IN the beginning, there was no Nigeria. There were Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Kanuris, Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukars, Edos, Ibibios, Efiks, Idomas, Tivs, Junkuns, Biroms, Agnas, Ogojas and so on. There were Kingdoms like, Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Brass, Itsekiri, Benin, Tiv, Borno, Sokoto Caliphate (with loose control over Kano, Ilorin, Zaria etc) Bonny, Opobo, etc. Prior to the British conquest of the different nations making up the present day Nigeria, these Nations were independent nation states – and communities independent of each other and of Britain.
Prelude to the Creation of Nigeria
The bulk of what is now Nigeria became British Territory between 1885 and 1914, although some autonomous communities were not conquered and incorporated in the protectorate until the early twenties. Between the 15th and 19th Centuries, European relationship with West African States were trade/commercial, with little or no political undertones. The Europeans depended on the coastal rulers not only for securing trade, but also for the safety of their lives and property. Thus European traders went out of their way to ensure they were in the good books of Native rulers.
It should be noted that the main commodity during this period were human beings. This was the era of slave trade. It was in a bid to protect the lives, properties and trade of British traders that the British Prime Minister, Palmerston appointed John Beecroft as British Consul in Nigeria in 1849. This was the beginning of piecemeal British colonisation of the independent nations of what later became Nigeria.
The Pre-Independence Constitutions
Governor as the sole Executive and Legislature
During the period 1900 to 1906, the Governor of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, exercised full executive powers and was also the legislature. This applied to the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria from 1900 to 1914. The Governor in each case made laws by proclamation. Such proclamation was, however, subject to approval by the British Government. In 1900 the Southern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos were amalgamated under the title “The Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.” In the same year, a Legislative Council was created for the protectorate. At this sage, the Legislative Councils were, however, constituted by officials of government.
In 1914, the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, were amalgamated, and ruled by one Governor-General, Lord Lugard. The Legislative Council of the Colony was restricted to making laws for the Colony alone, whilst the Governor-General made laws for the whole country.
The 1922 Constitution – The Clifford Constitution
In 1922 a new Constitution revoking the 1914 Constitution was promulgated under Governor Clifford. Under this Constitution, a Nigerian Legislative Council was constituted, but its jurisdiction was limited to the Southern Provinces, i.e. the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The Governor continued to be the legislative authority for the Northern half of the country. Also an executive council was established for the whole country.
The 1946 (Richard) Constitution
In 1946, Governor Arthur Richards promulgated a new Constitution which came into effect on 1st January, 1946. Prior to this Nigeria had been divided into three Regions in 1939, the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. The following features of the 1946 Constitution are worth noting:
The new Council was composed of the Governor as President, 16 officials and 28 unofficials (the latter including the four elected persons). This meant that for the first time the non-officials were more in member than the officials.
The majority of the non-officials were elected or nominated by the Regional Legislatures which the 1946 Constitution also brought into being. This meant that the unofficial majority were not subject to the Governor’s control.
The Regional Houses were not competent to legislate, even for their own Regions. They could only consider bills affecting their regions, and make recommendations or pass resolutions for the central legislature in Lagos to consider. It was the latter only that could pass legalisation.
The 1951 (MacPherson) Constitution The 1951 Constitution was the one that really introduced fundamental changes into the Imperial/Native relationship and the relationship between the Native Nigerian groups themselves. The following points need to be noted:
The 1951 Constitution came into being after an unprecedented process of consultation with the peoples of Nigeria as a whole. In accordance with the directives of the Legislative Council, meetings and consultations were held at (a) village (b) district (c) divisional (d) and provincial levels before the (e) regional and finally (f) the national conference.
The reports of each region from village to the regional level were then submitted to the Legislative Council. These reports and recommendations were published in October 1949 and reviewed by a drafting committee of the Legislative Council.
On 9 January, 1950, a General Conference of representatives from all parts of Nigeria started meeting in Ibadan to map out the future system of Government in Nigeria with the recommendation of the Regional Conference as the working documents.
The General Conference was composed of 25 unofficial members drawn from the earlier regional conferences as representatives of the three regions, 25 unofficial members from the Northern Legislative Council, 3 official members and the non-voting Chairman who was the Attorney-General of Nigeria. The Conference rose on 29 January, 1950 with recommendations which were accepted and implemented by the Governor of Nigeria.
The new Constitution represented a major advance on the existing state of legislative competence of Nigerians by (i) introducing elected majorities in the Central Legislature and (ii) in the Regional Houses of Assembly (iii) endowing the Legislative Houses with independent legislative power in many areas of state activity (iv) and establishing a Federal System for Nigeria for the first time.
The elected majorities in each Regional House were as follows: North – elected 90, non elected -14, West – elected 80, non-elected – 7, East – elected 80, non-elected 8.
The modes of election were a combination between direct and indirect elections. The Central Legislature had 136 elected members and 13 nominated members. Of these, 68 were from the North and 34 each were from the East and West. The representatives of the Regions in the Central Legislature were elected by the Regional Legislatures from amongst themselves.
