Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
The Nigerian Brand Of Federalism
culled from GUARDIAN, March 6, 2006
At a four-day
conference on the theme "Ethnicity and Federalism in Africa" held recently in
Lagos, President Olusegun Obasanjo presented Nigeria's brand of federalism as a
model to be adopted by other African countries in search of a working system of
We make bold
to say that the President's assertion is not a true reflection of the situation
in the country. Although federalism is the ideal form of government for
polyethnic states like Nigeria, the Obasanjo government is in fact undermining
federalist principles and is moving the country towards a unitary system.
Nigeria's current governmental system is federalist in theory but unitary in
contradiction, exemplified by the incessant crises bedevilling the polity, is
captured by that eternal phrase: the Nigerian Question - a euphemism for the
disproportional distribution of power among the various ethnic groups and
geopolitical centres. In our view, federalism provides perhaps the only avenue
for resolving the Nigerian Question. A correct application of federalist
principles will create symmetry between the country's ethnic nationalities
and/or constituent parts and the distribution of political and economic power.
Until that is done, federalism, as currently practised by the Obasanjo
administration, cannot and should not be presented as an ideal model to be
copied or emulated by other African governments.
where the President, represented by the Vice Chancellor of the University of
Lagos, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, gave the opening address was organised by the
British Council in collaboration with Chatham House (African Programme) and the
Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. The President claimed that the
Nigerian federal arrangement is working and only needs improvement. Nigeria's
brand of federalism, the President asserted, contains elements that are uniquely
Nigerian. Among these is the transformation from a three-region structure to 36
states and a Federal Capital Territory in response to requests and agitation by
But what is
the nature of relations between the Federal Government and the states? The power
differential between the Federal Government and the 36 states is so preponderant
that the latter are literally left at the mercy of the former. The Federal
Government has exclusive control over the 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative
List in the 1999 Constitution and shares with the states control over the 30
items on the Concurrent Legislative List. The Federal Government receives the
largest share of the distributive income from the Federation Account. This
arrangement gives the Federal Government such tremendous interventionist powers
that the country is in reality a de facto unitary state.
system is often defined as a system "in which the central government holds the
principal power over administrative units that are virtually agencies of the
central government." An objective description of the relations between the
Federal Government and the 36 states will not deviate much from this definition.
The President's actions, since assuming office in 1999, have reinforced this
tendency. This can be illustrated by the seizure of subventions accruing to
local councils in Lagos State from the Federation Account against the express
directive of the Supreme Court. Actions such as this undermine the principles of
system of government is brought into being when several political entities or
states form a central political unity but remain independent in internal
affairs. Federalism unites these disparate and separate polities into an
overarching political system in such a way as to allow each to maintain its own
fundamental political integrity. Federal systems recognise multiple power
centres and are animated by principles that emphasise negotiation and
co-ordination among the power centres.
principle is a written constitution that establishes the terms by which power is
shared among the states constituting the federal union. The constituent states
retain the right to make their own constitutions and the power to enforce their
own laws, including control over their own police forces. They also retain
control over their own resources and contribute according to an agreed formula
to sustain the Federal Government.
important principle sustaining a federal system is non-centralisation, which in
practice requires that power is diffused among a number of substantially
self-sustaining centres. It also requires the division of territory, population
and wealth in such a way that it promotes neutrality and equality in the
representation of the various groups and interests in the country.
A true federal
arrangement provides direct lines of communication between the citizenry and all
tiers of governments that serve them. If the communication lines are reinforced
by the right of the people to elect their representatives to all tiers of
government, the federation evolves a national ethos and a sense of national
identity that transcends primordial ethnic divisions. The disparate groups are
fused into a nation; the state becomes the focus of identification and self-realisation
for all its citizens. The absence of such a common national ethos, our failure
to fuse the disparate ethno-religious groups in the country into a nation,
demonstrate the weakness of Nigerian federalism and signpost its imminent
promoting a faulty model for emulation by other African governments, we call on
the President to set in motion the processes that will enable Nigerian
federalism to be built on the right principles. In doing that the President
would have resolved once and for all the contradictions encapsulated in the
Nigerian Question, released our people's creative energies and set the country
on the true path to greatness.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.