Nigerian Federalism | Meaning, Factors, Structure, Features & Problems

What is Nigerian Federalism? Nigerian federalism has its roots dating back to 1914 when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated, albeit under a unitary form of administration. From that point onward, the distribution of governmental powers in Nigeria underwent a shift, with authority shared between the central government led by the governor-general and the […]

What is Nigerian Federalism?

Nigerian federalism has its roots dating back to 1914 when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated, albeit under a unitary form of administration. From that point onward, the distribution of governmental powers in Nigeria underwent a shift, with authority shared between the central government led by the governor-general and the governments of the Northern and Southern protectorates, each headed by lieutenant governors. Consequently, the administrative structure of Nigeria began to take on the characteristics of a federation, particularly with the autonomous status of the Northern and Southern provinces.

 

The country experienced further decentralization in 1946, as Sir Arthur Richards, the Governor of Nigeria at the time, divided it into three regions under the Richards constitutional arrangements. This move strongly supported the development of Nigeria as a federal system of government. The 1951 Macpherson constitution provided additional substantial backing for the establishment of a federal system in Nigeria.

 

In addition to the territorial division into the Northern, Western, and Eastern regions, the constitution appointed lieutenant governors to lead these regions and bestowed legislative powers upon the legislative and executive councils that were established. The 1954 Lyttleton constitution marked the definitive departure from a unitary state, formally establishing Nigeria as a true federal state. This constitution, effective from October 1, 1954, delineated powers between the central and regional governments. It also reorganized the judiciary to align with the federal structure of the country.

 

Federalism, as observed in Nigeria in 1954, involves power-sharing between the central government and subordinate units such as local governments and states/regions. The two-tiered system comprised the central and regional governments, each with defined and constitutionally shared powers. Exclusive legislative functions were assigned to the central government, concurrent legislative functions were shared between the central and regional governments, and residual functions were delegated to the regions.

 

Factors Contributing to Nigerian Federalism:

  1. Cultural diversity facilitates the operation of federalism in Nigeria due to variations in religion, language, customs, and traditions among ethnic groups.
  2. The fear of one ethnic group dominating others led to the establishment of federalism to ensure a balance of power.
  3. Federalism was instituted to protect the interests of minority groups in Nigeria.
  4. The large population and vast geographical areas of Nigeria necessitated the adoption of federalism for effective governance.
  5. Federalism aims to promote rapid and equitable development across all regions of Nigeria.
  6. Bringing government closer to the people and preserving local autonomy for ethnic groups are key objectives of federalism.
  7. Division of powers reduces the governance burden, saves time, and enhances government efficiency.
  8. The duplication of ministries and offices under federalism creates employment opportunities.
  9. Diverse laws can be implemented to suit the needs of various communities in Nigeria.

 

Structure of Nigerian Federalism:

  1. Federalism before independence featured centralization of power under the colonial system until the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 introduced true federalism.
  2. Between 1960 and 1966, the independence constitution continued the federal structure, dividing the country into unequal regions.
  3. The period from 1967 to 1975 saw the military introducing a unitary system, disrupting democratic institutions, and leading to the civil war.
  4. From 1976 to the present, state creation increased, reaching 36 states, with the federal capital in Abuja.

 

Features of Nigerian Federalism:

  1. Constitutional division of power between federal and regional governments.
  2. A rigid and written constitution that grants powers to different levels of government.
  3. Supremacy of the constitution.
  4. Separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
  5. Bicameral legislature exists.
  6. The Supreme Court provides judicial interpretation and review.
  7. Nigeria is divided into unequal regions or states.
  8. Duplication of government organs across all levels.
  9. Secession is not allowed in a federal system.

 

Problems of Nigerian Federalism:

  1. Revenue allocation remains a major challenge, prompting the establishment of commissions to advise on acceptable formulas.
  2. The issue of state creation is complex, given the diverse ethnic groups and their interests.
  3. Federal character in appointments often overlooks merit, creating problems in the federal system.
  4. Threats of secession based on divided allegiance pose challenges to federal unity.
  5. Concerns of minority groups fearing domination by the majority impact national issues.
  6. Ethnic disharmony can disrupt the unity and corporate existence of the country.
  7. Boundary disputes between states or local governments threaten the nation’s stability.
  8. Corruption, favoritism, and nepotism are persistent issues in Nigerian federalism.
  9. Power-sharing among component units lacks proper definition.
  10. Reliable and acceptable census-taking has been a longstanding problem in the country.

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