The dynamic nature of federalism manifested last Tuesday November 28, 2023 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) when The Guardian publicly presented a book titled, ‘Federalism Is The Answer: ‘The Guardian’ Federalist Papers’. The book is based on a serial of 61 editorials the newspaper published on Federalism from 2000 to 2021. What is more interesting, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, the reviewer of the book who doubled as the keynoter on a topic: If federalism is the answer, what is the question? shocked the distinguished audience when he did a brilliant review of the book and spoke to the theme off-hand. He prepared a paper he never looked once. That was after The Guardian 40th anniversary lecture titled, ‘For The World To Respect Africa’ delivered by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank (AfDB), which also attracted an earlier standing ovation: it was a significant delivery with so many deliverables for African and indeed world leaders.
Read the article below as my introduction in the book:
Yes, federalism matters but not to our representatives in Abuja, 36 state capitals and headquarters of 774 local government councils in Nigeria who do what they like as they enjoy the spoils of office guaranteed by the unitary system of government created by the Unification Decree 34, (1966). Since the consolidation of unitary system of government through the 1975 seizure of institutions including regional universities, news media organs, which hitherto showcased the majesty of federalism, there have been just lamentation and crocodile tears for the federalism lost. The men whose national greed solidified what Major General Chris Ali (rtd) artfully daubed The Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army in his 2001 classic were the ones to blame for seizing in one fell swoop three universities created by Acts of Parliaments in three regions, namely the University of Ife in South West, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in South East and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, North West.
How many young people are aware that today’s Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was actually was actually made possible by the military government from the technical and human resources recruited from the Western Nigeria’s Television Service? It was originally known as Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), first television service station launched in Nigeria. In 1977, the federal military government of Nigeria established the Nigerian Television Authority network service and acquitted all T.V stations in Nigeria to form the network. WNTS then became NTA Ibadan.
How many old men too can recall that the pioneer Director General of the NTA, Vincent Ifeanyichukwu Maduka, an engineer was first Chief Broadcast Engineer (1969) and later General Manager/CEO of WNTV-WNBS (1973) in Ibadan the then capital of Western Region? How many senior citizens are aware that Western Region actually had the first envoy to the U.K called Agent General in 1956? How many can recall that the Federal Government actually inherited the official residence of the Western Region’s envoy? The first Agent General of the West in U.K was an Itshekiri-born lawyer, Chief M.E. R Okorodudu. Can anyone believe a fact that the official residence originally found for the Western Nigeria’s Agent General in a U. K’s highbrow area, is still the official residence of the Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the. U.K? There are records that chief Okorodudu’s used his charming and affable personality nurtured by his brilliance to give Western Nigeria far more publicity than the Federal Government got. It was said then that the situation wasn’t helped when the Federal Government appointed one of its young Ministers M.T Mbu as Nigeria’s first High Commissioner. Mr. Mbu studied and passed his Bar examinations while holding that important position. There was competitive regional federalism then as shortly after the Western Nigeria’s appointment of Okorodudu, Eastern and Northern regional governments followed the Action Group’s government in appointing their own Agents General to the U.K. But since the General Aguiyi Ironsi’s Decree of 1966 the West hasn’t been able to find its pre-independence mojo that gave the regions so many firsts including first television station and first stadium in Africa.
Doubtless, all these have happened to Nigeria because Nigeria never had its own zealots for democracy and development such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay who are today remembered as founding fathers of modern America.
James Madison, America’s fourth President (1809-1817), made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing The Federalist Papers, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. In later years, he was referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” When delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled at Philadelphia, the 36-year-old Madison took frequent and emphatic part in the debates. Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist essays. In later years, when he was referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison protested that the document was not “the off-spring of a single brain,” but “the work of many heads and many hands.”
