The problem of representational equity in Nigeria started with the problem of an unequal North-South duality, as if that was not problematic enough, the smaller southern component was split into two to create a deleterious Southern duality and an equally debilitating national trinity. The attempt to redress North-South regional imbalance resulted in the creation of states but it resulted in weakening the South against the North. This then became the justification for other methods albeit the Federal Character Principle for the promotion of a sense of belonging in the country by eliminating or at least minimizing domination resulting from imbalance in appointments. The purpose of the principle of federal character is laudable, unfortunately the application and operation of the principle tended to differentiate rather than integrate Nigeria.

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The assertion that Nigeria is a creation of British colonialism is no longer incontrovertible. Motivated by economic considerations, the colonialists had wanted to limit their exploitative tendencies to the coasts. However, a combination of factors which were largely internal threatened the realization of their economic motive, this encouraged the British to move into the hinterlands. That crucial decision with time thus annulled the sovereignty and independence of the hitherto disparate autonomous socio-political entities which had inhabited Nigeria. The conquest of the country by the British inevitably led to the establishment of a system of administration alien to the people. Two types of administration direct and indirect were tried out. The consequence of this resort is that the various nationalities inhabiting Nigeria have not been welded into a nation in which all of them would have a stake (Ubah, in Saliu 1999). The immense concern of the British with exploitation and the ruthlessness that characterized its pursuit made them to be contented with keeping the nationalities as farther apart as possible, the so-called amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 notwithstanding (Usman, in Saliu 1999). Therefore it provided an unfortunate but conducive environment for mutual suspicion and distrust among the disparate groups in Nigeria.

On October 1st 1960, Nigeria attained clientele sovereignty with lopsided Federation. The Political tripod was dominated by the “majors” to the exclusion of the “minority groups”. This brought to limelight the knotty issue of domination which evoked morbid fears of marginalization (Leadership 2008). Nigeria’s population is estimated at 140 millions (Bello 2006). The country has between 250 and 400 ethnic groups depending on the criteria used. A total of 374 ethnic groups were identified by Otite. These ethnic groups are broadly divided into ethnic “majorities” and ethnic “minorities” (Otite, 1990).

The numerically and politically majorities ethnic groups are the composite Hausa-Fulani of the North with Muslim majority, the Yorubas of the South-West and the Igbos of the South-East with christian majority. Against the backdrop of this ethno-religious composition, political issues in Nigeria are seen from their ethno-religious perspectives, thereby giving credence to ethnic and religious jingoists and war lords. Political offices and appointments are seen as battle fields among the various ethnic groups, where the battles must be fought with all the available weapons a group can muster (see Obi and Obiekeze, 2004; Suberu, and Diamond, 2004).

The problem of acrimonious existence among the diverse groups and interests in the federation of Nigeria leading to mutual distrust, suspicion and inter-communal conflicts has become perennial and endemic in the nation’s body Politic and has militated against the political stability of the country since independence. The fear of domination of one ethnic group or section of the country by another and the national question of who gets what and how the national cake should be shared constitute a major factor of this problem. As a result of mutual suspicion existing among the various social groups, whatever the issue at hand in Nigeria, the patterns of reaction to it will be determined by geo-political as well as religious considerations. This situation seriously hampers efforts at national unity as it applies to the building of a united Nigeria out of the disparate ethnic, geographic, social, economic and religious elements or groups in the country (Saliu, 1999; Agbodike, 1998; Gamberi, 1994; Kurfi 1998).

Among the measures put in place and constitutionally guaranteed as a recipe for national integration is the doctrine of federal character. The principle of federal character was formulated and put into use by successive governments in Nigeria to address and hopefully mitigate the problem of diversity so as to ensure a peaceful, stable and united Nigeria. As Ojo (1999) persuasively explained, Federal character principle as an integrative mechanism is defined as fair and effective representation of the various components of the Federation in the country’s position of power, status and influence. He however observed that the principle of federal character touches on array of problems in the political process which includes ethnicity, the national question, minority problem, discrimination based on a indignity, resources allocation, power sharing employment and placement in institution, etcetera. It provides a formula for participation in the governance of the country in such a way that a single section of the country will not dominate another or a segment dominating the rest. The basic assumption, as noted by Ojo (1994:) is that, if every segment of the Federation participates in governance, there would be almost equality in the country in the scheme of things and expectedly, it will engender a sense of belonging and national integration.

This paper is set out to examine critically the expediency of the federal character principle as an integrative mechanism with a view to pointing out whether or not it is succeeding in integrating Nigeria or widening the dichotomy among Nigerians. The paper is divided into four sections. Section one introduces the subject-matter, section two deals with conceptual clarification and section three examines the paradox of the federal character principle as an integrative mechanism while section four concludes the discussion.

The federal character principle which made its debut into the Nigerian political and public administrative landscape through the drafting and adoption of the 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appeared to be a normative expression of the historical belief of Nigerians in equal access to and participation in the political and administrative affairs of the country in the area of policy formulation and implementation. To support the above view, Alubo (2003:54-66) points out that the lack of representation in policy making and implementation by some segments of the Nigerian society in the past has denied them the opportunities for education and economic advancement.

