Toward A Renewed Federalism In Nigeria
 

By

 

Okpe Union of North America

 

 

June 22, 2005

 

 

The convocation of the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in Abuja was compelled by the need to review the state of federalism in Nigeria. Though the NPRC was not the forum demanded by the advocates of true federalism who had requested for a Sovereign National Conference, the decision of President Olusegun Obasanjo to convene the NPRC must be seen as a tactical shift from his initial objection to the convocation of any form of a national body to review the country*s federal structure. Even though a vast majority of the delegates to the NPRC were appointed by President Obasanjo and the state governors, the debates emanating from the conference have been very critical of the current federal structure. It is significant to note that, the military was the largest constituency at the NPRC given the number of former military officers as delegates. The demand for restructuring Nigerian federalism, in line with the fundamental tenets of federalism as obtained in pre January 1966 Nigeria was strongly echoed through the debates at the NPRC.

 

The Okpe Union of North America has been following the debates at the NPRC with keen interest. Like other ethnic groups in Nigeria, we are impacted by the deliberations and resolutions of the NPRC. The choice of federalism as the preferred system of government for Nigeria was not accidental. Given the heterogeneity of the Nigerian polity, the founding fathers of Nigeria adopted the federal system as the most viable option of protecting the core interests of the federating units. This was demonstrated in the federal constitutions, especially in the 1963 Federal Republican Constitution, that clearly defined the jurisdictions of the federating units. For example, each of the federating units had its own constitution, one of the key properties of federalism. It should be noted that, before the attainment of independence by Nigeria in 1960, the federating units - Eastern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria, and Western Nigeria - were, in all intents and purposes independent entities. That the three federating units attained their independence in 1957 (Eastern and Western Nigeria) and 1959 (Northern Nigeria) further buttressed their respective sovereignty. If they had wanted, there was nothing preventing any of them to go their separate ways as independent states in the international community in 1957 and 1959 respectively. Thus, when some contemporary analysts of Nigerian politics blame the British amalgamation of 1914 as the source of Nigeria*s problems, they should be reminded of the lost opportunity exhibited by Nigerian leaders to disengage from the forced amalgamation when they had the choice in 1957. Like Nigeria, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was also a creation of British colonial rule. It is significant to note that, unlike Nigeria, the constituent units of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland elected to go their separate ways by becoming the independent states of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi respectively.

 

However, that the constituent units of Nigerian federation opted to federate did not imply the obliteration of their respective jurisdictions in key areas of their relations with the central government. Nations elect to federate for one or a combination of the following reasons: -

 

A nation decides to federate for socio-economic reasons because it:

 

Politically, a nation decides to federate in order to:

 

Thirdly, a nation decides to enter into a federation in order to be able to protect itself from real or an imagined threat to its national security.

 

The above factors, in varying degrees, persuaded the leaders of Eastern, Northern, and Western Nigeria to federate after they had obtained their respective independence. These same factors underlined the status of Midwest State, when it was created in August 1963. The dynamism of Nigerian federalism manifested itself in the social and economic policies of the federating units, as they pursued and executed developmental strategies in congruity with their respective capabilities. While the North managed its natural resources (hides & skins, and groundnuts) without any intrusion from the federal government, the West did the same with its cocoa and the East and Midwest with their palm oil, etc. The various levels of government respected the basic tenets of federalism. For example, none of the federating units was an administrative arm nor a dependent of the federal government, and each had its respective local police constabulary that complemented the efforts of the federal Nigeria Police Force. Unfortunately, these positive virtues of federalism were aborted when the military intruded in the governance of Nigeria on January 15, 1966. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, we will examine the impact of military intrusion into the governance of Nigeria. Second, we will argue for a renewed federalism, in order to strengthen the base of Nigerian polity and to sustain the survivability of Nigeria.

 

Militaristic Federalism

 

Citing the series of political disturbances that engulfed Nigeria in the 1963-1965 period * the rise and fall of the federal coalition culminating in the controversy of the federal elections of 1964, and the crisis of legitimacy in Western Nigeria and the debacle of its regional election in 1965 * a group of mid-level career military officers staged a military coup against the federal government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on January 15, 1966. The prime minister was killed, and so too was the federal minister of finance, Chief Sam Okotie Eboh, as well as the regional premiers of Northern Nigeria and Western Nigeria respectively, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Chief Samuel Akintola. The fact that the organizers of the military coup were all ethnic Igbo, and the politicians killed in the process were non Igbo, lent credence to the notion that the coup was ethnically inspired. Though the military coup was aborted, as the leaders were arrested, the leaders of the federal parliament abdicated their power and invited General Aguiyi Ironsi, the GOC of the Nigerian Army, to head a military government. This invitation has proved costly for Nigeria, as it set in motion a process of the systematic dismantlement of the structures of Nigerian federalism.

