The distraction of appointments and federal character in Nigeria

share on:
federal character

Recently, there has been some uproar about ‘lopsided appointments’ to ministerial positions in the present federal government. Even the Sultan of Sokoto joined other Nigerian commentators in lamenting that “Nigeria is disunited because of lopsided appointments.”[1] These critics imply that there will be peace and progress in Nigeria, when there is an ‘equal’ representation of the different regions in the appointments.[2] Nigerians are distracted by the appointees’ regional balance that they forget to ascertain the purpose of federal character in Nigeria. Should the regional origin of appointees matter in the administration of a properly designed society?


The basic structure of the Nigerian society and governance was designed and installed by the British.[3] This design was, arguably, intended to give the British an ‘unregulated’ access to the Nigerian politics and mineral resources.[4] Today, this claim is manifested in the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act and its draining effect in Nigeria.

“… all lands in which minerals have been found in Nigeria and any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone shall, from the commencement of this Act be acquired by the Government of the Federation…”[5] “No person shall search for or exploit mineral resources in Nigeria or divert or impound any water for the purpose of mining except as provided in this Act.[6]The property in mineral resources shall pass from the Government to the person by whom the mineral resources are lawfully won, upon their recovery in accordance with this Act.”[7]


Following the restrictions of this Act, Nigerian engineers do not have access to the mineral resources they require for productivity. These Nigerian engineers cannot practice the real production they learnt in school without access to mineral resources. Instead, the federal government auctions[8] these mineral resources to foreign companies in exchange for foreign money, goods and services. The money realized from mineral resources is used by the government to pay government officials and provide foreign infrastructure among others.


What is the purpose of appointees?

Normally, societies are formed by the agreement of different people within a definite location to live and work together. They agree to collaborate in utilizing their different available resources for producing what they need. Thus, they distribute the different functions of production in the society among themselves, in order to contribute in the security and sustenance of the society. People who demonstrate efficiency in various sectors of the society’s productivity are assigned to coordinate the operations in those sectors.


Unfortunately in Nigeria, the function of ministry appointees is mainly to supervise the confiscation and sale of mineral resources, or to share money, goods and services realized from the sale of mineral resources. After auctioning the forcefully confiscated mineral resources of different ethnic communities, government assumes responsibility of catering for the people. Hence, they create ministries for distributing the resource-money in form of services and infrastructure to the different parts of the country.


What is meant by federal character?

Federal character is a principle of balancing appointments to federal civil service and military based on the state of origin.[9] It is a government practice of distributing federal appointments to include people from every state in the federation. “The “federal character” principle, which has been enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution since 1979, seeks to ensure that appointments to public service institutions fairly reflect the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity of the country.”[10][11]

What is the downside of the federal character?

Some scholars argue that it amounts to a confused balancing of the merit principle and the quota system, based essentially on states of origin.[12] Hence, it leads to the sacrifice of merit and the enthronement of mediocrity.


Second, every part of the federation is affected by the restrictions of the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act.[13] Engineers from the different parts of Nigeria are to sacrifice their productive capabilities for a ‘national’ foreign exchange. In return, the government compensates the most exposed set from the different groups with appointments, to hold them from revolting. Hence, federal character is a gag on the mouth of the few vocal people who could cause trouble in the sharing scheme. Whatever they receive is distraction from the productive opportunities of their own people.


By implication of the above, federal character is an institutionalization of a sharing mentality, over efforts for actual productivity. Government confiscates mineral resources which your engineers should use to produce machines for agriculture, auto-mobile, clothes and other endeavours. They auction the mineral resources to foreign companies, who use it to produce different goods and services  both for their use and export. In return, the Nigerian government appoint people from your region to import and share foreign goods and infrastructure.


Those who insist that federal character – equal distribution of federal appointments – will bring true peace to Nigeria may be mistaken. Federal character may bring a superficial peace among the elite class of the different parts of the country. It can ensure that the ‘elite-class’ obtain some shares from the sale of different communities’ mineral resources. The elite-class will therefore control their different regions with gifts, force or deceit to comply with the sharing formula.


However, without the people’s access to their resources for production, hunger and poverty will continue to ravage the people. From hunger and poverty, they will resort to crimes and eventually revolution against the elite-class. This is why ‘insurgents’ and other political orators will always identify with the people’s hunger and poverty to challenge or attack the status-quo. No amount of sharing mineral resource-proceeds will compensate for our inability to produce what we need in Nigeria. And nobody will care about federal character, if ethnic communities are in charge of their mineral resources for production.


Who benefits from federal character? Foreign companies, government officials and civil servants. Who suffers in federal character? The general citizens who could have utilized their resources for producing what they need instead of begging for foreign goods obtained in exchange for their mineral resources.

[1] Sa’ad Abubakar, “Lopsided appointments responsible for disunity in Nigeria” In Politics Nigeria by John Saleh Aminu 9th November, 2017

[2] ibid

[3] S. O. Oyedele, “Federalism in Nigeria” in Issues contemporary political economy of Nigeria (edited) Hassan A. Saliu, op.cit, p.57

[4] Cf. Ibid

[5] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2

[6] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[8] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[9] Cf. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2011 as amended, Section 14, subsection 3,4

[10] Ladipo Adamolekun, John Erero, Basil Oshionebo; “Federal Character” and Management of the Federal Civil Service and the Military, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Volume 21, Issue 4, 1 January 1991, Pages 75–88,

[11] Cf. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2011 as amended, Section 14, subsection 3, 4

[12] Ibid

[13] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2