This marked the first formal introduction of Federalism into Nigeria. Thus the Conference noted that: “We have no doubt at all that the process already given constitutional sanction, and fully justified by experience, of devolution of authority from the Centre to the Regions should be carried much further so that a Federal System of Government can be developed.” And that:
“The Central Legislature and Executive must retain both residual and overall powers, but since the Central Legislature and Executive will themselves be made up of representatives of the Regional Legislatures and since the policy of greater regional autonomy is so widely accepted, we do not fear that there will be any desire at the Centre unnecessarily to interfere with purely regional legislation or administration”. In his book, “History and the Law of the Constitution of Nigeria”, Dr. Udo Udoma noted that for the first time in the history of the foundation of British-Nigerian relationship and the establishment of Nigeria’s regions by the Richard’s Constitution of 1946, Regional Legislatures were granted powers to legislate over a variety of subjects within the Region. These included: Local government; town and country planning; agriculture and fisheries; education; public works for the region; public health in the region; forestry; veterinary services; land; welfare; local industries; native courts; (subject to central legislation regarding appeals to courts outside the regions); direct taxation (other than income tax and companies tax). The General Conference was of the view that over-centralisation would be a grave error “in this vast country with its widely differing conditions and needs”, and that the policy which had received enthusiastic support throughout the country was the policy of achieving unity at the Centre through strength in the Regions. It was confidently expected that when the Regions felt that they had wide powers to run their own regional affairs, they would be more likely ready to co-operate with the other Regions through their representatives in the Council of Ministers and the House of Representatives in serving the interest of Nigeria as a whole. The Period 1954-60 Between 1954 and 1959, all officials in the House of Assembly and the Central Legislature, were progressively withdrawn. In 1954, there was, for the first time, direct elections into the Federal Legislature. In 1958, all modes of indirect elections were abolished and throughout Nigeria, all elections from then on were by direct polls. The Governors ceased to preside over the Executive Councils in the East and West by 1957 and in the North, in 1959. In 1954, the office of Premier was created in the Regions and the office of Prime Minister was established at the Centre in 1957. Subsequent changes were not fundamental, but merely in further preparation for full independence. For example, the Western and Eastern Regions attained self-government (with the Regional Governor becoming a mere titular figure) in 1957 and in the North in 1959.
Irresistible Inferences From the very brief account given of the background of the establishment of the State called Nigeria, the following inferences are irresistible.
Contrary to the assertions of some scholars, the Federal Structures of Nigeria did not operate from the ‘top’ to the ‘bottom’, but from the ‘bottom’ to the ‘top’.
In other words, it was not a question of a country that was originally unitary, being broken into federating units, but of formerly totally independent Kingdoms, Empires, Nations and Autonomous Communities being forcefully brought together, and ending up in a Federal Union. Nigeria started as a Unitary State and then opted as a Confederation afterwards.
It is also clear that it is the coming together of these Autonomous Communities that gave rise to a Federal Government. In other words, the Federal Government is an agency of the Nigerian Nationalities which make up the various States. The subsequent “creation” of States by Federal Military Governments must be discounted as part of the distortions and mutilations of the true political order, brought about by unlawful military usurpation of power. Nigeria is, therefore, supposed to be a ‘Federation’ of former Kingdoms, Empires, States, Nations and Autonomous Communities.
Before and right after independence
Bernard Bourdillon the Governor-general at that time initiated and laid the foundation of federalism in Nigeria in 1939 by creating three provinces. He later handed over the constitution to his successor Arthur Richards and it became the Richards Constitution of 1946. At the beginning of formal British indirect rule in 1901, Nigeria was divided into two regions: Northern and Southern, both of which were divided into provinces. From 1901 to 1958, the number of regions was increased to three through both acquisition of territories and partition from existing provinces. However, while native-born chiefs and clerks were appointed to govern the provinces, the regions were governed by the British-appointed colonial authorities, and such regions were made dependent upon the colonial authorities for martial law, manpower and management of resources.
With the approach of independence, power over the regions was given to Nigerian-born citizens, and regional legislatures were established. By the time that Nigeria had declared itself a republic and replaced the post of Governor-General with the post of President, a national bicameral parliament was established and the country was considered a federation of the three regions. The Mid-Western Region was formed from the Western Region in 1966, and Lagos, the capital, was effectively governed as an unofficial fourth region outside the bounds of the Western Region.
First coup, counter-coup and the new states
After the first coup and under the short-lived military government of Aguiyi-Ironsi, the country was reorganized under a central government. Following the counter-coup which resulted in Aguiyi-Ironsi’s deposition and assassination, Nigeria was reorganized as a federal country, with three of the regions being divided into newer entities and all first-level subdivisions being renamed as states:
Eastern Region was divided into East-Central (Enugu), Rivers (Port Harcourt), and South-Eastern (Calabar) states;
Northern Region was divided into Benue-Plateau (Jos), Kano (Kano), Kwara (Ilorin), North-Central (Kaduna), North-Eastern (Maiduguri), and North-Western (Sokoto) states
Western Region was divided into Lagos (Lagos) and Western (Ibadan) states.
Mid-Western and the states of former Eastern Region made a bid to secede from Nigeria as the states of Biafra and Republic of Benin, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War.
In 1976, six years after the end of the civil war, the states were further reorganized:
Benue-Plateau state divided into Benue (Makurdi) and Plateau states;
East-Central state divided into Anambra and Imo (Owerri) states;
Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) formed from parts of Niger and Plateau states;
North-Eastern state divided into Bauchi (Bauchi), Borno, and Gongola (Yola) states;
Niger (Minna) state split from Sokoto;
Western state divided into Ogun (Abeokuta), Ondo (Akure), and Oyo states
State boundaries and names were also reorganized.
