Reasons for Federalism in Nigeria: See Why Federal System was Adopted

Have you ever wondered why Nigeria is practicing a federal system of government and not any other system? Do you know the reasons for federalism in Nigeria? In this article, i will explicitly enumerate and discuss the reasons for federalism in Nigeria.

First, it is pertinent to note that Nigeria did not choose federalism because it is the best or most practiced system of government in the world. I mean, there are other political systems the country could have adopted rather than federalism. Apparently, there are actually cogent reasons why the government of Nigeria chose federalism and those reasons are what I will be explaining to you in this article.

reasons for federalism in Nigeria

reasons for federalism in Nigeria

Coupled with that, we will be looking briefly at the meaning and history of federalism in Nigeria. These subtopics will also help you to quickly ascertain some of the reasons why Nigeria is currently practicing federalism when I start to list and explain them. So, without wasting much time, what is a federal system of government?

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What is federalism?

In short, federalism can be defined as a system of government in which political powers of the state are shared between the central government and other component units. In light of this, a constitution is said to be federal when its operates two levels of government, that is the federal and state, and each of this level exercise its different powers without interference by the other level.

On the other hand; a constitution is unitary when there are created by the law made by the central legislature and their existence depends upon the government to control, supervision of the central government.

From the above explanation, one can rightly say that the constitution of Nigeria and United States of America are federal constitutions while the constitution of France and the Republic of Ireland are Unitary constitutions.

Federalism therefore involves the linkage of individuals, groups and policies in lasting but limited union in such a way as to provide for the energetic pursuit of common goals while maintaining the respective integrities of all parties.

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Brief History of federalism in Nigeria

Federalism in Nigeria can be traced back to the colonial era. After the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914, Richard’s Constitution introduced some features of federalism into Nigeria’s political system. Basically, his constitution recognized three regions in Nigeria namely, the Northern, Western and Eastern region. There was also the colony of Lagos which was like the headquarters of British colonialists. This was apparently how federalism stated in Nigeria. Arthur Richard is currently known as the father of Nigerian Federalism. The main characteristics of Arthur Richard constitution was regionalism.

Following the criticisms made on Richard’s constitution, Macpherson took over power. In Macpherson’s constitution, there was a federal legislature called the house of representatives. This legislature was responsible for making federal laws. There was also the regional legislatures that could make laws for their regions. This feature of Macpherson’s constitution actually lead to a growth on the idea of federalism in Nigeria.

Conversely, the activities of Nigerian nationalists and many educated elites led to a number of constitutional reforms between 1951and 1957. These reforms created cleared the way for Nigeria to gain independence. In 1956, the Eastern and Western Regions secured the status of self-government while the Northern Region’s self-government had to wait until 1959.

The regional system operated by Ironsi to maintain a unitary system was changed to states government with the adoption of Gowon’s Decree No 52 which established 12 states from the former three regions in 1967.

The Murtala Mohammed’s Military Regime came to power in 1976 and created 7 states more. Ibrahim Babangida military regime created two additional states in 1987 making a total of 21. In 1991 he created 9 more states bringing them to thirty states. Finally Abacha created 6 which made them 36 states.


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Reasons for federalism in Nigeria

Below are the reasons why Nigeria adopted a federal system of government:

1. Unity of the country:

This is actually the core reason for federalism in Nigeria. Federalism was basically introduced to bring about peace and unity in the different regions of the country. In many countries of the world, federalism has emerged as a means of accommodating the growing desire of people to preserve or revive the intimacy of small societies and the growing necessity for larger combinations to mobilize the utilization of common resources.

 five reasons for the adoption of federalism in Nigeria explained

five reasons for the adoption of federalism in Nigeria explained

The unity here is brought about by the desire of the component units of the federation to form union in respect of some matters. Mere desire to unite is not enough but there must be the desire to remain separate in respect to other matters. If the desire to remain separate does not exist, the the association will not be federal but unitary with some delegation of powers to local government.

2. Political culture of Nigeria:

Another important factor that necessitated federalism in Nigeria was the political culture of the country. Evidently, Nigeria’s political culture was federalism friendly and that gave rise to easy adoption of federalism. As I have already explained, Nigeria is an amalgamation of three different regions with beliefs and customs. Federalism was the only solution to ensure peace and unity amongst the leaders and the citizens and that was why federalism was adopted into the Nigerian political system.

