Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Has federal character principle outlived its usefulness?

The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to effect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”
– Section 14 (3) of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended.

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, Speakers Corner Trust Nigeria organised a roundtable on the application of the federal character principle in the country. Among the resource persons were Olubunmi Ojo from the Federal Character Commission; Dr. Otive Igbuzor, who is the Executive Director of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development and Mr. Henry Adigun, a public affairs analyst. The event was moderated by Ramatu Umar Bako who is the Country Director of SCTN. I was privileged to be among the guests in attendance. I listened with rapt attention to the various speakers and I dare say the event was an eye-opener for me. The conclusion I drew from that interactive session was that though the introduction of the federal character principle was well-intentioned, its implementation has been lopsided.
Nigeria runs a federal system of government due to its diverse ethno-religious configurations. In order to give the federating units as well as the multiplicity of tribes and creeds a sense of belonging, the country initially introduced the quota system to ensure that distribution of positions and amenities are shared out on an equitable basis. However, the abuse of the quota system by its operators led to the introduction of the federal character principle. The aim of the principle is encoded in Section 14 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. As highlighted in the opening quote of this piece, it is adopted to promote national unity and enhance national loyalty.
To show that the application of the policy is meant to be observed at all levels of government, the constitution in Section 14(4) states that, “The composition of the Government of a State, a Local Government Council, or any of the agencies of such government or Council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manners as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.”
The constitution goes further to set up a regulatory agency for the enforcement of the Federal Character Principle called the Federal Character Commission. The FCC is a federal executive body established by Act No 34 of 1996 and S. 153 (1)( c ) of the Nigerian Constitution to implement and enforce the federal character principle of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructures among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to the Third Schedule of the constitution in Section 8. (1), “In giving effect to the provisions of Section 14(3) and (4) of this constitution, the commission shall have the power to: (a) work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the Federation and of the States, the armed forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force and other government security agencies, government-owned companies and parastatals of the states; (b) promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principles of proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government;”
“(2) The posts mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a) and (b) of this paragraph shall include those of the Permanent Secretaries, Directors-General in Extra-Ministerial Departments and parastatals, Directors in Ministries and Extra-Ministerial Departments, senior military officers, senior diplomatic posts and managerial cadres in the Federal and State parastatals, bodies, agencies and institutions.” It is also on the basis of the federal character principle that the constitution in Section 147(3) mandates the President to appoint at least a minister from each of the states of the federation.
With the plethora of legislation giving birth to the federal character principle and setting up the regulatory body for its enforcement, one would have thought that, in deed and in truth, the principle would foster unity and loyalty as envisaged. Unfortunately, this has not been fully achieved. It is not for lack of good effort by the regulatory commission but largely the fault of the political elite who use their enormous power to ensure that the principle is subverted on the altar of political expediency. A staff audit of the management cadre of most of the well-resourced public corporations, parastatals and agencies will show that there are more from a section of the country than the others. While the Federal Character Commission monitors entry point recruitment, it was found out that promotion within the bureaucratic system is now being done on the basis of federal character rather than purely on merit and productivity.
Until the appointment of Prof. Muhammadu Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, no one from Northern Nigeria was ever appointed the head of the country’s electoral management body. Also, no southerner has ever been appointed as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory since inception in 1991. At best, they are appointed as Minister of State for the FCT. I wonder why vice-chancellors, Rectors and Provosts of most of the federal tertiary educational institutions are from the ethnic groups or geopolitical zones where they are sited. There are three senatorial districts in every state. However, in some states like Oyo, Ogun, Kogi, Borno and Benue, some tribal groups are made to play a second fiddle. Take for instance, the Oke-Ogun people in Oyo State have never produced a governor of the state. The same with the Yewa/Awori in Ogun West senatorial district. A similar scenario is playing out in Kogi State where the Igala ethnic group takes the governorship seat as its birthright. This is akin to a similar role being played out by the Tiv in Benue and Kanuri in Borno states. Where then is the sense of belonging and unity that the federal character principle preaches? This is why power rotation and zoning principle are needed in our polity.
The federal character principle is supposed to apply in the distribution of social amenities at the three tiers of government. But in reality however, the distribution is almost always lopsided due to the infusion of the sharing formula with a heavy dose of politics. Once a powerful “son or daughter of the soil” is at the helm of affairs where the distribution of the amenities is taking place, he or she will mount pressure to influence the location of the amenities to his or her community. That is why in a state, some communities have more federal and state projects at the expense of others.
There is no gainsaying that the federal character principle is good and desirable for a heterogeneous country like Nigeria. However, its implementation is suspect and needs to be reformed. The Federal Character Commission needs to be well-financed to enable it monitor effectively what the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are doing in terms of recruitment. The commission deserves to be on the First Line Charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation. It also calls for the review of its enabling Act. The commission needs to also do more with public communication of its activities and prosecution of erring chief executives of government corporations who may have breached the federal capital principle.
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