How to make Nigeria’s federalism work

EMMANUEL Ojo’s ‘Mechanisms of National Integration in a Multi-Ethnic Federal State: The Nigerian Experience’ is warts and all about the peculiar federalism practised in Nigeria. John Ayoade, who wrote the foreword of the book, Eghosa Osaghae, Rotimi Suberu, Sam Oyovbaire and the author are a few Nigerian scholars who have examined the enigma of federalism in Nigeria.

However, Ojo has gone beyond discussing the theory and praxis of Nigeria’s federalism.

Adopting a pedagogical and analytical style, the author discusses the interventions introduced over time to keep Nigeria, a notorious multi-ethnic federation, as one.

The author begins the work with an examination of Nigeria’s complex plural nature.

He contrasts it with that of countries like India which federal arrangement most approximates the one in Nigeria.

He also examines that of Germany, Italy, Malaysia and Switzerland, but notes that minority ethic nationalities and religion are some of the factors that have compounded Nigeria’s federalism. This plural nature, according to Ojo, is a challenge for efforts at national integration.

The author clarifies concepts in the second chapter of ‘Mechanisms…’ Ojo notes that both federalism and national integration are contested concepts and treats readers to the timeless explanations of federalism by several scholars.

Ojo’s view is that although federalism is reputed to be an effective political and constitutional design for managing problems usually associated with ethnic and cultural diversity, it hasn’t worked in Nigeria because of ethnic cleavages, economic underdevelopment and a weak sense of nationhood.

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The contending paradigms to conflict management in plural societies are also highlighted here.

The evolution of Nigeria’s federalism is examined in the third chapter. Ojo reflects on what necessitated the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914 and the views of Nigerians, including those of the sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the late Tafawa Balewa’s condemnation of the union.

The military’s involvement in governance which further destroyed the practice of federalism doesn’t escape the attention of Ojo who also profiles the three major ethnic groups.

Political parties have also not fared better in Nigeria’s quest for national integration, though they should theoretically serve as agents of integration in plural societies. Since their emergence in the 1920s, political parties in Nigeria haven’t provided a ‘bridge of unity for peoples of diverse backgrounds.’

Ojo submits that state creation is not an antidote to the fear of ethnic domination.

Nigeria’s mode of power sharing, an informal arrangement, is examined in the ninth chapter of book. Sharing elective office based on religion and zoning of political offices are the hallmark of this arrangement but the author contends that it doesn’t always work.

The federal character principle and its faulty implementation is discussed in chapter 10 where Ojo, to borrow the words of the inimitable Chinua Achebe, tells us where the rain began to beat us relative to the principle.

Confederation as an option to Nigeria’s warped federal system is dwelt upon in the 12th chapter. Although the two systems do resemble each other in some ways, the author rightly notes that it is not feasible in Nigeria.

The author’s recommendations for resolving the contradictions in Nigeria’s federal structure are contained in the last chapter. If the parties concerned would heed Ojo’s seven recommendations, they will enhance federalism in Nigeria.





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