Akwa Ibom state split from Cross River;
Katsina state split from Kaduna
Abia State split from Imo;
Bendel State divided into Delta and Edo;
Enugu State split from Anambra;
Gongola State divided into Adamawa and Taraba;
Jigawa State split from Kano;
Kebbi State split from Sokoto;
Kogi State formed from parts of Benue and Kwara;
Osun State split from Oyo;
Yobe State split from Borno.
Bayelsa State was split from Rivers;
Ebonyi State was formed from parts of Abia and Enugu;
Ekiti State was split from Ondo;
Gombe State was split from Bauchi;
Nasarawa State was split from Plateau;
Zamfara State was split from Sokoto.
What exactly is Federalism?
The understanding of federalism varies from country to country, however, there are certain basic principles inherent in all federal systems that makes it easy to identify a country that practices federalism.
The most cogent, clearly expressed and the most acceptable definition of federalism is that of Kenneth C. Wheare.
In his book he talked about ‘‘federal principle’’ i.e.the method of dividing powers so that general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent of one another. Thus, Wheare’s proposition posits that the federal principle essentially entails a legal division of powers and functions among levels of government with a written constitution guaranteeing and reflecting the division. Wheare’s formulation of federalism is been drawn correctly from the United States of America which is regarded by him as the archetype of federal government. Since other formulation of federalism from other scholars are variations of his work, the basic tenets or elements of federalism according to K.C Wheare will be use as a templates to determines Nigerian federalism and the extent to which Nigeria has fulfilled the basic tenets of federalism. The basic tenets according to him are:
a) There must be at least two levels of governments and there must be constitutional division of powers among the levels of governments.
b) Each levels of government must be co-ordinate and independent.
c) Each levels of government must be financially independent. He argued that this will afford each levels of government the opportunity of performing their functions without depending or appealing to the others for financial assistance.
d) There must be Supreme Court of the independent judiciary. He argued that in terms of power sharing, there is likely to be conflict hence, there must be independent judiciary to resolve the case.
e) In terms of the amendment of the constitution, no levels of government should have undue power over the amendment process.
He maintained that, once a country is able to satisfy these conditions, such country is said to practice federalism.
Some other of the most basic features of federalism are as follows;
The federating units (states and community governments) maintain autonomy over the most basic issues that affect their people. From security to education, resource control, taxes, infrastructural developments, elections, judiciary, health care, etc.
Powers are shared between the various tiers of government in a manner that unnecessary interference becomes impossible.
The government (tier) closest to the people is more empowered to meet up with the needs of the local people.
The federal national government is usually a creation of the sub-national (state) governments.
The federal government responsibility is usually limited to just foreign affairs, monetary policy, immigration, customs, defense. Al powers not expressly given to the federal government by the federal constitution is reserved for the state government.
Governance is run in a bottom-up approach.
There is a federal and state constitution
Like Prof. Itsey Sagay rightly stated Federalism is, therefore, an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority, and a number of regionalised governments in such a way that each unit, including this central authority, exists as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property with its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others. In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government. Each government exists, not as an appendage of another government (e.g. the federal or central government) but as an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government. Thus, the Central Government on the one hand and the State Governments on the other hand are autonomous in their respective spheres. As Wheare put it, “the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather, the two are co-ordinate and independent.”
In short, in a federal system, there is no hierarchy of authorities, with the central government sitting on top of the others. All governments have a horizontal relationship with each other.
Another scholar by the name Nwabueze has identified the following additional characteristics in a federal system:
The power sharing arrangement should not place such a preponderance of power in the hands of either the national or regional government to make it so powerful that it is able to bend the will of the others to its own.
Federalism presupposes that the national and regional governments should stand to each other in a relation of meaningful independence resting upon a balanced division of powers and resources. Each must have powers and resources sufficient to support the structure of a functioning government, able to stand on its own against the other.
From the separate and autonomous existence of each government and the plenary character of its powers within the sphere assigned to it, by the constitution, flows the doctrine that the exercise of these powers is not to be impeded, obstructed or otherwise interfered with by the other government, acting within its powers.
Is Federalism Compatible with Nigeria’s Heterogeneous Nature?
Let us consider the contribution of the most consummate student of federalism Nigeria has ever known- Chief Obafemi Awolowo (see ‘Thoughts on Nigerian constitution’, pp. 48-49). From our study of the constitutional evolution of all the countries of the world, two things stand out clearly and prominently. First in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality- particularly of language- a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangement disappears. Secondly, a federal constitution is usually a more or less dead letter in any country which lacks any of the factors conducive to federalism. From the facts and analysis quoted from Chief Obafemi Awolowo book, the two following principles can be deduced:
If a country is bilingual or multi-lingual like Nigeria, the constitution must be federal, and the constituent state must be organized on linguistic basis;
Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multi-lingual or multi-national country must fail, in the long run.
It is surprising that Nigeria only operates federal system on paper. The federal structures have never existed in Nigeria society. The reasons are not far fetch; First, the federal government, ever since the intervention of the military in government has always assumed superiority over the state government, 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 and efficiently. The regions had independent revenue bases; separate constitutions, foreign missions, and the primary and secondary education were under the residual list while the university education was under the concurrent list. All these changed under military rule. Attempts by the state governments to reassert their autonomy during the second republic were aborted by the return of military rule.
