By A.Y. Hamza Omachile
The objective of this article is to expose the hiding facts concerning federal character principle in Nigeria. Nigeria, as a country is made up different ethnicities, political backgrounds, religious beliefs and aspirations. These diversities formed the backdrop that led to the adoption of the federal system of government in the country, which guarantees separation of powers between the central government (Federal Government) and the regional or state government. Federal character principle was developed and adopted to foster and promote unity, fairness, equity and give sense of belongingness to the different groups in Nigeria.
The principle demands that appointments into governmental positions in the federation should be conducted based on fairness and shall be carried out in such a manner that will reflect the federal character of Nigeria. The principle prevents domination of few group in the government of the federation.
While the principle deserved an applause for the unity, equality and fairness it intends to promote, it is also worth noting at the same time the promotion of mediocrity and backwardness it has created and still creating to our collective development.
The country called Nigeria is multiethnic in nature divided majorly into North and South. The Northern section of the country has mainly the Hausa, Fulani, the Ebiras, Kanuri, Igalas and many others ethnic groups, while the Southern section are dominated by the Yoruba, Edo, Esan, Ibo, Urhobbos, the Ibibios, Ijaws and so many other ethnic groups (Adeosun, 2011). In fact Nigeria as a heterogeneous society has over 374 ethnic groups who have been in constant interaction and continuous struggle for power, wealth, position and influence (Salawu and Hassan, 2011). In religion line, the country is characterized by the practice of three main religions consisting of Islam, Christianity and traditional religion.
Nigerian is seen as a democratic state, which means rule of majority groups. The groups with highest number rule the state. The adoption of democratic rule in Nigeria raised the fear among the minorities of being dominated by the majority groups. This threating the unity and integration of Nigeria as a state.
There is need for the country to be politically structured in a manner that all persons belonging to different regions, ethnic groups, religions in Nigerian should feel sense of belonging and ensures absence of domination of one group in the government of the country. For this to be achieved, Lyttleton constitution was adopted in 1954 which provided for a federal system of government. Federal character principle (FCP) is used as instrument for promoting unity and integration. It was first enshrined in 1979 constitution and the present 1999 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The federal character principle to Chukwuma (2007) has become a mechanism for employment both qualified and unqualified people into the civil of the country. Longe (1987) recognized the need for employment to reflect the federal character policy but caution must be taken so that it is not done at the expense of merit without which work place efficient can be achieved.
Before now, Nigerians are known and widely respected for hard work, and good work ethic. These traits are gradually been replaced with dull, nagging, lazy and venal. The culture of .indolence and low productivity has now dominated recruitments and appointments in the public sector. Key policies that would ordinarily reposition public sector are based on the principle rather than specialization and chosen areas of interest and proven capability. Workers in the public sector are not only recruited on this basis, but there promotion and ascendency to positions of leadership in their respective offices are based on the dictates of the principle. It is more problematic given the imbalance in the state creation and representation among the regions, and the loose statements by implementers of the policy. It is therefore very essential to redefine the principle so as to provide for clause that would engender hard work and promote enviable ethic in the public sector.
Federal Character Principle and Its Purpose in Nigeria
The federal character principle is an autochthonous concept in Nigeria. It was recommended by the 1976 constitution Drafting Committee and was enshrined in 1979 constitution and the subsequent 1999 constitution of federal republic of Nigeria respectively.
To have a constitutionally defined idea of federal character principle, Section 318(1) of the 1999 constitution defines federal character of Nigeria as the distinctive desire of the people of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation as expressed in section 14(3) and (4) of this constitution. In line with the federal character principle in section 14(3), ministerial appointment in section 147(3) and commissioner’s in section 192(2) of the 1999 constitution must be in conformity with the provision of sections 14(3) an (4) respectively.
Section 14(3) made it very cleared that the composition of 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 reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to 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 if its agencies. From the declaration of section 14(3) and definition given in section 318(1) of the constitution, it is well understood what federal character principle means and the purpose that necessitated its creation.
The above sections show the basic utilitarian function of the federal character principle, I.e the desire to foster national unity and loyalty. It operates within the three tiers of government, this is seen in the provision of section 14(4) of the same constitution.
