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 It is no gain saying that Nigeria is one of those countries that operates a federal system of government along side with the western world. Given the territorially delineated cleavages abounding in Nigeria and the historical legacy of division among ethnic groups, regions, and sections, the federal imperative was so fundamental that even the military government- characteristically Unitarian, hierarchical, and centralist- attached importance to the continuation of a federal system of government. But it must be said here that, while the system benefit most western countries, the reverse is the case for Nigeria considering the high level of political instability, ethnic crisis, and ethno/religious crisis among others The reason is not far fetch; Nigeria is operating a federal system in an awkward manner and this has make frictions and clashes possible which are currently posing a threat to her political development. To this end, this paper seeks to analyze Nigerian federalism from history, reasons why she opted for the system, the effects of the system on her political development and a plausible way forward to a true federal arrangement 



Nigeria is a country of extraordinary diversity and as such, one of extraordinary complexities. These complexities are a reflection of the avalanche of ethno-cultural and religious groups co-habiting the territory and the intricacies of interaction among them. Indeed, Nigeria adventure into pluralism of religious and ethnic diversities owes its origin to colonial conquest which permitted the entire continent of Africa beginning from the early 19th century. In the case of Nigeria, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorate made Nigeria a multi- ethnic and multi lingual country

Perhaps cognizance of the existence of latest threats to the future political stability of the emergent nation-state, the founding fathers were desirous of a system of government that would neutralize the political threats and accommodate the divergent interest of the various ethno-cultural groups. This desire eventually found expression in the federal system of government as a diversity management technique. But it must be stated here that, with the advent of the 1979 and 1999 constitution, there has been a profound change in the practice of federalism in the country in the sense that, the system has been practice in an awkward manner and this has called for into question whether Nigeria is truly operating a true federal system. This question has further accentuated by recent damming report of the national intelligence council of the United State Government which forecasted that by the year 2020, Nigeria might cease to exist as a nation-state.

Given this Background and against the fact that the operation of the system per se started far back in 1914, what is the continue relevance of the federal idea in Nigeria? This is against the background of hiccups experience so far with the system and its attendant implications for political stability. Further to the above question, what are the sources of the present worry over adaptability of the system of Nigeria’s situation and what are the future hopes for politically stable Nigeria through the practice of federalism?



There is no universally accepted definition of the word federalism; the concept of federalism has received broad scholarly attention. To this end, each scholar defines it according to their perception. Thus, the meaning of federalism is surrounded by what Dare called ‘‘state of uncertainty and vagueness’’. Peter Ordeshook and Olga Slivetsova are of the opinion that ‘‘the meaning of federalism is yet to escape the state of uncertainty’’. This explains why each scholar approaches the study based on individual background and inclination.

Early writers on the concept of federalism such as Jean Bodin, Olto, Cosmanus among others, viewed federalism as a voluntary form of political union of independent authorities. The union either temporary or permanent, was based on the need for special common purposes like defense, trade, communications and other reasons that would benefit the parties involved. Contemporary writers on the concept of federalism such as Livingstone, Macmahon, and Riker among others viewed federalism as a mutual interactions between and direct contact with, at least two levels of government. These scholars take their root from the 1787 American constitution. The definition of federalism by these scholars rest on the fundamental principle that, federalism is a form of governmental and institutional structure, deliberately designed by political ‘‘architects’’, to cope with the twin but difficult task of maintaining unity while also preserving diversity.

