Case studies

Divide to rule? Federal Innovation (and its lack) in South Asia

Divide to rule? Federal Innovation (and its lack) in South Asia

Abstract

Ethnofederalism is too readily dismissed as a solution for accommodating territorially concentrated minorities within a state. This contribution demonstrates that although there are real concerns when these groups are not included within central decision making institutions or have their autonomy threatened by the centre, territorial autonomy for these groups increases rather than decreases their affinity with the central state. It is therefore a solution that should not be dismissed out of hand, although care needs to be taken when groups are intermixed and non-territorial autonomy may be necessary in addition.

Introduction

Most of what we now know as South Asia has always been governed through the concession of territorial autonomy. This was as true under the British Raj as it was under the Mughals. The area was too religiously, linguistically and territorially diverse for any other solution to have been adopted. In the formal constitutional negotiations in the early twentieth century, federalism was formally adopted as part of the Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935. Federalism was adopted after independence in the successor states of India and Pakistan, although not without contestation, particularly concerning the boundaries of the federal units, the language(s) that the federation would operate in, the provinces’ representation in governing institutions as well as the powers that they would receive.

This short contribution focuses on the boundaries of the federal units, of the creation of what is known in the federal literature as ‘ethnofederalism’ when the boundaries of at least one of the units of the federation corresponds to those of the group within it (Hale 2004, 167). The boundaries of the units of both India and Pakistan at independence bore little correspondence to the various groups that lived within those units.  Before independence, demands had been made for the redrawing of provincial boundaries around group identities. This had been achieved in some cases, such as Sindh and Orissa, but many decisions were deferred until after independence.

Federal Solutions after Independence

After independence however, both India and Pakistan’s new leaders were reticent to undermine national unity through recognising ‘subnational’ identities. This was partially the result of the violence of partition, but both Nehru and Jinnah had favoured a centralised state before independence. Nehru favoured the model of centralised planning, while in Pakistan, the recognition of regionally concentrated language groups potentially undermined the unity of the Muslim homeland. Both leaders were worried that ethnofederalism would lead to the weakening of the centre, and potentially, the Balkanisation of their states. They shared this in common with other critics of ‘ethnofederal’ solutions (see Anderson 2014 for a discussion of these).

Despite their leaders’ common concerns, India and Pakistan diverged in their constitutional solutions for their diversity. India, after initially recognising the rights of its multilingual provinces to choose their own languages, allowed for the territorial reorganisation of the country into more homogeneous units. The central Congress leadership did so under protest, after elements within the Congress Party vociferously protested against their leaders’ failure to countenance the redrawing of the political map. The internal borders of India were redrawn in 1956 along de facto linguistic lines, although the States Reorganisation Commission recommended a balanced approach between language, economic viability and administrative convenience. This process of ‘right sizing’ (Callaghy, O’Leary et al. 2001), has continued, in India with other tranches of reorganisations in the 1960s, 1970s and 2000s. Most of the later reorganisations were undertaken along non-linguistic lines, for example the tribal recognition of the 1970s or the caste or development narrative of the states created in the 2000s (Tillin 2013). The process continues, with the creation of the 29th state of the Union – Telangana – in 2014. It is unlikely to be the last.

In Pakistan, a state with a much weaker political leadership after partition, the protracted constitutional negotiations finally (in 1956) came up with a federal formula that reorganised the territorial boundaries of the country. The internal reorganisation was in a different manner to that of India however, and merged all the units and princely states of the western wing of Pakistan into one province: West Pakistan. The so-called One Unit Plan was a device to counterbalance the demographic dominance of its Eastern wing: renamed East Pakistan. Both provinces received equal weighting in the National Assembly, despite the majority of the population (55 percent) of Pakistan residing in the eastern wing.  This constitutional arrangement only lasted two years, with martial law declared by Ayub Khan in 1958. In 1970, his successor, Yahya Khan nullified the One Unit Plan resulting in the restoration of the three western provinces (albeit with their boundaries altered to include the princely states), and the creation of a new one, Baluchistan). The restoration of democracy in Pakistan precipitated its breakup, after the leaders of the western wing refused to recognise the democratic mandate of the politicians of the eastern wing. After the secession of Bangladesh in 1971, although the constitution of Pakistan was rewritten, the opportunity was not taken to reorganise the political map and Pakistan’s federation continued with only four provinces. In 2009 the area of Gilgit Baltistan was given semi-provincial status but has yet to be fully integrated as a fifth province of Pakistan, with representation in the National Assembly.

