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Published On: Fri, Jul 31st, 2020

Federalism in Nigeria: Emergence, features, problems and solutions

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By Aniekpeno John Inyang

Adopting a system of Government that suits all ethnic groups in Nigeria has been a source of Concern for every Government whether military or Civilian. Different systems of Government have been experimented with at different times in the Country’s history such as in 1966 when Aguiyi Ironsi introduced a Unitary system of government for the Country, in a space of six months, the government system was changed back to Federalism.
The system of Government that best suits the polity known as Nigeria has been a subject of great debate for a long time. This is mainly because Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society with each ethnic group having a unique set of cultural practices which differ fundamentally from each other. A system of government in very simple terms, refers to the practice of sharing political power in a country between a Central Government and its Component units. The percentage at which this political power is shared is what differentiates one system from the other. In governance, there are three major systems of government that exist for political leaders to choose from, these are:
Federal System: Power shared between a central government and its Component units with the Central Government having about 60 percent of the political power while 40 percent is left for the components.
Unitary system: Under this system, political power is still shared but the Central Government will have significantly more power than the Components in a manner that looks like 80 percent to ten percent.
Confederal system: This is a system in which the component units of Community has far more powers than the Central Government. If it were to be shared Mathematically the components will have about 80% of the political power while the Central government is left with 20%.
Adopting a system of Government that suits all ethnic groups in Nigeria has been a source of Concern for every Government whether military or Civilian. Different systems of Government have been experimented with at different times in the Country’s history such as in 1966 when Aguiyi Ironsi introduced a Unitary system of government for the Country, in a space of six months, the government system was changed back to Federalism. Con-federalism was also strongly advocated for in 1967 by a part of the Country during talks that were organised then to quell their secession desire. Amongst these three systems, Federalism has been the most trusted in Nigeria, from the time of its introduction to-date, it has been adjusted various times to cater for emerging demands with little or no success. This write-up intends to unravel the nature of the Federal system of government in Nigeria with a view to providing adequate understanding on the concept and possible solutions to some of its problems.
Emergence of Federalism in Nigeria
The British colonised Nigeria and to a large extent established the Federal system of government in the Country. It was Frederick Lugard who amalgamated Nigeria but cannot be said to have been the one who introduced federalism in Nigeria as he is only credited with only having created the Country by bringing together two separate protectorates. The British Governor of Nigeria that is credited with haven laid the foundation for federalism in Nigeria is Authur Richards. Arthur Frederick Richards was the British colonial administrator of Nigeria from 1943 to 1948 who promulgated the 1946 Richards Constitution. A key feature of the Richards Constitution was the division of the Country into three parts known as the Northern, Eastern and Western regions, to share power with the Central government based in Lagos at the time. the creation of these regions effectively laid the foundation for the practice of federalism in Nigeria as there now existed component units to share governmental or political power with the Central government. Although these regions existed, there had little to no power to actually make and enforce decisions. It was only in 1954 with the promulgation of the Lyttleton Constitution that the three regions were given relative autonomy to rule over themselves. By giving autonomy to the three regions, Sir Oliver Lyttleton officially introduced federalism in Nigeria. Nigeria practiced this system until 1966 when the military regime of Aguiyi Ironsi abrogated the Federal structure in exchange for the Unitary system of government. The Unitary system didn’t last for too long as Yakubu Gowon came into power through a counter coup d’état and returned the Country back to a federal system. From 1966 to date, Nigeria has kept faith with the federal system with only modifications to the system, however, despite these modifications, there are still constant complaints about the system from Nigerians seeking for it to be further modified.
Features of Federalism in Nigeria.
The following are some of the key features of the Federal system of government in Nigeria:
Three tier Government: Federalism in Nigeria can best be described as the constitutional division of governmental power between the Federal Government (Central Government with about 60% of power) and the state and Local Governments( component units with about 40% of power). The Constitution clearly stipulates that the governmental power in the country be shared between these three tiers or levels of government known as the Federal, state and Local Governments.
