Nigeria’s diversity is strong but promoting its federal nature mustn’t hinder minorities..

Forum President George Anderson (second from right) speaks at gathering of 8,000 Nigerian lawyers. From Left: Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, outgoing President of the Nigerian Bar Association; Justice Alfa Belgore, retired Chief Justice of Nigeria; Mr. George Anderson; Mr. Oladimeji Bankole, Speaker House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Abuja – Forum President George Anderson recently delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Annual Conference of the Nigeria Bar Association where he spoke on How Federalism Accommodates Diversity and Strengthens the Constitution.

An estimated 8,000 lawyers attended the conference.

In his address, Mr. Anderson noted that federalism in Nigeria is stronger today than at Independence in 1960. He praised Nigeria for achieving a strong national identity along with its multitude of local identities that are recognized and accommodated under the federation.

Mr. Anderson noted several challenges facing Nigeria today in terms of strengthening its democratic federalism, and he suggested some possible lessons from international experience. While recognizing that some constitutional reform may be needed, comparative experience suggests that more emphasis should be put on improving the workings of existing institutions and constitutional arrangements.

The Forum president also discussed the main implications of Nigeria’s extreme dependence on oil revenues and the way they are shared among orders of government, the challenges these fiscal relations create, and possible lessons from other federations.

Mr. Anderson observed that compared with the world’s other federations (of which there are 28), intergovernmental relations are relatively weak in Nigeria, which is possibly a legacy of military rule during much of Nigeria’s post-Independence history.

Nigeria still needs to work out better ways of promoting its "federal character,” Mr. Anderson suggested, through policies that do not hinder the rights of minorities within states.

Responding to Mr. Anderson’s address were Prof. Isawa Elaigwu, head of the
Institute of Governance and Social Research; Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, Governor of Lagos; Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of Delta State, (delivered by Prof . Emos Utuama, Deputy Governor).

Also addressing the conference opening were Mr. Oladimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Dr. Aliyu Modibo, Minister, Federal Capital Territory; Mr Olisa Agbakoba, outgoing President of the Nigerian Bar Association; Mr. Ibrahim Shehu Shama, Kastina State Governor; Mr Mike Aondoaaka, Attorney General and Minster for Justice (Representing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) and Mr. Henry Ajumogobia, Minister for Energy.

Mr. Anderson spoke to the lawyers group on Aug. 28, 2008.

During his 3-day visit to Abuja, Mr. Anderson met with Goodluck Jonathan, Vice-President of the Federal Government of Nigeria, and various other senior officials and Forum partners and also conducted interviews with media representatives. He was accompanied by Shawn Houlihan, the Forum’s Director for Africa, and Udo Jude Ilo, the Forum’s recently-hired Program Manager for Nigeria.

Also during the mission, Mr. Anderson participated in a roundtable discussion on Fiscal Federalism at the Ministry of Justice which was attended by all department heads and was chaired by the former Solicitor General, Prof. Ignatius Ayua.

Rounding out the mission, the Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms. Caroline Chrétien, hosted a luncheon with leading members of the donor community interested in federalism issues in Nigeria.

George Anderson’s Abuja address (PDF)

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