Federalism in Nigeria: Exploring What Federalism Means
Federalism is the system of government that separates power between a central governing authority and several smaller political units. In Nigeria, federalism has been an issue since it gained independence from Great Britain in 1960. The fight for federalism still continues today, but what does this mean? What kind of power would be separated under a federalist system? How did we get here? This post explores these questions to better understand what Federalism means for Nigeria's future.
Section 1: What is federalism
In the last fifty years, federalism has become a major talking point in Nigeria. Federalism is the system of government that separates power between a central governing authority and several smaller political units. It is a political system in which the government of a country is composed of an executive, legislative, and judiciary branch. When the country gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960, Nigeria became the third largest economy in the world. The Republic of Nigeria is made up of twelve states, each with its own governor, legislature, and executive branch. Each state has a high court for resolving disputes and issues with the federal government. All these powers and authorities are delegated to the federal government under the Nigerian Constitution.
What are the benefits of federalism
By separating power, the federal government can solve several of the problems that keep Nigeria and other developing countries from growing. Below are just a few of the issues faced in Nigeria:
1) Lack of a functional political and economic system
2) The inability to fund the welfare state
3) The inability to provide a positive environment for business
4) Poor political representation
5) The inability to protect national assets
Why does Nigeria need to move to a federal state?
1) Failing polity
One of the core elements of Nigerian federalism is how power is distributed. Each state (a federated state) has its own legislature and governor who runs the state.
The History of Federalism in Nigeria
When the former Western Region was created, it was divided into three divisions, or states, with a central government to supervise their governments. However, Nigeria's nascent national government at the time, the First Republic, did not approve of this division. This disagreement led to a three-year civil war between the three states. The Nigerian military took control of the region from the United Kingdom in 1966 and eventually merged the three states into one, much to the dismay of the former governors. They felt they deserved to control the region due to their recent victories over the British. This "exercise" in power consolidation did not go over well with other regions. The oil-rich Niger Delta were very unhappy with the lack of development in the region and threatened to revolt.
The Future of Federalism in Nigeria
First, we'll begin by looking at the military dictatorship and the division of power between federal and state governments. Between 1967 and 1970, General Yakubu Gowon (later President of Nigeria) attempted to change the structure of government in Nigeria. The military had gained control in the 1966-1970 Nigerian Civil War. After taking power, the Nigerian military expanded its powers and allowed it to make far-reaching changes, some of which would take power away from the regions.
Under the Military
In 1966, Gowon began a systematic regime change in Nigeria through a government-mandated general election. The June 1966 elections divided the country into six regions (Northern, Midwestern, Eastern, Middle Belt, Western and Southern) each with a regional capital.
Federalism is a fundamental system of governance, which is currently practiced in 73 countries. The history of federalism goes back hundreds of years, starting with the formation of the European Union and lasting until the establishment of the Biafra republic.
Despite the centuries of experience, it was only in the 1980s that federalism became mainstream. What propelled the change? In a presentation on federalism, Alain Dreyfus discusses the factors which explain the shift from a system of unitary government to federalism, explaining that:
Economic and technological developments have changed the political orientation of states.
States have become multi-ethnic and multi-lingual and more dispersed in the context of globalization.