The most cogent, clearly expressed and the most acceptable definition is that of K.C Wheare. All other formulation from other scholars like Livingstone, Macmahon, and Riker are variations of his work. In his book he talked about ‘‘federal principle’’ i.e. the method of dividing powers so that general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent of one another. Thus, Wheare’s proposition posits that the federal principle essentially entails a legal division of powers and functions among levels of government with a written constitution guaranteeing and reflecting the division.  Wheare’s formulation of federalism is been drawn correctly from the United States of America which is regarded by him as the archetype of federal government. Since other formulation of federalism from other scholars are variations of his work, the basic tenets or elements of federalism according to K.C Wheare will be use  as a templates to determines Nigerian federalism and the extent to which Nigeria has fulfilled the basic tenets of federalism. The basic tenets according to him are:

a)      There must be at least two levels of governments and there must be constitutional division of powers among the levels of governments.

b)      Each levels of government must be co-ordinate and independent.

c)      Each levels of government must be financially independent. He argued that this will afford each levels of government the opportunity of performing their functions without depending or appealing to the others for financial assistance.

d)      There must be Supreme Court of the independent judiciary. He argued that in terms of power sharing, there is likely to be conflict hence, there must be independent judiciary to resolve the case.

e)      In terms of the amendment of the constitution, no levels of government should have undue power over the amendment process.

He maintained that, once a country is able to satisfy these conditions, such country is said to practice federalism.



Historically, the structure of Nigeria federalism can be traced far back to 1914 when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated though with unitary form of administration. Since then, governmental power that existed in Nigeria 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. Therefore, with the existence and recognition of the two autonomous parts of Northern and Southern provinces, the administrative system of Nigeria wore a somehow outlook of a federation.

The further division of the country into three regions by the then Governor of Nigeria Sir Authur Richards under the Richard constitution of 1946 gave more support to the emergence of Nigeria as a federal state. The Macpherson constitution of 1951 gave further concrete support in the sense that, the constitution appointed lieutenant Governors to head these three regions and granted legislative power to the legislative and executive councils that were established. The Lyttleton constitution of 1954 removed the final shade of a unitary system of government from Nigeria by establishing a true federal state in the sense that it shared powers between the central and the regional governments. To avoid constitutional conflicts that might arise between the central and regional governments, a supreme court was established to handle such conflict

After independence, Nigeria constitution has continued to retain the federal system imposed by the departed colonialist but with some minor modification. Based on the forgoing, the analyses of the evolution of Nigeria federalism can be based on three fundamental reasons.

a)      The British deliberately imposed the federal system on Nigeria in order to maintain a neo-colonial control of the country after independence. Since federalism is more or less an evidence of some form of disunity, political weakness and uneven economic development, the British deliberately wanted to keep the federating units as apart as possible so as to meddle in the internal affairs of Nigeria to their own economic and political advantage after they would have granted her independence.

b)      The second aspect emphasizes the fact that historical and geographical factors determined the political evolution of Nigeria. Nigeria being a large and culturally variegated country could not have been governed from one centre. This interpretation is much more objective than the former. But it must be pointed that while the historical and geographical factors determined the constitutional evolution of Nigeria, these factors did not determine the shape and form of the federation that the British helped to create in Nigeria.

c)      It was not a question of a country that was originally unitary, being broken into federating units, but of formerly totally independent kingdoms, Empires, nations and Autonomous communities being brought together, and ending up in a federal union.

In line with this historical evolution of Nigerian federalism, it should be noted that, the choice of federalism as the preferred system of government for Nigeria was not accidental. Given the heterogeneity of Nigerian polity, the founding fathers of Nigeria adopted the federal system as the most viable option of protecting the core interest of the federating units. This was demonstrated in the federal constitution, especially in the 1963 federal republican constitution, that clearly defined the jurisdictions of the federating units. For example, each of the federating units had its own constitution, one of the key properties of federalism. It should be noted that, before the attainment of independence by Nigeria in 1960, the federating units – Eastern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria and Western Nigeria – were, in all intents and purposes independent entities. That the three federating units attained their independent in 1957 (Eastern and Western Nigeria) and 1959 (Northern Nigeria) further buttressed their respective sovereignty. If they had wanted, there was nothing preventing any of them to go their separate ways as independent states in the international community in 1957 and 1959 respectively. Thus, when some contemporary analysts of Nigerian politics blame the British amalgamation of 1914 as the source of Nigeria problems, they should be reminded of the lost opportunity exhibited by Nigerian leaders to disengage from the forced amalgamation when they had the choice in 1957. Like Nigeria, the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was also a creation of British rule. It is significant to note that, unlike Nigeria, the constituent units of Rhodesia and Nyasaland elected to go their separate ways by becoming the independent state of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi respectively.