Let us now take a review of Nigeria’s past experience with federalism and see how compatible it was.
The Independence and Republican Constitution (1960 and 1963)
It is hardly surprising that the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions epitomised true Federalism. The 1950 National Conference had been followed by others in 1953, 1954, 1957 and 1959, in which the practice of true federalism were perfected. It can thus be said that the period 1950 to 1959 represented a 10-year period of negotiations between the major stakeholders in the Nigerian project and that what they finally arrived at in the form of 1960 Constitution was, subject to minor, non-structural modifications, the only legitimate basis of association of all the different nationalities in Nigeria. One important feature of the 1960 Constitution is the extensive powers granted the Regions, making them effectively autonomous entities and the revenue arrangements which ensured that the regions had the resources to carry out the immense responsibilities. Under the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions, a true federal system made up of strong States or Regions and a Central or Federal ‘state’ with limited powers, was instituted. Both the 1960 (Independence) Constitution and the 1963 (Republican) Constitution were the same. The only differences were the provisions for ceremonial President (1963) in place of the Queen of England (1960) and the judicial appeals system which terminated with the Supreme Court (1963) rather than the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council (1960). The following features, which emphasized the existence of a true federal system composed of powerful and autonomous Regions and a Centre with limited powers are worth noting:
Each Region had its own separate Constitution, in addition to the Federal Government Constitution.
Each region had its own separate Coat of Arms and Motto, from the Federal State or Government.
Each Region established its own separate semi-independent Mission in the U.K. headed by ‘Agents-General’.
The Regional Governments had Residual Power, i.e., where any matter was not allocated to the Regions or the Federal Government, it automatically became a matter for Regional jurisdiction.
Thus, apart from items like Aviation, Borrowing of moneys outside Nigeria, Control of Capital issues, Copyright, Deportation, External Affairs, Extraction, Immigration, Maritime Shipping, Mines and Minerals, Military Affairs, Posts and Telegraphs, Railways, all other important items were in the Concurrent List, thus permitting the Regions equal rights to legislate and operate in those areas. The most significant of these included; Arms and Ammunition, Bankruptcy and Insolvency, Census, Commercial and Industrial Monopolies, Combines and Trusts, Higher Education, Industrial Development, the Regulation of Professions, Maintaining and Securing of Public Safety and Public Order, Registration of Business Names, and Statistics. It is important to observe once more that anything outside these two lists was exclusively a matter for Regional jurisdiction. Other features indicative of the autonomous status of the Regions included:
Separate Regional Judiciaries and the power of the Regions to establish, not only High Courts, but also Regional Courts of Appeal.
The Regions had their own separate electoral commissions for Local Government elections. However, the Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission was the statutory Chairman of the State Commission.
The Revenue Allocation system under the 1963 Constitution was strictly based on derivation.
It will be observed that Mines, Minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and gas were put in the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions. This was a carry over from the provisions of the 1946 Minerals Act, under which the Colonial Government gave itself the exclusive ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria. This was understandable under a Colonial Regime whose objective was the exploitation of the colonised peoples, but certainly not acceptable in an independent country constituted by autonomous (Federal) Regions. It is, therefore, not surprising that what was lost by placing mines, minerals, oil fields, etc., in the Exclusive Legislative List, was regained by the very strict adherence to the principle of derivation in the revenue allocation formula, particularly the allocation of the proceeds from mineral exploitation.
Did Nigeria make progress under the short lived federal system?
Omoh Gabriel, a journalist described the period of Nigeria’s federalism as such; NIGERIA after Independence was on the right path of economic growth and development. It had visionary leaders who were interested in the welfare of the people. Industries were springing up in every region of the country. In the North, Ahmedu Bello who held sway was occupied by setting up farm settlements, textile industries. It was the same story in the East where Michael Opera set up farm settlements and a number of manufacturing companies. In the West, Chief Awolowo, apart from the popular free education, set up a number of industrial estates which attracted several companies from abroad. It is this simple reason that the West is the most industrialized part of the country.
At this time, the Nigeria economy was in top shape and at take off stage in economic development. The Nigerian economy was rated along the same indices with Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of the now talked about BRICKS countries. Then Nigeria had development plans that guided the nation.
In the North pyramids of groundnuts and cotton were part of foreign exchange earning commodities. In the West, cocoa was found in abundance.
It brought pride to the nation. The various regions were autonomous entities and there was competition among the regions on internally generated revenue. The military intervention and the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity seemed to have radically altered the course of Nigeria’s economic development.
While the military discarded the fiscal federalism structure of the country and made the states to become federal allocation collector, the discovery of oil made Nigerian leaders to sleep walk and refuse to plan believing that the money flowing from the ground will solve all the nation’s problems.
As the military leaders were sleep walking and basking in the euphoria of petrol dollar earnings, Nigeria’s population was growing faster than the resources.
From the foregoing and from historical accounts, we can see that federalism is not just compatible with Nigeria but has equally worked i the past until it was discarded by the military.
What System Does Nigeria Currently Operate?
Judging from the historical accounts and and structure of our present system, we could say for sure that Nigeria does not practice a federal system even though it claims to be a ‘federal’ republic.
What Nigeria practices in reality is a unitary system. In a federal system for example, the federal government does not create the states government, rather than it is the autonomous state government that come together to establish a federal union. Also, in a federal setting, the central authority does not sustain the states by giving them monthly allocations as it is in Nigeria. Rather, it is the central government that derives its sustenance from the states.
