How Federal Character Policy Under-Develops Nigeria

How Federal Character Policy Under-Develops Nigeria

The Emir of Kano and ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Muhammadu Sanusi, opines that Nigerian policies on “quota system” and “Federal Character Principles” are detrimental to Northern Nigeria. To him, instead of these policies helping the North to catch up with the advanced development in other parts of the country, it made it worse off.

This may come as a surprise to many Nigerians, who believe that the Federal Character principle has greatly benefitted the northerners. But remembering that 87% of the poor in Nigeria are found in the north is enough proof to reassert that the claim of the Emir of Kano is factual.

Understanding the Federal Character Principle

The principle of Federal Character has been enshrined in Nigeria’s 1979 Constitution. This policy is there to ensure that appointments into public offices reflect the federal character of Nigeria. This means that appointments into any political offices, civil service, military, para-military, and so on, at the federal level, ensures that Nigeria linguistic, ethnic, religious and geographical diversities are represented. In other words, all the states in the country are duly represented in all federal government’s appointments.

This policy is set up to prevent predominance of people from a particular state, tribe, geopolitical zone, religion and language in Nigeria public offices and affairs. It is there to prevent discriminations, nepotism and tribalism. Truly, Federal Character principle is there to protect the interest of every Nigerian citizen.

Emir of Kano’s View on Negative Impacts of Federal Character Policy

Citing the exact words of Muhammadu Sanusi on why Federal Character policy has affected northern Nigeria will throw lights on how this policy has been under-developing Nigeria. Below are excerpts from his birthday wish to Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, on 17th February, 2020:

“You don’t need to rise on being from Kaduna State or being from the North or being a Muslim to get a job. You come with your credentials; you go with your competence; you can compete with any Nigerian from anywhere.

“We need to get our Northern youths to a point where they don’t need to come from a part of the country to get a job. And believe me, if we don’t listen, there would be a day when there would be a constitutional amendment that addresses the issues of quota system and federal character.

“The rest of the country cannot be investing, educating its children, producing graduates and then they watch us; they can’t get jobs because they come from the wrong state; when we have not invested in the future of our children.”

I think this excerpt says it all – northern youths do not bother developing themselves because the Federal Character policy uses quota system to ‘share’ employments to Nigerians – qualified or not.

How Federal Character Policy Under-Develops Nigeria

The terms of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi have given deep insight into why Federal Character principle is affecting the country negatively instead of positively. The system, to start with, has killed healthy competition among the youths. It has made it obvious that appointments into federal services are not based on merit, but on where you come from. Put differently, people do not get appointments into federal services because they are experts but because there is vacancy in the quota for the indigenes of their states. So an office can be manned by an inept because he is from the “right” state.

Federal character policy was put in place to reduce discriminations and inequalities in the treatment of every tribe in Nigeria. But ironically, this policy has gravely encouraged inequality in the recruitment, placement and admission processes into federal offices and schools of learning. Take the example of the cut-off marks for 2018 common entrance examination into unity schools, where indigenes of Anambra State were cut off at 139 (69.5%), for both male and female, while those from Zamfara State had their cut-off marks pegged at 4 (2%), for male candidates, and 2 (1%), for the female. This is a way of telling those studying hard in Anambra State that they are wasting their time since their counterparts playing hide and seek in Zamfara State will get admissions. Besides, it hurts to know that something you didn’t get is given to someone less qualified.

Looking at the discrepancies in the cut-off marks of the unity school common entrance examination, as given above, one could easily see why the education standard of the country is low. To ensure that the students that scored high and low are carried along, the education system of the country will be watered down. Besides, it is obvious that someone who scored two out of two hundred (that is 1%) is not intellectually ready to battle with the academic works of secondary school. But here they are, pushed into a system that will only confuse them the most.

Another way federal character policy affects the country negatively is through unprofessionalism of federal workers. As Sanusi noted, while some people are investing in and developing themselves, others are unbothered because they know they will definitely get federal government paying jobs with the little knowledge and skills they managed to acquire. As someone once said, government paid workers from the so-called disadvantaged states do not bother developing themselves because they know they can never lose their jobs as a result of unprofessionalism.


Federal Character policy is good. In fact it is wonderful. To me, it shouldn’t be scraped off the Constitution; but it needs to be reviewed. Whatever that will be added or removed from it should ensure that the policy does not create room for laxity and discrimination. All states and, if possible, local government areas should be duly reflected in federal government appointments. But there should be equality, not equity, in these appointments.

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