 

Once in office the military under General Ironsi posited itself as the symbol of national unity. It initiated the process of establishing its legitimacy as a viable alternative to civilian rule. The Ironsi regime immediately recognized the conflicting realities of governance in Nigeria. These were the realities of the heterogeneity of Nigerian polity, which made federalism a necessity, and the unitary command structure of the military, which rendered federalism obsolete. In order to resolve this contradiction, General Ironsi abrogated the federal system and proclaimed a unitary system of government in Nigeria. This was a deft political move which recognized the incompatibility of federalism under a military government. Thus, because of the command structure of the military, it is incongruous to expect a military regime to operate a federal system of government. General Ironsi was honest in his articulation of a military government, unlike his military successors who engaged in political deception by describing their respective regimes as the "Federal Military Government of Nigeria." This deception began with Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon, who succeeded General Ironsi as head of state, in the military coup of July 29, 1966 in which General Ironsi was assassinated. In his first decree as head of state, Lt. Col. Gowon promptly abolished Ironsi*s unitarism and reinstated the federal system. By "reinstating" the federal system, Lt. Col. Gowon was responding to the emotive sentiments of the population*s preference for federalism, even though his regime was, in all intents and purposes, a unitary regime. That this misconception subsequently acquired legitimacy in Nigerian political discourse was the handiwork of some academics who referred to the military regime as the "Federal Military Government."

 

The erosion of Nigerian federalism, which began with General Ironsi*s unitarism, attained constitutional maturation with the systematic militarisation of federalism in subsequent Nigerian governments. A review of the two civilian regimes that succeeded military regimes (President Shehu Shagari*s regime of 1979-1983 and President Obasanjo*s regime 1999 - present) clearly shows the debilitating effect of militarism in Nigerian federalism. The fact that President Obasanjo, a retired military general, was the head of state of Nigeria*s military regime in 1976-1979, has not advanced the concept of federalism in Nigeria. Pre January 1966 federal institutions have been replaced by unitary structures. For example, before the military intrusion of January 1966, political parties were established to articulate the specific needs of given regions, without being compelled to satisfy a national test. Federalism recognizes the rights of individuals to establish political parties to contest in either regional or federal elections. It was on the basis of this federal principle that the Untied Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), the Midwest Democratic Front (MDF), the Niger Delta Congress (NDC), and even the Action Group (AG) and the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) were established as regional political parties. There was no law, as they could not be any, to prevent any of those parties to exist in the Nigerian political space because of their limited geographic coverage. Federalism recognizes the distinctiveness of the federating units, hence the formation of political parties to reflect those diversities. The imposition of criteria for the establishment and registration of political parties in post January 1966, is a product of militaristic federalism in Nigeria, a phenomenon which has stifled the growth and dynamism of federalism in the polity.

 

Fashioned on the command system of the military, contemporary Nigerian political parties have lost the essence of federalism as the central committees of the respective parties micro manage the parties at the state and local government levels. In fact, the party exists at the state level because it enjoys the blessing of the central committee, just as we had witnessed in the former Soviet federal system. Similarly, the state governments, like their counterparts in the former Soviet Union, are mere administrative organs of the central government in Abuja. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 1999 clearly defines the dislocation of federalism in Nigeria, with the usurpation of state jurisdictions by the central government. Let us illustrate this with the case of resource control as depicted in the table below.

 

EVOLUTION OF REVENUE ALLOCATION FORMULA IN NIGERIA

YEAR   FORMULA  PERCENTAGE DERIVATION FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FEDERATION ACCOUNT

 

1953             100     nil      nil

1954              50      20     30

 

1964              50       15     35

 

1970               45       25    30

 

1975              20       nil     80

 

1979               nil       nil    100

 

1982-89          1.5       nil   98.5

 

1999-              13         nil   87

It is interesting to note that, the decline of the amount due each state of the federation coincided with the growing significance of oil as the main stimulant of the Nigerian economy. The current revenue allocation formula, as defined in Section 162 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, discriminates against the minority ethnic groups whose oil producing areas sustain the Nigerian economy.

 

We should recall that this discriminatory policy, or usurpation of state jurisdiction by the central government, was initiated by Lt.

Col Gowon as an expedient measure to pursue the 1967-1970 civil war. Since then, the Niger Delta states have been transformed into a beggar region pleading for its rightful share of its own resources. It should be stressed that, the demand for resource control by the Niger Delta states does not negate the right of other states to exercise similar control over their respective natural resources, like groundnuts, iron, solid minerals, etc. This is a key prerequisite of federalism, and the denial of this tenet is injurious to federalism. A federating unit, and not the central government, should exercise jurisdiction over the resources in its territory, just as it was in pre January 1966 Nigeria. Thus, the recent statement by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State requesting the states of the Niger Delta to "account for their management of the 13 per cent derivations fund they are currently receiving before demanding a raise to 50 per cent" is an assault on the tenets of federalism. (See The Guardian, Lagos, Wednesday, June 01, 2005). Such a position is made possible by the militaristic construct of Nigerian politics, which has come to define the strategic position of most Northern political leaders in their conceptualization of federalism.