Despite the introduction of federalism since the British left, Nigeria political system has been characterized by series of instability and backwardness. It is on this basis that I shall consider some of the problems that bedevil Nigeria federal system



Let us consider the contribution of the most consummate student of federalism Nigeria has ever known-Chief Obafemi Awolowo (see ‘Thoughts on Nigerian constitution’, pp. 48-49). ‘‘From our study of the constitutional evolution of all the countries of the world, two things stand out clearly and prominently. First in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality- particularly of language- a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangement must disappear. Secondly, a federal constitution is usually a more or less dead letter in any country which lacks any of the factors conducive to federalism.’’ From the facts and analysis quoted from Chief Obafemi Awolowo book, the two following principles can be deduced:

  1. If a country is bilingual or multi-lingual like Nigeria, the constitution must be federal, and the constituent state must be organized on linguistic basis;
  2. Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multi-lingual or multi-national country must fail, in the long run.

Let us now place it to Nigeria situation and see whether Nigeria has been living up to the federal arrangement designed by K.C Wheare and Obafemi Awolowo. It is surprising that Nigeria only operates federal system on paper. The federal structures have never existed in Nigeria society. The reasons are not far fetch; First, the federal government, ever since the intervention of the military in government has always assumed superiority over the state government, Because military federalism had been more common than civilian federalism, this model made the federal government the ‘‘master in relation to the dependent’’ state governments. At independence largely autonomous regions possessed the residual powers in the federation and functioned almost independently. The regions had independent revenue bases; separate constitutions, foreign missions, and the primary and secondary education were under the residual list while the university education was under the concurrent list. All these changed under military rule. Attempts by the state governments to reassert their autonomy during the second republic were aborted by the return of military rule. Some state governments that were controlled by parties other than the NPN took the NPN-controlled federal government to court many occasions over matter of jurisdiction competence. This trend also reoccurs during the third republic when the Lagos state governor in person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu took the federal government to court over the issue of local government creation in Lagos state. This act, where the federal government sees itself as superior to the state governments dose not make federalism work perfectly. Federalism is therefore, an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a central authority and a number of regionalized governments in such a way that each unit, including this central authority, exits as a government separately and independently from the others.  As Wheare put it ‘‘the fundamental and distinguishes characteristics of a federal system is that neither the  central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather the two are coordinate and independent’’. Each government exist, not as an appendage of another government but as an autonomous entity  in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government. Thus, the federal government on one hand and the state governments on the other hand are autonomous in their respective spheres. However, this autonomous entity has never being found in Nigeria federalism and this has continue to hamper the political stability in the country.

Secondly, is the issue of financial autonomy proposed by K.C Wheare. It should be noted here that this financial autonomy has never been achieved in Nigerian federalism. The high level of intervention of the federal government through national financial policies, grants- in-aids among others, increases the power of the federal government and makes the federating units subordinate to the federal government. The reason is not far fetch- the increased revenue from oil boom has made the federal government to be more financially powerful over the state governments than before. As a result of this financial power, the federal government now embarks on some projects which were meant to be in the state residual list. The universal basic education board project is an example of this. Similarly, this increased revenue from oil boom enables the federal government to give financial support to the state governments. In this sense, any state governments that proves ‘‘stubborn’’ or a state not control by the party at the centre is not likely to get financial support from the federal government. Vivid examples are Lagos and Yobe states among others. Hardly these states have received any form of financial support or assistance from the federal government because in several cases, these states have always been at the loggerhead with the federal government and also, these states are not control by the party at the centre. In some cases, some state governments, in an attempt to get financial favour, have decided to have a good rapport with the federal government even at their on expense. In practice, this act dose not makes federalism work perfectly as proposed by K.C Wheare. In a federation, each government enjoys financial autonomy. This will afford each levels of government the opportunity of performing their functions without appealing or begging for financial survival as we have seen in Nigeria since the return to civil democratic rule.