India

The legacies of the original decisions were profound.  In the case of India its willingness to continually reorganise its internal boundaries accommodated many groups and enhanced the representativeness of the Indian state. It has also accommodated other demands for linguistic recognition. Thus, not only were provinces (then states) allowed to choose the language(s) that they operated in, the Indian state retained English as an official language in addition to that of Hindi.  This was essential, as many of the states in the south and the northeast of the country did not speak Hindi (spoken by only 30 to 40 percent of the population) and resented the assumption that it was the ‘national’ language of the country. This accommodative framework, far from leading to the Balkanisation of India, ensured that multiple identities were encouraged to develop.  Evidence for this can be found by reading Moreno surveys on the allegiance of Indians living in different areas of India to their national or regional identity, or a combination of both. Although there are differences between regions, with the South and the East more likely to report feeling ‘regional’ than those in the North or West, there is a clear majority in all regions for feeling either more national than regional or equally national and regional. The inclusion of Indians from all over India in core central institutions, including that of the cabinet has also promoted this unity (Jayal 2006).

National versus Regional Identity in India

 

Only

national

More

national

Equally

national and regional

More

regional and less national

Only

regional

No

Opinion

North 41 7 20 5 10 17
East 26 19 15 13 17 10
North-East 20 7 32 9 15 17
West 42 7 27 5 10 10
South 23 22 15 20 13 7
India 32 12 21 10 12 13

Data taken from the State of Democracy in South Asia Survey (2008).

 

Of course, there are areas of India, particularly in its non-Hindu peripheries, where it has only managed to maintain its territorial integrity through the use of extreme force. There are several reasons for this. First, although India reorganised its units along ostensibly linguistic lines, almost half of the states of India retained significant heterogeneity. In those cases the locally dominant group felt threatened – as witnessed in Assam, Nagaland and Punjab – often leading to the violent targeting of minorities within the units. Second, where democracy or effective autonomy has been undermined, as in the case of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and most of the North-eastern states where state governments have been regularly dismissed, tensions with the centre have increased (Adeney 2007). It is notable that in Kashmir, where electoral manipulation was commonplace, insurgency did not develop until the late 1980s, after the rigging of the 1987 election. The securitisation of the response from the centre through the use of mechanisms such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act also increased conflict. Although ten people lost their lives at the hands of police bullets in the Patidar protests in 2015 in Gujarat, the situation is incomparable to the use of pellet guns in Kashmir in 2016 (Adeney 2017). Within six months 100 people were estimated to have been killed and 6000 injured. Therefore, violent conflict cannot be divorced from the fact that these states have seen their effective autonomy being reduced.

Pakistan

In contrast, the unwillingness to make compromises over language alienated many groups from the Pakistani state.  This included Bengalis whose language was not recognised as State Language on par with Urdu until 1954. It was only belatedly accorded this recognition as a quid pro quo for giving up its demand for a majority of seats (to which they were entitled on the basis of their demographic majority) in the National Assembly. Language policy also alienated other groups within Pakistan, notably Sindhis. It was only after the constitutional redrafting in 1973 that provinces in Pakistan were able to choose to operate in a language other than Urdu. This alienation was compounded by exclusion from the core institutions of the state. Bengalis, Sindhis and Balochis all suffered from underrepresentation in institutions such as the army and the bureaucracy (Adeney 2009). In addition, their provinces suffered from a lack of investment, or, in the case of East Pakistan, under-development, as the resources of the East were extracted to finance the development of the West, particularly that of Punjab province.

National versus Regional Identity in Pakistan

 

Only

national

More

national

Equally

national & regional

More

regional & less national

Only

regional

No

opinion

Urdu 60 8 9 4 16 3
Hindko 51 19 7 9 11 3
Punjabi 47 17 12 4 15 5
Pushto 33 16 17 5 22 7
Seraiki 32 10 13 10 29 6
Sindhi 23 11 8 9 36 14
Balochi 18 18 16 3 17 28
Pakistan 40 14 12 6 20 8

Data taken from the State of Democracy in South Asia Survey (2008).

 

The refusal to redraw provincial boundaries ensured that Pakistan’s federation exited with a very low number of provinces. This has not only exacerbated conflict between provinces (e.g. the tension between East and West Pakistan) but also meant that the larger provinces in terms of population – East Pakistan before its secession in 1971 and Punjab after 1971 – threatened the other provinces by their demographic majority. In the case of the Punjab, its domination was compounded by the over representation of Punjabis (or sections of Punjabis) in the core institutions of state such as the army and the bureaucracy. As Henry Hale has argued, ‘ethnofederal states are more likely to collapse when they contain a core ethnic region – a single federal region that enjoys dramatic superiority in population’ (2004, 166).  Given that many of the units of the western wing were linguistically heterogeneous, the basis for a reorganisation of provinces along linguistic lines exists – although it must be conceded that parties supporting particular reorganisations (such as those agitating for a Seraiki province (out of Punjab) or a Hindko speaking province (out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)) do not receive much electoral support.  In addition, any reorganisation of provinces would have to face up to the thorny issue of the city of Karachi, and demands for it to be separated from the province of Sindh, which would be explosive.