The following attributes in our present system shows that we are not a federal republic but a unitary republic.
In a federal system, the states are autonomous creations and the federal government is a creation of the states. In Nigeria, the states are the creations of the federal government and must therefore sustain them until it can no longer do so.
Autonomy in a federal system means that the states are able to manage its affairs without interference from the central government. In Nigeria, the states are unable to conduct their own elections, they have no control over their own security (there is no state and community police system), they have no control over their natural resources. They have no control over their basic education policies, they have no control over electricity distribution and generation. Their taxation base is limited, and many others.
In a federal system, there is no such thing as monthly allocations to the states from the federal government. In Nigeria, reverse is the case. Because the federal government created the states, it has to sustain them!
History of the Unitary system in Nigeria
General Ironsi, emerged as the head of state after the first coup. Against all advice, Ironsi promulgated Decree Number 34 of 1966, which abrogated the federal system of government and substituted a unitary system; he argued that the military could only govern in this way. Given the already charged atmosphere, this action reinforced northern fears. As the north was less developed than the south, a unitary system could easily lead to southerners “taking over control of everything,” as a northern spokesperson put it. It was at the height of northern opposition to unitarism that the countercoup of July 1966 took place. The North wanted a return of federalism as the only way to guarantee their autonomy. The military government of Ironsi insisted on maintaining the unitary military system!
Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Yakubu Gowon, became the head of state after the second coup. His first act was to reinstate the federal system, along with the four regions and their allotted functions. But relations between the federal government and the Eastern Region, led by military governor Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, were very strained. In September Colonel Gowon summoned an ad hoc constitutional conference to deliberate on the country’s political future. Most regional delegates to the conference, with the exception of those from the midwest, recommended a confederal system to replace the federal system. The delegates from the Eastern Region insisted that any region wishing to secede from the federation should be allowed to do so. The conference was ended abruptly by increased killings of Igbos in the north and the heightening of tensions between the federal government and the Eastern Region. A summit of military leaders at Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967 attempted to resolve the disagreements and recommended the establishment of a base confederation of regions. The Aburi Agreement became a source of contention, however.
In anticipation of eastern secession, Gowon moved quickly to weaken the support base of the region by decreeing the creation of twelve new states to replace the four regions. Six of these states contained minority groups that had demanded state creation since the 1950s. Gowon rightly calculated that the eastern minorities would not actively support the Igbos, given the prospect of having their own states if the secession effort were defeated.
The Gowon years also saw the oil boom and a buoyant economy. The federal government was encouraged to take on some responsibilities formally allocated to the states, especially in the area of education.
The structure of government under Gowon was basically unitarian. At the apex of government was the all-military Supreme Military Council (SMC), which was the lawmaking body for the entire federation. Its decrees could not be challenged in any law court. Most members of the SMC under Gowon were state governors. There was also a Federal Executive Council composed of military and civilian commissioners. The states also had commissioners appointed by the governor. The states were practically reduced to administrative units of the federal government, which in several domains made uniform laws for the country. This basic structure of military federalism has, with amendments, remained the same during all military governments in the country and was transferred to the civilian government with its 1999 constitution. Nigeria has remained so till date; a unitary system.
How will Federalism Fix Nigeria
There are basically three revolutionary movements in Nigeria today and each of them have a different perspective on how to solve the Nigerian problem.
The first group, lets call them the unitarians. They believe that there is nothing wrong with the present unitary system of Nigeria. What is wrong with Nigeria is Nigerians. There is a moral decadence that must be tackled, there is need for reorientation and values. Nigerians have become corrupt and have equally corrupted the political system. In summary, the unitarians believe that it is Nigerians that needs to be restructured and not Nigeria’s political system.
The second movement; lets call them the secessionists. This group of Nigerians believe that Nigeria is in fact a lie and that a lie cannot be restructured! They admit that Nigeria is badly structured and they doubt that it can ever be restructured. So far, they have opted for a complete dismemberment of he union as the only way to save themselves, their tribe, communities and region. They want Nigeria dissolved because they fear Nigeria has never worked and will never work.
The last group is where we belong here; the Federalists. The federalist movement believes that something is obviously and fundamentally wrong with Nigeria. After an interesting research, the federalist has reached the conclusion that what is wrong with Nigeria is the structure of its defective federal system and that the solution will be to restructure the country and entrench true federalism.
The unitarians, secessionists and the federaists are now in a battle towards shaping the future of Nigeria. The future of Nigeria will be greatly determined by the success of one or more of these revolutionary movements.
Can the Federalists with their Federalism fix Nigeria?
From the foregoing discussion about the history of federalism in Nigeria, we can agree that the only period when Nigeria witnessed sustainable economic growth was during the short period of regional government based on federalism.
Federalism brings competition, competition drives productivity, productivity inspires innovation, innovations drives development. This is exactly what Nigeria lacks; competition, productivity, innovation, efficient and sustainable development.
The unitary system has not only distorted the necessary ingredients for growth but it has also entrenched an entitlement mentality in the populace and among the federating units, making them less aggressive towards self-sufficiency. Recent statistics has shown that over 95% of the federating units (states and LGAs) are not sustainable without federal allocations. What this basically implies is that if the federal government suffers a major economic sabotage in its revenue generating base, the entire country will likely run into crisis.
