Federal Character and Affirmative Action: History and Peculiarities of Diversity Policies in the United States and Nigeria

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The Nigerian federal character principle was first introduced in the 1979 Constitution (and retained in the 1999 Constitution) as practical solution of Nigeria’s perennial ethnic conflict. Unfortunately, the good intentions of the makers of the 1979 Constitution regarding the provision of federal character were misunderstood, abused and thwarted over the years by military regimes and largely also by their democratic successors since 1999. The principle has been left to take different interpretations and to be applied arbitrarily by any government in power. In fact, both to the policy-makers and many Nigerian scholars, the principle should be applied as “affirmative action” and “quota system”. Some scholars even confuse it with the principle of federalism. Nigeria’s federal character in none of these. The distinction of federal character from the other principles, but especially from affirmative action (in the case, the American version, from where the concept of affirmative action originated), constitutes the central thrust of this work. A critical re-examination of its original constitutional intentions and meaning as a principle of “ethnic engineering” on the one hand, and as a version of “consociational democracy”, on the other hand, has been carried out so as to redirect and otherwise laudable principle from being a divisive factor to a unifying one from which it was intended.

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