Another issue to look at is the bolstering of local governments as a third tier of government. This process began with the 1976 local government reforms, which introduced a uniform local government system; gave local governments’ jurisdictional competence in matters such as markets, automobile parks, and collection of local taxes; and made it statutory for both the federal and state governments to give specified percentages of their revenue to local governments. Although these reforms were embodied in the 1979 constitution and also strengthened in the new 1999 constitution, State governments in the third and forth republic refused to allow local governments any measure of autonomy, partly due to these two reasons

  1.                      i.            They (the state governments) want to claim their superiority over the local governments just as the federal government is claiming their superiority over them. For this reason, effort has been made by state governments to reduce the control of the local governments
  2.                    ii.            They (the state governments) are still struggling to reclaim their autonomy from the federal government

Because the federal government accepted the recommendation of the Political Bureau that local governments should be made an effective tier of government, effort has been made to reduce their control by state governments. All local government funds are now paid directly to the local government by the federal government rather than through the state governments. The functions and jurisdiction of local governments have been streamlined, and state governments were asked to stay out of local affairs. This measure increased the importance of local governments and infused in their civilian-elected functionaries a certain stubbornness leading to open conflicts with state governments over matter of jurisdiction. In several cases, these conflicts became the subject of litigation. State governments resisted the loss of jurisdiction, and many underscore the subordinate status of local governments at every opportunity.

Looking at another issue is resource control. Nigeria has witnessed and is likely to witness more inter-ethnic group crisis if states are not granted the right to rule and control their resources, and this will continue to put Nigeria in a political state of aporia. One throne stone example is the Niger Delta regions. We should recall that this discriminatory resource policy or usurpation of states resource control by the central government was initiated by Lt. Col Gowon as an expedient measure to pursue the 1967-1970 civil war. Since then, states especially the Niger Delta states have been transformed into beggars pleading for their rightful share of their resources and this has resulted to several crises between the people of the regions and the federal government. Let it be known that no amount of amnesty can solve this except the federal government completely hands off from the control of the Niger Delta resources. Similarly, it should be stressed that, the demand for resource control by the Niger Delta states dose not negate the right of other states to exercise control over their respective natural resources, like groundnuts, iron, solid minerals, etc. This is a key prerequisite of federalism, and the denial of this tenet is injurious to federalism. A federating unit, and not the central government, should exercise jurisdiction over the resources in its territory. Thus, the statement by the former governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano state requesting the states of the Niger Delta to ‘‘account for their management of the 13 per cent derivations fund they are recently receiving before demanding a rise of 50 per cent’’ is an assault on the tenet of federalism (see The Guardian, Wednesday, June 01, 2005). The point here is that, the current struggles by some states in Nigeria especially the Niger Delta states over their resources will continue to give more rise to different types of sects, groups and militants that will continue to disrupt the political system of Nigeria if the federal government fail to hands off from the control of state resources.

The last issue to consider is fiscal federalism. Fiscal federalism is a concept that implies a financial arrangement and relations among the tiers of government which allow significance fiscal function to be exercised at lower level of government. Basically, we can liken it to revenue allocation. To properly understand the issue of revenue allocation in Nigeria, it may be necessary to broadly analyze the revenue system in Nigeria.

In Nigeria there is what is known as vertical and horizontal principle.

Vertical principle: The vertical principle is a form of revenue system where by the federal government retains some of the federally collected revenues as its independent revenue to be paid into the federation account for distribution among the tiers of government in accordance with agreeable formula.

Horizontal principle: The horizontal principle is a form of revenue system which has to do with the distribution of revenue among state and local governments. In this form of revenue system, consideration is given to issues like land mass, population, large number of local government etc.

One of the major problems facing Nigeria federalism is the issue of revenue allocation i.e. how the resources generated in the country should be shared among the three tiers of government. In an attempt to solve this problem, various principle of revenue allocation has been adopted and they are:

Principle of derivation: This principle is based on the fact that the revenue in the country should be allocated on the basis of each state’s contribution to total revenue i.e. major resources derived from a particular area should be allocated to the area. This principle was attacked because it makes rich states richer since the more developed states will contribute more to the federation account, starving need states of developmental funds.


