There are different forms
of government practised all over the world. Some of them include federal, confederal, and parliamentary systems to mention just a few. Taking a close look at Nigeria, one is confused about the system of government we are currently practicing. Is it federalism or unitary system?
There are so many factors that necessitate people to choose federalism as a form of government such as landmass, ethnic diversity, language heterogeneity, natural endowment and population. With due respect to the principle of federalism, Nigeria meets all the above requirements. But the question is; why is Nigeria federalism not a success?
Compared to some other countries of the world that practise federalism, which include Brazil, Australia, Germany and United States of America, Nigeria has not recorded a success story in its practice of federalism.
Well, some people say we are operating on a political spectrum of federalism in which we are now at a point of aspiring to get to our destination. I totally disagree with them. Federalism is not developmental, it is not like economy, politics or perhaps a living thing. It is not a product of gradual growth. It is a form of government, a system or ideology.
Federalism as K. C. Wheare authoritatively puts it, is a situation where the central and constituents units constitutionally “are not subordinate to one another, but coordinate with one another”. Therefore, in a typical federal state, there is no master-servant relationship. Since both the central and constituent units derive their powers to exist or operate directly from the constitution, no government in such a union arrogates undue powers to itself or act as leader.
However, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Nigeria is a federation of an excessively strong central government, accompanied by a ridiculously weak 36 states and 774 local governments. In Nigeria, Abuja calls the shots and dictates the pace for the “servants” to follow.
Furthermore, in a true federal state, the constituent units do not surrender ‘all’. They retain some degree of independence economically and politically. This will make the federating units viable and develop at their own pace. In Nigeria, since the central government is superior to other governments, it distributes national resources to others at its own whims and caprices.
Again, the states are over-dependent on the federal government for their resources, even when some of them contribute nothing to the national treasury. It is heart-breaking that the situation has degenerated to an extent where some states depend on the centre for about 95% of their monthly revenue. The Federal Government had to give bail-out to about 27 states before they could pay their workers, recently. In truth, fiscal policy of Nigeria federalism does not regard the principle of fairness, equity, justice and obligation.
Moreso, federalism is a framework for the coexistence of unity in diversity. It bridges the differences in ethnicity, economy, religion, education and other factors. Again, the story is not the same in Nigeria. The concept of unity in diversity is a mirage to our federalism.
In other federalism, it is “united we stand, divided we fall”. But in Nigeria, it is the other way round, “united we fall, divided we stand”. Nigeria is the most divided federalism I have ever seen, where regionalism, statism, ethnicity and religious sentiments are exalted at the expense of national interest and consciousness.
True federalism does not over-emphasise diversities but strives to identify, accommodate and manage them. Indeed, a state is federal to the extent that it is managing its diversities. A federal formular is therefore geared toward translating diversity into unity. But in Nigeria, we have failed woefully to harness the potentials of our pluralism as a nation.
Another peculiar issue with Nigerian federalism is the inequality of the federating units or states. A true federalism should be predicated upon some degree of equality among the federating states. For example, right from when Nigeria was divided into regions, the northern region is made to feel superior. Any federalism that is predicated on dichotomy of superiority and inferiority or whose factor of inequality is irrationally over-pronounced can not endure.
Though Nigeria meets the necessary conditions to operate as a federal state, the manner with which Nigeria was amalgamated by the British remains questionable. It forms the basis for the argument that “Nigeria is not a nation, but a mere geographical expression”. Consequently, the very foundation on which Nigeria’s federalism is built on, is shaky.
In conclusion, the experiment with the Nigeria state and the lip service to federalism, must stop. This is because the experiment has made it impossible for Nigeria to harness the political, economic and other numerous benefits attached to federalism.
Benjamin is of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.