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Nigeria and her problem of Federalism

Updated on July 11, 2015
A Photo shot from Nigeria's 53rd Independent anniversary capturing Nigeria pupils
A Photo shot from Nigeria's 53rd Independent anniversary capturing Nigeria pupils

It took me time to research and write on this particular topic because according to a popular saying ‘If you know where you are coming from, then you would definitely have an idea where you are heading to’. This article is more like the historical background of Nigeria which other countries of the western world have misjudged her natives as being very mischievous and accused of being corrupt.

Frederick Lugard during amalgation of 1914
Frederick Lugard during amalgation of 1914

It is already known that more than half of the countries in the world today were colonized by Britain including America. But nobody or very few a people know the reasons why they were successful in colonization era or why they even had to go into colonizing nations. But after series of serious research work, I came to find out the reason why the English had to leave their country and travel miles to another country to dominate them. The conclusion was that there were a lot of factors that motivated the migration of the Europeans especially the British to America and other countries of the world at that time. These includes political factors (where some Britons left England because they could no longer cope under the autocratic rule of King James I or the Stuart Kings), religious factors (religious wars which began in Germany by some groups called Protestant Reformation against the Roman Catholic Church) and most importantly economic factors. The English merchants and businessmen who couldn’t survive the corrupt government of James I (who believed in theory of Divine Rights, enforced laws by bribing and most times without parliaments’ approval) left out of anger and resentment. They sought to improve their economic conditions, lured by the prospect of a good business venture, cheap land and labour. Thus led to the first English settlement in America, Africa and other parts of the world, slave trade was born. The merchants developed joint-stock companies chartered and backed by the power of the King and mother country.

These merchants and businessmen who left out of anger and resentment were the ones that later came as our colonial masters. So the British came with corruption, never cared to sanitize the system and left us to wallow in corruption which we are suffering from till date. Now they blame us for being a corrupt country. Why? But must we keep crying over spilled milk?

Did you know that?

In October 1960, Nigeria became the fourth federation in amongst the Commonwealth (British colony) nations to achieve independence since 1945 and the only country to come to independence with a fully operating federal system of government

Before I go deep into the problem with Nigeria’s federal system of government, I had to do a quick recap above of what led us into this corrupt system.

Nigeria Past Leaders
Nigeria Past Leaders
Nigeria and her 36 states
Nigeria and her 36 states
Queen Elizabeth visit to Nigeria
Queen Elizabeth visit to Nigeria
This photo is from 1 January 1914, the day Lord Lugard merged Northern, Southern
This photo is from 1 January 1914, the day Lord Lugard merged Northern, Southern | Source


Nevertheless, just as in America, there are several reasons why previously separate states come together to form a federal state and some of these reasons were also applicable to Nigeria. They are as follows;

Population and Ethnic affiliation: Nigeria is a nation divided into so many different ethnic groups having a diversity of interests. So the idea of Nigerian federation was a deliberate British creation by that man Lord Lugard through his amalgamation of North and south in 1914. Nigeria has been the most populated country in Africa ever since the time of her amalgamation with currently above 160 million people and the British knew that they faced the problem of multiple (over 250) ethnic groups so they decided to concentrate power at the north which has Hausas as the highest populated part of the country both in landmass and people. This is because before the advent of the British, there has been series of ethnic clashes between the Hausas and the middle belt over power of supremacy.

Northern Dominance
Northern Dominance

Domination factor: Being a nation with three major and widely known ethnic groups (Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba) it was obvious that at the point of her independence, all the other minor ethnic groups knew that the ethnic group with the strongest power might dominate others politically and this dominance might last to the extent of them having no chance or access to the reins of government. So the need for federal system of government arose and was eventually adopted.

Economic reason: This also necessitated the Nigeria in adopting a federation because some independent states who don’t have much resources and internally generated revenue would like to join to benefit from federal allocations, industrial and social development for the purpose of prosperity.

Administrative and geographical contiguous: During the British colonial era and prior to 1960 Independence, all the ethnic groups in Nigeria were united under one unitary form of government from 1946-54. So being a country with a very large landmass of 923,768 square km and whose ethnic groups are geographically close to one another, there was need for governmental power to be decentralized for effective administration hence the adoption of federal system was necessary.

The Nigeria Flag
The Nigeria Flag

Problems of Nigeria since adopting the Federal system of government

Now this is the conspiracy theory behind the corruption eating deeper into the country today. After independence and during the first republic, the Western, Eastern and Northern part of the country were very much different in all ramification in terms of history, climate, geographical description, language, religion, social institutions and most importantly political parties. The north which has the biggest population then was culturally distinct from the south. Most of the Northern region was hugely dominated by Hausa language, Islamic beliefs and laws; and effectively organized Emirate of the Fulani dynasties. But in the south region, the European missionaries penetrated the region with Christianity which became prevalent together with the original traditional religion. The Yoruba-speaking people predominated in the West while the egalitarian Ibos were the largest ethnic group in the East.