Lessons for Other Federations

Federal (re)design continues apace in the region and elsewhere. In the South Asia region, federal discussions continue in Myanmar and Nepal.  The case of India demonstrates that demands for “ethnic” provinces, such as in the Seraiki region of Pakistan and in the Madhesi regions of Nepal are likely to increase rather than decrease affinity with the central state.  It also prescribes that these territories should be made as homogeneous as possible.  The states of India that have continued to experience violent conflict after territorial reorganisation along ‘ethnic’ lines have been those in which sizeable pockets of diversity remain e.g. Nagaland and Assam. Where such diversity remains, non-territorial power sharing is necessary in addition to territorial models (Bhattacharyya, Suan Hausing et al. 2017).

However, this comes with a caveat: such autonomy should be part of a wider accommodation of groups within central power structures. Access to central power is important and Pakistan’s failure to include all of its provinces within central power structures has undermined the affinity of many of its groups to the states. In states such as neighbouring Myanmar and Nepal it is important not to pursue a majoritarian-led democratisation. A truly representative democratisation is vital for federations to accommodate territorially concentrated groups successfully.

 

Bibliography

Adeney, K. (2007). Federalism and ethnic conflict regulation in India and Pakistan. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan,: xviii, 238 p.

Adeney, K. (2009). “The limitations of non-consociational federalism – the example of Pakistan.” Ethnopolitics 8(1): 87-106.

Adeney, K. (2017). “Does ethnofederalism explain the success of Indian federalism?” India Review 16(1): 125-148.

Anderson, L. (2014). “Ethnofederalism: The Worst Form of Institutional Arrangement…?” International Security 39(1): 165-204.

Bhattacharyya, H., et al. (2017). “Indian federalism at the crossroads: Limits of the territorial management of ethnic conflict.” India Review 16(1): 149-178.

Callaghy, T. M., et al. (2001). Rightsizing the state: the politics of moving borders. New York, Oxford University Press.

Hale, H. (2004). “Divided We Stand: Institutional Sources of Ethnofederal State Survival and Collapse.” World Politics 56(2): 165-193.

Jayal, N. (2006). Representing India: Ethnic Diversity and the Governance of Public Institutions, Palgrave Macmillan.

SDSA (2008). State of Democracy in South Asia. New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

Tillin, L. (2013). Remapping India: new states and their political origins. London, Hurst.

 

Further Reading

Adeney, K. (2007). Federalism and ethnic conflict regulation in India and Pakistan. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan,:xviii, 238 p.

Adeney, K. (2017). “Does ethnofederalism explain the success of Indian federalism?” India Review 16(1): 125-148.

Anderson, L. (2014). “Ethnofederalism: The Worst Form of Institutional Arrangement…?” International Security 39(1): 165-204.

Jayal, N. (2006). Representing India: Ethnic Diversity and the Governance of Public Institutions, Palgrave Macmillan.

Tillin, L. (2013). Remapping India: new states and their political origins. London, Hurst.

 

Posted by Katharine Adeney in Case studies, Diversity management, Federalism and conflict, 0 comments
Condominiums and Shared Sovereignty

Condominiums and Shared Sovereignty

Abstract

As the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU), the future of Gibraltar, appears to be in peril. Like Northern Ireland, Gibraltar borders with EU territory and strongly relies on its ties with Spain for its economic stability, transports and energy supplies. Although the Gibraltarian government is struggling to preserve both its autonomy with British sovereignty and accession to the European Union, the Spanish government states that only a form of joint-sovereignty would save Gibraltar from the same destiny as the rest of UK in case of complete withdrawal from the EU, without any accession to the European Economic Area (Hard Brexit). The purpose of this paper is to present the concept of Condominium as a federal political system based on joint-sovereignty and, by presenting the existing case of Condominiums (i.e. Andorra). The paper will assess if there are margins for applying a Condominium solution to Gibraltar.

 

Condominium in History and Political Theory

The Latin word condominium comes from the union of the Latin prefix con (from cum, with) and the word dominium (rule). Watts (2008: 11) mentioned condominiums among one of the forms of federal political systems. As the word suggests, it is a form of shared sovereignty involving two or more external parts exercising a joint form of sovereignty over the same area, sometimes in the form of direct control, and sometimes while conceding or maintaining forms of self-government on the subject area, occasionally in a relationship of suzerainty (Shepheard, 1899).

