Federalism is said to be a system of government in which the powers of government are constitutionally shared between the central government and regional units in such a way that each level of government is independent and autonomous. In this system of Government, one thing is paramount and that is the constitution in which the fundamental human rights are entrenched.
Different people with different backgrounds were merged together and federalism was forced on them even without their consent while different constitutions such as the Clifford, Richard, and other constitutions were introduced to them. It was the approach of independence that power over the regions was given to a Nigerian-born citizen and regional legislatures were established.
According to Wikipedia, Bernard Bourdillon was the Governor-General of Nigeria at that time and he was the one who laid the foundation of federalism in Nigeria in 1939 by creating three provinces. He later handed over to his successor, Arthur Richards, and it became the Richards Constitution of 1946.
At the beginning of formal British indirect rule in 1901, Nigeria, according to history, was divided into two regions: The Northern Region and Southern Region, both of which were divided into provinces. From 1901 to 1958, the number of regions was increased to three through acquisition of territories and partitioning of existing provinces.
By the time Nigeria had declared itself a republic, a national bicameral parliament was established and the country was considered a federation of three regions.
As posited by a source, ethnicity is more than the colour of a man’s skin or physical characteristic. It is more than language, song and dance. It is the embodiment of values, institutions and patterns of behaviour, a composite whole representing a people’s historical experience, aspirations and worldview. If you deprive a people their ethnicity and culture, you deprive them of their sense of direction or purpose.
There is the need to bear in mind that since the inception of Nigeria there has never been an agreement between all the component tribes and this led to a civil war that lasted three years. In a bid to resolve this civil war, many states were created. The question is has the constitution been amended since the colonial masters handed over power? Also, has the constitution been effective in addressing issues arising from all the regions in Nigeria? What about the Sharia law, which only pertains to the Muslims of the North? How far has federalism been able to generate unity among Nigerians?
According to Wikipedia, the current constitution was enacted on May 29, 1999. In January 2011, President Olusegun Obasanjo signed two amendments of the 1999 Constitution, the first modification since the document came into use in 1999. This does not erase the fact that the constitution has not really been supreme, in respect to unlawful arrest, unlawful killings, unlawful detention, infringement on people’s lives and properties and lots more. How many times has a bill been passed for the amendment of the constitution and how many times has the constitution been amended?
It should be noted that in a federal system of government, secession of any part of the state is not allowed, but then has there been any form of agreement between the different ethnic groups to stay together as one?
These tribes were brought together in order to provide a ground for easy control of the provinces by the colonial masters. This has since been the basis on which the Federal Government operates. Unity would have been achieved, if the elected leaders were not acting greedily while in power. They embezzled funds meant to alleviate the people’s suffering, engaged in bribery and corruption, while the masses are left to their fate. What of religious bigotry?
Nigeria as a country is not only divided by tribe, but also by religion. What happened to fundamental human rights? How has the government been able to tackle religious crises in the country? Yet, the leadership claims to operate a federal system of government, which is usually founded on the supremacy of the constitution.
I attended a programme titled, Ripples Dialogue, on August 25, 2021 at the Sheraton Hotel in Lagos. The guest speakers represented the three major tribes in Nigeria: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. One of these speakers praised the minority groups that act as a thread holding Nigeria together. According to him, in some countries, the minority groups are the ones instigating crisis. In Nigeria, he noted, these groups remain peaceful despite that they are not equally represented.
What about federal character as a major threat to true federalism in Nigeria? The principle of federal character, which ordinarily should protect the interest of the minority groups, has led to inequality and tribal dominance. Due to its inappropriate application, appointments in Nigeria are no longer based on merit. Instead, favoritism and nepotism is the order of the day. This in turn fuels the people’s fear of a particular tribe dominating the country.
To worsen the situation, terrorists causing mayhem and unrest in some parts of the country, who also constitute another threat to true federalism, are granted amnesty after wasting countless lives of innocent citizens, while the Federal Government is busy chasing after agitators who are concerned about the well-being of their people.
It is important that the government address the issues that threaten the stability and unity which federalism is supposed to foster. There is a dire need for a gathering of the different tribes that make up the country in order to deliberate on the way forward as mentioned in one of this author’s pieces titled ‘Democracy our bone of contention.’ Neither force nor coercion can solve the issue on ground, but a peaceful deliberation will.
There is no need for war because in war, we can only know the beginning. No one can predict the end. If there is an eventual need for the constitution, it should be amended to suit the people’s real needs.
Also, an avenue which can grant religious tolerance should be created while the interest of the minority groups should also be respected. In granting amnesty, whatever is good for the goose should also be good for the gander. If terrorists can be pardoned, I see no reason why agitators should not be granted the same for peace to reign and for true federalism to have its way in Nigeria.
*** By Adeparua Damilola