Federal Character and its discontents By Reuben Abati

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Reuben Abati
There has been so much concern about how the Federal Character principle has since its introduction in 1979, promoted mediocrity within the public service, and retarded national growth and progress. Introduced after the civil war to promote national integration, and to address the fears of sections of the country which felt marginalized, the Federal Character principle was meant to ensure that public service appointments reflect the country’s diversity: religious, ethnic, geographical and linguistic, and by extension, that resource allocation reflects the fact that this is a federal system and not a clan.
It is thus an ethnic balancing mechanism. The assumption is that if the public service is truly representative, this will promote a sense of national loyalty and inclusion. Sections 14 (3-4) and Third Schedule, Part 1(c) of the Constitution spell out the principle in clear terms and in 1996, a Federal Character Commission was established to ensure compliance.
But today, the general impression is that Federal Character as applied has resulted in an erosion of merit, and that the observed inefficiency in the state bureaucracy is traceable to it, and in other areas of national life, it has not necessarily brought better spread of opportunities. The oft-recommended solution as was again reportedly argued at a recent colloquium in Lagos, in honour of Professor Anya Anya, is to abolish the Federal Character principle and replace it with a merit-based system.
Merit is important, no doubt; indeed, this was a key outcome of the Vision 20:2020 process. The quality of human resource in any organization determines the quality of inputs and outputs. That is why organizations look for the best and the brightest. And if the public service in Nigeria can be taken as an organization, the kind of people who run, lead and manage it have not …Read More

Source:: PM Newspaper