 

In order to make federalism functional in Nigeria, it is imperative that the jurisdiction of states over natural resources (mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, and natural gas, etc.), education, culture, labour and minimal wage, state and local government election commissions, etc., be recognized. Areas of concurrent federal-state jurisdictions could include police, and public holidays. Each state, because of its distinctiveness, should exercise the right to observe certain holidays relevant to its history and culture.

 

One other issue that has contributed to the malfunctioning of federalism in Nigeria is the notion of a unified national wage structure for federal and state civil service, and the educational institutions. It is incongruous to impose a unified national wage structure in a federal polity. In a normal federal polity, each federating unit establishes its own salary structure based on its capabilities. Similarly, each educational institution establishes its own salary structure for its staff. We recall that in the winter of 1992-93, the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida despatched a Nigerian delegation overseas to study the salary structures of federal states. The delegation visited Canada and the Untied States, where they met with federal, state/provincial, and labour representatives to discuss the issue. The perennial agitation for state creation is dictated by the dysfunctional nature of Nigerian federalism, which is anchored on the false premise of the exclusive federal jurisdiction over natural resources. Thus, the exponents of state creation are not concerned about the economic survivability of their new states, because they can rely on revenue allocation from the central government, without caring for the source of the wealth. Furthermore, the concept of balancing the population of states via state creation is an illogical approach to good governance. The population or territorial size of a state is not a prerequisite for membership in a federal polity. For example, the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Vermont in the United States have a respective population of less than a million, compared to California and New York with more than 35 million and 19 million respectively. (2003 US Population estimates). It is pertinent to argue that, if Nigeria were practicing true federalism, i.e., a federalism where the federating units exercise jurisdictions over their respective natural resources, we would not have had so many demands for state creation. While it is common knowledge that very few of the existing states in Nigeria possess the resources to sustain their economies, a fact which demands the fusion of certain states in order to ensure their survivability, it is ridiculous that the system continues to partition itself into pauperizing states all in the name of equalizing regional and ethnic-based states.

 

The view recently expressed by Mr. John Austin Chikezie vividly illustrates this state of affairs, when he alleged that the Igbo are "terribly shortchanged in the country in the area of state creation." He declared: "We feel terribly shortchanged and marginalised in the Nigerian project to the extent that the takings or what space members of this umbrella called Nigeria get, is determined by how the various infrastructure and the allocation are shared." He continued: "Considering the units of sharing, be it at the local government, states or federal, it now means that those who don*t have as much as others get less." He concluded: "That is where we have been cheated for a very long time because we are the only geo-political zone with five states as against the popular six and seven which the NorthWest and other zones have." Mr. Chikezie*s argument for the creation of an Aba State from the present Abia State, like those of his counterparts in other regions of Nigeria, is based on the concept of sharing the national cake a.k.a. revenue allocation. According to him, the "South East has perpetually lost out in the area of revenue sharing and distribution of infrastructure in the country because of its disadvantage in states and local government creation." (See Daily Independent, Tuesday, June 06, 2005.)

 

It is a sad commentary on governance in Nigeria, if state creation is rationalized on the basis of how an ethnic group can maximize its "share" of the national cake from the centre, by balkanizing itself into insignificant political units with no viable source of internal revenue generation. We recall that this was never the case when the Midwest State was created in 1963. Unfortunately, the rational for state creation since 1970 has been based on the notion of splitting a region or an ethnic group into several political entities, so that the citizens of that particular region or ethnicity can accumulate a larger share of the national cake, even though they do not know how and where the cake was baked. Since this position has become the determinant of state creation in Nigeria, perhaps it would be proper and justifiable to apply it to the Niger Delta states, by declaring each of the senatorial districts in the Niger Delta as separate states. If any region deserves to be split into states so that their indigenes can maximize the benefits of "revenue sharing and distribution of infrastructure"as Mr. Chikezie argued above for his Igbo ethnicity, none of the political zones in Nigeria is more deserving than the South-South whose resources sustain the Nigerian economy, and whose population and territories continue to suffer the ecological and environmental damages from oil and gas explorations.

 

Renewed Federalism

 

As a system of government, federalism allows for the division of sovereignty between the central government and the federating units. The management of this dual sovereignty makes federalism a complex political option. Thus, the two levels of government * the federal and the state * are independent and coordinates. It is vital that the division of powers between the federal government and the federating units reflects the core interests of the respective federating units, without compromising the abilities of the federal government to effectively represent the federation.