Condominiums date back to the Middle Ages as an ancient form to settle rivalries and conflicts between states vying for supremacy over the same territories. According to historical reports, the condominium was a Byzantine invention. In the seventh century, Emperor Justinian II proposed a new form of shared sovereignty to Caliph Muawiyah I over Cyprus and its tax revenues (Zavagno, 2011). This arrangement lasted for almost three centuries, before the Byzantines won the island back.

In British colonial history, the case of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan is one of the clearest examples of a condominium between a colonial power and a regional territory, with the latter under the influence of the former. This agreement provided mutual assistance over a disputed territory, and shared responsibilities on security over an extended territory. Although called a condominium, which implies a form of equality of parts, in this form of [imposed] agreement, the British played a hegemonic role by frustrating the Egyptians’ demands in the area, as well as indigenous Sudanese demands for independence and self-rule. The Vanuatu Islands and Togoland (1916-1922) are other examples, whereby both were colonial condominiums under shared sovereignty between France and Great Britain.

Because of their nature, Condominiums are a fragile form of federal political system. Their success as a peaceful solution to inter-state conflicts relies on the agreement and good will of the parts to respect such an arrangement. With the sole exception of Andorra, which has lasted for centuries and still exists (see below), condominiums are not permanent arrangements. Although condominiums are often created because of immediate peace-making circumstances, most of the time they have been superseded by new settlements favouring one of the external parts or determining the full independence of the condominium. The partition of Togoland between France and Great Britain in 1922, the partition of Samoa between Germany and the USA in 1899 and the transfer of Krakow under full Austrian sovereignty in 1846, are cases in point.

Andorra: A Quintessential Condominium

Andorra is a microstate which conserves some elements of ancient political systems that have managed to survive and adapt to new and evolving circumstances. Whereby San Marino is the last surviving example of a medieval Italian comune, and Liechtenstein the last surviving principality from the Holy Roman Empire, Andorra is the last surviving example of a feudal agreement (Fernsworth, 1934).

Andorra represents a condominium which has been established since the Middle Ages. Legends report that Charlemagne himself, because of the area’s imperviousness and strategic position, founded the settlement after securing the Pyrenean Mountains from the Moors. Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son and successor, gave control of the settlement to the counts of Urgell and their successors. The status of Co-principality, i.e. having two heads of states sharing the same role over Andorra, is a consequence of this decision. Much conflict ensued between the Counts of Foix, heirs of the local secular lords in charge of Andorra military control and security and the Bishops of Urgell, in charge of its civil and religious administration. This conflict was solved through the so called Andorran Paréage. ‘Contracts of Paréage’ (literally: agreements between peers) (Delcambre & Gallet, 1937) represented a way to settle territorial disputes between two parts by sharing sovereignty over a contested territory. With the Andorran Pareage, in a framework of mutual recognition and parity, the Counts of Foix and the Bishops of Urgell both became sovereign over Andorra. At the same time, they continued developing some form of self-rule.

The Parishes (small towns organised around a church) emerged as political units, in which the wealthiest family was the main political player as representatives of their own Parish. With the end of Francoist regime in Spain and its transition to democracy, Andorra also underwent a long phase of political reforms and modernisation during the 1970s and the 1980s, when the co-princes agreed on the necessity of new democratic governance for the Pyrenean condominium. This was agreed through mediation with the Council of Europe, which demanded a formal modernisation of the Andorran system according to liberal-democratic standards. An executive branch, with a head of government and a council of ministers, was first established in 1981 and, after several years of constitutional wrangling and negotiations as well as public consultations, Andorra ratified its new constitution in 1993 (Butletí Oficial del Principat d’Andorra, 1993). Under the new constitution, the role of the two Head of States (co-princes, namely the president of France and the Bishop of Urgell) is mainly ceremonial, but nonetheless, they retain a veto-power in the case that one of them does not ratify laws. In all the other features, Andorra is an independent country, with its own system of government and specificities.

A Condominium Solution for Gibraltar?

Gibraltar has been and remains a contentious issue in relations between the United Kingdom (UK) and Spain since the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), which forced Spain to accept British sovereignty over Gibraltar and Menorca as a result of the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). While Spain managed to reconquer Menorca in subsequent wars in the 18th century, it failed in reconquer ‘the Rock’.  Despite the evolution of good relations between post-Franco Spain and the UK, in addition to the involvement of both countries in the wider European integration project, Spain has never completely abandoned its claim over Gibraltar.

In the early 2000s, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ana Palacio proposed a form of joint sovereignty and condominium status for Gibraltar. Although the negotiations were supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Gibraltar Parliament unilaterally called a referendum to stop any option involving joint sovereignty. Voters unanimously rejected the negotiations (98.48% voted against, with a turnout of 87.9%) and any plan for joint sovereignty. Gibraltarian hostility towards this project was linked to Spanish proposals that the condominium would not be permanent, but a preliminary phase before being placed under full Spanish sovereignty.