In summary, Nigeria is in crisis because it was built on a faulty foundation whose existence is now threatened.
Federalism comes with certain principles that guarantees sustainability of economic and political inclusive institutions. Nigeria does not have electricity today is not because she does not have the resources to have electricity, it is simply because of the centralization policy by law which forbids the federating units from competing, generating and distributing their own electricity without federal interference. And many others.
How then will Federalism fix Nigeria’s problem?
There are basic frameworks that come with federalism and that is necessary for the establishment of inclusive institutions that Nigeria currently needs to attain greatness. These frameworks are as follows;
Federalism guarantees the autonomy of the federating units thereby making the centre (central authority) undesirable for local development issues. Under federalism, marginalization will become unnecessary as every state and community will be solely responsible for their own development or underdevelopment (its their choice to make).
Federalism eliminates over-centralization of political and economic powers thereby empowering the local people and their communities to take charge of their own development. States will no longer have to depend on federal allocations to survive and local communities will no longer.
Federalism has an in-built mechanism that promotes transparency and accountability. One reason why there is massive corruption in today’s Nigeria is simply because the people are not necessarily involved in the revenue generating process thereby making them less concerned about how the revenue is spent. The federal government simply ‘steals’ crude oil money from the people, collect customs taxes and goes about to spend it as it pleases. There is no real tax based revenue system where the people are expected to fund the government. As long as the crude oil keeps flowing, there is revenue for the government. This is the root cause of corruption in Nigeria. Federalism ensures that no tier of government has access to free natural resources without first going through the people who would then demand for accountability afterward. Under federalism, there is a bottom-up approach towards peoples relationship with the government. The local communities and their people control their resources and pays taxes to the various tiers of government. The communities and towns fund the state government and the state government funds the federal government. Each would naturally demand for transparency and accountability. In a nutshell, federalism will fix corruption in Nigeria!
Federalism will bring a new ‘think home’ philosophy among Nigerians in diaspora. With every community having a community based government to handle its most basic needs, Nigerians in diaspora will be excited and willing to support their annual community based budgets for both recurrent and capital projects. Development will be centred around people and places. The local people and their communities will become the biggest beneficiary of a restructured Nigeria.
Abuja (federal government) will no longer be blamed for the underdevelopment of the states and local communities. Everybody will simply be in charge of their own development.
Like Professor Claude Ake once said, development is a process of social transformation in which the people themselves are in charge of the process. Federalism puts the needed economic and political powers in the hands of the local people and away from the politicians.
Popular Misconceptions about Federalism & Restructuring in Nigeria
When you hear the phrase ‘Restructure Nigeria’ and ‘True Federalism’ what comes to your mind?
For many, ‘restructure’ and ‘true federalism’ have become a suspicious phrase. This is due to the misconceptions, misinterpretations, misunderstanding, and ignorant understanding of the concept. For some, true federalism means resource control and therefore should not be accepted. For others, restructuring means creating an opportunity for secession and must therefore not be accepted. These two major misinterpretations have greatly hindered the general acceptance of the concepts and have made it difficult for Nigerians across divide to accept it as a pragmatic solution. What then is federalism and restructuring and how is it different from what antagonists think it is.
What is the relationship between federalism and resource control?
If you have understood what federalism is, by now you should know that federalism is not resource control but however resource control is a feature of federalism. When you say a people should be autonomous, it also entails that they should have the right to control their resources too. This is a basic principle of federalism. You cannot give the local people more responsibilities and yet deny them access to to exploit their resources and take advantage of their comparative natural advantages.
What exactly is Resource Control?
Prof. Itsey Sagay gives us an interesting understanding of the concept. Resource control in his view involves three major components:
The power and right of a Community or State to raise funds by way of tax on persons, matters, services and materials within its territory.
The exclusive right to the ownership and control of resources, both natural and created within its territory.
The right to customs duties on goods destined for its territory and excise duties on goods manufactured in its territory.
Resource control, which in certain circumstances can be referred to as fiscal federalism, goes hand in hand with true federalism. This was recognized and implemented faithfully in the Independence and Republican Constitution (1960 and 1963). The Regional Constitutions, in the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions, described each Region as “a self-governing Region of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” To buttress the self-governing status of each Region, adequate provision were made to guarantee the economic independence of the Regions, thus avoiding the hollowness of a declaration of self-governing status totally undermined by economic dependence. Moreover, consistently with the Federal character of the country, i.e. country of many nations, the basis of revenue allocation was strictly derivative. Section 140 which made provision for the sharing of the proceeds of minerals, including mineral oil, stated that: “There shall be paid by the Federal Government to a Region, a sum equal to fifty per cent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region and any mining rents derived by the Federal Government from within any Region.” For the purposes of this section, the continental shelf of a Region was deemed part of that Region. This is totally consistent with international law which characterizes the continental shelf as a seaward extension of the land of the coastal state. By Section 136(1) 30 per cent of general import duties were paid into a distributable pool for the benefit of the Regions. With regard to import duties on petrol, diesel oil and tobacco, the total sum of import duty collected less administrative expenses, were fully payable to the Region for which the petrol or diesel oil or tobacco was destined. A similar provision was made for excise duty on tobacco. With regard to produce, i.e. cocoa, palm oil, groundnuts, rubber and hides and skin, the proceeds of export duty were shared on the basis of the proportion of that commodity that was derived from a particular Region. As noted above, the derivative bases of the allocation of revenue and the proportionate share of such proceeds that went to the Region it originated from, clearly buttressed the operating base of.
