Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Federal Character Principle

The Chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Prof. Oba AbdulRaheem, was quoted recently as saying, “18 states are not currently benefitting from the ‘federal character principle’ of the 1999 Constitution”. The states were described as having low representation in appointments into Federal Ministries and Agencies. According to the Prof. AbdulRaheem, each of the 36 states is expected to have about 2.5 % and 3.0% representation in appointments made by Federal Ministries and Extra-Ministerial Departments. A source from the FCC was also quoted as saying “the implication of the current irregularity is these states may not have civil servants from their states in the hierarchy of the Federal Civil Service in the next few years”.

One of the major fundamental errors in the 1999 Constitution is principle of ‘federal character’. Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution states that “The composition of the 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 State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”. While some might disagree, it is my opinion that the inclusion of this provision within the constitution has contributed immensely to the paucity of development in the country. It is time we begin to challenge some of these principles. Firstly, we need to ask ourselves, what can be defined as our federal character?

Unfortunately, this principle has been used to accelerate the promotion of mediocre and incompetent civil servants into top government positions. The same can also be said about Ministers. People get handed ministerial portfolios not because they are competent but because they are representing the interest of particular state or ethnic group. I agree that ministerial appointments are political, and in most cases the President has to satisfy his electorates. However, what about Director-General of federal ministries and parastatals? Why can’t appointments be made purely on individual merit?

We seem to have dug ourselves into a big hole by having such a ridiculous provision in our constitution. And by the way, I can’t seem to understand the rationale behind what is considered as the ‘federal character’. The fact that a state is properly represented in the civil service doesn’t mean that an ethnic group within that state is not marginalised. Nigeria is a very diverse country. We have states with more than four ethnic groups. To say that the principle of federal character satisfied because Ogun state has 5.8% in the top echelon of the federal civil service is misleading. I can count five different ethnic groups just in Ogun State. Tell me, how can you represent 140 ethnic groups in the top echelon of the civil service? And now that we have started towing the path, where do you stop? So the more states we create, the more we have to represent. Does someone think this is the solution to the inherent ethnic problem in the nation?

This problem is also further compounded by the recognition of just three languages in Section 55 of the 1999 Constitution. So are you telling me that there are only three languages in Nigeria?

The principle of federal character is similar to policies of equal opportunities in the western world. While sections of the community that are deemed to be underrepresented are actively encouraged to apply for jobs, it does not mean that they will be handed a job if there are incompetent. But in our case, the primary concern is the state of origin, while skills and ability are secondary.

These are fundamental issues we need to address. It is time we start looking beyond ethnic divide. The diversity in our culture and ethnicity should be seen a strength. Election into leadership position should not be based on ethnic sentiments. I wouldn’t vote for someone just because he his Yoruba. For example, what did the Yorubas benefit from eight years of Obasanjo rule? Has Katsina developed any better than Lagos since President Yar’Adua assumed office?

1 comment:

Femi Salawudeen said...

The problem we have in our country Nigeria just as you rightly said is the appointment of peoples into political offices not based on their merit for the job, but where they hail from. I can't governor Lagos with our democratic system now because am Oyo. I think we must start looking into changing this idea that this man is from my town, what has the done do to the community he originally lives? We must stop deceiving ourselves, a man who lived all his life in Port Harcourt should not come to Lagos to contest for governorship because he is not from Rivers. Nigerians must learn to avoid tribal divisions, it would destroy than develop anything!