In light of the referendum, the Spanish and the British governments started, along with the Gibraltarian government, a tripartite forum of dialogue. Established in 2006, the forum sought to manage many concrete issues, but did not provide a framework for resolving the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty (Gold, 2009). That forum, supported by the Spanish Zapatero government, faced harsh opposition from the subsequent Rajoy led administration, which essentially boycotted it. This ‘boycott’, in place since 2011 led to a de facto dismissal of the forum. The reason for this disagreement can be found in the Spanish attitude towards Gibraltar’s status; while Spain would support a condominium solution and shared sovereignty with the UK, it concomitantly refuses to accept Gibraltar as an autonomous or semi-sovereign counterpart in the negotiation.

The results of the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU has caused a further rift between Spain and the UK. On the 23rd of June, Gibraltar almost unanimously rejected leaving the EU (96% on a turnout of 83.7%). Although its status could to some extent be compared to Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted for remain, both the overwhelming percentage in favour of remaining and the high turnout in the referendum represent a strong case for Gibraltar to remain part of the EU. As a British oversea territory and Special Member State Territory with the EU, Gibraltar is outside the Common External Tariff and the obligation to levy Value Added Tax but, more importantly it has its own autonomy in complying with EU directives. Despite this status, the UK is legally responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations and consequently for Gibraltar’s EU membership. Thus, Gibraltar, alongside the rest of the UK (Scotland and Northern Ireland included), is expected to leave the EU. Under these circumstances, could a form of joint sovereignty with Spain be a solution to this puzzle?

Although Gibraltar is strongly opposed to joint sovereignty, such an agreement could embed Gibraltar in the EU. Gibraltar would become a co-principality (by having two heads of states like Andorra), and would retain its self-government, while being linked to both the EU and the UK after the latter’s withdrawal. The Spanish government stated immediately after the referendum that Gibraltar was a step closer to joining Spain.  Nonetheless, Gibraltarians have remained very sceptical about this solution; Gibraltarian Chief Minister Mr. Fabian Picardo dismissed any Spanish demand for joint sovereignty and stated that Gibraltar would find other ways to preserve its status in the EU.  The fear of Spanish centralism and the will to maintain the political and fiscal autonomy granted by being a British overseas territory remains a major issue between Spain and Gibraltar. Just after the referendum, Mr. Picardo stated that joint-sovereignty is a price that Gibraltar is not willing to pay.

A solution to the status of Gibraltar relies partly on the will of Spain and the UK to negotiate the status of condominium and partly on the citizens of Gibraltar. In the case of Hard Brexit and a negative outcome of the negotiations between the EU and the UK, Gibraltar would have to look for a solution that does not imply separation from the Single Market and the economic cooperation with Spain. Additionally, despite Mr. Picardo’s hostility, it is not clear how a possible “joint-sovereignty solution” could affect Gibraltar’s autonomy so significantly. In fact, should the UK and Spain negotiate an “Andorra solution” for Gibraltar, with the monarchs of the two countries acting as co-monarchs, Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar would be mainly ceremonial and would not actually affect Gibraltar’s autonomy. Other solutions involving a more consistent role for the Spanish government, as much as for the British government, would represent a model of condominium with more limited self-rule for Gibraltar, but currently this appears unpopular amongst inhabitants of the Rock. Should Gibraltar keep refusing this option, the only path it can follow is to lobby the UK government for a soft Brexit ot a possible special status for Gibraltar.

Conclusion

While it remains unclear how the future of Gibraltar will develop as the negotiations between the EU and UK unfold, condominiums represent a model for federal political systems that has the advantage to mitigate conflicts and accommodate more actors. It has the advantage to be a flexible model, which has been applicable in colonial and post-colonial realities, as well as in very different cases. Andorra, for instance, remains the prototypical example of a condominium. In this case, an Andorra-style condominium solution for Gibraltar could provide some possibilities to accommodate the demands of all parties in the future of the Rock, yet until a solution is found, the future of Gibraltar remains at stake.

 

Bibliography

Butletí Oficial del Principat d’Andorra (1993). Constitució del Principat d’Andorra. Available at https://www.bopa.ad/bopa/005024/Pagines/7586.aspx.

Etienne, D., Gallet, L. (1937). Les traités de paréage dans la France féodale. Paris, librairie du Recueil Sirey, 1936. Gr. in-8°, 233 pages. Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes, 98(1), pp.153-155.

