The Problems of Nigerian Federalism and Proffered Solutions


The root cause of disunity, conflict, and instability in Nigerian Federalism can be traced to certain colonial government evolved a piecemeal constitutional framework for the Northern and Southern segments of the country which were eventually amalgamated in 1914, with the introduction of the Clifford constitution in 1922 and the establishment of the legislative council for Lagos with the exclusion of the North. Southerners were incrementally brought into participating in the legislative affairs of their region ahead of the northern counterparts. This disparate constitutional and administrative arrangement went on until 1947 when the north and south were brought together, under single legislative authority for the first time.

Richard constitution broke the country into three regions, the North, the East and the West. Each of these regions consisted of groups with the Hausa – Fulani dominant in the North, the Yoruba in the West and Igbo in the East, each of which was mutually distrustful of the other. The emergence of the regions came sectional loyalties which according to Osaghae 1989 were built on the bogus theory of regionalism, that is one should be loyal to and protect the interest of one’s region to the exclusion of others. Thus the North was for the Northerners, the East for the Easterners and the west for the westerners. Thus the policy of regionalism created disunity by reducing the country into a tri-national state.

The Macpherson’s constitution of 1951 introduced the federal system of government which was finally adopted by the 1954 constitution. Consolidate the regions gave the autonomy and effective power and made regional power attractive. The fourth region, the mid-west regions was carved out of the then western region. But one insignificant feature of the country was its unbalanced nature where the northern region alone had more than half of the country’s population and was larger than the other regions put together. The North too counting on its size and numerical strength won fifty per cent representative in the federal legislative and used its controlling position to wield power and appropriate the gains incidental thereof.

Also, the political parties formed then to contest for power had an ethnic/regional base. Each was formed in response to the perceived threat of domination by the other. As a result, the NCNC led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo though it had nationalist orientation, nevertheless had an Igbo ethnic perspective. The Action Group (AG) led by Obafemi Awolowo was formed to counter the perceived threat of Igbo domination. The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) was formed, in response to the fear of southern domination. Thus while these region political leaders were united in the nationalist cause of security independence, this sense of fear and the rivalry implicit in it, engendered severe political contradictions. The situation became very volatile after independence as Federal Government exercised ascendant control over the regions as well as the allocation of centrally collected resources. The instability of the Nigeria nation-state is due to fractional struggle and lack of unity within the Nigerian ruling class.

The government of General Gowon broke up the country into twelve states to redressing the structural imbalance in the federation and accommodating the demand of minorities in the regions of self-realization and self-assertion and equalizing access to the means of development and political power.

The quota system introduced and practised from around 1958. The measure was intended to ensure equitable representation of the various groups in the country. This system was meant to give opportunities in education appointment and employed disadvantaged groups and areas to enable them to complete and catch up with the more advanced areas and sections of the nation.

Federal Character as the Problem of Nigerian Federalism

The federal character is to ensure social harmony among all Nigerians and to promote stability and national integration of the nation. National integration is a process leading to political cohesion and sentiments of loyalty rewards central political authority and institutions by belonging to different social groups or political unions. The meaning of integration is relevant because it examines the problems and prospects implicit in the application of this formula in its bid to achieve the desired objective. In the first place the successive state creation exercise and seen as an expression and determinant of federal character and appear to have satisfied to a large extent for represented and equalizing access to the means of political power. However, these states are known to protect their interest, Jealousy and to restrict the enjoyment of certain services and benefit provided by them, and the federal authority to their indigenes by promulgating discriminating laws, rules and regulations.

Federal Character Principle Observed By Osaghae

Instead of achieving unity through balancing, the country is further divided, the danger inherent in consolidating statism disguise of federal character principle which according to him threatens the appositeness of the federal system in Nigeria.

The federal character principle has been manipulated by and channelled to serve the overall interest of the petty bourgeois ruling class. It is the members of this class who formulated and operated the principle under the guise of the federal character principle, the member of the bourgeois class get themselves entrenched in power and exercise control over the machinery of state through the application of this principle too, they strive to reconcile their class differences through the operation of acceptable formula for the  allocation distribution and sharing of national resources and benefits among themselves while they do this they capitalize on and fan the members of the ethnic differences among the various Nigerian peoples to win the support of the masses in their areas.

