Short Note Federalism in Nigeria

 Short Note Federalism in Nigeria

Nigeria, a diverse and populous country in West Africa, adopted a federal system of government upon gaining independence in 1960. Federalism in Nigeria is a unique and complex arrangement that seeks to accommodate the country's ethno-linguistic diversity and manage regional interests. This essay explores the historical evolution, structure, challenges, and prospects of federalism in Nigeria, highlighting key milestones and contemporary issues. 

Historical Evolution:

Nigeria's journey into federalism can be traced back to the colonial era, where the British established a system of indirect rule. The country, comprised of various ethnic groups, witnessed the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. This amalgamation laid the foundation for a united Nigeria but also sowed the seeds of regional disparities. In 1954, Nigeria adopted a federal system with the creation of three regions—Northern, Western, and Eastern. This move was aimed at granting a degree of autonomy to the regions, recognizing their distinctiveness.

Post-Independence Federalism:

Upon gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria continued with the federal structure, with a constitution that defined the powers and responsibilities of the federal and regional governments. However, political instability and ethnic tensions led to a series of coups and counter-coups, culminating in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). The war, also known as the Biafran War, had profound implications for the federal structure. The creation of 12 states in 1967 was an attempt to address regional imbalances and foster national unity.

Contemporary Federalism:

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2022, Nigeria operates a federal system with 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), outlines the distribution of powers between the federal and state governments. The federal government has exclusive powers in areas such as defense, foreign affairs, and currency, while concurrent powers are shared between the federal and state governments in areas like education and agriculture.

Challenges to Federalism in Nigeria:

Despite its noble intentions, federalism in Nigeria faces numerous challenges that have hindered effective governance and development. Ethno-religious conflicts, resource allocation, and an over-centralized federal structure are among the key challenges.

Ethno-religious Conflicts: Nigeria's diverse ethnic and religious composition has been a source of tension. The country has experienced ethno-religious conflicts, particularly between the Muslim-dominated north and the Christian-majority south. This has strained the federal system as different regions vie for political influence and control.

Resource Allocation: The issue of resource allocation has been a longstanding challenge. The discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in the 1950s altered the economic dynamics of the country. The over-dependence on oil revenue has led to an imbalance in resource allocation, with the oil-producing regions feeling marginalized. Efforts to address this through mechanisms like the derivation principle have not fully assuaged the grievances.

Over-centralization: The federal government in Nigeria has often been criticized for being too powerful and centralized. This has led to a concentration of resources and decision-making at the federal level, limiting the autonomy of the states. Calls for restructuring and devolution of powers have been persistent, with proponents advocating for a more decentralized system that empowers the states.

Prospects for Federalism in Nigeria:

Despite these challenges, there are prospects for the strengthening of federalism in Nigeria. Some key considerations include:

Devolution of Powers: A move towards devolution of powers, where more responsibilities and resources are transferred to the states, could address the over-centralization challenge. This would allow states to have more control over their affairs and promote healthy competition for development.

Constitutional Reforms: Ongoing efforts to amend the constitution can provide an avenue for addressing some of the structural issues within the federal system. A comprehensive review that takes into account the concerns of various stakeholders could pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable federalism.

Conflict Resolution Mechanisms: Establishing effective conflict resolution mechanisms is crucial to managing ethno-religious tensions. This involves fostering dialogue, promoting understanding, and addressing the root causes of conflicts to ensure a more stable and harmonious federal system.


Federalism in Nigeria is a dynamic and evolving concept that reflects the country's rich diversity and historical context. While challenges persist, there are opportunities for improvement through constitutional reforms, devolution of powers, and effective conflict resolution mechanisms. As Nigeria continues its journey as a federal republic, finding a delicate balance between unity and diversity remains a paramount task for the sustenance and progress of the nation.



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