In the same way, the political culture of the United States is civic, republican and participatory. It represents a synthetic between two perspectiveneess; one is that politics of the United States should produce the good commonwealth and the other is that the principal task of politics is to create an open political market.

3. Ethnic, Religious and Geographical Factor:

No doubt, the Ethnic, Religious and Geographical nature of Nigeria also contributed to the reason why federalism was adopted. This is so because where federal principles apply, the various ethnic groups that cannot or don’t form majority to produce large part may have the opportunity of governing themselves within their federating unit controlled by them.

Common national, racial, religious, cultural linguistic or social ties have often contributed to the unification of political unit. In some areas where major communal or other social antagonism cuts across territorial boundaries, ranging through all the federating units, communities or classes have been driven to seek to protect or strengthen their position by inter-territorial union.

What are the reasons for federalism in nigeria?

What are the reasons for federalism in nigeria?

The fear of ethnic groups overlapping regional boundaries and the loyalties of castes cutting of some extent across provincial political boundaries also encourage some groups to support wider federal unions. There is no doubt that geographical factored are one of the influential reasons for federalism in Nigeria. The effectiveness of linking communications has been a vital factor in geographical unit.

4. Minority Marginalization:

Another cogent reason for federalism in Nigeria is the fear of marginalization. In other not to control only some parts of the big country, Nigeria, the colonial masters thought it wise to divide the country into different component units that will be represented in the government. This helped to solve the problem of marginalization in the leadership.

reasons for adopting federalism in Nigeria

reasons for adopting federalism in Nigeria

The fear of marginalization by the minority in a unitary system of government has, to a great extent, influenced the majority state support for federating states. In a Unitary system, the minority states cannot govern the entire region which is controlled by majority. Thus, federalism seemed to be the only option left for Nigeria because it allows for popular participation in government. Here, both the majority and minority are represented in the government.

5. Resource control:

The availability of resources in a particular region and the need for that area to control the resources has also been seen as a reason for a federal system in Nigeria. This has nexus with the particular sharing formula adopted. In a unitary constitution which opposes federal principles, everything belongs to the central government; the federating unit does not exist, let alone agitating for resource control. However, that is not so in a federal government system.

history of federalism in nigeria

history of federalism in nigeria

Take for example, in the Nigerian case of Attorney General of Federation v Attorney General of Abia and others (2002) 3 NCLR 1ar p 54, the issue of resource control in a true federalism was the bone of contention in that matter. Here, the Attorney General of the Federation Instituted the case to test the true position so that the federal government would be guided on the varying issues of derivation formula.

The Attorney General sought to know whether the 13% sharing formula of the oil producing states should include revenue from oil producing states should include revenue from oil production activities off shore. It should be noted that the Federal Military Government had earlier by fiat taken proceeds from offshore prospecting and drilling activities directly under federal eminent domain.

In his judgment, Ogundare JSC agreed that the provisions to Sections 162(2) of the constitution re-stabilized the principle of derivation. This particular corroborated federalism in Nigeria. It established that the resources of a particular state is not totally owned by the federal government.

6. Security:

The last but not the least on the reasons for federalism in Nigeria, is Security. Federalism allows for a stronger and fortified nation. Unlike a confederation, federalism has more political powers concentrated at the center government. This central government is the union of all the component units. Thus, whenever the need for a security comes up, the federal government takes up the matter and protects the whole nation.

five reasons for the adoption of federalism in nigeria

five reasons for the adoption of federalism in nigeria

Federalism is more preferable than any other system because it provides for a stronger nation. This was actually one of the things that was considered before federalism was adopted into Nigeria’s political system. In Nigeria currently, you can see that the federal government is usually in charge of any matter that concerns security in the country.


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By way of conclusion, it is important to note that the core reason why Nigeria is actually practicing federalism today is because the features of the system matches with the political nature of the country. For instance, it is truism that federalism is more practicable in a heterogenous country. Since Nigeria is actually heterogeneous in nature, it seems to be the best system for the country.

In my view, federalism is a good system for Nigeria. It allows for popular participation in politics throughout the country. Even the masses in the rural areas of the country are allowed to participate in politics by electing their representatives into office.

Hope this article was helpful? If you still have any question concerning the reasons for federalism in Nigeria, please do ask your questions using the comment section below this article.

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