and there is no putting it back in.


In simple terms, restructuring is about tinkering with the prevailing structure in Nigeria to engender a degree of regional or group autonomy that is consistent with the principle of federalism. For KC Wheare (1963: 11), the father of classical federalism, this is ‘The method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each within a sphere co-ordinate and independent.’ It is not about a breakup of the country; but rather of returning to the principle enunciated way back in the 1951 McPherson Constitution, which set the parameters of a federal system for the country. The specific indexes of the restructuring advocacy are a recognition of the unique features of the different ethnic-nations in the country, and the need to allow each one of them the possibility of autochthonous development.

It is about dismantling the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and taking out of the exclusive legislative list virtually all of the 68 items therein, and either placing such on the concurrent list, or making them residual. It is about providing a framework for cooperation, collaboration, or indeed integration by federating units, as they deem fit. It is about allowing each federating unit to own its resources, plan and execute its own development agenda, and develop at its own pace – all within the context of an overarching central monetary framework. All of these presuppose that each federating unit is governed by a constitution of its own; is free to make a whole range of laws, and set up the coercive (policing) institutions requisite to enforcement of such laws.

To all intents and purposes, the 1960/1963 constitution is the closest to the federalist idea that post-colonial Nigeria ever had. It had been an advancement of the 1951 Constitution. It was certainly not perfect, but distinguished by the fact that it was the basis upon which the British ended colonialism, and handed over power to Nigerians. It was a product of intense ethno-national negotiations, and provided the platform for delivering what remains a reference point in national development in the country. The military did away with the independence constitution, and by implication its federalist orientation, not so much for any other reason than the fact that a federal scheme is basically at variance with the hierarchical nature of a military organization.

When it comes to that, the country over which the military must bear rule, must be cast in the latter’s own image. This is the basis of the distortions that have come to the federal system in Nigeria since 1966. It is the reason why the country keeps experimenting with constitutions that were not negotiated, their ‘we the people’ claims notwithstanding, and therefore inconsistent with the aspirations of the different ethnic-nations that constitute Nigeria.

It is also the reason why a central government over which, to all intents and purposes, the regional entities took precedence, prior independence, soon became the creator of so-called federating units (states), and local government areas, on the basis of principles that are now widely regarded as prejudiced. Above all, the constitutions, unitary in everything but name as they are, have engineered instability into Nigeria’s political system. They have made it impossible for the country to obtain the best from most Nigerians, now basically alienated from the commonwealth. Small wonder, that the country has been incapable of engendering a level of development commensurate with its huge potentials.

Taken in the foregoing context, it becomes understandable that the advocacy for restructuring as a critical pathway to national development is not of recent vintage. It indeed took off soon after the military hijacked political power, promulgated the unification decree, and embarked upon a systematic programme of centralization of the nation’s governance processes, and resources in an increasingly dominant and overbearing federal government.

Arguably the most impactful of these involved the seizing of all mineral resources in the country; and the wrenching of education from the hands of what remained of the federating units following the flurry of state creation exercises beginning from 1967. The question of how well these acts have played out need not delay us here, as these are quite evident. Suffice it to emphasize that rather than a blessing, what Nigeria presents today is the textbook definition of resource curse syndrome. As acute instability and environmental damage of monumental proportions wrack the oil bearing regions, so do waste, corruption and poverty stalk the land, and make the country lie prostrate.

As at 2017, Nigeria is the 13th ranked (out of 178 countries) in the Fragile State Index (by U.S think-tank Fund for Peace). The only state higher than Nigeria in fragility are some chronically challenged conflict ones like South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq.

The Fragile State Index is based on 12 Social, Economic and Political factors which includes mounting demographic pressures, massive displacement of refugees, erecting severe humanitarian emergencies, widespread vengeance-seeking group grievance, uneven economic development along group lines, severe economic declines, deterioration of public services, suspension or arbitrary application of law, widespread human right abuses. All these seem to define today’s Nigeria.

Less visible but obviously of greater consequence is the comprehensive destruction of education in the country, and by implication its future. It is rather worrisome that 10.5 million of our primary school-age kids are currently out of school. This is the single largest concentration of such in the world. It is a number larger than the entire population of 110 independent countries. Only 26.01% of the products of our secondary school system passed with five credits, including in English and Mathematics, in the 2017 WAEC-GCE examination.

