Buhari and the Federal Question



THAT Nigeria has been bedevilled by numerous problems is not in debate. All these problems are rooted in source: a negation or even destruction of the structural foundation of the country which ought to be a genuine federalism. It is, therefore, expected of the new Muhammadu Buhari administration to correct this once and for all as doing so holds the key to removing the country from the vicious cycle of underdevelopment and conflict.

A very good beginning towards a genuine federal Nigeria would be the adoption of the report of the last National Conference which, though not perfect, is nonetheless good enough. Federalism has been variously defined.

Some see it intriguingly as a centralising ideology in terms of the desire for cooperation, unity and for overcoming separatist impulses.

Others see it as embracing all the principles that are operational in a federation or a cluster of techniques to achieve a balance between mutual independence and interdependence. It is an institutional government in which sovereignty is shared among subordinate units.

These definitions converge in that understanding of federalism as division of power between central and regional governments in a manner that provides mutual independence in their respective spheres.

It speaks synchronisation and non-centralisation. In sum, the federal principle is often successfully employed to organise and manage diversity.

When nature and situation have so contrived to put different people with distinct linguistic and cultural inclinations together in one territory, the best and most efficient polity is a federation, which is the practical realisation of the federal principles.

These principles have found expression in countries like Switzerland which operates a collegiate system; Austria’s segmented autonomy, and in Ethiopia’s much valorised right to secession of the federating units.

In Nigeria’s case, boundaries and fault-lines have been clearly defined. Abiding in this diversity is an opportunity for compromise and bargain and for growth and development. Federalism begins with a bargain and is sustained by bargain.

The nation’s founding fathers worked assiduously for the federal principle beginning from the all Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1950 held in Ibadan and were subsequently in the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.

However, the problem with Nigeria is that its federation today is a distortion, bottling up the creative capacity of the units as opposed to what was already evinced in the regional governments operational before the military coup d’état of 1966.

Excessive modification of Nigeria’s federal principles since the first military coup, especially the Unification Decree 34 of May 29, 1966 promulgated by the Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi administration sounded the death knell of Nigeria’s federation.

The subsequent entrenchment of centralism and atomisation of the federal character of Nigeria buried the idea. Indeed, what obtains in the country today is anything but federalism. The coordinate and independent principles had been consigned to the rubbish bin of history.

And rather than promote the healthy competition of the regional governments, it has promoted centralism which has, over the years, been de-empowering for the units of the federation reducing them to unitary appendages of an all-powerful centre.

The net effect has been the promotion of sectional agenda with its attendant irredentism and conflictual outcomes that undermine the polity and retard development.

In response to the dysfunctionality of a truncated federal experiment, various governments from Yakubu Gowon to the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration, have had to convene national conferences, spawning remedial provisions to right the wrongs of the country to no avail due largely to the absence of political will to do so. Again, a historical opportunity beckons now to restore the federal essentiality of Nigeria.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) prioritises the restoration of the federal principle to the affairs of the country. I

n its constitution, it states that it will “initiate action to amend the Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibility to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.” Nigerians will hold the ruling party to its words.

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is a complex one because we are a country of many nations characterised by complex diversities. Each federating unit must have its constitution and should chart its own course of development. The country was stronger when power was de-centralised.

The current central behemoth known as the Federal Government of Nigeria has continued to hold the country down, undermine the creative energy of the people and promote poverty with the non-exploitation of resources for development.

It will do the central government a great deal of good to divest itself of tasks/duties that necessarily ought to be within the ambit of states or the federal units.

The burden, nay contradiction, can be felt today. The centralisation of salary is such that many states are not able to pay. As has been observed, the country runs a ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. What is needed now are federating units that are independent and fiscally responsible.

The last national conference report contains clauses that should be the starting point for the journey to a just, prosperous and united federal Nigeria. The Buhari administration must accept that report and adopt its recommendations.

