NIGERIA: Voting in a federal system full of faults

No Comments » April 3rd, 2007 posted by // Categories: Favorite Articles

"Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression," said Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s founding fathers, speaking in 1947 while campaigning against British colonial rule. Sixty years later as Nigeria heads toward national and regional elections the current federal system is still struggling to maintain some kind of cohesion.

"What we have seen in the intervening years have been various attempts to manage Nigeria’s huge diversity, none of which have produced satisfactory results," Yinka Babalola, a political science teacher at Lagos University, told IRIN. "Today the country is as restive as ever, with mutual ethnic suspicions and feelings of marginalisation rife, especially among ethnic minorities."

The 140 million people making up some 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria live in 36 states, each with its own governor and legislature. Nigerians will elect their new representatives on 14 April. One week later voters will choose the nation’s president and federal representatives. With 64 million registered voters, the upcoming elections will be the largest ever held in Africa.

Nigeria’s constitution provides for state and federal governments to have countervailing powers to balance regional interests with the interests of the nation as a whole. Modelled on the United States system of government, the 36 Nigerian state governors along with their respective state legislatures have powers to set state laws and policy.

However, security forces, including all police, are under the control of the central government. Many state leaders and some national ones say that is just one of several things about the federation that the next administration should change. Critics of the current government say President Olusegun Obasanjo, who previously ruled Nigeria as a general, has failed the federal system by maintaining tight central control over the country.

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