None of our 158 universities is listed among the best 500 in the world; not even among the best 10 in Africa, yet we are supposed to be the giant on the continent. What is more, an acute gap exists between what education we give to students in our tertiary institutions, and what the demands of the national economy are. What all of these depict, in simple terms, is crisis in bold letters.

It is, therefore, correct to aver that development, conceived in terms of improvement in the quality of human life, is virtually non-existent in the country. The indexes are all over the place, and remain as scary as they come. More than 60% of the population live below the poverty line. The number of unemployed people in the country hovers around 20% of the population. With a Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of 814/100,000 live births (WHO 2015), Nigeria today has the biggest global burden of maternal deaths.

Nigeria’s GINI index (which ‘measures the extent to which distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution’ – depicted as 0 (https://knoema.com/atlas/Nigeria), ranges between 46% and 60% (Bakare, 2012), suggesting that the inequality challenge in the country has reached alarming proportions. It’s been estimated for example that the combined wealth of Nigeria’s 5 richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level (OXFAM 2017). This fundamentally threatens the social stability that is so pivotal to national development. On top of all of these, we now have a new malady that is set to undermine the land from within – the epidemic of drug addiction among an increasingly despondent youth population! Media reports that three million bottles of codeine-laced cough mixture get gobbled down in Kano and Jigawa States everyday, is emblematic of the situation across the country. If this is not enough to cause us worries, nothing will.

The point to note in all of these is that in a multiplicity of ways, the centralized structure of governance that Nigeria has been married to since 1966 fundamentally constrains the possibility of development.


A simple recourse to the sociological explication of the functionality of societies propounded in the theory of structural-functionalism by, among others, Talcott Parson (1962), indicates that when problems arise in this manner, and become increasingly intractable, you begin to interrogate the nature of the structures, which provide context for the processes. Rather than waste useful time tinkering with process, the appropriate thing to do is a wholesale review of the nature of the structure, such that it is reconfigured to be able to deliver on its mandate. It is worrisome that in his New Year message to Nigerians, President Buhari took quite a different perspective.

Suggesting that it is the process of governance in Nigeria rather than the structure that requires some tinkering with is akin to wanting to have a cone stand on its head. That the President’s political party, APC, came out very quickly to attempt a reformulation of the president’s proposition is needless, as it is doubtful if the party is in a position to veto the president of the nation. As well, that President Buhari made his statement in spite of the bold and unequivocal commitment of the APC manifesto to restructuring, is also indicative of the questionable pattern in which the party swept its way into office some three years ago. APC can, in the circumstances, safely be accused of promising what it never intended to do.
Now, let’s give the party the benefits of doubt – especially that if went a step further yesterday by presenting the said committee report to the public.

I must point out that there are many areas in the report in which that has more or less the consensus amongst restructuring advocates and it is refreshing to note that APC have joined the band wagon – areas like devolution to Sub-National level of many items on the exclusive list, Sub-National policies, Sub-National/Central of judiciary etc.

It is particularly interesting that, the APC documents recognizes that local government cannot be a “federating unit under the principle of federalism” and therefore, making the issue of divided allocation to local government and “aberration”. This position viewed against the recent endorsement of local government autonomy that the APC dominated National Assembly does not do justice to internal policy coherence within the party. Fortunately, the proposal amendments is yet to be passed by the different States of Assembly (again majority of which are dominated by APC). One hopes that the party will now move swiftly to ensure that this unitarist provision does not sail through.

Perhaps, one should pause at this juncture and empathize with National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE) on the need to ensure the deepening of the democratic process and enhanced fiscal capacity at the Local Government Area (LGA) level. We must device creative/innovative ways of ensuring these under a federal constitution – without “throwing away the baby with the bath water” which the currently proposed LGA autonomy bill would amount to.

It is noteworthy that while the report seemingly endorsed Resource Control Principle, it has brought back the sensitive and controversial onshore/offshore dichotomy issue. Let’s see how this plays out as I’m made to realize that perhaps more than 70% of oil production is offshore.
While I agree that the fears of all part of the country must be allayed as regards resource control, it is important to note that every part of our land is well resource endowed. With the recent advances in power storage technology in batteries, and progressively reducing cost of renewables, we must be constantly reminded that fossil fuel will soon become truly fossil.

