By Jerome-Mario Utomi
There are roughly 25 federal countries in the world today, which together represent 40 per cent of the world’s population. These countries as documented by Wikipedia, the world’s information power house, include some of the largest and most complex democracies – India, the United States of America (USA), Brazil, Germany, Mexico and of course Nigeria-a nation that John Campbell, a former American Ambassador to Nigeria, suggested is ‘dancing on the brink.
Conventionally, federal system of government tends to have so much passion for consensual constitutional governance based on a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government with regional governments in a single political system.
While many political commentators accept as true that its greatest strength as a system of governmental is that in a country where there are many diversities and the establishment of a unitary government is not possible, a political organisation can be established through this form of Government. In this type of government, local self-government, regional autonomy and national unity are possible, others argue that with the division of powers, the burden of work on the centre is lessened and the centre has not to bother about the problems of a purely local nature. It can devote its full attention to the problems of national importance. Because of provincial or regional autonomy, the administration of these areas becomes very efficient. To the rest, in a federal government the provinces, regions or the states enjoy separate rights and they have separate cabinets and legislatures. Local governments have also separate rights and the councils elected by the people to run the local administration.
Despite these virtues, recent conversations/thoughts shared about this system of government across the globe manifest signs that it enjoys more burdens than goodwill and in some cases act as pathways to discord.
Very recently, Frank Luntz, an American pollster talking about the United State’s federal system thus noted; ‘Federal system is about taking power away from Washington. It’s not about smaller or more limited government. Almost no one I interview cares about the size of government as much as the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government. Americans want to empower states and governors to take a more active role in that governance because they’ve given up on Washington – Trump or no Trump.
As the world reflects on the above position, Federal system in India presents a different scenario. It is a quasi-federal system containing features of both a federation and a union that allows power to be divided between the central government and the states. Article 1 of the Indian Constitution suggests that the territory of India shall be classified into three categories; the Union Government (also known as the Central Government), representing the Union of India, the State governments and the Panchayats/ Municipalities
As one of its major ills, India’s (federal system) basically implies an inculcation of a strong sense of love and respect for one’s region, ethnicity, language, and culture. It is this love which makes regions fight for greater autonomy within the nation and directly putting the authenticity of Indian federalism in danger. The most important power of the Governor which sometimes comes in conflict with the federal structure of the country is the power vested upon him by the Article 154 of the Indian Constitution which states that all the executive powers of the state are held by the Governor. This provision implies that the Governor can appoint the Chief Minister and the Advocate General of the State, and State Election Commissioners. The most paramount and in my views troubling executive power at his disposal is that he can recommend the imposition of constitutional emergency in a state.
In Brazil, from what analysts are saying, the specific problems facing federal system and constitutional governance involves several issues.
First and most importantly, Brazil is a federation that has always been characterized by regional and social inequality. Although the 1988 Constitution and those preceding it have provided several political and fiscal mechanisms for offsetting regional inequality and tackling poverty, these mechanisms have not been able to overcome the historical differences among regions and social classes. Governments of the three orders have not been able to reduce poverty and regional inequality. Their ability to act is limited by a number of factors, not the least of which is the fiscal requirements of international lenders and federal financial institutions and regulations.
Another factor adversely affecting states is the opening up of Brazil’s economy. This tends to make intergovernmental relations more complex, as it increases the differences between developed and less developed states. This also contributes to the current trend towards reversing previous, although timid, initiatives favouring economic decentralization. An added issue is that in Brazil there are few mechanisms to provide for coordination between the three orders of government. This has become more important because municipal governments have had their financial standing upgraded within the federation vis-à-vis the states and have also been given responsibility for important social policies. The prospect of transforming constitutional principles into policies for regional development is not currently on the agenda for Brazil.
While the world sympathizes with Brazilians on whose shoulders lay this awkward situation, federal system in Germany, says 75 years old Rain-Olaf Schultze, and author of the book; the Politics of Constitutional Reforms in Northern America, is at a crossroad and dramatizes worrying concerns.
Schultze noted that the new weaknesses have emerged in the success story of postwar German federal system. The highly successful West German federal system, which for 40 years brought economic and social prosperity to Germany’s “second” democracy, has fallen into a state of crisis, mostly as a result of the momentous changes that occurred toward the end of recent decades.
On the surface, German reunification looks complete – however, reunification is still in progress on the cultural and economic levels, the consequences of which will continue to evaluate German politics for decades to come. These strains have made structural reforms essential for the political system.
From Germany to Nigeria, the situation is not different.
The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate in a symmetrical manner with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. This arrangement conferred on the fledgling country the form of the Biblical trinity explained above. And at independence in 1960, Nigeria became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each of the regions was economically and politically viable to steer its own ship, yet, mutual suspicion among them was rife. In fact, regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as ‘mere geographical expression’ and later threatened “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self- government and proceed to assert it”, a euphemism for secession.
The Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the Region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat. In fact, the North at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was ‘One North, One People, and One Destiny’. And the name of the party itself ‘Northern People’s Congress, NPC, was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity.
Today, restructuring debate rends the political wavelength. ‘The south-south claim continued deprivation and blight from oil pollution, despite being the hub for the nation’s oil wealth. The south-east legitimately gripes that nothing will change the history of the Igbos being divested of some of their properties and wealth after the war and being handed only twenty pounds each; and that fifty-six years after independence, the Nigerian presidency continues to elude the Igbos. The North has valid gripes too. Most of Nigeria’s insolvent states are in the North; the broadest swathes of underdeveloped Nigeria are in the North and the largest numbers of uneducated and unskilled youths are from the north. Because northern states are not oil producing, they also lose out on preferential derivation from oil.’
From the above account, it is now obvious to those who were oblivious of the situation that federal system may not be a cohesive governmental system. However, the greatest lesson of federal system, says Scott Moore, a research fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is that countries can often become stronger by adopting a looser union.
By Scotts’ assertion, it will not be characterized as unfounded to conclude that we are doing this country more harm than good and quickening its disintegration by insisting that Nigeria’s restructuring will never happen. The template to solve these problems is already there: the Report of the 2014 National Conference.
Jerome-Mario Utomi writes in from Lagos, Nigeria