Daly, M.W. (2002). Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium 1934-1956. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fernsworth, L. (1934). Andorra: The Passing of Europe’s Last Feudal State. Foreign Affairs, 12(2), 335-338. doi:10.2307/20030590

Gold, P. (2009). The Tripartite Forum of Dialogue: Is this the Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Gibraltar? Mediterranean Politics, 14(1), pp 79-97. Doi: 10.1080/13629390902747475

Perkins, T.C., 2014. Edification from the Andorran model: a brief exploration into the condominium solution on the international stage and its potential application to current land disputes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 21(2), pp.643-665.

Shepheard, W.P., (1899). Suzerainty. Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, pp.432-438.

Watts, R. (2008). Comparing Federal Systems. Kingston: Queen’s University Press.

Zavagno, L. (2011). At the Edge of Two Empires: The Economy of Cyprus between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (650s-800s CE). Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 67, pp. 121-56.

 

Further Reading

Elazar, D.J. (1987). Exploring federalism. University of Alabama Press.

Mickoleit, A. (2010). April. Andorra. In Elections in Europe (pp. 149-168). Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG.

Samuels, J.H., 2007. Condominium arrangements in international practice: reviving an abandoned concept of boundary dispute resolution. Mich. J. Int’l L., 29, p.727.

Watts, R. (2008). Comparing Federal Systems. Kingston: Queen’s University Press.

 

Posted by Francesco Violi in Case studies, Theory, 0 comments
Nigeria: A Federation in Search of Federalism

Nigeria: A Federation in Search of Federalism

Abstract

This article argues that the Nigerian federation epitomises an incomplete federal arrangement. The feelings of marginalisation, which had been suppressed during the military era are fully expressed by ethno-regional groups in the post-military era and these feelings finds expression in the potent agitation for a more functional federal system. The Nigerian political elites have at different times attempted to grapple with the imperfections inherent in the country’s federal system by putting in place a range of distributive and structural mechanisms but the increasing agitation for “true federalism” indicates that the governmental system is defective and in serious need of some bold political reform.

 

Introduction

The increasing agitation for a functional federal system or what is referred to as ‘true federalism’ in the Nigerian parlance, after the democratic transition that culminated in civil rule in 1999 is an indication that all is not well with the existing practice of federalism in Nigeria. The apparent defects in the federal system, no doubt, provide the basis for this agitation. Nigeria is a federation operating a federal constitution but in practice the country works as a unitary state, a fallout of the centralising tendencies that have come to characterise the governmental system. However, there seems to be a consensus, especially in the southern part of the country that the operation of federalism in Nigeria does not conform to the fundamental principles of federalism. As Wheare (1963: 20) argues, ‘a country may have a federal constitution, but in practice it may work that constitution in such a way that its government is not federal’. Also, as Erk (2004: 3) suggests, ‘the presence of a federation should not blind us to the absence of federalism’. In other words, there may be a federation without federalism. The Nigerian model is argued to be a reflection of such an incomplete federal arrangement.

This article seeks to depict Nigeria as a federation without federalism.  It further seeks to examine the quest of the Nigerian people for an authentic federal system. The starting point, therefore, is to make a conceptual clarification between federalism and federation. This helps to avoid the danger of misapplication and also put the article in a proper theoretical perspective.

 

Federalism and Federation: Conceptual Clarifications

Federalism, like most Social Science concepts, has no standard definition as it ‘may mean all things to all men’ (Duchacek, 1970: 189). However, the difficulty in defining this concept has not stopped earlier writers from bequeathing to us some valuable definitions. Federalism has been defined variously as a political philosophy and an ideological position (King, 1982: 75); a ‘political principle’ involving ‘the constitutional diffusion of power’ between the central and the constituent governments to achieve ‘self-rule and shared rule’ (Elazar, 1987: 5–6); and a ‘value concept’ that informs federation (Burgess, 1993: 3).

Federalism may mean different things to different people, but what appears to be constant about this political system is the intrinsic principle that distinguishes it from other systems. This principle, which Wheare (1963: 10) called the federal principle, has been defined as the ‘method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent’. What is meant by ‘independent’ here is that each tier of government has its own independent functions and neither has supreme authority over the other. However, this view poses a problem of applicability because some measures of interdependence and cooperation are necessary for the successful operation of any given federal system. Therefore, federalism refers to a system of government in which powers are shared between the central (federal) government and the federating/constituent/component units (or states as used in Nigeria).

Federation, on the other hand, is a state in which both the central government and the constituent governments ‘rule over the same territory and people and each has the authority to make some decisions independently of the other’ (Riker, 1964: 5).  Also, as King (1982: 77) posits, a federation is a sovereign state in which the central government incorporates governments of regional units into its decision-making procedure on some constitutionally entrenched basis. Thus federation is a state with two or more tiers of government in which there is a constitutional division of power between the central government which is in charge of the whole territory and the constituent units. Given these definitions, therefore, Nigeria is a federation. An average citizen in Nigeria is subjected to at least two main levels of authority: that of the state and the country, but does the federation practice federalism?

