Constitutional Amendments: Why Restructuring Failed
Late last month, the two chambers of the National Assembly voted on 31 proposed amendments to the Nigerian Constitution. Out of these 31 proposed amendments, two particularly stood out: the #NotTooYoungToRun bill which aims to reduce the age of eligibility for elective offices and introduce independent candidacy; and devolution of powers to states (or restructuring).
Restructuring has been one of the hottest political topics in the country over the past few months, with proponents and opponents divided along regional lines. As such, it was not unusual that headlines the next day screamed “Restructuring suffers defeat in the Senate” and explained how the voting, unexpectedly again, was along regional lines.
However, almost no one has asked the question: why exactly did this fail at the National Assembly?
The biggest challenge that the call for restructuring faced was very little public understanding of it. While there is a higher awareness of demands for restructuring, not many people can exactly tell you what it means. Even the news reports on the failure of the proposed amendment to devolve powers to states did not list the specific items that were to be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List. For such a very sensitive matter, there needs to be intensive public awareness on exactly what restructuring means.
But this could be a symptom of a bigger problem: the fact that proponents of restructuring themselves are not agreed upon what exactly does it mean to restructure.
For example, it is common to see headlines such as “Southern leaders insist on restructuring”, but with no specific proposals on how the restructuring will look like.
Is it a return to regionalism as it was in the First Republic by collapsing states? Is it about giving states 100% resource control? Is it by changing the revenue sharing formula so that states have a larger share of revenue allocations than it is at present? Is it by changing the fiscal structure of the country by having states be wholly or partly responsible for certain taxes that go exclusively to the Federal Government currently? Or is it just about giving states more responsibilities without changing how much money they can get or how they get it?
Without proponents of restructuring defining exactly what it means to them, they risk either not having it go through or those with the powers to effect this restructuring to define it for them.
This should be the first task of those in support of restructuring: define what it means to you.
The next step after that is to ensure that you embark on massive public campaign and awareness around their specific demands. It is important that a segment of the population as large as possible knows exactly what is being demanded and why. This means constant education and re-education of the public with every opportunity.
After this, there needs to be lobbying of those with the powers to effect this change: legislators, power blocs, opinion-shapers, etc. This will require an ability to negotiate rather than having a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to every demand.
It is not enough to just demand for restructuring on the pages of newspapers without having a proper movement around it which will push it and be able to get past opposition, which is inevitable. The narrative the movement will craft around this demand is what will determine its fate. This is especially important as the current narrative around it makes it look like South vs. North battle — how do you sell the idea to the North that this is a win-win? This is very important.
The reason why the other extremely popular proposed amendment, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill scaled through was because there was an organized movement behind it. We (I am a member of its Strategy Team) ensured we had a message that we did not stray from it — and always took time to correct misconceptions and properly inform about the bill and its aim. We even actively sought out those who were vocally opposed to the bill and engaged them civilly.
There was also engagement and lobbying with those who had the power to make sure it passed. The constant meetings with legislators, the phone calls and text messages — not just from us, but from everyone we could mobilize.
There were tense moments but we ensured that we did not drop the ball, and all these efforts paid off.
Admittedly, ours was easier compared to what a campaign for restructuring will be because of the magnitude of politics involved, but without being properly organized, this demand will not scale through.
I am writing this as someone who has always believed in the restructuring through changing the fiscal structure of this country while also shifting some responsibilities from the centre to the states.
All hope is not lost on making Nigeria a truly federal country. It might take a few more failed attempts, but we can shorten the process if we that are in support of it are properly organized.