Problems of Federalism: Major Challenges of a Federal System of Government

If you have been asking any of the following questions; What are the problems of federalism? Why is federalism criticized in some country? What are the major challenges of federalism? This article is going to give a detailed answer to all these questions. I enjoin you to read carefully as I quickly give answers to the above questions.

As a little child, I used to think that federalism is the best system of government considering the fact that it has numerous advantages. I became an ardent supporter of the system because my country (Nigeria) practice it. Federalism seemed to be a good system of government for Nigeria because of the divergent ethnic groups, religious and moral beliefs.

Nonetheless, as I grew older, I came to understand that not system of government in better than the other. It all depends on the kind of Nation and people where the system is practiced. For instance, a federal system of government is best suitable for a heterogeneous nation with people of different beliefs and religion. On the other hand, a Unitary system of government is best suitable for a small nation that does no really have any religious or social differences amongst the people.

Where any of the above systems of government is practiced in a place it is not suitable, there will definitely be problems. Accordingly, even when federalism or Unitary system of government is practiced in a place where it is suitable, there will still be some little problems. The reason is because no system of government is totally perfect.

So, any system of government that has advantages equally has disadvantages. Without wasting any more time, i will quickly give you a brief explanation of a federal system of government before explaining the problems, critisms and challenges of federalism.

Also read:

What is federalism?

According to Wikipedia, Federalism is a system of government combining a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Federalism can also be defined as an association of free states where power is constitutionally shared by the federal, state and local councils, and with each tier of government exercising its constitutionally assigned powers and functions.

A federal constitution or federal system of government is one that provides for separate structures of government at the national, state and local council and with each tier having its own constitutionally assigned powers and duties.

It should be noted also that a federal system of government usually has a written and rigid constitution, duplication of government at all levels of government and so forth. The United States of America, which is an advanced federalism is the best example of a country running a federal system of democracy. Switzerland, Germany, Australia Canada and Nigeria are federations too.

Critisms, challenges and problems of federalism

Critisms, challenges and problems of federalism

Problems of democracy

Below are the problems and challenges of federalism:

  1. Federalism leads to a weak central government
  2. Federalism produces a rigid constitution
  3. Unnecessary duplication of government
  4. Fear of domination and marginalization
  5. It leads to tribalism, nepotism and favoritism

Yeah! There you have some of the challenges and critisms of federalism. If you need a better explanation to the problems of federalism highlighted above, kindly scroll down this page as I extensively discuss the problems below.

1. Federalism leads to a weak central government:

One of the major problems of federalism is that it produces a weak central or federal government. The reason is because, when several or many small free and independent states, or multi-ethnic people associates to form a federal country, each of the states usually retain their freedom and autonomy to avoid being dominated by large states or majority people. The sharing of powers between the federal and states, may where the states are able to retain the bulk of the powers, create a weak center or weak national federal government.

Apparently, a weak federal government may jeopardise the stability of the federation and ultimately lead to the collapse of the association and disintegration of the country. This can be seen in Nigerian federalism. In Nigeria, even though there is the federal government at the center, some states has more economic power the the cemtral government. It is indeed one of the major critisms of a federal system of government.

2. Federalism produces a rigid constitution:

This is undoubtedly true as it is obvious that almost all the countries practicing federalism in the world, have a rigid constitution. It has also been correctly argued that a federal government can only be founded on a written and rigid constitution that clearly spells out the terms, conditions and safeguards of the association, or federation, and this rigid constitution cannot be frivolously amended.

A rigid constitution needs to be liberal and expensively interpreted by the court to meet the needs of the people. A good constitution must not be impossible nor incapable of amendment and indeed it needs to be amended from time to time, like U. S constitution.

A rigid constitution which is also one of the features of federalism is incapable of amendment is unsuitable in times of emergency and at other times, as it cannot also meet the changing social, economic and political needs of the people.

Where a rigid constitution is incapable of amendment, it will outlive its usefulness and nothing more can be done about it, than to write and enact another constitution to replace it.

A practical example where this problem is faced is Nigeria. In the constitution of Nigeria, there are many provisions that are not in the interest of the Nigerian citizens. But since the constitution is very difficult or impossible to amend, those provisions are still present in the constitution.

MUST READ: See the steps in passing a bill into law in Nigeria

3. Unnecessary duplication of government:

In a federation, there is unnecessary duplication of government, especially at the states and local government levels across the country. In a federal system of government, there is usually a three tier system of government, each having separate constitutional powers. The consequent duplication of organs, paraphernalia, facilities, personnel and so forth, leads to a dissipating of so much financial resources and energy.

Thus, a federal system of government is very expensive to operate as it requires so much human and material resources to run. The duplication of government in the country makes it difficult to coordinate a federation and take decisions. So much consultation is required between the federal government and state governments especially on matters contained in the concurrent legislative list, so that decision making in a federation is slow.

It should be noted however, that proponents of federalism argue that the creation of three tier system of government in the federal system and the sharing of power and responsibilities amongst the federal, state and local council is a duplication and multiplicity of government which brings government nearer to the people to meet the needs of the people.

Problems of federalism in Nigeria

Problems of federalism in Nigeria

4. Fear of domination and marginalization:

Another problem of federalism is fear of domination and marginalization by the minority. In a federation, the fear of domination and marginalization are always present even though the country has been divided into so many constituent units, each having autonomy in the running of its own affairs.

The fear of domination and the division of the country into many constituents units breeds sectional consciousness in the people. The people owe allegiance first to their own place of origin, before their state and the federation. This could produce disunity and bring about tribalism, favoritism and nepotism in every sector of the country.

Thus there is the problem of dual loyalty or even triple loyalty, all of which results in little or no loyalty to the federation and lack of patriotism on the part of the citizens.

MUST READ: Can the Supreme Court reverse itself? See whether the Supreme Court can reverse its previous decision or not

5. It leads to tribalism, nepotism and favoritism:

When federalism is not properly managed, it may emphasize the differences amongst the people, such as requiring to disclose place of origin, state and religion and so forth. All these leads to tribalism, statism, disunity, fear of domination and forth among the ethnic nationalities which may lead to Civil strife, secession and so forth.

Where a federation is not well structured, there may be unhealthy competition, differences of opinion and resultant friction among the state or between a state and the federal government, leading to expense of so much time, energy and resources on litigation among other things, and consequently resulting in mutual distrust, hatred and disharmony in the system.

In a federation, there may be disparity in the level of development among the state due to a host of factors, such as good administration, good education, natural resources, investment friendly laws, prudence in financial management, right prioritization and so forth. This is undoubtedly one of the major critisms of federalism and that is why some nations prefer a unitary system of government instead.


Problems of local government in Nigeria

List of political parties in Nigeria (2020)

Most populated universities in Nigeria (2020)

Names of Nigerian Presidents From 1960 till Date

How to answer law problem questions using IRAC method


Okay! There you have the problems and challenges faced in a federal system of government. Just as I stated at the inception of this article, no particular system of government is perfect. The success of any system of government depends solely on the place and kind of people who practice the system of government. Federalism is best for a heterogeneous state that has many ethnic and religious groups. The reason is because it ensure unity and peace in the system.

This article is basically for academic purposes. If you have any questions or comments concerning the problems of federalism, kindly send them via the comment section. I will be glad to hear your opinion about a federal system of government.

Leave a Reply