Federal Character – What Exactly Is It?

Nigeria was not always Nigeria, it used to be different and independent kingdoms. These were brought together to form a federation by the British. The nature of the independent kingdoms has somewhat persisted and have compelled citizens to be ethnic conscious, giving their loyalty to their regions first rather than the nation. Nigeria’s population is estimated at 201,530,617 million, has 250 ethnic groups and 374 known tribes. These ethnic groups are broadly divided into ethnic ‘majorities’ and ethnic ‘minorities’.

The Federal Character Principle (FCP) was designed to combat the ‘independent kingdom effect’ with the goal of promoting unity, fostering national loyalty and giving the citizens of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation, irrespective of the ethnic origin, culture, language or religion diversities which may exist. It’s a principle that ensures the equitable allocation of the nation’s resources and an equitable representation of citizens in political, economic or social positions within the country so that no one is marginalized or oppressed.

The FCP suggests an attempt to build a nation where equal opportunities abound and where everyone has an equal chance to participate without bias of ethnic affiliations. It is a positive reaction to correct practices of the past, especially in the conduct of public management which tended to exploit the diversities of the nation. It is also a reaction to practices which tended to reflect selfish and parochial consideration and placed self-interest above national interest. The FCP was adopted as an instrument for national integration and its application in revenue sharing, education, employment, location of industries and other development programmes was meant to guarantee national integration, stability and development.

The clamour for even and fair distribution of national resources transformed into a political solution in 1978 by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).  “There had in the past been inter-ethnic rivalry to secure the domination of government by one ethnic group or combination of ethnic groups to the exclusion of others. It is therefore essential to have some provision to ensure that the predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups is avoided in the composition of government, in the appointment or election of persons to high offices in the state” – the Constitution Drafting Committee report of 1977. The Federal Character concept was first entrenched in the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The subsequent violations of its provisions led to the implementation of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) Act of 1995. The Act was later adopted into sections 14 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution.

The FCC is a commission under the presidency; its members are appointed by the president subject to the ratification of the Nigerian Senate. The Federal Character Commission is made up of the chairman and one person to represent each of the state and the FCT. The Commission is responsible for:

  • The formulation and provision of guidelines for government agencies and other employers and providers of services and socio-economic amenities.
  • Monitoring compliance with the guidelines and formulae at federal, state, local and zonal levels in the employment and provision of socio-economic amenities.
  • Enforcing compliance with its guidelines and formulae in areas of the provisions of employment opportunities, distribution of infrastructural facilities, socio-economic amenities and other indices.
  • Compelling boards of directors of government-owned companies and other enterprises, which are subject to the provisions of this Act to comply with the guidelines and formulae on ownership structure, employment and distribution of their products.
  • Demanding and receiving returns on employment and socio-economic indices from any enterprise or body corporate and penalising any enterprise which does not comply with a request from the commission.
  • Undertaking the recruitment and training of staff of government agencies or departments where desirable.
  • Instituting investigations into any matter relating to any institution or organisation where it fails to comply with the commission, the institution or organisation shall be required to bear the cost of such investigations.
  • Doing anything which in the opinion of the Commission is incidental to its functions under this Act.

The guiding principles for carrying out the above responsibilities are:

  • that each state of the federation is to be equitably represented in all national institutions and in public enterprises and organizations.
  • that the best and most competent persons are recruited from each state of the federation to fill positions reserved for the indigenes of that state.
  • that once a candidate has attained the necessary minimum requirement for appointment to a position, he/she should qualify to fill a relevant vacancy reserved for the indigenes of his/her state.
  • that where the number of positions available cannot go round the states, then sharing should be on zonal basis but that in the case where two items only are available, they should be shared between northern zones and the southern zones.
  • that if the indigenes of a state are not able to take up all the vacancies meant for them the indigenes of other state(s) within the same zone should be given preference in filling such vacancies.
  • that in an ideal situation, posts to be distributed among the indigenes of the states and Abuja on the formula of equality would be 2.75% for the indigenes of each state after reserving 1% for the indigenes of Abuja. However, in the spirit of give and take, the Commission has decided to adopt a range so that the indigenes of any state should not constitute less than the lower limit or more than the upper limit of the range.
  • that the six zones and the states they are made up of are:
    • North Central: Benue, FCT, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, and Plateau.
    • North-East: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe.
    • South-West: Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Zamfara.
    • South East: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo.
    • South South: Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers.
    • South West: Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo States.

It has been argued that the FCP undermines merit and if it is to be strictly adhered to, merit would be completely sacrificed at the altar of federal character. It has also been argued that the FCP has been used to accelerate the promotion of mediocre and incompetent civil servants, military and paramilitary officers into top positions, because advance in the service is based on criteria derived from the federal character representation.

We call on the government to ensure that there is a balance between merit and federal character. The FCP is important to the integrity of this country, without it, the tenuous hold we have on unity may not even exist at all. Maintaining merit ensures that we get the best of hands too who can truly improve the country

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