By Olusegun Obasanjo
There are several other institutions that aid the practice of federalism such as the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps requiring all graduates of tertiary institutions (including those from foreign institutions) under the age of 30 to serve the nation in a different state other than their state of birth in the federation.
This has helped in broadening the world-view of our youth, the leaders of tomorrow, and building new relationships at different levels that strengthen national unity and understanding. There is also the Federal Civil Service Commission which is designed to ensure that appointments into the Federal Service reflect the diversity of the nation.
The Federal Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education as well as Unity Colleges (these are secondary schools established and run by the Federal Government and located in every state in the country) are also designed as grounds for promoting unity, building relationships beyond ethnic origins, developing a national spirit and strengthening the foundations of our federalism.
So far, these are working fairly well. Let me add that the existence of these institutions does not prevent the states and private interests from establishing their own institutions even as there are federal minimum standards and monitoring requiring that they create some opening for non-indigenes. Also, elections are not based on a first-pass-the-post or simple majority practice alone.
This is because, in addition to scoring a simple majority; to ensure and assure national peace, endorsement and acceptability, a presidential candidate, for instance, must also score 25% of the votes cast in two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation. This is equally applicable to state Governors, Senators, Representatives and members of state Houses of Assembly. This has helped to ensure that candidates with narrow agendas do not dominate the political platform.
Drawing from our past experience, our federalism does not allow for a state police. However, the Federal Armed Forces and Police as well as other security units are truly federal in leadership, management and recruitment. In fact, there are established quotas for recruitment into the armed and para-military forces that are spread among the Local Governments of the Federation to ensure equal opportunity.
This has given them a national world-view or perspective and they are trained and required to function, as may be required, in any part of the nation without fear or favour. Of course, the police and military are stationed around the nation along lines defined by the nation’s leadership.
According to our constitution, the President must appoint a Minister into his cabinet from each state of the Federation even if no single vote was cast in his favour from that state. This ensures that no state is left out of discussions and decisions at the federal level.
Finally, Nigeria’s official language is English…a language not owned by any nation or nationality. However, the constitution guarantees the right to use any of the indigenous languages, as may be necessary, to transact business without discrimination. In like manner, Nigeria is a multi-religious state in due regard to the religious diversity of the country.
Traditional institutions are respected and relied upon at all levels of governance as may be necessary. To move government closer to the people, Nigeria has 774 Local Governments where the operators are also elected according to constitutional provisions and electoral laws to ensure that resources get to the people in the communities and opportunities to participate in politics and governance are available at the grassroots.
I have just given you a brief insight into the imperatives and the operation of Nigeria’s federal system. There remain challenges. The real issue is to have an open mind and establish a transparent platform or mechanism for continuous discussion and negotiation.
The good news is that we have several institutions and processes for addressing challenges in the Nigerian system without resorting to violence. This is a major achievement.
Following military rule, the challenge of re-federalisation has not been as easy as many continue to carry the consciousness of the unitary and hierarchical command character of the military. The powers of the sub-national units, joint delivery of services in education, energy, health, poverty eradication and so on, remain areas for discussions and negotiations.
The issue of fiscal federalism, processes of constitutional amendments, devolution of powers, public security, and strengthening federal character are also on-going areas of public discourses.
It is my belief that in a diverse and developing society like Nigeria, you need a strong, though not intrusive or oppressive central government that is democratic, transparent, accountable, effective, efficient, and adequately funded to manage the rough edges of federal politics and protect weaker or less-resource endowed constituent units. Nigerians appreciate this fact.
Ultimately, it is democratic practice, political will, good governance, leadership commitment, and a dedication to the cause of the people that determine the functioning of any federal arrangement. In essence, there must be popular participation at all tiers of government and facets of life with adequate accommodation for all for federalism to function appropriately.