Written between 1787 and 1788 by the three musketeers with the specific intention of convincing Americans that it was in their interest to back the creation of a strong national government, enshrined in a constitution – and they played a major role in deciding the debate between proponents of a federal state, with its government based on central institutions housed in a single capital, and the supporters of states’ rights.
The papers’ authors believed that centralised government was the only way to knit their newborn country together, while still preserving individual liberties. Closely involved with the politics of the time, they saw a real danger of America splintering, to the detriment of all its citizens.
Given the fierce debates, the three statesmen knew they had to persuade the general public by advancing clear, well-structured arguments – and by systematically engaging with opposing points of view. By enshrining checks and balances in a constitution designed to protect individual liberties, they argued, fears that central government would oppress the newly free people of America would be allayed.
The constitution that the three men helped forge, governs the US to this day, and it remains the oldest written constitution, still in force, anywhere in the world.
Don’t get it all twisted, The Guardian Editorial Board saw the other side of federalism, that it is not the only answer everywhere. As they argue in Brooklyn Institute, sometimes nations face a stark choice: allow regions to federate and govern themselves, or risk national dissolution. Clear examples where federalism is the answer exist. Belgium would probably be a partitioned state now if Flanders had not been granted extensive self-government. If under Italy’s constitution, Sardinia, a large and relatively remote Italian island, had not been granted significant autonomy, it might well have harbored a violent separatist movement—like the one plaguing a neighboring island, Corsica, a rebellious province of unitary France.
Where truly profound regional linguistic, religious, or cultural differences persist, however, federating is by no means a guarantee of national harmony. Canada, Spain, and the former Yugoslavia are well-known cases of federations that either periodically faced secessionist movements (Quebec), or have had to struggle with them continually (the Basques), or collapsed in barbarous civil wars (the Balkans). Iraq seems headed for the same fate. The Sunni minority there is resisting a draft constitution that would grant regional autonomy not only to the Kurds in the north but to Shiite sectarians in the oil-rich south. So far, proposed federalism for Iraq is proving to be a recipe for disaccord, not accommodation.
But while navigating laboratories of democracy in principle there is some consensus at The Guardian intellectual house that in principle as far as this country is concerned, empowering citizens to manage their own community’s affairs is supposed to enhance civic engagement in a democracy. Its “free and popular local and municipal institutions,” argued John Stuart Mill, provide “the peculiar training of a citizen, the practical part of the political education of a free people.” From this, informed deliberation and a pragmatic ability to respect both the will of the majority and the rights of minorities—in short, fundamental democratic values—are inculcated.
If local self-government interests average citizens less than it should, maybe at least it still has much to teach their elected officials. Supplying thousands of state and local elective offices, a federal system like America’s creates a big market for professional politicians. Many of them (for example, state governors and big-city mayors) have demanding jobs. Their challenges helped in preparing the nation’s pool of future political leaders, anyway. This is how it should be. There is no question that those who attain high public office in the United States mostly rise through the ranks of the federal system’s multiple tiers, and have been schooled therein. At time, fifty-six senators in the Congress were former state legislators or holders of state-wide elective offices. Four of America’s last five presidents have been governors.
It is by no means clear, though, that the ex-governors who worked their way up federalism’s ladder outshine, for example, the national leaders of the United Kingdom. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, America elevated such former governors as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald W. Reagan, and George W. Bush to the presidency. Were they better equipped than Britain’s leadership (think Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, or Tony Blair)? The answers may be blowing in the wind but The Guardian, (Nigeria’s) Federalist Papers provide a great deal of thoughts on why unitary system the disruptive military imposed on us 57 years ago has contributed a great deal to our system failure. What is more, as I noted elsewhere, unitary system has contributed a great deal to endemic national greed that should collapse for us to have a stable national grid.
These are some of the examples of helpful facts you will encounter in The Guardian‘ Federalist Papers’ since our Hamiltons, Madisons and Jays are nowhere to be found at this time even after about 25 years of excuses and lamentation on whether we indeed need democracy and its discontent.