The fundamental reason for introducing federal character principle is to solve issues of diversity and disunity in Nigeria which by extension, manifest in the public sector. The major consideration for adopting federal character principle was as a result of existence of groups with different ethnics, religions and political background in the country.
According to Okeke (2019), “federal character principle is a form of affirmative action, it is one of the means devised by the Nigerian nationalists to ensure fair and equitable representation and participation of various geo-ethnic groups in the political governance of Nigeria.” Federal character principle demands that the composition of government or the federation or any if its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner that reflect the federal character of Nigeria in order to promote national unity and integration. Okolie and Greg (2013:5) defined the federal character as a policy mechanism introduced for equitable distribution of appointments, natural and economic resources for the benefit of the citizens. The federal character principle is that distinctive desire of the citizen of Nigeria to ensure and promote national loyalty, unity and national harmony and to give the people of Nigeria sense of belonging (Aderonke, 2013).
According to Edigin (2010) the federal character principle is an attempt aimed at institutionalizing the accommodation of the diverse groups and interest in the country through process of employment distribution. This position is further captured in the constitution drafting committee (CDC) reports that see the federal character has a provision or an act created to ensure and promote nation national unity and to harness the diversities of existing in the country. The Federal character remains the deliberate effort of the government designed to accommodate less privilege sections of the country (Olagunju, 1987). Similarly, Afigbo (1989) see the federal character principle as distinctive aim of the citizen of the country initialed to promote national unity and loyalty, to give the people of the country a sense of belonging through the employment process in the public service.
In a simply and more elaborate form, the federal character principle seeks to prevent the domination of person from one or a few states or from one ora few ethnic groups in the running of the government or any of it agencies. This idea formed part of the 1999 constitution of federal republic of Nigeria, though it is non-justiciable because it is enshrined in its chapter II which is rendered non-justiciable by the section 6(6) c.
The Effect of FCP on Governance in Nigeria
Some scholars (Adamolekun, Erero & Oshionebo in Publius 1991, Ahmed B. A. 2011 and Adesoji & Alao 2009) are of the view that federal character principle has not instilled the desired positive changes in the character of most Nigerians as it has affected socio-political and economic activities. There are still signs of disunity, political crises, lopsided development and most importantly ethnic domination and inequality during recruitments and political appointments. This is some Nigerians constantly questioning President Buhari’s loopside appointments and don’t questioning the capacity and qualification of the appointees. Adamolekun in http://chrisdonasco.blogspot.com/2014/02/federal-character-princinple-and-in.html raised some questions on the implication of federal character in public administration. These pitiable developments have unprecedented implications on the output performances of public sector.
While this principle intend to promote national unity at the same time it is seen to promote mediocre, low productivity and backwardness in the country. This is because at first instance ethnicity, regional and religion considerations are used as yardstick for appointment, employment, recruitment and promotion of civil servant instead of capability and quality or qualification of the employees or appointees. Wahab (2009) in his assertion sees the federal character principle as valuable as it ensures the representation of the sections of the country, but he sees as policy measure that negates standard principle of merit in the overall employment process which can lead to poor work quality as a result of seeking balance in the political system of the country.
Also, Ayoade (2010) explain further when he stated that subjecting recruitment and promotion to federal character discriminates against merit and it is unfair to certain section, hence the principles itself is self discriminatory. The federal character principle to Chukwuma (2007) has become a mechanism for employment both qualified and unqualified people into the civil service of the country. Longe (1987) recognized the need for employment to reflect the federal character policy but caution must be taken so that it is not done at the expense of merit without which work place efficient can be achieved. While using the report of the public service review commission Chukwuma (2007) concludes that the federal character principle looks prospective and discriminatory and it does not actually give the impression of a conscious and deliberate effort to secure the best hands in the country since the objective methods of accessing the performance of people in the service of Nigeria is not guarantee with the presence of the federal character principle.
It worth noting from the provision of section 14(3) of the 1999 constitution, that federal character principle does not apply to all governmental positions. The hiding reason behind such limitation is due to the fact the such positions requires more knowledge, technicality, experience and capacity of the appointee(s) can not be subjected to a mediocre principle such as Federal character principle. This shows that meritocracy is more important and worthy of been considered in the government of our nation instead of ethnic, regional or religious considerations in the guise of promoting national unity.
A.Y. HAMZA OMACHILE of the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.