Federalism is a system of government where power is shared between the central government and component region, such that each level exercises its power independently, without interference from the other.
The word “Federalism” was coined from the Latin word “Foedus”, meaning “treaty, pact or covenant – which means a simple league or inter-governmental relationship between sovereign states. Over the years, the basis of this definition has remained and has been applied extensively in different nations worldwide.
One such nation is Nigeria – which has evolved since 1954 from three regions to having 36 states, each with its jurisdiction, and independent control of power.
Which Constitution Introduced Federalism in Nigeria?
In 1954, the Oliver Lyttleton Constitution introduced true federalism in Nigeria. We regard it as true federalism because, before his version, there have been multiple models of the constitution – which we’ll discuss later in the article.
While that’s the case, the origin of federalism in Nigeria can be traced to the colonial activities of Sir Lord Lugard – his amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates in 1914. However, the Richards Constitution of 1946 provided the foundation of federalism in Nigeria as the constitution recognized three regions; the Northern, Western, Eastern, and colony of Lagos.
History of Nigerian Federalism
Nigerian federalism has come a long way from its subtle introduction in 1946 to its full-fledged adoption in 1954, followed by the gradual growth – which has so far led to the establishment of 36 states. As said earlier, the Richards Constitution officially introduced federalism in Nigeria, however, dissatisfaction of Nigerian Nationalists with the level of Nigerian participation in government spurred up a series of reforms between 1951 and 1957.
The Macpherson quasi-federal constitution of 1951 introduced quasi-federalism – a system that empowered regional legislative houses to make laws on specific matters to their regional government. However, all laws were subject to the approval of the central government – hence being regarded as ‘quasi’.
The Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 brought about true federalism – legislative power was divided into exclusive, concurrent, and residual lists between the central and regional governments. Thus, the need to appoint heads of regions began.
The Eastern and Western Regions secured self-governing status in 1956, and the following year, the country established a political diarchy (a form of government having two joint rulers) with Alhaji Abubarka Tafewa Balewa being the first prime minister. Meanwhile, the Northern Region waited until 1959 to secure its self-governing status.
Following the elections in 1959, Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Now, Nigeria’s new federal constitution will run in the manner of parliamentary democracy but later collapsed following the military coup in January 1966.
We will then witness multiple events most of which was involving bloodshed and a takeover by Aguyi Ironsi. While in power, he promulgated Decree 34 of 1966 – a declaration of Nigeria as a unitary system. Unfortunately, his model didn’t last long as many feared that the system was ineffective for a country like Nigeria. We will then see another coop to that effect which brought the government of Yakubu Gowon into power.
Yakubu Gowon’s administration introduced Decree 52 of 1966, returning Nigeria to a federal system headed by a military government. In 1967, the previous 3 states were divided into 12, then during the regime of Murtala Mohammed, another 7 states were established, making it 19.
Thereafter, Ibrahim Babangida’s Military regime will have 11 more states established, making the total count of 30 states. Lastly, Abacha’s regime will further add 6 states, putting the country at 36 states, which is still maintained today.
Reasons for Federal System of Government in Nigeria
There are a number of justifiable reasons why Nigeria operates a federal system of government, but in this article, we’ll list only three – the most apparent that is hard to miss.
Political Culture in Nigeria
One of the most important reason that warrants federalism in Nigeria is our political culture – as we’re an amalgamation of three primary regions, federalism is the system of government at best suits the nation. Aside from assuring the prevalent issue which is peace, it creates room for mass participation in governance.
It Provides and Ensures that Unity is Maintained
As stated earlier, federalism is an efficient system to maintain peace in a county like Nigeria. We’ve also seen the turnout of Decree 34 of 1966, how it wasn’t effective in putting things in order. For a country like Nigeria, most other systems of governing will give the most power exclusively to one region, killing the existence and preservation of small societies.
There’s also the fear of marginalization, where the large parts of Nigeria will be able to control the whole country. For some parts of the country not to have total control, the colonial master, considered it best to divide the nation into different parts that will be represented in the government.ws