The Fraud Called Federalism in Nigeria


Nigeria’s problem is not just about the rule of law alone, which is sometimes defined as due process and equality of every citizen under the law. The problem is beyond the rule of law. When you examine the problems Nigeria is having now concerning insecurity, insurgency, terrorism, banditry and particularly the marauding herders’ menace, you will see at the bottom, the inability of the states to have capacities to legally and constitutionally enforce their own laws.

Since 1966, Nigeria ceased to practice a federal system of government. Presently moment, Nigeria is not a federal country. Nigeria does not practice federalism. What Nigeria now has now is akin to unitary system of government and governance. It is however unfortunate that that unitary system is now being run by tribal chauvinists trying to impose a Fulani hegemony on the country.

Nigeria has a unitary structure fiscally and security-wise. What is federalism? It is a system where you have two sets of government, one at the centre and others at regional or state level. The central government is usually bigger and powers are divided between the central and regional governments. The central government only has powers agreed to be donated to it by the regions or states. This implies that there can be no federalism without negotiations. It is actually the component governments that own the federal government. They decide together what powers to donate to the federal government. They would generally donate the powers of defence against external aggression and security of territorial integrity, foreign affairs, currency and monetary policies, customs and tariffs and taxes and matters ancillary to the donated powers.

A federal country will not have a centralised police command or structure. The states or regional governments must have means and capacities to enforce their own laws because they are considered as sub-nationals. They must have their own government, police and other security apparatus to enforce law and order within their defined territories. Equally, a federal country will not have an almost exhaustive exclusive legislative list that renders states unviable and ties them to the economic ventilator of the central government.

Nigeria used to have a federal system of government which was the culmination of the various constitutional conferences and negotiations between the regional components of Nigeria before independence. The bastardisation started with the military coup d’état of 1966 which brought the military into government. Unfortunately, the military hierarchy and single command system is antithetical to the principles of federalism. Compounding the issue was that over the years, the military came to be dominated by a particular ethnic group. The military, while in government did a lot by fiat to favour the northern part of the country, especially the core north. It was this unfair and lopsided structure that the military codified into the 1979 constitution and the current 1999 constitution. Those constitutions, unlike the independence constitution, were not products of negotiations. They were imposed on Nigeria by a military dominated by the core north.

What we presently have in Nigeria is strange, it cannot even be called a unitary system of government. It is more of feudalism. The federal government controls the military, police, DSS, the civil defence corps and sixty eight items of the exclusive legislative list. We also have a president who does not care about equity and fairness. He has further compounded and exposed Nigeria’s fault lines by vandalising our diversity and populating major government appointments with his Fulani ethnic group. There is also the brazen Fulani violent displacement of indigenous populations and land grabbing, with the federal government looking the other way.

The core north, especially the Fulanis in power must to wake up to the reality that the existence and togetherness of Nigeria is negotiable. Nigeria as presently constituted and structured is a fraud. There is practically only one government in Nigeria – the one at the centre. The solution is beyond mere constitutional amendments, you can only amend a constitution that came from the people, not a fraudulent one that was imposed by a section of the country in order to treat other sections of the country as conquered people. Nigeria must be renegotiated if we must remain as one country. It is better to have a negotiated separation than to have a chaotic and violent breakup of the country.

(C) Ola Animashaun, 2021

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