In order to drive the implementation of the federal character principle, the Federal Character Commission (FCC) was established by decree 34 of 1996, and the powers of the commission was summarized by Mustapha (2007) to include: working out formula for sharing posts and services; compliance monitoring; enforcement of compliance through legal actions; demanding and reviewing data on staffing; and institutional investigations. The FCC is a commission under the presidency; its members are appointed by the president, but subject to the ratification of the Nigerian Senate. To ensure equity in representation, the law establishing the commission states that the executive chairman and secretary are to be appointed in such a way that if the chairman comes from the North, the secretary must be chosen from the South and vice versa. However, Nzeshi (2012:98) argues that “since its establishment, the Federal Character Commission has been headed mostly by Northerners.”

To properly implement the federal character principle, a bill is currently before the Nigerian National Assembly for amendment to enable FCC “to effectively enforce the principles of equity and fairness … also enable public officers to comply with rules and regulations issued by the commission” (Nzeshi, 2012:97). The implication of the request to amend the FCC act shows that the principle and the structure put in place to enforce its implementation is not totally effective as envisaged by the government, and this is amply corroborated by Nzeshi (2012:97) submission that “the inefficiency of the FCC to effectively enforce its mandate as a government watchdog in identifying and addressing inequality is increasingly worrisome. In emphasizing the shortcomings of the application of the FC principle in Nigeria Gboyega (1989:178) points out that “...the issues of making public institutions reflect the federal character was taken up haphazardly giving rise to arbitrariness and victimization of some unfortunate public servants.” In the same vein, Ekeh (1989:34) contends that “its most radical and damaging application has been in the bureaucracies and public services of the federation…permanent secretaries have been kicked around, removed and sometimes dismissed.” He argues further that the application of the FC principle “has invaded the integrity and standards of public bureaucracy and…other governmental bodies that normally require safeguards from the ravages of politics.” Furthermore, the negative effects of federal character on the public sector performance in Nigeria can be gleaned from the work of Forrest (1993:76), where he argues that the implementation of the principle of federal character in the public service “not only led to poor appointments but also enhanced mediocrity rather than merit.” To promote administrative effectiveness for performance in the Nigerian public service, Utomi (2002:48) argues that “we need to engage on the issues of competence, commitment, corruption and conflict of interest and career certainty. From there come both threats to the effectiveness of the civil service and opportunities for the service to be the anchor of a Nigerian renaissance.”

The contributions of a foremost scholar and practitioner in Nigerian public administration, Adamolekun (2008:17) to this discourse were more probing thus: “Has the federal character (FC) principle promoted or retarded national loyalty and stability? Or has the area or ethnic region of a person become the key factor in determining his quality as an individual?” He argues further that “only a critical assessment of ...years of implementing the FC principle...would help determine the desirable way forward.” It is quite relieving that he answered the above questions in a related discussion thus:

The “federal character” principle that was introduced as Nigeria’s path to achieving “representative bureaucracy” was morphed into the bad practice of politicization. Capacity development programmes for public servants that were a major concern during the immediate pre and post-independence years was progressively neglected notwithstanding the strong case made for it in the Udoji report 1974 (Adamolekun, 2007:17).

It is very clear from the above submission why administrative effectiveness in the Nigerian public service for sustainable development may continue to be a mirage. Contributing to the debate on public sector ineffectiveness, Suleiman (2009:33) contends that “poor capacity of the majority of civil servants, sometimes to the point of illiteracy” arising from the application of the FC is one of the reasons for poor performance of the Nigerian public service. The views of Suleiman (2009) and Adamolekun (2009) goes to support the argument that the neglect of capacity development programmes for public servants and the implementation of the FC offer a credible explanation on the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian public bureaucracy for sustainable development in Nigeria.

Also, Tonwe and Oghator (2009:237) submit that “federal character allows ethno-regional patrons and their clients to exploit and mismanage state resources without contributing to any meaningful development.”

Supporting the importance of merit as strategy for manpower procurement in the nation’s quest for administrative effectiveness and enhanced performance for sustainable development, Soludo (2012:7) argues that the emergence of a merit driven culture is, therefore, a key outcome of Vision 20:20:20 and an area of immediate policy focus. To this end, a comprehensive review of ethnic balancing measures and diversity management related laws such as the implementation of the federal character principle will be undertaken with a view to ensuring greater promotion of merit for sustainable development in Nigeria. According to The Transformation Agenda (2011-2015:10), Nigeria’s inability to attain sustainable development in the past has been attributed to the nation’s inability to tackle development challenges such as poverty, unemployment, corruption and security hinged on bad governance and ineffective institutions/agencies of government. The poor implementation of the principle of federal character in the Nigerian public service is therefore capable of bringing into the service incompetent workforce that lacks the ability to implement the policies of government for sustainable development. Gberevbie (2010:116-117) however argues that:

Predicating employee recruitment on federal character does not mean that such an employee cannot contribute meaningfully towards the enhancement of the goals of the organization. This is particularly so where appropriate recruitment strategies involving the screening of potential employees based on relevant skills, experience and educational qualifications are adopted. What is important therefore is the ability of the individual employed and his/her willingness to work for the organization. In addition, through proper staff training and development by organizations of their workforce, organizational productivity is enhanced even where incompetent employees would have been employed through inappropriate recruitment strategies.

