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Federations Magazine Article
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Nigeria’s federal system tested by revolts

Nigeria’s federal system threatened by revolts An international agency gives a grim evaluation with suggestions for success. Adapted from the report “Nigeria’s Faltering Federal Experiment,” by the International Crisis Group, October 2006 On April 19, 2006, a car bomb in a military barracks rocked the southern oil city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State,Nigeria, killing two people and seriously wounding six. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an armed group demanding local control of the region’s petroleum resources, claimed responsibility. Although they expressed regret for “death among the civilian population,” the militants vowed to continue attacks against “those attempting to sell the birthright of the NigerDelta peoples for a bowl of porridge.” Photo: REUTERS/George AsiriFrom 2001 to 2004, there had been inter-communal clashes between “indigenes” and “settlers” that killed thousands in Plateau State. In March 2006, in an attempt to stop the 2006 census, militants from the separatist Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)attacked a police station in Nnewi, Anambra State. They proclaimed that the Igbos, one of Nigeria’s three majorethnic groups living mostly in the south east, should not be included in the count because they are Biafrans, not Nigerians. Six MASSOB members died. Escalating violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta is a serious threat to security in Nigeria; but any sweeping concessions towards meeting the demands of the militants in the regioncould raise the spectre of attempted coups by those who feel their privileges are being endangered. In the 46 years since Nigeria gained independence from Britain, successive governments have attempted, with varying degrees of sincerity and commitment, to fashion federal institutions that can accommodate the country’sethnic, cultural, and religious diversity . However, the leaders of these governments, at all levels, have failed to live up to their obligations to offer good governancebased on equitable political arrangements, transparent administrative practices, and accountable public conduct. Communities throughout the country increasingly feel marginalized by and alienated from the Nigerian state. The lack of federalism and democracy A civil society leader noted, “The commitment to federalism and democracy holds Nigeria together, and the lack of federalism and democracy threatens to tear Nigeria apart.” The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit,non-governmental organisation, with nearly 120 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and highlevel advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly In March 2005, an independent panel of experts on Sub-Saharan Africa convened by the U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council highlighted the “outright collapseof Nigeria” as a potential destabilizing developmentin the West Africa sub-region within the next 15 years.President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has repeatedly rejectedsuggestions that Nigeria is teetering on the edge of disaster,dismissed the report, calling its authors “prophets of doom.” Nigeria may avoid the tragedy of state collapse,but its size and resources ensure that further escalation of its internal conflicts could indeed destabilize the alreadyfragile security situation in the West African sub-region and beyond. “This isn’t a doomsday scenario,” an experiencedinternational observer has warned. “This is a real scenario.” Nigeria’s Constitution enshrines a “federal character” principle, a type of quota which seeks to balance the apportionment of political positions, jobs and other government benefits evenly among Nigeria’s many peoples.But it is distorted by a second principle, that of indigeneity,which makes the right to such benefits dependent uponwhere an individual’s parents and grandparents were born. The result is widespread discrimination againstnon-indigenes in the 36 states, and sharp inter-communal conflict. In Plateau State, for example, recurrent clashes since 2001 between indigene and settler communities competing over political appointments and government services have left thousands dead and many more thousands displaced. The deep sense of alienation felt by diverse groups throughoutthe country has fuelled the rise in ethnic-identity politics,ethnic militias, and, in twelve northern states, disputes over the application of Islamic law (Sharia). The militias demand ethnic rather than national loyalty. Some, such as MASSOB, Forum of Federations Federations Vol. 6, No. 1, February/March 2007 Photo: REUTERS/George Asiri seek secession from Nigeria. Others, like the O’odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and the Bakassi Boys, operate as security outfits, including for state governments, and are responsible for human rights abuses that have left hundreds dead. Law-and-order problems or real threats? The federal government has characterized many of these developments as no more than a law-and-order problem and has responded accordingly with force. It has dismissed the demands of Niger Delta militants, for example, as simple thuggery and assumed that federal security forces can always quell the violence there and in Plateau State, while decreeing sweeping bans on the ethnic militias and putting a number of their leaders on trial for treason. Continued on page 32 By 1997, the federal share of city revenues had dropped to five per cent. Most of this decline occurred in the 1980s when the federal government under President Ronald Reagan eliminated the General Revenue Sharing program. Started under President Richard Nixon in the early1970s, the program provided state and local governments with federal funding,with few strings attached. The program was viewed skeptically by many federal officials and was subsequently phasedout, with initial cuts beginning in the late 1970s, followed by the completeelimination of the program by 1986. Looking at these three trends, it should not be surprisingthat a common assessment of the federal role with respectto local and state governments is: “less money, more regulations.” Or, as I have referred to it here: fend-foryourself federalism. As federal governments have moved out of the business of funding local and state governments, and increasingly into the business of regulating and pre-empting their activities,local and state officials increasingly prefer to go it alone. Relying on federal largesse is viewed as a recipe for failure, or as one local official noted when asked about federal grants: “We should all look that gift horse in the mouth and think hard about saying ‘no, thanks.’ ” Not all unfunded mandates are bad Of course, not all unfunded mandates are bad and the rise of federal regulatory activities, at least with respect to the government sector, has coincided with the longer-term expansion of the U.S. economy, the development of the welfare state, and the provision of social and civic programs previously unseen in the nation’s history. Most of the federal government’s civil rights-era mandates, for example, were used to change the behaviour of state and local governments that were lagging behind in providing equal Orange alert, red alert: the different levels of terrorism alerts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The federal government required states to take action when alert levels were raised. rights to people of colour and women. It is worth remembering that the federal government’s toolbox consists essentiallyof two sets of tools — “carrots” (fundingand incentives) and “sticks” (mandates, pre-emptions and other regulations). If the carrots are not working, it is reasonable to assume that federal officials will use sticks, whether state and local officials like it or not. However, in examining trends in federal funding, preemptions and unfunded mandates, it seems quite obvious that a more reasoned balance between funding and regulations is needed. But with the federal government running budget deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and neither the Democrats or Republicans at the national level willing to show much fiscal restraint, it is clear to local and state officials that more funding is not on the way, at least not anytime soon. As a result, they resort to their “leave us alone” refrain, pleading for less interference and preferring a go-it-alone, fend-for-yourself approach to U.S. federalism. It is worth remembering that, at the city level, one hears similar views expressed in regard to state governments.City governments in the U.S. are corporations of state governments, and their powers and authorities are determined by their state governments, much to the chagrinof many city officials. This point is raised to illustrate that the nature of the relationships among orders of government are fraught with tension, finger-pointing and plenty of blame to go around. In the end, perhaps the real problem for cities is that there is no order of government below them on the federalism food chain to which they can pass the buck or the mandate.