It appears one of the reasons that have enhanced the continued existence of Nigeria as a single entity was the early division of the three big regions and later four into a federal structure of 36 states that was able to contain centrifugal forces or disintegration tendencies. The Nigerian federalism however is currently bedeviled by intractable challenges requiring surgical and constitutional interventions or reforms. Amongst the most severe problems confronting the Nigerian federal system is the question of how to tackle the conflicting interests of the various sections of the country given its diversity after more than 100 years of the amalgamation.
The second problem afflicting the Nigerian federal model is the impact of a long and tortuous military rule. In the wake of military coups and counter-coups, the military left behind its unitary tradition and command structure which are in direct conflict with the federal system thus rendering the Nigerian Federal model to be rather awkward. A third but subtle problem confronting the Nigerian Federal model is the issue of the three-tier system of government as the federating units which have greatly negated the autonomy of the States.
As a direct implication of about 100 years after the amalgamation of 1914, the Nigerian Federal system is still in search of stability thus giving the impression that the country is a “work in progress.” The assessment of Nigerian Federalism is thus a discussion on the manifestation of the cacophonous voices of disintegration that have become part-and-parcel of the Nigerian political experience. At the moment there are again loud separatist agitations across the country based essentially on regional or sectional appeals such as militancy, insurgency (Boko Haram) but with the most irredentist being the agitation for the rebirth of the moribund Republic of Biafra which the country must handle with tact and care because we do not who is beating the drum of war.
The purpose of this paper is therefore to acknowledge the fact that the Nigerian Federal model has some in-built structural inadequacies and numerous challenges which need to be addressed if this country is to move forward and develop properly as an emerging global power. For the Nigerian federal model to be strengthened, to develop properly and to eliminate its awkward nature, certain deliberate Institutional or Constitutional Reforms have become imperative and necessary including, in the main, the following measures:
Restructure the three-tier system:
The three-tier structure of the Nigerian federal model is not only an aberration or awkward in nature as far as the federal principle is concerned, but there is no any known or identified theory that can conveniently back-up such a structure. The military in their desperate effort to partition the country into pieces and bit foisted a strange structure on the country which has continued to remain a perpetual area of friction between the Centre and the other Federating Units. At the moment, the Local Government system in Nigeria is passing through major challenges and stress because the State governments are increasingly becoming uncomfortable with them as another Tier of government within their delineated area of jurisdiction. Unfortunately for the Local Governments, the military constitution failed to grant them any semblance of autonomy when their finances and some administrative issues like the tenure for Local Government Chairmen were tied to those of the State Governments through the so-called Joint Accounts or Acts of the State Houses of Assembly. Such legislations only allow the State Governments to expend Local Government’s finances or resources at will and at the detriment of the Local Governments. The States usually resort to the appointments of Caretaker Committees to run the Local Administrations in complete disregard to democratic ethos.
Furthermore, in a situation where the military created the Local Governments arbitrary when certain states in the federation have more than forty (40) Local Governments while others have less than twenty (20) Local Governments without any known criteria or yardstick does not auger well for any kind of equality or stability amongst the States as federating units. The country is therefore in urgent need for the restructuring of her federal system from the three-tier model to the two-tier in conformity with the federal principle to enable the states as federating units to effectively administer the Local Governments without the seeming friction between them that has negatively affected developments at the grassroots.
Constitutional recognition for the Nigerian Governors’ Forum:
At the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, one of the initiatives that enable the State Governors to compare notes in the form of Peer-Review mechanism was the formation of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. Despite its enormous advantages, the Forum has remained essentially ad hoc in nature and without any constitutional recognition. It was because of its ad hoc nature that the Forum became plagued with problems in the built-up to the 2015 General Elections particularly the permutation for the Presidential election where two factions emerged. When properly managed, the Forum has the potential of serving as the beacon of hope for the enthronement of a truly federal principle in Nigeria as the Forum can effectively checkmate the excesses of the Centre. There is therefore the need to grant the Nigerian Governors’ Forum constitutional recognition to enhance effective development of a truly federal model in the country where the military mentality by the Central Government right from 1999 to date can be checkmated.
Lack of genuine autonomy to the States, need to review the revenue formula, lack of political will to implement the report of the last National Conferenceare a major issues that dog our federalism in Nigeria. Finally, it is my candid opinion that Nigeria as presently constituted should remain the pride of all citizens of this country but the leadership needs to do more to fire the spirit of patriotism and nationalism in them.
Ajeh is of the Department of Political Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi