When any groups of people, regions and or bodies come together to form a union while still retaining a great independence is known as Federalism. The most notable feature of a federalism is that the parts that come together retain fairly substantial independence and that independence is expressly written in the union’s constitution. An example is Section 9 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution which details how to amend the constitution as follows:-

(1) The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.

(2) An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 (creation of states) of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.

(3) An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of altering the provisions of this section, section 8 or Chapter IV (Fundamental human rights) of this Constitution shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and also approved by resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-third of all States.

(4) For the purposes of section 8 of this Constitution and of subsections (2) and (3) of this section, the number of members of each House of the National Assembly shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the number of members specified in sections 48 and 49 of this Constitution.

How does Section 9 gives independence to states? It basically says any amendment (changes) to the Constitution should be done together with the states’ legislators and the Federal Government’s National Assembly. The opposite would be a situation where the Federal Government would amend any part of the constitution alone.

Now, the independence of its parts is not the only thing that makes federalism works. The other most important factor, if not the most important, is to determine which powers should be given to a federal government that it can perform more efficiently and which can states perform more efficiently. For example, determining who is a or not a citizen is more efficiently provided at the federal level. Can you imagine if every state in Nigeria has a different rule of who is or not a citizen of Nigeria?

Every aspect of government services can be sorted out like above, which should go to federal and which should go to states. Sometimes, what a federal and state governments provide might be of the same kind. For example, both a federal and state could each have its own a court systems. So, how do you know which services should go to what level? The answer is Fiscal Federalism.

Fiscal Federalism tells you which public goods and or services should be provided at a federal or a state level. In fact, it goes beyond that. Fiscal Federalism tells you which level of government within a states should you assign a particular responsibility. For example, it tells you that education is most efficiently managed at a community level so also the provision of water, waste disposal, streets and streets lights; jail at the Local Government Area (LGA) level and driver’s license at the state level. Fiscal Federalism also tells you which means of getting money (revenue) for the various levels of government should go to what level. For example, it tells you that property taxes should be a source of revenue for a community government and LGA levels, and company profit taxes should go to the federal level. Search Fiscal Federalism in the internet or read the publications of my favorite authority on Fiscal Federalism, Anwar Shah, and his book Fiscal Federalism: Principles and Practice of Multiorder Governance for more on this subject.

So what is wrong or right with Nigeria’s federalism? Lets split it up like we did above.

What is right– the independence of the states. This means states cannot be combined or created out of another unless the people in the area affected agree through a referendum as stated in Section 8. For example, the Federal Government cannot create Yaba state out of Lagos state alone. The people in Lagos particularly those LGAs affected would be making that decision together with Lagos House of Assembly, the National Assembly and the President. Therefore, the states are fairly independent but not enough. Referendum should only be for creating states, it should also be for amending any part of a constitution or even coming up with a completely new constitution. What this means is that the people of all the various states should by law be able to come together amend the Constitution or come up with a new one and then allow the outcome for a Yes or No votes by all Nigerians eligible to vote. Also important is to allow states deal with the creation of LGAs and community (municipal) governments. These are few of the kinds of independence states should have.

What is wrong– the misallocation of public goods and services delivery. Meaning that things like provision of water and police; taxation; land ownership; mineral resources like oil; electricity and everything of that nature should be allocated to the either the Federal or state governments based on who could deliver any of the public good and or service most efficiently. We didn’t do a good job at allocating these items to the appropriate level of government like we fairly did with states’ independence. For example, the Federal Government should have no business providing police or agriculture or allocating all mineral resources to itself and many others. Unfortunately for us, most of the powers are allocated to the Federal Government as contained in the Exclusive List, majority of which should have been assigned to states because that’s where they can be most efficiently provided.

Therefore, in order for Nigeria to practice True federalism, we need to further strengthen the independence of the people by including a referendum as a method of amending any part of the constitution or even coming up with a new one as well as the independence of the states in various matters as explained by the principles of Fiscal Federalism. Also, to take away many of the powers currently in the exclusive possession of the Federal Government and give it to states according to Fiscal Federalism. Competition would force the states to also allocate these powers to LGAs and communities according to Fiscal Federalism.

The overall effect of True Federalism is that it would provide the average Nigerian a decent living wage, a decent home, longer life and much more. If you don’t believe, look at the USA, Germany, Canada and many more countries that practice True Federalism.

Check out how we could include a referendum option in the 1999 Constitution that would then enable us come up with a new constitution here.