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    study the constitutional conference report and implement provided the unity of the country is not in danger

  • pappyjoe

    Unity is negotiated and nurtured, not decreed

  • New Nigerian

    …The so-called “constitutional conference” was unconstitutional in idea, approach, process, composition and conclusion. Why would any constitutionally-elected government even look at it? It was a waste of public money by the profligate Jonathan administration to even convene it in the first place. If Jonathan wanted some advisers on any thing as the president it was his right to convene to seek the advise, it was also his right to send a bill to the national assembly for debate, considerations and promulgation into law…But the national conference was another example of impunity run amock and profligacy. The real problem is the engineered rot of the civil service and a siege on the common wealth by the PDP in the last 16 years – through fire sale of the commonwealth, debasing the civil service and weakening it to the point of slavery to the dictate of the PDP at every level – local, state and federal. What the new administration need to do urgently is to fix-up the civil service to it’s glory days of the first republic. Because politicians come -and -go but the civil service at all levels should ensure continuum in government…that is the urgent task that must be done

    • U obviously do not understand d crux of d matter. dx isnt abt d civil service. d country is fundamentally flawed. will reviving d civil service stop states running to abuja to collect monthly allocation? i think not. d federating entities need to take their destinies in their hands n develop at their own rate. y shd d 3rd mainland bridge in lagos be a federal matter? or d aba rd in ph. devolution of powers. d central govt shd devolve powers to d states n d lgas. only whn dx is done can d federating units start looking inwards to fund their projects. otherwise y would kano state revive d groundnut pyramids whn it will get 44 parts in d proceeds of dx country?

  • Rev

    I strongly believe that the practice of true federalism will renegotiate the history of Nigeria!!

  • amador kester

    A federal govt that is not a federation is a hoax: it is not what it claims to be and cannot be legitimate by any parameter of commonsense,logic or jurisprudence therefore i deem it neither a federation nor a governnent but this mesmerization has gone blantant since 1966′: every effort to hold a constitutional conference or implement reports are frustrated whereas this is the fundamental template for sustainable resolution of national ills.Jonathan tried it but lacked the fundamental courage and willpower to implement the report,buhari surely has no interest in such things and the nation has unwittingly been programmed to drift….

  • Chigozie Ogbonna

    Nigeria is lagging economically precisely because of our distorted federalism!

    The centralization of Nigeria’s resource revenue will forever hinder economic and social progress. In fact, Nigeria’s economic practice whereby the Federal Government controls resource revenue would be unthinkable here in Canada or the United States. Nigeria wants to be great, but she is doing the very opposite of what great and successful have been doing.

    The Federal Government should forthwith discontinue resource control and revenue allocation.

    Each State should develop their own natural resources and control their own destiny! For instance, for decades there has been efforts to diversify the Nations economy without substantial success. But the Nation’s economy will automatically diversify, creating many economic opportunities, if every state develops their own resources and retains the revenue. Yes, some States will experience economic boom, and, unfortunately, some States will lag. But, more significantly, the entire Nation would not be held back by those States that cannot, or do not want to move forward. Nigeria needs to move forward, and the only way is to empower the States economically!

  • juliusonny


    If you want to move a mountain, it is imperative to employ the right tool. You cannot move a mountain using a spoon, you have to use earth moving equipment, power shovel or the likes. Look at South Koreans; they have neither oil nor gas. We know where they are today. Look at Ghana our neighbor, they regular power supply. Israel is a tiny country; we all know what they have achieved through planning, executing, hard working and seriousness. Half of Japan was destroyed; they stood up again and rebuilt their country. Mind you, they have neither oil nor gas. Unfortunately, most Nigerians have been mentally cheated by Mother Nature; you can guess what that results in. All prosperous nations I mentioned above started with simple things like determination to affect the life of their populace positively. Nigerian rulers stash money away in foreign countries. I would like to outline some simple steps to turn the economy around and create thousands or perhaps million of jobs for the teeming youth in Nigeria. One, secure stable supply of electricity. Two, improve general infrastructure significantly, you know like ports, roads, airports and so on and so forth. Three, build a strong telecommunication system. Four, create a reliable ID-card system for everybody in Nigeria, with central database accessible to all business owners in order to protect credit from bad payers. Once you have this in place, re-orient banks on how to give out credits to every reliable citizen so people can purchase practically all through credit system thus stimulating production, therefore creating jobs and flow of money within the market system. Five, good drinkable water all over the country. Six, education, health and housing for have-nots. And finally stop too much talk and fallacy and take advantage of positive fluid in the air now. Good luck Mr. President.