The federal character principles satisfied the quest for representativeness and appointment among various groups. However in the application of the formula as noted by Bodunrin (1989) choice are often made on the basis of criterion other than merit, for example, the quota system as applied in education leads to lowering standard against the national interest. In the army, it leads to the production of subgrade soldiers and officers. In the civil and public services of the federation, standards and professionalism are compromised by eschewing meritocracy without recourse to standards, the quota system becomes morally reprehensible and an act of injustice viewed from this perspective, the quota factors in the federal character principle becomes not only counterproductive but peaceful and orderly progress and development of Nigeria.

One of the major and most problematic features of the federal character principle as presently is the complexity of the interest and units as represented by some states and local government, ethnic and religious group affiliations. For example, the creation of more states and local government and the establishment of federal educational institutions in every state to enhance greater representational opportunities lead to the multiplication of governmental and administrative units and facilities which become disturbingly expensive to the nation. This is often done against the evidence of the inability of the new states and local governments to discharge their statutory duties as a result of their unavailability. As a result, the federal character principle has deepened the problem it was devised to tackle.

Recommendation and Suggestions

Despite the obvious shortcoming and the controversies surrounding the notion and application of federal character, there seems to be a general acceptance of the principle as a normative expression of the equal right of all Nigerians to participate in the politically administrative and economic affairs of the country. One significant fact has emerged that as long as Nigeria remains a federation, the need and the clamour to balance the diverse interest in the country will always be there. The federal character has been employed to take care of this diverse and sometimes conflicting interest. And by all indications the formula has come to stay. It is necessary to seek ways and means to make it less rancorous and problematic and to channel it in such a way as to ensure the overall progress of the country.

It has been noted that when states were first created in 1967, there were twelve of them. However, the state-creation exercise should be carried out with caution. This is to ensure the viability of the states and their ability to discharge their statutory and other functions for the common good of all and orderly development of the country. Moreover, despite the present multiplicity of states and local governments, it is still not possible or feasible to give each ethnic group in Nigeria a state. the interest of the minorities in the present states and local governments who could not be given new states or local governments can be taken care of in other ways.

Efforts should be made through appropriate legislation to remove the indigene syndrome engendered the federal character principle and regulations which legalise its operation. It is an aberration of nation-building and national integration to see fellow Nigerians, whom were born and may have lived in a place all their lives, being thrown out of jobs and discriminated against because they are not indigenes of the area. To this end, the government has to see that every citizen of Nigeria who settles in any part of the country is treated as an indigene of the place and endowed with residency rights as it the case in the United States of America.

Federal character principles should be applied with less stringency but with fairness among ethnic groups, states and local governments that are homogenous, to avoid creating clearance cleavages and divisions where none, may have strictly spoken, existed. This will sane such societies from undue polarisation.

The view expressed by a former head of state’s, General Olusegun Obasanjo, that the principle of merit should not be completely sacrificed on the altar of federal character. The appointment of persons to various positions should be made from the best available in any group or section in the country. Moreover, recruitment to posts which require specialized training such as those of medical practitioners, pilots, architects, and engineers, should be essentially based on merit. Efforts should be made to give equal access to education to all Nigerians to bridge the educational disparities and to give opportunities for further training and education to serving staff.

The present application of the federal character principle is all bourgeois – oriented and does very little to relieve the plight of the masses of this country. For example, the indigenisation policy which put capital in the hands of a few Nigerians did not benefit the masses. The latter needed to be given equal opportunities for employment, equitable share in the distribution of the resources and benefits of the state in terms of education, access to goods and services provided by the government and improved condition of life. The political system should arrest the exploitation of the masses and redress their feeling of insecurity. It is by tackling these crucial of national identity, transcending parochial loyalties of ethnicity, religion, language, and region.

