The fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional (state) governments are subordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent.
The understanding of federalism varies from country to country, however, there are certain basic principles inherent in all federal systems that makes it easy to identify a country that practices federalism.
The most cogent, clearly expressed and the most acceptable definition of federalism is that of Kenneth C. Wheare.
In his book he talked about ‘‘federal principle’’ i.e.the method of dividing powers so that general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent of one another. Thus, Wheare’s proposition posits that the federal principle essentially entails a legal division of powers and functions among levels of government with a written constitution guaranteeing and reflecting the division. Wheare’s formulation of federalism is been drawn correctly from the United States of America which is regarded by him as the archetype of federal government. Since other formulation of federalism from other scholars are variations of his work, the basic tenets or elements of federalism according to K.C Wheare will be use as a templates to determines Nigerian federalism and the extent to which Nigeria has fulfilled the basic tenets of federalism. The basic tenets according to him are:
a) There must be at least two levels of governments and there must be constitutional division of powers among the levels of governments.
b) Each levels of government must be co-ordinate and independent.
c) Each levels of government must be financially independent. He argued that this will afford each levels of government the opportunity of performing their functions without depending or appealing to the others for financial assistance.
d) There must be Supreme Court of the independent judiciary. He argued that in terms of power sharing, there is likely to be conflict hence, there must be independent judiciary to resolve the case.
e) In terms of the amendment of the constitution, no levels of government should have undue power over the amendment process.
Federalism is, therefore, an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority, and a number of regionalised governments in such a way that each unit, including this central authority, exists as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property with its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others. In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government.
He maintained that, once a country is able to satisfy these conditions, such country is said to practice federalism.
Some other of the most basic features of federalism are as follows;
The federating units (states and community governments) maintain autonomy over the most basic issues that affect their people. From security to education, resource control, taxes, infrastructural developments, elections, judiciary, health care, etc.
Powers are shared between the various tiers of government in a manner that unnecessary interference becomes impossible.
The government (tier) closest to the people is more empowered to meet up with the needs of the local people.
The federal national government is usually a creation of the sub-national (state) governments.
The federal government responsibility is usually limited to just foreign affairs, monetary policy, immigration, customs, defense. Al powers not expressly given to the federal government by the federal constitution is reserved for the state government.
Governance is run in a bottom-up approach.
There is a federal and state constitution
Like Prof. Itsey Sagay rightly stated Federalism is, therefore, an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority, and a number of regionalised governments in such a way that each unit, including this central authority, exists as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property with its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others. In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government. Each government exists, not as an appendage of another government (e.g. the federal or central government) but as an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government. Thus, the Central Government on the one hand and the State Governments on the other hand are autonomous in their respective spheres. As Wheare put it, “the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent.”
In short, in a federal system, there is no hierarchy of authorities, with the central government sitting on top of the others. All governments have a horizontal relationship with each other.
Another scholar by the name Nwabueze has identified the following additional characteristics in a federal system:
The power sharing arrangement should not place such a preponderance of power in the hands of either the national or regional government to make it so powerful that it is able to bend the will of the others to its own.
Federalism presupposes that the national and regional governments should stand to each other in a relation of meaningful independence resting upon a balanced division of powers and resources. Each must have powers and resources sufficient to support the structure of a functioning government, able to stand on its own against the other.
From the separate and autonomous existence of each government and the plenary character of its powers within the sphere assigned to it, by the constitution, flows the doctrine that the exercise of these powers is not to be impeded, obstructed or otherwise interfered with by the other government, acting within its powers.
Can the Federalists with their Federalism fix Nigeria?
Federalism brings competition, competition drives productivity, productivity inspires innovation, innovations drive development. This is exactly what Nigeria lacks; competition, productivity, innovation, efficiency and sustainable development.
The unitary system that we currently practice has not only distorted the necessary ingredients for growth but it has also entrenched an entitlement mentality in the populace and among the federating units, making them less aggressive towards self-sufficiency. Recent statistics has shown that over 95% of the federating units (states and LGAs) are not sustainable without federal allocations. What this basically implies is that if the federal government suffers a major economic sabotage in its revenue generating base, the entire country will likely run into crisis. Our present system is that bad.
In summary, Nigeria is in crisis because it was built on a faulty foundation whose existence is now threatened.
Federalism comes with certain principles that guarantees sustainability of economic and political inclusive institutions. Nigeria does not have electricity today is not because she does not have the resources to have electricity, it is simply because of the centralization policy by law which forbids the federating units from competing, generating and distributing their own electricity without federal interference. And many others.
How then will Federalism fix Nigeria’s problem?
There are basic frameworks that come with federalism and that is necessary for the establishment of inclusive institutions that Nigeria currently needs to attain greatness. These frameworks are as follows;
Federalism guarantees the autonomy of the federating units thereby making the center (federal authority) undesirable for local development issues. Under federalism, marginalization will become unnecessary as every state and community will be solely responsible for their own development or underdevelopment (its their choice to make).
Federalism eliminates over-centralization of political and economic powers thereby empowering the local people and their communities to take charge of their own development. States will no longer have to depend on federal allocations to survive and local communities will no longer depend on states to survive. The rule is generate as much as you can generate and spend as much as you can generate.
Federalism has an in-built mechanism that promotes transparency and accountability. One reason why there is massive corruption in today’s Nigeria is simply because the people are not necessarily involved in the revenue generating process thereby making them less concerned about how the revenue is spent. The federal government simply ‘steals’ crude oil money from the people, collect customs taxes and goes about to spend it as it pleases. There is no real tax based revenue system where the people are expected to fund the government. As long as the crude oil keeps flowing, there is revenue for the government. This is the root cause of corruption in Nigeria. Federalism ensures that no tier of government has access to free natural resources without first going through the people who would then demand for accountability afterward. Under federalism, there is a bottom-up approach towards peoples relationship with the government. The local communities and their people control their resources and pays taxes to the various tiers of government. The communities and towns fund the state government and the state governments funds the federal government. Each would naturally demand for transparency and accountability. In a nutshell, federalism will fix corruption in Nigeria!
Federalism will bring a new ‘think home’ philosophy among Nigerians in diaspora. With every community having a community based government to handle its most basic needs, Nigerians in diaspora will be excited and willing to support their annual community based budgets for both recurrent and capital projects. Development will be centred around people and places. The local people and their communities will become the biggest beneficiary of a restructured Nigeria.
Abuja (federal government) will no longer be blamed for the underdevelopment of the states and local communities. Everybody will simply be in charge of their own development. With the establishment of state and community police, a decentralized electricity generation & distribution system, and many more decentralized economic and political powers, nobody would blame Abuja or the Presidency for lack of local developments; the local people will simply be in charge of their own development.
Like Professor Claude Ake once said, development is a process of social transformation in which the people themselves are in charge of the process. Federalism puts the needed economic and political powers in the hands of the local people and away from the politicians.