INTRO: First muted by Murtala Muhammed in his address to the opening session of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) in 1975, the Federal Character principle is a political instrument of ensuring representativeness of the diverse people of Nigeria in public positions and affairs. It was seen as an oily formula to silence the troubled waters in Nigeria and the panacea to the issue of political economic instability which obstructs the balancing of the North and South on the one hand and the various ethnic groups mainly the three dominant ethnic groups (Igbo, Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani) and also other minority ethnic groups on the other hand. According to the CDC’s report of 1977, Federal Character refers to the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation notwithstanding the diversities of ethnic origin, culture, language or religion which may exist and which it is their desire to nourish, harness to the enrichment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Federal Character principle has featured in Nigeria’s constitutions since 1979. Today, Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended provides: 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 states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies. There have been several calls to abolish Federal Character principle due to the reasons below:
1/ Federal Character Promotes Mediocrity: It is argued that Federal Character principle downplays merit in favour of the place of origin. In order words, it is not concerned with what but who is coming from where. By this, Federal Character accepts even a mediocre once the place of origin is satisfactory, thus sacrificing meritocracy at the altar of mediocrity. Critics argue that the functionality of the system possible only through meritocracy should take precedence in appointment of personnel into positions of authority.
2/ Federal Character is Unfair: This is an irony of the Federal Character principle. The political construct was designed for achieving fairness but critics see it as unfair, saying that it treats unequals equally, and there is no greater inequality than equal treatment of unequals. How fair is it to have equal representation in Nigeria’s diversities, especially in population?
3/ Federal Character Highlights Nigeria’s Diversity: It is known that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country with over 250 tongues and tribes. The peculiar interest of Federal Character principle in places of origin of Nigeria’s citizens highlights what divides Nigeria rather than what unites it. It is noteworthy that this attribute of Federal Character principle runs foul to the efforts to achieving national integration.
4/ Federal Character Principle Lacks Sincere Implementation: A friend of mine once told me that even the Federal Character Commission, an institution charged with enforcing the Federal Character principle did not reflect Federal Character. I am yet to verify the assertion but the fact remains that certain tribes still dominate in public offices and positions. It is understandable, nepotism is baked into the DNA of Africans. According to Donasco Chris,
About 70% of Nigeria Foot-soldiers are from Hausa-Fulani. Is that Federal Character Principle?
About 80% of all Permanent Secretaries in Federal Ministries are from Hausa-Fulani. Is that Federal Character Principle?
About 80% of those given Oil Wells presently in the Oil from Niger Delta Region are from Hausa-Fulani. Is that Federal Character Principle?
About 60% of Generals in the Nigerian Military are from Hausa-Fulani. Is that Federal Character Principle?
This skewed representation is a product of nepotism by the northerners who for the most part have ruled Nigeria since the independence.
5/ Federal Character is a Suspicious Policy in Southern Nigeria: Many a southerners are suspicious of the Federal Character principle as a political machination in favour of the Northerners, especially as it is a brainchild of a leader from the North. It should be recalled that prior to the Civil War, Southerners dominated the leadership positions in Nigeria, especially in the army and academia. It is suspected that the then military leaders who were Northerners contrived the Federal Character principle in order to checkmate another possible domination of Northerners by the Southerners, especially, the vanquished South-Easterners. Thus, the Federal Character principle was believed to be a design for giving the Northerners an undue advantage. Aliyu Amani told a story:
I first came into contact with a distorted perception of the federal character principle years ago while serving the nation as an NYSC corps member. That distorted perception was projected by a fellow corps member, an Ibo lady, and graduate of the University of Nigeria Nsuka. She said they were told by their lecturers at the UNN that federal character is employed even in the grading process of WAEC examinations to the effect that a distinction pass in the North was equivalent to a credit pass in the south; a credit pass in the North is equivalent to an ordinary pass in the South; while an ordinary pass in the North is equal to an F9 in the South. When I posed to her the question: What then is the equivalent of a northern F9 in the south, she was lost for words.
This little encounter by Aliyu with the Ibo corps member is evident to the level of suspicion that the Southerners hold the Federal Character principle.