From the above historical account, we can see that resource control has been an integral aspect of Nigeria’s short lived federalism.
What is the relationship between federalism and secessionism?
Another popular misconception about federalism is that it will lead to the dismemberment of Nigeria. This is not true. In fact, a restructured Nigeria will lead to a united Nigeria as all issues of marginalization, exploitation and the likes been perpetuated by the federal government will be completely eradicated.
Let us take a look at history, after the debate on Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion for independence in 1956 which pitched the Northern and Southern Legislators sharply against each other, the Northerners issued an 8-point demand as a condition for remaining in Nigeria as follows:
This region shall have complete legislative and executive autonomy with respect to all matters except the following: defence, external affairs, customs and West African research institutions.
That there shall be no Central Legislative body and no Central Executive or policy making body for the whole of Nigeria.
There shall be a Central Agency for all Regions which will be responsible for the matters mentioned in paragraph one and other matters delegated to it by a Region.
The Central Agency shall be at a neutral place preferably Lagos.
The composition and responsibility of the Central Agency shall be defined by the Order-in-Council establishing the constitutional arrangement. The Agency shall be a non-political body.
The services of the railway, air services, posts and telegraphs, electricity and local mining shall be organised on an inter-Regional basis and shall be administered by public corporations. These corporations shall be independent bodies covered by the statute under which they are created. The Board of the Coal Corporation shall be composed of experts with a minority Representation of the Regional Government.
All revenue shall be levied and collected by the Regional Government except customs revenue at the port of discharge by the Central Agency and paid to its treasury. The administration of the Customs shall be so organised as to assure that goods consigned to the Region are separately cleared and charged to duty.
Each Region shall have a separate Public Service!
The above historical account explains everything we need to know about federalism and secession. Secession becomes unnecessary when autonomous federating units are in charge of their people and development. It is in fact, the present unitary system that breeds secessionism.
There is a lesson from Ethiopia and their recent attainment of federalism that we should learn from. Let us put it here in verbatim.
“…Politically, the era of centralization seems to have come to an end, and this is as it should be. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society such as ours cannot and should not be administered in a highly centralized manner. That people in their respective localities have the right to administer themselves, exercise a degree of command over their own resources, and develop their own cultures and languages must be taken as axiomatic…But there must also be unity within diversity. In the past we emphasized unity at the expense of diversity, and we have paid dearly for it. Let us hope that now we will not move to the other extreme and emphasize diversity at the expense of unity.” [Eshetu Chole, “Ethiopia At the Crossroads…”, DIALOGUE, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia].
What will a restructured Nigeria look like?
The most important question before us is simple. We have agreed that Nigeria needs restructuring based on federalism. The next bis question is quite simple; what should a restructured Nigeria look like? This is what we have set out now to answer in this section.
How should responsibilities be shared between the federal and state governments? Find below twenty rules that we consider as fundamental to a two-tier system of federal structure and which we think is best suitable for a country like Nigeria. These twenty rules highlight the basic principles of true federalism.
There should be two tiers of government recognized by the federal constitution; a federal and state government. Each of them should have a separate constitution. The state government should have the exclusive right to create another tier of government as it wishes. We suggest that a community/city based government be recognized and established by the state as the last tier of government. Community/City based government should therefore replace the existing local government style tier of government. The constitutions must guarantee the autonomy of each tier of government. The community based government should have full control over the most basic things that affect the community. Issues like basic education (management and funding of basic schools), security, water, maintenance, health care, etc should be done by the community based governments. It should also have the right to raise its own taxes to fund its needs. The community based government should be the most empowered tier of government.
The federal constitution should limit the federal government responsibilities to only defense, monetary policy, foreign policy, immigration, customs, etc. All duties not given to the federal government should become the duties of the state governments.
The federal constitution should be written by the representatives of the already existing autonomous states that now wish to create a federal government. In the same manner, the state constitution should be written by the representatives of the the people, tribes and communities that would make up the state.
Ownership of all federal owned assets and institutions that are no longer under federal jurisdiction should be transferred to the states where they are geographically located. Arrangement should be made to ensue that the there is a fair balance of payment for the transferred assets. Where the states fail to offer a fair bargain for the new assets, the general public should be invited to take ownership of the assets. Federal institutions (i.e federal universities) capable of being autonomous should be declared as autonomous institutions and free from federal interference.
The federal government will no longer build hospitals, universities, rail lines, refineries, power stations, etc. These shall become exclusive duties of the state governments. The federal government duty shall be limited to the items listed in number 2.
The federal constitution shall forbid both the federal and state governments from embarking on business ventures and shall limit their sources of revenue to only taxation and royalties.
The federal constitution should recognize the right of ownership of land and natural resources as belonging to communities and individuals and should therefore forbid both the state and federal governments from upturning this inalienable right. The implication of this rule is that resource control will now be in the hands of the individuals and communities and not the state or federal government as it currently is.
The state and federal governments should have two independent judiciary with each having its own Supreme court.
Right to secession should be enshrined in the federal constitution. Communities/towns should have the right to secede from a state and seek membership of another state within Nigeria while states should have the right to secede from Nigeria and seek membership of another country or form an independent country of their choice. The process of doing this must be by referendum.
