WHEN Nigeria settled for  federalism in 1954, the idea of quota system was adopted  recruitment of persons into the Armed Forces and the police as well as in admissions into educational institutions. Perhaps, it is on this premise that  Federal Character Principle, FCP was considered in the 1979 constitution. Whereas it was introduced to douse ethnic tension, curb suppression of minorities and ensure fair play in areas of appointments, distribution of amenities and working out a credible geometry for leadership equation. In essence, it was seen as a panacea for solving the problem of majority domination. But that has not been the case, FCP appears to have created more ethnic diversity in Nigeria. Charles Kumolu reports

IMAGINE a Nigeria where someone from the rusty streets of Nowa in Ogoni land, makes an unlikely journey to Sir Kashim Ibrahim House (Kaduna State Government House), by emerging the executive governor of the state.

Same as a descendant of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodyo effortlessly emerging a Senator representing  Osun West senatorial District, just like Hillary Clinton, represented New York at the United States  Senate, even if that is not her home state.

Sure, the country would be at peace with this development without booming guns to question it. The people would  rejoice, especially when the Federal Character Principle,FCP, is jettisoned and every Nigerian can now live the Nigerian dream in any part of the country.

This is not a begger’s wish, but a fallout of Odia Ofemum’s birthday lecture in Lagos.

The choice of the guest lecturer and chairman, however signaled what the  audience at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs,NIIA, venue of the forum were to expect.

Odia Ofeimun with Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, Guest Lecturer.

With personalities like Prof. Wole Soyinka (chairman of the event), Prof. Mamood Mandani (Guest Lecturer), many would dismiss the forum as a literary or scholarly show. But it goes beyond that, as the topic of the lecture “Congo and Sudan: What lesson for Nigeria” reflected to the contrary.

Unlike most deliberations on Nigeria, the Harvard trained scholar, did not dwell on the nation’s myriad of problems. Instead he lampooned issues that unleashed hardship on Nigeria, especially the indigene/settler dichotomy that has retarded national growth.

Mandani condemned  the part of the Nigerian Constitution which states that appointments to  federal institutions  must reflect the FCP.

He believes that the practice of FCP is responsible for indigene and no indigene dichotomy, that seems to be tearing most part of the country to shreds.

“The question I have in mind does not concern motive, but consequence, whether the unintended consequences of this provision – its costs – may have come to outweigh its intended benefits for Nigeria,” he stated.

Mandani noted: “I have often wondered whether Nigeria’s post-civil war constitution did not emulate the substance of Mobutu’s “geopolitique”, particularly in its inclusion of the “federal character” clause, requiring that key federal institutions reflect the federal character of Nigeria. As I understand this requirement, are for  the key federal institutions.”

“Its unintended effect has been to turn federal citizenship into an extension of ethnically-defined membership of Native Authorities, and thereby undermine it. By dividing Nigerian citizens into ‘indigenes’ and ‘non-indigenes’ – not of Nigeria but of individual states – for purposes of participation in national institutions, it has disenfranchised a growing number of Nigerian citizens, those who do not live in the states where they and their fathers were born,” he noted.

He argued that  it is possible that the provision of federal character was adopted as a form of affirmative action for some  parts of the country which had lagged behind in educationally and socially.

Accordingly he said,“It is possible that this provision was adopted as a form of affirmative action for those parts of the country which had lagged behind in educational and social development during the colonial period and that its purpose was to ensure them fair representation in key federal institutions, one proportional to their weight in the population.

In addition he said, “The simple fact that Nigeria is increasingly integrated into a global economy, and has been the subject of market reforms, has intensified the contradiction between the market and the state as currently organised in Nigeria.

“The tendency of the market economy is to move more and more strata of the population away from the locality where they were born. This includes both rich and poor Nigerians on the one hand, businessmen, industrialists, and professionals, and on the other, unemployed workers and landless peasants. The state system, in contrast, disenfranchises precisely those who move. The state system penalises those the economy dynamises. One lesson of Congo and Sudan is that it may be time to rethink the legacy of both the colonial past and the reforms you undertook to end the civil war.

He further corroborated views, that Britain ignited the fire of ethnicity in Africa, like in Nigeria where it used the Indirect Rule system.

“The British faced several crises during their centuries-long imperial venture. The most serious of these was in mid-19th century when two revolts, the 1857 Uprising in India and the Morant Rebellion in Jamaica, rocked the empire at its two extremes. The next great crisis was the Mahdiyya in Sudan. When the British returned to defeat the Mahdiyya and colonise Sudan, they were determined to fragment it as effectively as possible. Thus began the programme of “tribalisation”, beginning with the creation of tribal homelands.

Continuing Prof. Mandani argued that, “From the very outset, this was a political programme. It favoured British allies as it favoured settled over nomadic groups, since the former were easier to control. So the colonial power created “tribal homelands” – called hakuras for peasant groups, and smaller ones for cattle nomads who were semi-sedentary, but none for the wholly sedentary camel nomads.”

Also speaking at the event, Prof. Chidi Odinakulu, lamented the absence of common national citizenship.

This, he argued, has indiscriminately fueled a lot of crisis emanating from settler/indigene dichotomy.

Odinakalu, whose dexterity on the issue and youthfulness thrilled the audience, stressed the need for accountability in the quest to position the system for a common national citizenship.

“What we have is the absence of common national citizenship. A common national identity is important for a nation like ours, where there is no accountability.  We need to address instead of punishment. If the reforms are taken care of, the issues might be minimal. But we can’t reform without accountability. The government’s capacity to reform, police and prosecute mass violence, must be assured. Also concentration of power must be looked into in order to aviod the misuse of the principle of accountability,” he noted.

For Prof. Biodun Jeyifo, the state has continued to structurally and systematically unleash violence on the progressive class.

He noted that this practice is not peculiar to Nigeria, but all over the continent.

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