Principle of national interest: This principle is based on the need to develop states, improve progress, and sense of belonging to the federation. This is important considering the fact that many states in Nigeria are not economically viable which make them to depend solely on the monthly federal government allocation to meet their developmental needs. This principle was also attacked by politicians from oil producing states, labeling the northern states as ‘‘parasites’’

Principle of independent revenue: This principle is based on the federal government discretion in allocating revenue to state and local governments. Before independence, the regional government revenue allocation was more than that of the federal government, but recent experience has shown the reverse in the sense that the federal government allocates more revenue to itself than the 36 states put together. This principle was attacked by experts that by international standard, Nigeria discretionary transfer of revenue by the federal government to states and local government is small.

Thus, having examined the various means or ways Nigeria has attempted to solve the issue of revenue allocation, it must be categorically stated here that the problem of revenue allocation is still a reoccurring decimal in Nigeria political system which have been causing a major set back to the country federal system. This is evidence considering the September rejection of revenue allocation by the state governments (see the nation news paper, October 18, 2011). The inefficiency and rejection of the fiscal policy adopted by successive regime in Nigeria has justified the fact that until a decisive and technical blue print that will be all embracing is worked out, which can encourage fiscal efficiency, fiscal equalization and fiscal autonomy; Nigeria will still remain in a fiscal state of confusion. Similarly, the political discord in the past and present is also a fundamental pointer to the fact that Nigeria must be quickly returned to a sincere and true federal arrangement, where every level of government will be free to do it own thing, in its own way and at its own pace. Until this is achieved, the issue of fiscal federalism will remain a timed bomb that will someday explodes and tear apart the already shaky foundation of Nigerian federalism



A system of government, federalism allows for the division of sovereignty between the central government and the federating units. The management of this dual sovereignty makes federalism a complex political option. Thus the two levels of government-the federal and state are independent and coordinates. It is vital that the division of power between the federal government and the federating units reflects the core interests of the respective federating units, without compromising the abilities of the federal government to effectively represent the federation.

Since the federal government exists because of the consensus of the federating units, the federating units decide how much power and authority they each would cede to the federal government. While for example, the federal government is responsible for national defence, foreign policy, international trade, currency, monetary and fiscal policies, citizenship, etc., the federating units exercise jurisdiction in education, natural resources, agriculture, culture etc.

It is essential that a balance be maintained between centralising and decentralising tendencies in order to ensure harmony in the federation. While a highly centralised central government is injurious to the federal polity as it could lead to a quasi federal (or unitary) system as it is found in present Nigeria federal system, a highly decentralized federalism, on the other hand, could destabilise the federal polity as it is capable of eroding the power of the central government and making the federating units too powerful. The current Nigeria federal system is highly centralised, hence its unitary characterisation as evidenced in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

When the founding fathers of Nigeria opted for a federal system of government in 1954, as opposed to a unitary system, it was a conscious decision designed to protect the diversities and identities of the federating units. They agreed to established central governments that unite them, while simultaneously agreeing to retain their independence in order to safeguard their respective diversities. This can be further buttress by the word of Awolowo’s famous statement ‘‘Nigeria is not a nation; it is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’. There are various national or ethical groups in the country; it is a mistake to designate them tribes. Each of them is a nation by itself with many tribes and clans. The fact that they have common overlord does not destroy this fundamental difference’’. In 1953, during the debate on the famous motion for independence by chief Anthony Enahoro, Sir Ahmadu Bello, premier of the Northern region and leader of the ruling NPC (Northern people Congress), made one of the most eloquent cases for true federalism when he said; ‘’sixty years ago there was no country called Nigeria. What is now Nigeria consisted of a number of large and small communities all of which were different in their outlook and beliefs. The advent of the British and of western education has not materially altered the situation and these many and varied communities have not knit themselves into a composite unit……….’’ Thus not only were Awolowo and sir Ahmadu Bello’s statement absolutely correct, it is even more accurate about today’s Nigeria than the Nigeria of 40s. Inter-ethnic intolerance which has become chronic, confirms that we are a country of nations, as is evident from the clashes we have experienced since the return of civil democratic rule in 1999.

