Nigeria: A Paradox Called Federalism
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Going by available information at Wikipedia, the world’s information power house, Nigeria is among the roughly/about 25 countries in the world where the federal system of government is practiced today. Interestingly also, these countries when put together represent 40 percent of the world’s population. These countries includes but not limited to; namely, India, the United States of America (USA), Brazil, Germany and Mexico, among others
Typically, the federal system of government tends to have so much passion for constitutional governance based on a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government with regional governments in a single political system.
While many political commentators accept as true that its greatest strength as a system of government is that in a country where there are many diversities and the establishment of a unitary government is not possible, a political organization can be established through this form of Government. In this type of government, local self-government, regional autonomy and national unity are possible, others argue that with the division of powers, the burden of work on the centre is lessened and the centre has not to bother about the problems of a purely local nature. It can devote its full attention to the problems of national importance. Because of provincial or regional autonomy, the administration of these areas becomes very efficient. To the rest, in a federal government the provinces, regions or the states enjoy separate rights and they have separate cabinets and legislatures. Local governments have also separate rights and the councils elected by the people to run the local administration.
Despite these virtues, recent conversations about this system of government across the globe manifest signs that it enjoys appreciable burdens and in some cases act as pathways to discord.
Take as an illustration, in India, the system presents a conflicting scenario.
It is a quasi-federal system containing features of both a federation and a union that allows power to be divided between the central government and the states. Article 1 of the Indian Constitution suggests that the territory of India shall be classified into three categories; the Union Government (also known as the Central Government), representing the Union of India, the State governments and the Panchayats/ Municipalities. Basically, it implies an inculcation of a strong sense of love and respect for one’s region, ethnicity, language, and culture.
It is this love which makes regions fight for greater autonomy within the nation and directly puts the authenticity of Indian federalism in danger. Another area of concern is that the most important power of the Governor sometimes comes in conflict with the federal structure of the country. To illustrate this claim, the power vested upon him by Article 154 of the Indian Constitution states that all the executive powers of the state are held by the Governor. This provision going by analysis implies that the Governor can appoint the Chief Minister and the Advocate General of the State, and State Election Commissioners. The most paramount and in my views troubling executive power at his disposal is that he can recommend the imposition of constitutional emergency in a state.
In Brazil, the burden of challenge is not different. More specifically, the problems facing the federal system and constitutional governance in the country involves several issues.
First and most importantly, Brazil is a federation characterized by regional and social inequality. Although the 1988 Constitution and those preceding it have provided several political and fiscal mechanisms for offsetting regional inequality and tackling poverty, these mechanisms have not been able to overcome the historical differences among regions and social classes. Governments of the three orders have not been able to reduce poverty and regional inequality.
Their ability to act is limited by a number of factors, not the least of which is the fiscal requirements of international leaders and federal financial institutions and regulations.
Another factor says a report; adversely affecting states is the opening up of Brazil’s economy. This tends to make intergovernmental relations more complex, as it increases the differences between developed and less developed states. This also contributes to the current trend towards reversing previous, although timid, initiatives favouring economic decentralization. An added issue is that in Brazil there are few mechanisms to provide for coordination between the three orders of government. This has become more important because municipal governments have had their financial standing upgraded within the federation vis-à-vis the states and have also been given responsibility for important social policies. The prospect of transforming constitutional principles into policies for regional development is not currently on the agenda for Brazil.
While the world sympathizes with Brazilians on whose shoulders lay this awkward situation, federal system in Germany, says 75 years old Rain-Olaf Schultze, and author of the book; the Politics of Constitutional Reforms in Northern America, is at a crossroad and dramatizes worrying concerns.
Schultze noted that the new weaknesses have emerged in the success story of postwar German federal system. The highly successful West German federal system, which for 40 years brought economic and social prosperity to Germany’s “second” democracy, has fallen into a state of crisis, mostly as a result of the momentous changes that occurred toward the end of recent decades.
On the surface, German reunification looks complete – however, reunification is still in progress on the cultural and economic levels, the consequences of which will continue to evaluate German politics for decades to come. These strains have made structural reforms essential for the political system.
From Germany to Nigeria, the situation is not different.
Today, restructuring debate rends the political wavelength of the political space called Nigeria.
Synoptically, this is how the whole debate was recently captured by a political commentator; the south-south claim continued deprivation and blight from oil pollution, despite being the hub for the nation’s oil wealth. The south-east legitimately gripes that nothing will change the history of the Igbos being divested of some of their properties and wealth after the war and being handed only twenty pounds each; and that fifty-six years after independence, the Nigerian presidency continues to elude the Igbos. The North has valid stitches too. Most of Nigeria’s insolvent states are in the North; the broadest swathes of underdeveloped Nigeria are in the North and the largest numbers of uneducated and unskilled youths are from the north. Because northern states are not oil producing, they also lose out on preferential derivation from oil.
While it has, from the above concern become obvious that Federal System is riddled with challenges particularly in a country like Nigeria, the truth must be told to the fact that, in absolute terms, federalism remains the answer to many of the nation’s political and socioeconomic challenges if well practiced.
Aside from many supporting the validity of a federal system of government, the greatest lesson of federal system, says Scott Moore, a research fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is that countries can often become stronger by adopting a looser union.
By this assertion, it will also not be characterized as unfounded to conclude that we are doing this country more harm than good and quickening its disintegration by refusing to restructure the nation Nigeria.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.