However, while the South were seriously progressing and developing so rapidly due to the penetration of the European missionaries and traders. Things didn’t augur well with the leaders at the Northern part of the country because they are afraid of being overrun by the more advanced and learned fellows from the South. Also Northern conservatism has been a turn in the flesh to the Southern nationalist and fearful that the North might use its overwhelming size to always dominate the south.

Current Political Parties in Nigeria and their logos
Current Political Parties in Nigeria and their logos

1) Political parties: In the decade before independence, the development of leadership groups and formation of political consciousness had a regional focus which was clearly displayed in the first three main parties- the Northern People’s Congress which was formed by the Northerners, the Action Group from the West and the NCNC formerly known as the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, which was later changed to National Convention of Nigerian Citizens from the East. The British allowed pattern of ethnic affiliated political parties which is why it has lingered on till this very moment paving way for intense rivalry between ethnic groups.

Egalitarian Ibo People of the East
Egalitarian Ibo People of the East
Yoruba of the West
Yoruba of the West
Hausa people in the North
Hausa people in the North

2) Inter-ethnic Interest: This divisive force of various ethnic and issues of tribal or religious sentiments paved its way after the independence and then began to plague the various political powers, administration of public offices and federal appointments. The ambitious politicians cashed in on these negative forces to gain cheap popularity and win vote during elections. These politician because of their own selfish interest rather than national interest, win election and gets into public office to for personal aggrandizement, embezzle funds, take bribes and preach corruption.

3) Problem of Revenue Allocation: This is by far the biggest problem this federal system has created. The simple reason is because some independent states don’t have much resource with little or no internally generated revenue but would want to share the federal finance with other states that have huge resources. For example, some of the states in Northern Nigeria currently threatened by regional crisis most times depend on the resources from the rich states from Southern Nigeria. The fundamental problem of federal finance is firstly, that of ensuring that the division of revenue between the central and state governments corresponds with the distribution of functions such that each independent state may have the financial power to carry out its internal responsibilities. Secondly is the problem of how financial resources are to be divided among the various states according to their contribution to national treasury so that no state will feel cheated.

Ojukwu and Gowon, fought Nigeria's Civil war from 1967 to 1970
Ojukwu and Gowon, fought Nigeria's Civil war from 1967 to 1970
Niger Delta Militants
Niger Delta Militants
Boko Haram Menace
Boko Haram Menace

4) Secession: The problem of disintegration and secession has always been another major issue encountered in Nigeria federation. But the reason for this secession threats from within is not far-fetched. Partial or poor revenue allocations, federal public office appointments, religious differences and issue of marginalization against lamented by the minor ethnic groups in the country has most times reared its head. Most groups feel cheated either by revenue allocation or by federal appointment into public offices. Most notable amongst secession threat were the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by then Lt.Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu (because of the marginalization and killings of Ibos) in 1967 which led to the nation’s bloody civil war , the emergence of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta (MEND) because of partial revenue sharing which has led to poor standard of living in the area which is well known to be generating over 80% of Nigeria resources and economic growth and the most recent which has threatened the sovereignty of the nation is as a result of religious crisis where the agenda of a Northern sect called Boko Haram is to Islamize the whole country or be allowed to secede.

So this is why I said that this problem of corruption in Nigeria today was communicable and hereditary. But it takes the grace of God and his divine intervention for us to produce new generation of tomorrow leaders, who will not think of their own personal interest but will pledge to put the interest of the country first.

Thanks for your time


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    • Arthur Nwokolo profile imageAUTHOR

      Factable News 

      3 years ago from Lagos

      Thank you phildazz for reading my article and your comments...

      Nigeria as an entity must understand that we have so many different cultures and beliefs, ultimately our leaders need to know this fact before we can look at the immediate solutions to the problem. I suggest the country should be divided on grounds of agreement.

    • phildazz profile image

      Allan Philip 

      3 years ago from Toronto

      Thank you very much for an understanding into Nigerian culture and politics. I used to wonder why the Nigerian government allowed Shell to polute the country to such an extreme extent knowing how wrong it is for people and country. Now I understand that everything is an extention of political curruption I sincerely hope that the new generation of politicians can bring order and prosperity to the country because it's people have whethered too much repression in such a rich country. Thank you very much for the enlightenment.

    • Arthur Nwokolo profile imageAUTHOR

      Factable News 

      3 years ago from Lagos


      That is what most of Nigeria's minor ethnic groups wants, but the Northerners (Hausa) thinks it will be to their own disadvantage.

      Which is the problem we are currently facing till date.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It almost seems like Nigeria could use a federal government that could handle foreign interest-related issues and then have autonomous regions to handle the various different ethnic groups.


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