Bi-cameral Central Legislature: In Nigeria’s federal structure, the central legislature is divided into two houses or Chambers collectively called the National Assembly. It is believed that this division enhances better involvement of citizens from the different states in the law making process. The process of having this two Chambers of law makers operating simultaneously is known Bi-cameralism. Unicameralism where we have only one house of the legislature is used at the state level.
Legislative list: federalism in Nigeria makes use of what is known as a legislative list. A legislative list is a kind of document that stipulates what areas of governance the tiers of government can act on. This list is broken down into three which are:
Exclusive List: the things that are found on this list can only be handled by the Central government. Examples of things on this list are: defence, foreign affairs, immigration, printing of currencies, the police etc.
Concurrent List: The items on this list assigned to both the federal government and the state governments, although the federal government has superior say in times of Conflict. Items on this list include health, education, agriculture, housing etc.
Residual List: The items on this list are the leftover powers not included in either the exclusive or the concurrent list. The powers in the residual list are left for the component units. Examples of items on this list are chieftancy titles, naming of streets, construction of markets etc.
Written and Rigid Constitution: Federalism in Nigeria derives its power from a rigid constitution written down in a single document. This fact is what gives the practice of federalism in Nigeria a legal backing. It also helps to ensure that the system cannot be arbitrarily changed to suit only level of government. In case of the need to change the system of government, all the levels of Government have to be in agreement.
Revenue Allocation Formula: This refers to the accepted strategy for the sharing of government funds in the country between the tiers of government in the Country’s federal system. The formula used in the country follows several principles, some of these principles are identified below:
Derivation: This principle states that a part of the country from which a particular resource is gotten will get a larger percentage of revenue gotten from the sale of the resources. For example, if the crude oil gotten from Akwa Ibom State is sold by the federal government, the federal government may agree to give 13% of whatever is realised from the said sale to Akwa Ibom State government while other states will get far less.
Principle of Need: This principle states that a part of the Country that has a particular financial need due to something like a conflict or health crisis may receive more government revenue in comparison to other states to take care of that need. An example is where Borno state receives more revenue than other states because they need to tackle the Boko haram insurgency.
Principle of Population: This principle emphasizes that a component unit with more population will receive more revenue than other states with lesser population. In this instance a state like Lagos state with over twelve million PEOPLE (NBS, 2016)will receive more revenue from the federal government than state a state like Bayelsa with two million (NBS, 2016) people.
Principle of Even development: The federal government may also decide to share revenue equally based on the fact that they seek to achieve even development in the country.
Problems of federalism in Nigeria and possible solutions
The following are some of the problems of federalism in Nigeria:
There is usually an unfair division of resources in the Country between the different component units due to the various principles of revenue allocation which is mostly unequal.
Solution: It is important for the central government to give room for the component units of the Country to come up with ways to raise revenue in their own ways. In the course of revenue allocation, the principle of even development should be given greater preference over other principles.
Smaller groups occasionally have the fear of being marginalized by larger ethnic groups which leads to the constant demand for more states or the threat of secession.
Solution: The federal government should put in measures to allay fears of marginalization. Things like the Federal character should be enshrined in the Constitution and practiced to the latter with no form of politics.
Federalism is very expensive to run especially in the area of revenue allocation. This sometimes creates inter-state conflicts in the country.
Solution: If the country must practice federalism more avenues for raising revenue must be looked into.
There are claims that the federal government in Nigeria is too powerful than it ought to be. This claim is usually thought to be the cause for unhealthy quest to get into the federal government at all cost.
Solution: States and local government au should be given more autonomy in comparison to the central government. This will go a long way in ensuring that the federal government does not go beyond it boundaries in governance. This can easily be done by taking off some of the 68 items in the exclusive list and giving them to state governments.
Federalism makes it difficult to attain national unity as the component units are free to operate in whatever manner they wish to without any form of consideration to ethnic harmony.
Solution: National unity and ethnic harmony should be treated as the most important element of Nigeria’s Federalism. States and local government should be allowed to act how they wish but without Tampering with matters bordering on national unity. Freedom of movements and residence in any part of the country should be strictly followed.
Aniekpeno John Inyang is a Public Affairs Analyst

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