Revenue Allocation as Problem of Nigerian Federalism

Revenue Allocation has a very potential for conflicts especially between rich and poor regions or states, in Nigeria. In fact, it was an ethnic conflict which largely explains the origin of centralisation of fiscal powers in Nigeria today with central control over a wide range of policies the federal government is been able to effect a redistribution of income from the richer to the poorer states. The highly unitary tendencies are however being questioned since Nigeria has adopted a federal rather than a unitary system of government. Revenue allocation under a federal system of government creates complex problems. The complexity stems from the distinctive nature of federalism as a form of government in which the legislative, executive and judicial functions or powers of the states are shared amongst the three tiers of government.

The success of a federal system depends on an acceptable distribution of resources and functions among the three levels of government so that efficiency in the use of scarce resources is encouraged while reducing inequality in the treatment of individual among different states. Given the heavy dependence of this government on the federal account, it is necessary to examine the principle which governs its allocation among the state government. Wheare (1943) believed that each level of government should have adequate resources to perform its function without appealing to the other level of government for financial assistance. Modern federal countries have three levels of government each distinguished by the scope of the geographical areas over which their respective Jurisdiction extend. The jurisdiction of the Federal Government covers the entire country in some subject matters. Regional (state) government’s Jurisdictions cover sub-sections of the country, local government exercise responsibility nonoverlapping areas with a state. Federalism is a standard concept of government unit based on area to cater for ideally a system of multi-level government should be a structure from the point of view of ensuring an efficient supply of public services.

The internally generated revenues are the home relation to the state expenditure imposed by the statutory responsibilities. In other words, their revenue was not growing rapidly enough to keep pace with the growth of expenditures. The federal constitution provides various sources of revenue to be used to provide services.

Given the structure of the Nigerian economy, the state and local government have had to be heavily dependent on the federally collected revenues. There is also no doubt that revenue allocated statutorily to the state government has not fostered any sense of financial responsibility on the part of state and local government as they increasingly become inefficient in the use of the meagre funds they get. These government, are tempted to spend on questionable projects. Besides the revenue allocation formula has not sufficiently given incentives to these governments to exploit truly their own sources or revenue. In fact, they have found it more rewarding to concentrate their energies on attempting to obtain a larger transfer from the federally collected revenue rather than attempting to generate more revenue internally. This is a problem created by federalism which must be urgently solved.

As a result of these problems, the expenditure to which the state and the local government are committed now far exceed their revenue, Which state and local government showed little growth potential, their expenditures showed high growth potential. Thus not only was there a large excess of their expenditure over revenue, but the extent of imbalance was progressively rising.

Proffered Solutions

  1. It is suggested that the principle of fiscal needs should be given a dominant weight in the future revenue allocation system. One of the bigger problems facing the country today is the imbalance in economic development consequently the revenue allocation system must be used to address the problems.
  2. The power of the federal government to vary the proportion of federally collected revenue which goes to the federal account must be checked. This power has made nonsense of the revenue allocation formula among federal state and local government.
  3. The state government should be allowed to collect and retain the proceeds from the toll gate. It is a reliable source of revenue.
  4. The revenue should be allocated among the state government, the length of federal roads, population size, tax effort, and equality of state. This suggested revenue allocation formula is designed more to raise the level of the backward states than to push forward the level of the relatively advanced states. It is based on equity considerations.
  5. An important tax which is yet to be efficiently utilised is the property tax. An important function for the tax besides revenue generated is that of optimal utilisation of property taxation is currently under the jurisdiction of local government and very few local government collect tax even where the legal basis exists. The federal government should take over the administration of the tax for the next five to ten years, after which it should be reverted to the local government.

In conclusion, the proffered solution to the problems of Nigeria Federation is when only a Federal constitutional arrangement that is freely and fairly agreed to by the genuine representatives of the Nigerian people can possess such desirable qualities. This leads us to a restatement of what we consider to be the irreducible requirement for true federalism and federal reform in Nigeria: the genuine democratisation of the Nigerian political space and the abandonment by bad people of their self-appointed role as Nigeria’s political hegemony.


1-     Kunle A, Adigun AB, Rotimi TS and Georges H, Ed (1998). Federalism and political restructuring in Nigeria.

2-     Isawa J.E and Akindele R.A .ed (1996). Foundation of Nigeria federalism.


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