Nigeria Federalism

Nigeria Country Studies index

Nigeria - Federalism


Given the territorially delineated cleavages abounding in Nigeria and the historical legacy of divisions among ethnic groups, regions, and sections, the federal imperative was so fundamental that even military governments--characteristically unitarian, hierarchical, and centralist--attached importance to the continuation of a federal system of government. The federation began as a unitarian colonial state but disaggregated into three and later four regions. In 1967 the regions were abrogated and twelve states created in their place. The number of states increased to nineteen in 1976, and to twenty-one in 1987. In addition, in 1990 there were 449 local government areas that had functioned as a third tier of government since the late 1980s.

In 1990 the Federal Military Government (FMG) included the president, the AFRC, the Federal Executive Council, the civil service, and a federal judiciary made up of federal high courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. The locus of power was the president and the AFRC, which possessed all law-making powers that could not normally be challenged in any court of law. The Federal Executive Council was an enlarged instrument of the president. The federal judiciary had appellate jurisdiction in appeals emanating from the state judiciaries. It did not have much independence because the government was directly involved in the appointment of judges and in the finances of the federal Judicial Service Commission. The integrity of the judiciary was constantly weakened by the setting up of special tribunals. Some of these tribunals were responsible for conducting trials of politicians of the Second Republic, while a few tried "miscellaneous" cases involving drug, smuggling, or foreign exchange offenses.

The state governments consisted of the military governor, a cabinet, the civil service, and the state judiciary. In most policy matters and in matters of finance, the state governments had to abide by federal directives and were subject to coordination by the National Council of States. The local governments had elected management councils comprising a chairman and councillors until June 1989, when these councils were dissolved. They were replaced by sole administrators, state civil servants appointed by the state governors. New local government elections were held in December 1989. In spite of the increasing powers of local governments, they remained subordinate to the state and federal governments and could be described as administrative agencies of these two higher levels of government.

"Civilian federalism" and "military federalism" corresponded to civilian government and to military government, respectively. According to federal theory, civilian federalism was the true form of federalism. It entailed government based on a constitutional sharing of power between the federal and state governments (and local government as well), using the principle of decentralization of powers. It was marked by party politics, which determined the nature of the federation, the configuration of powers, and the prevalence of the rule of law. The major elements of military federalism included the suspension and modification of the constitution; the omnipotence of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) at the center, and therefore the existence of only one decision-making level of government; and the ban on all (civilian) political activities. Because military federalism had been more common than civilian federalism, this model made the federal government the "master" in relation to the "dependent" state governments.

At independence largely autonomous regions possessed the residual powers in the federation and functioned almost independently. Even before the First Republic collapsed, the federal government was asserting greater powers. In particular, it controlled the national economy and possessed emergency powers to intervene in any region where law and order had broken down, as it did in the Western Region in 1962. Relative to the powers of the states in 1990, however, the regions were very powerful; they had separate constitutions, foreign missions, and independent revenue bases. All this changed under military rule.

The FMG expanded its control over the economy to the extent that in 1990 the states depended on it for up to 90 percent of their revenues. The federal government also took over such matters as education, which formerly belonged to the states. Because state governors were appointed on military assignment by the president, the states had little autonomy, except in deciding how to implement policies formulated by the federal government. Attempts by state governments to reassert their autonomy during the Second Republic were aborted by the return of military rule. Some state governments that were controlled by parties other than the NPN took the NPN-controlled federal government to court on many occasions over matters of jurisdictional competence. This trend was likely to recur during the Third Republic, when the states would seek to regain powers lost under military rule.

Another area in which successive military governments had changed intragovernmental relations was in the bolstering of local governments as a third tier of government. This process began with the 1976 local government reforms, which introduced a uniform local government system; gave local governments jurisdictional competence in matters such as markets, automobile parks, and collection of local taxes; and made it statutory for both the federal and state governments to give specified percentages of their revenues to local governments. Although these reforms were embodied in the 1979 constitution, state governments in the Second Republic refused to allow local governments any measure of autonomy, partly because they were themselves struggling to reclaim their autonomy. With the return of military rule, and as part of the transition toward the Third Republic, local governments were further strengthened.

Because the federal government accepted the recommendation of the Political Bureau that local governments should be made an effective tier of government, efforts had been made to reduce their control by state governments. In 1988 state ministries of local government, the major instrument of control, were replaced by directorates of local government in the governors' offices. All local government funds were paid directly to the local governments by the federal government rather than through the state governments. The functions and jurisdiction of local governments were streamlined, and state governments were asked to stay out of local affairs.

These measures increased the importance of local governments and infused in their civilian-elected functionaries a certain stubbornness that led to open conflicts with state governments over matters of jurisdiction. In several cases, these conflicts became the subject of litigation. State governments resisted the loss of jurisdiction, and many underscored the subordinate status of local governments at every opportunity. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that local governments were sufficiently autonomous to be an effective tier of government.

The allocation of federal revenues was a problematic aspect of fiscal federalism because the states were unequally endowed and were virtually dependent on allocations from the federal government. Several revenue allocation commissions were set up, among them the National Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission established during the 1980s. The major problem arose from disagreements over the criteria that should be used in allocations--derivation, population, need, equality, or minimum government responsibility.

The federal-character principle emerged as a balancing formula in the 1979 constitution to forestall the domination of the government or any of its agenciesor resources by persons from one or a few states, ethnic groups, or sections. The uneven rates of development among the states and sections was largely responsible for the tension and controversy associated with the application of this principle, complicated by the pattern of distribution of the major ethnic groups.

The issue of state creation derived from the very nature of the federation. From three regions in 1960, the number of constituent units had increased to the present twenty-one states and the Federal Capital Territory. It was likely that a few more would be created. The increasing number of states was a direct response to the demands and agitations of groups that were not satisfied with their positions in the federation. Initially, it was the minorities who agitated for more states, but in 1990 the need for states had changed. They were no longer needed to protect group identity and autonomy. Any group that sought a share of the "national cake" or that wanted to maximize its share of the cake demanded more states, although states were not designed to have an ethnic basis. An example of the latter was the Igbo, who constituted the majority in only two states, Anambra and Imo; the other major groups, the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba, represented majorities in about five states each. The Igbo had persistently pressed for equality with other major groups by demanding new states. Realizing that the creation of states could go on endlessly, the federal government tried to bolster local governments as another way of meeting the demands. The subordinate status of local governments, however, coupled with the continued use of the states as units for distributing national resources, made demands for more states a recurrent theme in Nigerian federalism.

According to the 1989 constitution, representation in the legislative branch was based both on population (the House of Representatives, with 453 members) and on states (the Senate with 64 members, 3 from each of the 21 states and 1 from the Federal Capital Territory), which together composed the National Assembly. These figures were subject to change to reflect a possible increase in the number of states and the redistribution of population. The judicial branch consisted of the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal, and, at the top, the Supreme Court with a chief justice and up to fifteen other justices.

More about the Government of Nigeria.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

Federalism in Nigeria - Wikipedia
Restructure Nigeria - True Federalism; all you need to know
Problems of Nigerian federalism and solutions NAIJA.NG
History of Nigerian Federalism - OldNaija

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