What Are The Problems And Prospects Of Federalism In Nigeria?

JEROME MICHAEL EBRUPHIYO Friday, November 5, 2021 Basis



Federalism combines a shared government (for specified common purposes) with autonomous action by constituent units of government that maintains their identity and distinctiveness. This article will provide information on "what are the problems and prospects of Federalism in Nigeria?" and also provide answers to questions regarding federalism in Nigeria.

What is Federalism In Nigeria?

Federalism in Nigeria refers to the devolution of self-governance by the West African nation of Nigeria to its federated states, who share sovereignty with the Federal Government. Federalism in Nigeria can be traced to Sir Frederick Lord Lugard, when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated in 1914.

Brief History of Federalism in Nigeria

Federalism is a system of government in which governmental powers that exists in a country are shared between central government and component region. It is also defined as the system of government in which governmental powers are shared between the component units and the central government, i.e. the federal government and its components (state and local government). Bernard Bourdillon the Governor-general at that time initiated and laid the foundation of federalism in Nigeria in 1939 by creating three provinces. He later handed over the constitution to his successor Arthur Richards and it became the Richards Constitution of 1946. At the beginning of formal British indirect rule in 1901, Nigeria was divided into two regions: Northern and Southern, both of which were divided into provinces. From 1901 to 1958, the number of regions was increased to three through both acquisition of territories and partition from existing provinces. However, while native-born chiefs and clerks were appointed to govern the provinces, the regions were governed by the British-appointed colonial authorities. Such regions were made dependent upon the colonial authorities for martial law, manpower and management of resources. With the approach of independence, power over the regions was given to Nigerian-born citizens, and regional legislatures were established. By the time that Nigeria had declared itself a republic and replaced the post of Governor-General with the post of President, a national bicameral parliament was established and the country was considered a federation of the three regions. The Mid-Western Region was formed from the Western Region in 1966, and Lagos, the capital, was effectively governed as an unofficial fourth region outside the bounds of the Western Region. Federalism has been described as a political organization in which the activities of government are divided between regional governments and a central government, in such a way that each kind of government has some activities on which it makes final decisions. Unmasked of all complicated theorizations, federalism is a system of government in which the political territory is divided into units endowed with their own governments, and these territories, or states, are unified under a common government. All federalism disorders are then traceable to how this definition is interpreted. When for instance, “unified under common government” becomes interpreted as license for the existence of a dominant government, this level of government at the center with an assumed superior legitimacy bordering on a right to guarantee the unifying mandate then begins to dominate the other federating units. Implicit in this definition however is the fact of the federating units being also “endowed with their own governments”. The Nigerian federation is a product of British colonialism and accordingly an imposition leading to a problematic geopolitical synthesis. This began in 1914 with the amalgamation of the former colonies and protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. After the amalgamation, governmental powers started to be shared between the central government headed by the Governor-General and the governments of Northern and Southern protectorates headed by the Lieutenant Governors. With the existence and recognition of the two autonomous parts of Northern and Southern provinces, the administrative system of Nigeria wore an outlook of a federation. But the proper seed of federalism was not sowed until 1946, when the Richards Constitution partitioned the country into three different regions (the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions of Nigeria). This could have marked a turning point in the history of the then British colony. The origin of the word “federal” or “federalism” is traceable to the Latin words “foedus” and “fides” which when translated to English, the former means an agreement, treaty, compact or covenant while the latter means trust. The Nigerian federalism was neither preceded by such an agreement nor trust. There is then the absence of a supportive federal political culture emphasizing constitutionalism, tolerance, and recognition of distinctive regional groups

