In economic theory, a zero-sum game is a scenario in which the gain or loss of utility by a participant is balanced by the losses or gains of other participants. In much plainer terms, one man’s loss being another’s gain.
Nigeria has been this way for the past fifty-one or so years, after Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi introduced the ‘centralized’ Federalism Nigeria continues to practise today—a zero-sum game in which whoever sits at the centre, does so for himself and his clansmen, at the expense of those who aren’t.
From a purely mathematical view, Nigeria will not be more in value to its people, the rest of Africa and the world until it devolves back to its more integrative pre-January 15, 1966 structure from the current distributive structure it operates, that underpins why at least one participant in the Nigerian state will always feel cheated and marginalised within the country as long as that participant has no executive control in Abuja.
To buttress this point, from the time today’s political structure was fashioned on January 15, 1966, the Northern elite felt and expressed a great need to break away from the country following the coup that witnessed the murder of its political actors; Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello until the counter-coup by Northern Army officers on July 29 of the same year. And up till today, they have never asked to leave Nigeria again. Why? The North has come to understand the zero-sum game that running Nigeria is; control the central government or be marginalized.
Herein lay the precise reason for the present-day clamour for Biafra. It didn’t come out of some innate tribal aspiration to forge an ethnocentric destiny, even though it now seems to have become the remote reason for the Nnamdi Kanu-led agitation. The real reason at the crux of the matter is the way Nigeria is currently politically structured, with the South-Easterners far from the all-powerful executive branch of central government; they being an major stakeholder in the Nigerian union when it comes to trade and industry but having zero political input as to the destiny of its homeland or the country it calls home. It is safe to conjecture that ethno-centric agitations by the Igbos are directly related to core participation in the running of the country, which in itself is hard to fault.
And not the South-East alone, every geopolitical zone in the country seeks this central governance role or some kind of alliance with whichever group controls the centre in order to dispense or recieve political patronage, better known in Nigeria as the ‘national cake’—which in a sense is the only way more than 90% of Nigerian billionaires have been made.
And don’t take me at my word yet. The case for restructuring the country may well serve the political interest of a few—certain politicians now making the rounds in the news—seeking to hoodwink the country with electoral promises they would fail to keep. But from a purely game theory perspective, restructuring Nigeria’s government system from unitary to a federal one would eliminate wastages created by the country’s need to try awful attempt at trying to look federal. Cutting things like Federal Allocation Accounting and Federal Character quota systems could save billions of dollars via economic interdependence of geopolitical zone; lower ethnic mistrust and devolve the executive powers of the central government to something more like a project manager while the real execution happens closer to the people, at local and state government levels.
Let’s not let ‘restructuring’ come across like another sound bite without knowing the root of its clamour. Some people are always going to feel left out in Nigeria because the central government has been structured to be very enticing. And as with anything that is enticing, abuse has been inevitable. It is almost as if, the whole country has consistently conspired against the emergence of a President from certain parts on the country.
In the long haul, Nigeria would have to become a non-zero sum game—where no one would really care about the ethnicity or religion of the country’s principal officers; where at the central government merit rather than the clans-man men favouritism abides so that we are able to forge a more perfect union; where hard work and fairness are the order of business, and not political patrons helping their beneficiaries at the expense of the rest of the country.
In Nigerian speak, there is a common thought; that we accept the truth when it is spoken irrespective of who the speaker is; which is why I would like to punctuate this piece with the frank—yet seemingly insincere—words of Nigerian politician and former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku:
‘Our national wealth is being drained by a select few instead of building a country for all of us. It has to end.’
It ends when the governance of Nigeria stops being a zero-sum game and embraces federalism. The National Assembly should do it now.