However, as I have argued above, the basic tenets of federalism that defined the federal structure of Nigeria between 1954 and January 1966 has been jettisoned in favour of a unitary structure robed in federal colour. The challenge therefore, is for Nigerians to return to the principles of federalism. The status quo, as enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria, 1999, is not sustainable. Let us identify some of the flaws in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. It should be stressed that these flaws were injected into the government structure by the military, where such practices/rules are considered modus operandi. They derived from the series of decrees enacted by the various military dictatorships that had ruled Nigeria

1)      A federal government has no locus standi in determining the number of local government councils in any of the federal units. This is an area of exclusive state jurisdiction.

2)      Federal revenue allocation to the states should not be based on the number of local government councils and or size of the state, but on the population of the given state. Based on its revenue generation capabilities, and the imperative of good governance and ethnic peculiarities, each state should be free to determine its respective number of local government councils

3)      All reference to local government councils and state capitals should be expunged from the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

4)      It is incongruous to consider any state governor and/or his officials as representatives of the president

5)      Though local government creation is under the jurisdiction of a state government, no state government should have the authority to suspend/terminate any elected or appointed official of a local government council. Just as the state government is not an administrative organ of the federal government, similarly, no local government council should be considered an administrative organ of a state government



We have clearly seen that the future of this country lies in only one direction- true federalism, together with fiscal federalism and resource control by the owners of the resources. In making specific recommendations for structural changes which will create an atmosphere of enduring peace, harmony and progress, there should be a clear division of power between the federal government and the state government. The federal government should exercises exclusive  power in certain basic matters of general relevance and importance, leaning the bulk of the subject matter to the state, with a few in the concurrent list. A federal government should exercise powers exclusively only in the following areas: National Defence, Foreign Relations, Currency, Exchange Control, Telecommunications, Immigration, Customs and Excise, Copyright, Patents and Design, Citizenship and Naturalisation, Shipping in external waters. And other matters currently in the legislative list (federal) should be in the concurrent list (federal and state). The states and the federal government should exercise their powers in these matters in a manner that does not interfere with the jurisdiction of other authorities. In the following areas, the state must have exclusive authority except that the federal government could lay down standards and guidelines and perhaps make grants towards some of these subject matters. Agriculture and Fisheries, Education, Health, Labour, Housing, Local Government, Forestry, Town and Country Planning, Lands, State Judiciary, Vetinary Services. Similarly, the local government must be given autonomy in their own jurisdiction and state governments should hands off from the control of local affairs.

As already noted, the state have to be given the economic power to carry out their increased political, social and economic responsibilities. A system of revenue allocation to meet this may be summarised as follows

  1. Minerals-Oil and Solid: 50% of the proceeds should be paid to the state from which it is produced. Such states territory includes 200 miles continental shelf
  2. Customs and Excise: 50% should go to the state to which the goods are going or in the case of excise duty, the state in which the goods are produced.
  3. Value Added Tax: Only states should collect value added tax. The federal government should have no such power. State should retain their VAT for their own use. The VAT is a tax on the customer of goods and services within the territory of the state. The federal government may only collect VAT in the federal capital territory. Thus all taxes made from purchases of petroleum product from a state should be remitted to the state. At the moment, VAT is collected and administered by the federal government which keep a percentage to itself and then distribute the balance in an arbitrary manner, under which states from which little or nothing has been collected, get the bulk of the funds.