The country’s constitution entrenches a clear division of competences between the federal government and the 36 states that make up the federation. There are basically two legislative lists – the exclusive and concurrent lists. Functions not specified in these two are assigned to the state governments as residual functions, and as we know, ‘whoever has the residue, neither general nor regional government is subordinate to the other’ (Wheare, 1963: 12). With this constitutional arrangement, it is not difficult to see the dominance of the federal government or put differently, the subordination of the states to the centre.

 

Federalism in Nigeria

Nigeria, a previously unitary state, became a federation in 1954. Nigeria’s founding fathers desired a federal political framework, believing that federal states have the structural capacity to accommodate diversity. Besides this desire, there was also the presence of certain socio-economic conditions (Babalola, 2013; Suberu, 2001). Although Riker (1964) had earlier argued against the relevance of these conditions, Babalola (2013) has convincingly argued that Riker’s rejection of social and economic conditions in the creation of the Nigerian Federation is unsustainable. The presence of these factors evidently explains why the initial three-region federation that emerged in 1954 reflected the cultural, political and economic differences among the three largest ethnic groups in the country – the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo – which dominated the then Northern, Western and Eastern Regions respectively.

The role of the country’s military in shaping the character of the Nigerian federation cannot be overemphasised. Before 1966 when the military intervened in the politics of the country through a coup d’état, the constituent units enjoyed substantial political and economic powers. However, the civil war (1967-1970) brought about a number of political and economic measures, which in turn resulted in the federal government assuming a central role, particularly in economic activities. Throughout the war years, the states were subordinated to the centre, ostensibly for the effective control of the various divisions of the military. The central government took over revenue sources previously controlled by the states, thereby contributing to a fall in the states’ revenues. Thus, the concentration of economic powers at the centre resulted in the supremacy of the federal centre as well as the over-centralisation of the federal system.

The oil boom of 1973, which coincided with the era of military rule also increased the economic centrality of the federal government. With the federal government enjoying enormous revenue, particularly from oil sales, the centre became the sole distributor of oil rents, dictating which state got what share of the national oil wealth. The states, in turn, became extensions of the federal government rather than independent tiers of government. By 1999 when Nigeria returned to civilian rule, the character of its federal system had significantly changed from ‘bottom-heavy’, that it used to be at inception to ‘top-heavy’. What exists today is a federation in which the states are fiscally dependent on the centre. This is a negation of the federal principle that enjoins independence among the governments of a federation.

The effect of excessive concentration of revenue at the centre began to manifest in 2015 when state governments started finding it increasingly difficult to balance their budgets. This problem arose when the states began to experience a drop in federal allocations, which is a result of the drop in the price of oil in the international market because public finance is mainly dependent on oil revenue. It is, therefore, not surprising that Nigerians, especially from the south, began to clamour for the practise of ‘true federalism’.

 

The Clamour for ‘True Federalism’

In Nigeria, true federalism means different things to different people. The newfound  phrase could be better understood using a geo-political lens. Let us begin with the south-west, which is dominated by the Yoruba.

The agitation for true federalism started in the south-west immediately after the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, believed to have been won by a Yoruba man. The Yoruba elite had argued that the election was annulled simply because their northern counterparts were not willing to concede political power to the south. Hence, their vigorous campaign for a ‘power shift’ to the south. By power shift, they meant an end to the northern elites’ stranglehold on political power and, by extension, economic power. However, with a Yoruba man, Olusegun Obasanjo, emerging as the president in 1999, the clamour for power shift became moribund and was replaced with that of ‘true federalism’. By true federalism, the Yoruba elite mean a federal system with a weak centre; a system in which the constituent units are independent of the centre, especially in the fiscal sphere.

The cry of marginalisation has been loud in the south-east, home to the Igbo ethnic group. The Igbo’s position as regards the Nigeria’s federal system is that the system is characterised by lopsidedness, particularly in the allocation of national resources. Another ground of Igbo agitation for true federalism is their perception of non-integration into mainstream politics since the end of the civil war in 1970, citing  lack of federal presence in the region. This sense of lack of belonging informs the views of some pro-self-determination groups like the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that the Igbo people are no longer interested in being part of Nigeria and should be allowed to secede and form an independent state of Biafra. It is, however, doubtful if the campaign for the resurgence of Biafra is popular among the elite of south-east whose political and business interests cut across the country. By true federalism, therefore, the Igbos of the south-east mean a federal practice that accommodates every ethnic group in the multinational federation.

