There is nothing like true federalism —Professor Aiyede

Emmanuel Remi Aiyede is a professor of Political Institutions, Governance and Public Policy at the University of Ibadan. He speaks with ABIODUN AWOLAJA on true federalism and other political issues of concern to the nation. Excerpts:


How do you describe the notion of federalism?

Federalism is a model of government and it is an ideal type; what you find are different versions of federalism because countries go federal according to the objectives they have set for themselves, and government and institutions also change over time. So, federalism is constantly evolving within the context in which it was set up. That is why scholars identify different phases of federalism. For instance, in the United States, they talk about coordinate federalism, marble cake federalism, multiple-layered federalism. There is a whole variety of categorisations of federalism.

We need national meeting to settle Nigeria’s national identity now —Obasanjo

We have decentralisation and re-centralisation, depending on the problems each country faces and the whole idea is about how to address them. For instance, in countries in Latin America, when they devolved and went federal, they realised that they had serious problems of coordination of public policy and then they had to re-introduce centralization, in order to address those coordination problems.

So, the idea of true federalism is usually a statement of agitation. You find out also in the United States that when people think that what obtains is not addressing the ills of society, they look for modifications that would make it address them. So, this is not something original to Nigeria.


What would this mean for Nigeria?

In Nigeria, for instance, federalism can be regarded as true if it works for the society into which it was introduced. But because federalism changes over time and the problems of society change over time, if you say what is true today is no longer true tomorrow, then, you are making nonsense of the concept of ‘true.’  That is why, for me, federalism cannot be qualified with the concept of truth because truth has an eternal value. If you say this federalism is true, then, it must be true for all time. I don’t advocate that kind of thing; I feel that federalism evolves and is not static.

And if it evolves, there is no point in talking about true federalism. In fact, there is a recent book edited by Kuna and Ebeano (2016), it is the most current book on federalism in Nigeria. If you read the book—it’s over 500 pages—you won’t see the concept of true federalism. Federalism always shifts, depending on the problem you want to solve between centralisation and decentralisation. But one thing is certain about the federal system: There are multiple layers of government and their powers are constitutionally established and entrenched. One cannot usurp the powers of the other.

So, these are fundamentals of the federal system. But in terms of responsibilities, they can shift. So you can’t say, if you have 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List, that except they are reduced to 20, then you don’t have federalism. What is important is: What are the objectives, what are the goals? And is the current structure addressing those goals? If it is not, then, we need to tinker with it.

One of the problems I have is that in Nigeria, when we look at these problems, we are unable to establish that causal connection between the structure and the problems we have. So, it is more or less political statement and that is why it has been on for so long, and you ask: When will we ever reach a point where we say we have a workable federalism?

Those who argue for devolution of power today advocate for centralization of it tomorrow, when they get to power. So, we need leaders who would really focus on problems and challenges as well as see which areas of the federal arrangement are generating problems and begin to address them one after the other.