 

Since a federal government exists because of the consensus of the federating units to federate, the federating units decide on how much power and authority they each would cede to the federal government. While, for example, the federal government is responsible for national defence, foreign policy, international trade, currency, monetary and fiscal policies, citizenship, etc., the federating units exercise exclusive jurisdiction in education, natural resources, agriculture, culture, etc.

 

However, in certain areas of exclusive state jurisdiction, a federating unit may elect to invite federal involvement and assistance. For example, in some federal polities where the federating units have their respective police force, any of the federating units may opt out of this jurisdiction, if it could not afford to maintain its own police force. Such a state can contract the services of the federal police force, or that of a neighbouring state, to maintain law and order in its territory.

 

It is essential that a balance be maintained between centralising and decentralising tendencies, in order to ensure harmony in the federation. While a highly centralised central government is injurious to the federal polity as it could lead to a quasi federal (or unitary) system, a highly decentralised federalism, on the other hand, could destabilise the federal polity as it is capable of eroding the powers of the central government and making the federating units too powerful. The current Nigerian federal system is highly centralised, hence its unitary characterisation as evidenced in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

 

When the founding fathers of Nigeria opted for a federal system of government in 1954, as opposed to a unitary system, it was a conscious decision designed to protect the diversities and identities of the federating units. They agreed to establish a central government that units them, while simultaneously agreeing to retain their independence in order to safeguard their respective diversities. However, as we have argued above, the basic tenets of federalism that defined the federal structure of Nigeria between 1954 and January 1966 have been jettisoned in favour of a unitary structure robed in federal colours. The challenge, therefore, is for Nigerians to return to the principles of federalism. The status quo, as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is not sustainable. While the convocation of the NPRC was an important development, we do not expect that its resolutions will address the vital issues necessary for the sustenance of federalism in Nigeria. Let us identify some of the flaws in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. It should be stressed that, these flaws were injected into the government structure by the military, where such practices/rules are considered as modus operandi. They derived from the series of decrees enacted by the various military dictatorships that had ruled Nigeria.

 

1. Election to the office of Governor and Deputy Governor and House of Assembly of a State, and local government councils.

2. Insurance

3. Labour and salary structure of state officials and institutions (Governor, Deputy Governor, House of Assembly, local government councils, civil service, educational institutions, etc)

4. Mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, and natural gas.

5. Iron and steel, and solid minerals.

6. Agriculture.

7. The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages, including marriages under either Islamic and Customary law and matrimonial causes relating to them.

8. Internal trade.

9. Education and culture.

 

Notwithstanding the above, a federal government should have the powers to spend in any area of exclusive state jurisdiction. For example, the federal government could establish and operate scientific research institutions on agriculture and natural resources.

 

Foreign and domestic companies conducting business in any of the areas of exclusive state jurisdiction are to be registered and licensed by the given state of their operations. These companies should pay appropriate federal and state taxes. With regards to the revenue accrued from their natural resources, for example gold, solid minerals, cocoa, groundnuts, palm oil, oil and gas, etc., each state should only be required to pay appropriate taxes to the Federal Government. While the international marketing of the products of these natural resources is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the domestic marketing remains an exclusive state jurisdiction. Thus, each state will manage the sale of the products of its respective natural resources to other states of the federation, just as is the practice in other federations, including Canada and the Untied States.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

Nigerians prefer federalism as a system of government. But if federalism is to be meaningful, it is imperative that its fundamental tenets be recognized and respected. The survivability of Nigeria demands a return to the tenets of federalism, a federalism that underlines the independence of its federating units as was envisaged by our founding fathers. To deviate from this premise would cause irreparable harm to the Nigerian polity. The Okpe Union of North America invites all Nigerians to engage in a reasoned debate on how best to renew federalism in Nigeria, in the post NPRC era.

A renewed federal system, anchored on fiscal federalism, will dissuade people from agitating for state creation on the grounds articulated by Mr. Chikezie and his counterparts across Nigeria. It is a bafflement that any one will advocate for the splitting of impoverished states into more states, in order for them to receive their "share" of the national cake. As an alternative to such demands, it may be necessary for poor contiguous states to consider merging into a more viable polity.

 

 

 

Omajuwa Igho Natufe, Ph.D. (President); Mr. John Harry Ofurhie (1st Vice President); Mr. Edward Ederaine (2nd Vice President); Rev. Frank Ojogwa Ekejija, MPA, (General Secretary); Ms. Elizabeth Asenime (Treasurer); Mr. God win Biokoro (Financial Secretary); Patience Turtoe-Sanders, Ph.D. (Director of Research); Mr. Victor Igbuya (Director of Publicity); Mr. Alfred Ederaine (Unio Okpe)