Similarly, a sense of political and economic marginalisation forms the basis upon which the  minorities in the Niger Delta (or the south-south geo-political zone), where the bulk of Nigeria’s oil is located, persistently demand their own exclusive political space using the euphemism of ‘resource control’ and true federalism. In the Nigerian context, the term resource control means the right of a federating unit to have absolute control over the mineral resources found within its jurisdiction and make contributions to the central government to fund federal responsibilities. The perceived injustice in resource distribution is the main driving force for the struggle for resource control. The oil-producing states have repeatedly argued that Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, which encourages lopsided distributive politics, has been unfair to them. For the people of the Niger Delta, therefore, resource control is a solution to marginalisation. Thus, for the people of this region, true federalism means a federal practice whereby the federating units are allowed to own and manage their resources as they desire.

Seemingly, the northern elite wants the status-quo to remain based on the belief in some quarters that the present system favours its interest. These include the federal character principle, majority representation at the federal level and quota system.

 

Conclusion

We have been able to demonstrate in this article that central to the agitations for true federalism in Nigeria is about struggle for access to national resources. Oil rents and their distribution have shaped the operation of Nigeria’s federal system and have also contributed largely to the failure of federalism in Nigeria. Nigeria’s history of revenue distribution is about each ethnic group or geo-political region seeking to maximise its share of national resources. One reason for the acrimonious revenue allocation system is that Nigeria’s component units lack viable sources of revenue of their own. Also, the economic disparity that has given rise to unequal development among them is another source of contention. Therefore, any future political reform must ensure the accommodation of the country’s ethnic diversity because this is one of the many ways national unity could be achieved.

As a way out of the over-centralisation of the system, the country’s fiscal federalism should emphasise revenue generation rather than revenue distribution, as this would ensure fiscal viability of the states. Any future reform should be tailored towards the states generating their own revenue and those not endowed with resources should devise strategies to generate revenue from other sources. Internally-generated revenue should only complement a state’s share of federally collected revenue. Moreover, with decentralisation of economic resources, the states would be in relative control of their resources and be less dependent on the centre.

A weakening of the federal centre may not be a bad idea but Nigeria needs a federal system that would ensure the relative supremacy of the central government vis-à-vis the state governments. The size of the federation, as well as its ethnic diversity and economic disparity, requires a relatively strong federal government that would be able to regulate the competition for national resources.

It may be concluded at this juncture that Nigerian federalism is defective and reforms are inescapable. The unending quest for true federalism, political restructuring, and self-determination within the context of the ethnically heterogeneous Nigerian federation will disappear until the political leaders reform the institutions and structures of the federal system to give a semblance of genuine federalism.

 

Bibliography

Babalola, Dele (2013), “The Origins of Nigerian Federalism: The Rikerian Theory and Beyond”, Federal Governance, Vol. 8, No. 3, 43-54.

Burgess, Michael (1993), “Federalism and Federation: A Reappraisal” in Burgess, M and Gagnon, Alain-G (eds.), Comparative Federalism and Federation: Competing Traditions and Future Directions, New York; London: Harvester Wheatcheaf.

Duchacek, Ivo (1970), Comparative Federalism: The Territorial Dimension of Politics, Lanham; London: University Press of America Inc.

Elazar, Daniel (1987), Exploring Federalism, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.

Erk, Jan (2004), ‘Austria: A Federation without Federalism’, Publius, The Journal of Federalism, 34: 1, 1-20.

King, Preston (1982), Federalism and Federation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Riker, William (1964), Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Suberu, Rotimi (2001), Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria, Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Wheare, Kenneth (1963), Federal Government, 4th ed., London: Oxford University Press.

 

Further Reading

Amuwo, K. et. al., (eds.), (1998), Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria, Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum Books Limited and IFRA, 1998

Burgess, M. (2006), Comparative Federalism: Theory and Practice, London, New York: Routledge.

Elaigwu, J.I. (2007), The Politics of Federalism in Nigeria, London: Adonis & Abbey Publisher Ltd.

 

Posted by Dele Babalola in Case studies, 0 comments
Is Spain a Federal Country?

Is Spain a Federal Country?

Abstract

In this contribution we examine the federal characteristics of the Spanish case. Having initiated a process of political decentralisation as an integral pillar of the democratic transition, it is often posited that Spain is a federation, or quasi-federal country. Employing a comparative perspective this article argues that while Spain shares some federal features, many core elements are absent in the Spanish case.

Continue reading →

Posted by Ferran Requejo in Case studies, 0 comments
Belgium: The Short Story of a Long History of (In)Stability

Belgium: The Short Story of a Long History of (In)Stability

Abstract

The history of Belgium since 1830 shows the progressive transformation of a linguistic dynamic in an identity dynamic through the territorialisation of political tensions and then the federalisation of the State, originally a unitary State. This contribution tells the short story of a long history of stability and instability in Belgium.

Continue reading →

Posted by Min Reuchamps in Case studies, 0 comments