Problems of Nigerian Federalism

Some of the problems of the Nigerian federalism includes:
  • Ideological Deficiency
  • The root to federalism in the Nigerian context was not as a result of negotiation, partnership, or collaboration but by imposition. The purpose of the federation was accordingly not very clear to the federating units. If it was clear to the colonial master, it was only to the extent that it aided and abetted his exploitation of the colonial territory for his own homeward interests. In place of partnership and collaboration, the emergent leaders of the Nigerian federating units began to engage in inter-regional rivalry. The Nigerian federalism lacks ideas, insight and innotiveness.
  • Continuing Ethnic and Religious Challenges
  • Federal arrangements are prone to a variety of pathologies; they harden, rather than alleviate ethnic identities; they empower extremist ethnic leaders; they foster a zero-sum political dynamic at the center; they elevate a “primitive” form of identity over more elevated, progressive identities; they generate periodic state crises because they are unable to achieve equilibrium; and, ultimately, they equip ethnic groups with the resources needed to challenge the territorial integrity of the common-state. Hence, ethno federations are inherently vulnerable to the secession of one, or all, of the ethnically-defined subunits.
  • A Pervasive Militant Mentality
  • From 1914 (the date of amalgamation) till today, federalism in the country has not produced firm and steadfast believers in the principles of federalism. Consequently, debates on federalism in Nigeria are always imbued with militancy on the side of the citizens who call for restructuring and the opposition usually coming from the government in power. Attempts at the convocation of any type of national conference, whether the so called sovereign type or the mere talk-shop version usually end in fiasco, whereby the different camps of militants scamper to safety.
  • A Diffused Leadership Vacuum
  • An important aspect of the establishment of federal systems is the degree of elite accommodation and public involvement in the process. Although in the contemporary era, when the importance of democratic processes is increasingly emphasized, elite accommodation by itself may no longer be sufficient for legitimizing new political systems. Elite involvement has therefore always been mistaken for public involvement. But the elite only engage in self-centered machinations for power retention. This creates a diffused leadership vacuum in the country, which has produced neither federalists nor nationalists but mainly treasury looters as leaders.
  • Power sharing formula
  • Power sharing has been one of the major issue militating against federalism in Nigeria. This basically ensure that certain elective offices such as the office of the president, governors, and chairman are rotated among several geo-political divisions in the country.
  • Revenue allocation
  • Revenue allocation refers to the sharing formula of the country’s financial resources among the different tiers of government in the country, with the main objective of enhancing economic growth and development, reducing inter-governmental tensions and promoting national unity. Some of the elites at the helms of affairs, especially at the federal level has seen revenue allocation as a tool to satisfy their un-quenching taste for money.
  • Minority issue and the Creation of states
As a result of the nature of the multi-ethnicity of Nigeria, it has brought about the issue of minorities which has constituted to one of the major problems militating against the development of the nation.

Prospects of Federalism in Nigeria

  • Economic stability
  • The idea behind the creation of federalism in Nigeria was to bring about economic development and establish an effective administration. Federalism will bring about stability in the economy, and would eliminate any form of crisis which could emanate from ethnic rivalry
  • Political stability
  • The motive behind federalism was to promote unity and to bring the government closer to the people. Federalism was born out of the idea of a peaceful coexistence among citizens where government is brought closer to the people, stability and cohesion in order to promote national integration.
  • National integration
  • The significance of national integration in the development of the economy cannot be underestimated. However, federalism promotes national integration, and bring about cohesion, peace, and unity among citizens of a country. National integration would eliminate the issue of secession, ethnic rivalry, and the fear of domination by minorities.
  • Eliminate the problem of uneven distribution of government allocations
Federalism will address the problem of uneven distribution of budgetary allocation by the federal government by ensuring that allocation of revenues to different regions are not politicized.

Solution to the Problem of Federalism in Nigeria

  • Promotion of national integration and stability
  • Fairness among ethnic groups
  • Removal of indigene and non-indigene dichotomy

What is the Main Problem of Nigeria?

The major factors hurting the Nigerian economy include inflation, unemployment, government policy, monetary policies, inadequate infrastructures and power supply, inadequate health facilities, insecurity, ineffective leadership and corruption, and over-reliance on oil.

What are Some Challenges of Federalism?

Federalism also comes with drawbacks. Chief among them are economic disparities across states, race-to-the-bottom dynamics (i.e., states compete to attract business by lowering taxes and regulations), and the difficulty of taking action on issues of national importance.

What are the 3 types of federalism?

  • Competitive Federalism. This type of federalism is mostly associated with the 1970s and the 1980s, and it began with the Nixon Administration
  • Cooperative Federalism. This term describes the belief that all levels of government should work together to solve common problems
  • Creative Federalism


The current trend of peacock federalism in the country needs to be urgently overturned by weakening the center before the nation encounters total atrophy.

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