In the same vein, Olaopa (2012:56) commends the federal character principle as one of the “effective nation-building strategies invented for managing the combustive diversity in Nigeria.” He however argues that “this principle has badly eroded professional and competency capacity of the public service.”

In this regard, the application of the FC principle has failed to offer credible solutions to administrative ineffectiveness in the Nigerian public service and has actually become a drag on sustainable development. The implication of the foregoing is that unethical behaviour among public officials and low productivity in the Nigerian public service can be explained by the appointment of incompetent personnel through the application the FC principle that makes it possible for people from the different segments of the Nigerian society to be represented in government without due consideration for merit and quality training to enhance productivity.

It has been observed that the principle of federal character is the Achilles heel of Nigerian politics. It is the most recent epiphany in Nigeria’s troubled federal theology. It was aimed at redressing historical imbalance and integrate the country. The attempt was to balance the ethnic groups in order to create a virile and united nation. Unfortunately, the exercise has turned out to be a mere substitute for substance. Thus, if we are to accept the intent of the concept that it carries an unambiguous and unchallengeable national integration mandate, then the present definition cum application has to be re-examined.

This is because it gives equal weight to two potentially opposite principles which has been described as the concept of “irrespectivity” i.e. that no Nigerian shall have cause to feel aggrieved or excluded on the grounds of his/her place of origin, sex religion or ethnic grouping, and that of “irreducibility” i.e. ethnic equation in the main institution of the state. The federal character may well have got the principle right but has pushed too far its “irreducible” principle. An all out application of the principle of irreducibility has already shown signs of head–on-conflict with the co-principle of irrespectivity.

Nigerians are now being discriminated against in the country on account of ethnicity. Examples abound in the Educational and Economic spheres. This cannot make for loyalty to the Nigerian State and therefore bring about the much sought integration (Ayoade 1998, Ogunojemite 1997:112, and Juadu, 2007).

The federal character as it is; is a doctrine of the emancipated educated elite in the civil services, armed forces and the business circles. It has little relevance to the integration problems of Nigeria. As practiced during the tumultuous period of the second republic (1979-1983) under Shagari’s leadership, Abacha’s military junta and even under the present ‘democratic dispensation’, the principle essentially focused on enhancing the dominance of the ruling class through patronage. The constitutional provision of federal character and zoning system within the political parties is for appointing trusted prebends, clients and hangers-on in strategic offices who in turn manipulated their powers by allocation of contracts, import licences, access to bank loans, fertilizers etc.

Thus through the control of state power at the centre, the ruling class not only enhanced her leverage through patron-client alliances that cut across ethno-regional and religious cleavages, but also appropriated federal character principle to ensure its hegemony at all levels (Abubakar, 1998; Ogunojemite, 1987; Leadership, 2008).

Thus, Nigeria’s experiences under successive governments as shown above exposes the limitations of federal character principle as a mechanism for enhancing national integration and participatory democracy in plural societies. One of the fundamental weaknesses of federal character as practiced in Nigeria is that it tends to enthrone mediocrity in governance, at the expense of merit and professionalism. Also in the name of representation and national unity, federal character allows ethno-regional patrons and their clients to exploit and mismanage state resources without contributing to any meaningful development. Furthermore, by focusing on regional and ethnic representation, federal character exacerbates differentiation instead of enchancing mutual trust, accommodation and national integration (Abubakar 1998; -Farrest 1993 Onimejisin 2005).

So far, we have argued that although federal character principle has been conceived as a policy mechanism for addressing the contradictions of Nigeria’s national question arising from British colonial policies of divide and rule, as well as uneven development; the political class which inherited power since independence manipulates state power, ethnoregional, religious and sectarian cleavages for its selfish ends. The federal character as a means of achieving the desired aim of integration relies solely on the values of the ruling elite. Although it has been able to keep the territory together more so with the present structure, it is equally able tot provide support for the central authority but in doing this it has only succeeded in widening the elite –mass gap because the value consensus that is necessary for national integration is lacking (Alabi, 2004). Perhaps, as Ojo (1999) and Popoola (2002) argued, the most chronic of the banes of federal character principle in Nigeria is that it potentially invades the integrity and standards of public bureaucracy and such other governmental bodies that normally require safeguards from the ravages of politics. The result in this regard has not been the promotion of national loyalty but inertia and alienation as those who hail from states and communities which have suffered from federal character discrimination become resentful and also eventually alienated from the overall body politics. As Ojo (1999:5) and Okoli (1990:11) rightly submitted, competent people who are disqualified on the grounds of states of origin and such other spurious criteria cannot be willing materials on which to erect the unity of the nation. They must feel wanted in order to volunteer themselves for national sacrifice. Be that as it may, our submission on the federal character principle as an integrative mechanism is that the principle, in practice has paradoxically exacerbated the division among Nigerians rather than uniting them. The principle in its operation cannot but do more harm than good to the fragile unity of Nigeria.

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