Lastly, a conference of Nigeria Nationalities should be call. Nigeria, according to the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is a mere geographical expression. As we saw earlier, the nations and peoples of Nigeria existed separately and independently for century until they were forcefully brought into the artificial state called Nigeria. The territory called Nigeria is as much a victim of European colonial callousness as the rest of Africa. Many of the inter boundaries of Nigeria are as artificial as inter-state boundaries of Africa. Was it not Lord Salisbury who stated thus at the Berlin conference 1885: ‘‘We have been engaged in drawing lines on map where no white man’s foot ever trod; we have been given away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we have never know where the rivers and lakes and mountain were.’’  Another Briton, an official who participated in the drawing of the Southern section of the Nigeria Cameroon border, is also recorded to have recalled, years after that: ‘‘In those days we just took a blue pencil and ruler, and we put it down at old Calabar, and drew the blue line to Yola…… I recollect thinking when I was sitting having an audience with the Emir (of Yola) surrounded by his tribes, that it was a very good thing that he did not know that I, with a blue pencil, had drawn a line through his territory.’’ The carry over of this artificiality of boundary into Nigeria, is evident when Kwara and Kogi states are treated as Northern, instead of Yoruba (Western) states, or when Asaba and Agbor (Oshimili, Anioma and Ika) are included in a Delta state. It is therefore clear that a conference of Nationalities will involve, not only a restructuring of functions between the bloated centre and the states, but there also has to be, a re-grouping of the states along national/ethnic lines. To continue with the examples I have given above, Kwara and Kogi will merge with the Yoruba states and Asaba and Agbor (Oshimili, Anioma and Ika) should merge with their sister Igbo states east of the Niger.



This paper has focused on Nigerian federalism, its origin, problems and possible ways to a true federal system. In my study, I have reviewed the concept of federalism, and its basic tenets proposed by K.C Wheare. I have also gone ahead to place the basic tenets of K.C Wheare federalism to Nigeria situation vis a vis the definition and features of federalism and I argued that, the federal system proved to be workable in Nigeria between 1954 and January 1966 but the advent of the military makes the federal government to sees itself as superior to the state governments. This is due to the fact that military federalism has been more common in Nigerian polity. Apart from this problem, other problems discussed include: the superiority of the state governments over the local governments. This is due to the fact that, since the federal government sees itself as superior to the state governments, the state government in turn prove their superiority over the local governments and this act does not make federalism workable in the country as it negate one of the features of federalism proposed by K.C Wheare which posit that Each levels of government must be co-ordinate and independent.

            Resource control by the owners of the resources is also one of the problems I considered that has derailed Nigerian federalism. Here, I agued that ethnic crisis is likely to continue unless the federal government allows the owners of resources to control their resources in their own way. The present federal arrangement where the Federal government control and dominate the large share of states resources has been a clog on a wheel on Nigerian federalism and this has to stop if Nigeria really want to experience true federal system. The last issue I considered is fiscal federalism in Nigeria. Successive government has failed to find solution to how revenue in the country should be allocated. This is evidence considering the on going revenue allocation that was rejected by the state and federal governments. I finally argued that, for Nigeria to live the apron of a unitary system robed in federal colour, 50% of the proceeds should be paid to the state from which it is produced. Also, 50% should go to the state to which the goods are going or in the case of excise duty, the state in which the goods are produced. These are among other recommendations discussed.

            On a final note, Nigeria federal structure since inception has witnessed several fiscal and structural reformation as new realities emerge and this is not without major deficits but like in all political organization, there is no prefect policy. The Nigerian federal structure may not have succeeded in solving all its political ills, it is nonetheless, what has kept us unite together. However, even non federal systems are faced with similar problems bothering on threat to its very existence. Therefore, our inability to have stability in the political system in spite of years of practicing federalism should not be taken as bankruptcy of the system. In line with this, I come to conclusion that the best form of government for Nigeria is the federal system with its basic tenets properly and carefully administered. Thus, I submit that a true federal system in Nigeria is possible if the basic tenets that defined federalism are enshrined in the constitution.




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We are not yet running a true federalism.  What we have presently is a unitary government in disguise.  It baffles me that our honurable members of the house are yet to take positive steps towards addressing the lopsided federal structure.


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