The other issue that needs to be addressed is that of the minorities within existing states and what should constitute the subnational federating units – states, regions or zones.
From the foregoing, the Nation awaits APC to put its house in order as regards the restructuring issues; sell its position at the executive and legislative arms of government and send the necessary bill to the National Assembly in line with its new restructuring mantra. This can be accomplished within the next 2 and 3 months.  “Fortunately”, the has control of the legislative house at the Federal and State level. It therefore has capacity to actualize its restructuring agenda before the next (2019) election. Then and only then, to my mind, can the nation believe that the born again restructuring mantra is not another vote catching gimmick.

The truth is that, going forward, the country may not move beyond its extant mediocre performance level in development and nation-building as long as it continues to sustain a structure that is defective and iniquitous. It is a system that is roundly condemned across the land as the basis for much of the challenge the country faces.

The call for a diversification of the economy away from fossil fuel extraction, for instance, is meaningless outside of a restructured political economy. The situation in which the country has put itself in a lock jam, defined by laggardness and the penchant to wait on and share oil rents every month, as the basis of economic engagement, is fundamentally at variance with initiative requisite to economic diversification. In the same sense, instability in the polity is the natural outcome of a system that concentrates all powers in a central government, the fact that the polity is made up of hundreds of ethnic nations with distinct histories and cultures notwithstanding.

Corruption, and all manners of primitive accumulation and rent seeking cannot but be the dominant pattern of engagement where the entity is perceived widely as terra nullius – belonging to no one in particular. Agitations for cultural expression is inevitable in a plural political system that seeks to deny the particular in an effort to build or strengthen the general. Such stretches through the entire gamut of self-determination – from calls for constitutional amendment, through restructuring advocacy, to secession. It cannot but be the basis of mass frustration where a people perceives the system as constraining them, and hamstringing their own development by compelling everybody, irrespective of natural peculiarities and endowments, to move at the same pace. It is particularly in the context of the latter sense that the vanguard role of the Yoruba in the advocacy for restructuring since the late 1960s can be located.


Perhaps more than any other ethnic nation in Nigeria, the Yoruba culture is fully supportive of development. The Yoruba are reputed to be the most urbanized in Africa, if not the world. Their extended family structure provides systemic stability; and their kingship institution – running into several centuries – make for organized communities, strengthened by values of hard work – (see JF Odunjo’s ise loogun ise); patriotism (see DO Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Irunmale, and Hubert Ogunde’s unique inspirational music genre); social harmony; and communal development emblematized in the esusu work system, among others.

What is more, the Yoruba have a history of accomplishments in the development enterprise, which runs deep. They are reputed for their thriving empires in place before the advent of colonialism. There was a budding military-industrial complex, consequent upon the so-called internecine wars, which potentials were constrained by colonial adventurers. It is also quite significant, as noted by Falola and Akinyemi (2016: 9), that the Yoruba became ‘the most influential group (in the Diaspora) among all the African ethnic groups enslaved.’

The foregoing provided the historical backdrop to the fast pace of development under the Obafemi Awolowo/Action Group government in the old Western Region, personified by free education, integrated rural development, full gainful employment, etc. It is not to be forgotten that television made its debut in the Region in 1959, way ahead of France. The outlay of industrial and housing estates, plantation agriculture, Opticum communities, etc., were breathtaking, and provided the basis for the advantage the Yoruba had in education, the professions, business, and industry at independence.

Talking about television and the stage and trajectory of our development in the western region, it is interesting to know that the region was ahead of New Zealand, Indonesia (1962), Republic of China (1962), Malaysia, North Korea and Singapore (1963), Greece and Israel (1966), Qatar and N. Vietnam (1970), Seychelles (1983). Norway one of the wealthiest countries today did not even have full service until 1960!. (Wikipedia)

A comparison of Nigeria’s present state of development and those of these countries will be a reasonable pointer to the extent to which the dysfunctionality of a country can hamper the development of a Sub-National group.

I make bold to posit that but for the constraining effect of the military imposed unitary constitution, the Yoruba Nation would by now be proud of modern infrastructure – tri-model model transportation system – rail, roads and ports, near 100% broadband penetration, industrial parks and 24/7 power supply! World class educational and Health facilities would have been built. Democratization of access to education would have been deepened.