States should be entitled to receive irregular annual grants from the federal government in the same way communities/towns should be entitled to receive irregular grants from their state governments upon meeting certain conditions. There shall be no monthly allocation.
Parliamentary democracy could be adopted to replace the present presidential executive system. The House of tribes (House of Reps) should be abolished and a single parliament retained comprising of tribesmen, professionals, and town/city/state representatives.
The federal constitution shall guarantee the decentralization of the civil service.
The federal constitution shall recognize indigeneship and residency as qualification for occupying public offices in both state and federal offices.
Taxation shall be the major source of revenue for both the federal and state governments. Federal taxes shall be limited and deducted from the state governments while state taxes shall be unlimited and deducted at source
Both basic and tertiary education shall be the exclusive rights of the state governments. The federal government shall have no business with building and managing basic or tertiary institutions. Power generation and distribution shall also be the exclusive rights of the state governments. The federal constitution shall guarantee the autonomy and need for federal, state, community and institutional police system.
Federal regulations should be unlimited on matters of security, environment, economy, etc.,.
Issuance of licenses (whatever kind be it exploration or social license) should be the exclusive right of the state governments while regulations of such licenses should be jointly done both the state federal governments.
The federal and state constitution shall guarantee the autonomy of every tier of government in conducting their own elections. Each tier of government shall be solely responsible for the conduct of its own elections without interference. The people of the communities, towns and cities that make up a state shall be solely responsible for electing the state government officials in the same way the people of the state government shall be solely responsible for electing the officials of the federal government.
The federal constitution shall separate religion from the state and state from religion.
The federal parliament shall be structured in such a manner that a bill can only become law if and only if it receives support from a minimum of 2/3 representatives from each state and not a 2/3 of the general House.
The above twenty rules are what we consider as fundamental principles of true federalism as may be applicable to the Nigerian society. Once we are able to establish these rules in Nigeria, Nigeria has become a true federal state!
How can we Restructure and entrench Federalism in Nigeria?
In truth, the people who oppose restructuring are stronger than those who propose restructuring. This implies that (for now), restructuring is a minority call. To restructure Nigeria and entrench federalism, this pattern must change. The Federalists must become the majority!
Certain steps must be taken to achieve this. These steps are in fact what makes up our philosophy as a movement. The steps are contained in our three cardinal objectives towards restructuring Nigeria which are as follows;
We must begin to sensitize and educate Nigerians on the defects of the present system and the need for them to support the campaign for a restructured system.
We must proceed to mobilize the now enlightened Nigerians to get involved in the demand for a restructured system. This demand will include persuading the legislature and executives through overwhelming grassroots mobilizations.
And finally, we must participate in the restructuring process. We cannot allow the restructuring process to be hijacked by the same marauding political class who have held the country hostage for the past decades. We the ordinary people must participate in the restructuring process.
Legally, it is the duty of the legislature to begin the restructuring process. Unfortunately, the legislature has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the present skewed unitary system, they will therefore be opposed to any structural change which will likely threaten their existence.
It is on this basis that Nigerians must unite to overwhelm the legislature with their demand for federalism. We cannot depend on and expect the beneficiaries of the present system to change the system, certainly, not without a fight! The kind of restructuring Nigeria needs is not cosmetic. For a fact, we do not need a constitutional amendment but an entirely new constitution. At the end of the day, what we desire is a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). To get this, we must unite. Every tribe, every community, every state and every ethnic nationality must unite to demand for a system that works.
In due time, we shall highlight the processes through which this SNC can be organized.
In truth, the people who oppose restructuring are stronger than those who propose restructuring. This implies that (for now), restructuring is a minority call. To restructure Nigeria and entrench federalism, this pattern must change. The Federalists must become the majority!
What does a Federal Constitution look like?
We have screen captured certain pages of the constitution of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to highlight what a federal constitution looks like
The time to Restructure Nigeria & entrench true Federalism is NOW!
The time is NOW!
We have seen several political leaders (including those who previously opposed restructuring ) give support the federalism campaign in Nigeria. They now know better. Nigeria might never work without some structural re-engineering. We have said a lot on social media. We have talked, we have written. What is left is for us to ACT.
Those who oppose restructuring might (for now) be in the majority, however, a majority of this majority are actually ignorant of what they oppose. If we are able to sensitize them, we the Federalists could become the new majority! We have a whole lot of work to do. The most important focus s is that it is possible.
Our three cardinal objectives towards restructuring Nigeria are as follows;
Sensitize and educate Nigerians on the defects of the present system and the need for a restructured system
Mobilize the now enlightened Nigerians to get involved in the demand for a restructured system based on true federalism
Participate in the restructuring process. We cannot allow the restructuring process to be hijacked by the same marauding political class who have held the country hostage or the past decades. We the ordinary people must participate in the restructuring process.
The task ahead is surmountable. We must begin the debate. Disagreements may arise, compromises will be reached and progress will be made. If only we agree to begin the debate.
Join the conversation
Use the hashtags #RestructureNigeria & #TrueFederalism to promote the campaign on social media. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to learn more about the campaign. Check out our Event section to see when we shall be having a sensitization rally in your neighborhood and city. Visit our online Shop and purchase any of our campaign wears. Purchase for your friends, co-workers and everyone around you.
Be proud to be a Federalist and demand that Nigeria be restructured on the principle of true Federalism.