It is only apposite to mention the quantum of investment in education in the old western region as an index of governments vision and realization of the place of education in development. It is noteworthy that as far back as 1958/1959, 41.2% of the total recurrent budget was devoted to education alone (S. A. Ajayi 2008) whereas in 2016 and 2017 for instance, the totality of the federal budget on education was less than 10%!

Awolowo obviously foresaw the knowledge economy of recent decades and the burgeoning fourth industrial revolution – the new world of a sync between intellectual capacity and incredible computing capacity.

Today, the constraints of a unitary Nigeria have not only cost the Yoruba this important place, they have indeed made nonsense of several of the values upon which this heroic effort at development was predicated.

By reasons of cultural diffusion, considerable limits have been imposed on the Yoruba by Nigeria. The experience of the O’dua conglomerate is a case in point. In the years gone by in Yoruba communities, the sign-song was ‘kaka kinja’le ma kuku d’eru, kini un o f’ole se l’aye ti mo wa.’ It is doubtful whether such values that held the Yoruba society together in the past have not now been swept away in the gale of the cultural fluidity that unitary Nigeria made inevitable.

The point being made here is that an arrangement that allows the Yoruba to use their initiative in the development enterprise, within the context of a federal Nigeria, promises to serve us quite well. We would be able to return to our culture, which is premised on social development, and bring back such values that made for social harmony in the past. The good thing about all of these is that, as it is with the Yoruba, so with all other ethnic-nations in the regions, those not as homogenous as the Yoruba inclusive. It, therefore, presupposes that no ethnic-nation has any reason to be afraid of doing away with a system that has demonstrated beyond any doubt its penchant at constraining development, the very bedrock of crises and instability in the Nigeria.

It is on this final note, regarding the end-state of extant restructuring advocacy, that I will like to conclude this speech. On January 11, 2018, I was privileged to be one of the two Keynote Speakers at the ‘Handshake-across-the-Niger’ celebration, organized by Ohaneze N’digbo, and our own Afenifere, in Enugu. An adaptation of my core averment at that outing for today’s event would be that restructuring
on its own and by itself, may not mean much if it does not provide the unimpeachable basis for deployment of governance structures for the betterment of the lives of our peoples. For me, this is the critical element that provides justification for the restructuring advocacy. We must always, as leaders, keep one fact in focus. It is that all of the advocacies for handshake, for restructuring, for greater democratization, for a cleaner electoral process, etc., would amount to nothing if they do not translate into observable good life for our people, and strengthen national unity across our country (Mimiko, 2018).
Put more succinctly in the words of the sage, Obafemi Awolowo in his  “Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution,” “It must be generally agreed that the making of a constitution is not an end  in itself. It is a means to the welfare and happiness of the people, the fountain of which, in a material sense, is economic prosperity.”

It is my firm conviction that a restructured Nigeria, on the pattern heretofore enunciated, will be an immediate catalyst for national development, including the resumption of the development enterprise in Yoruba land. This is what has made me an unrepentant advocate of restructuring. I have been privileged to serve in different capacities in government, and I can make clear, without any equivocation whatsoever, that a president, a governor, a minister, or parliamentarian, a council chair, a councilor, or what have you, can only do so much in a defective system the type we have imposed on ourselves in Nigeria. Restructuring can, therefore, not be perceived as a North versus South thing. Rather, it is a win-win agenda that accommodates all ethnic-nations, and by implication all Nigerians.

The task that we have in this regard are twofold. First is to summon the courage to embark on this journey, confident that at the end of it all, we would have put in place a Nigeria set to fulfill its promise. Secondly, it is imperative that we do not ride roughshod over those who have concerns about what restructuring holds in stock for them. The duty of the restructuring constituency is to allay such fears by demonstrating clearly that restructuring does not amount to disintegration; but will help to bring out the best in all the geo-political zones; and ultimately foster national development and serve the cause of nation-building. It is in this direction that I warmly endorse the efforts of the organizers of today’s event.
I thank you for the privilege to be able to speak to this distinguished audience.

Olusegun Mimiko was the fifth civilian governor of Ondo State, Nigeria (2009 t0 2017). He is a globally recognised champion for universal health care. He is also a former housing minister. He tweets from @segunmimiko.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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