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Nigeria and the imperative of true federalism


Calls for true political restructuring heighten


By Lukman Akintola

The multi-ethnic configuration of the Nigerian state has made political analysts and well meaning policy makers to agitate for the adoption of true federalism in the state. This is not unconnected with the present Nigeria’s political landscape where chunk of the state’s power is highly concentrated in the centre.

In a true federal system, power is shared EQUALLY between the federal government and its components (state and local governments). However, this is not the case in the Nigeria’s federal system as states and local governments are subjected to the dictates of the federal government. It is appalling that state governments could not make autonomous decisions in Nigeria. This significantly affects Nigeria’s unity as well as its unity.

For clarity sake, it is necessary note that the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution is modeled after the United States constitution which is strictly a federal constitution. In contrast, the Nigeria’s political system is far from the true federal system it claims to practice. In this vein, Nigeria has created its own brand of federalism, which has often been used to water the seed of corruption, ethnic sentiment, political malfeasance, amongst others.

Nigeria’s federalism in perspective

There is no gainsaying that the Nigeria’s federalism is a shadow of true federalism as opined by its founders. If that is the case, what is the definition of the Nigerian brand of federalism? Here are things to note about Nigeria’s political system:

  • Federal government wields absolute power: The federal government being the centre wields absolute political power in Nigeria. To a large extent, state governments have less power and thus affect their local policies. In this vein, federal government which is suppose to assume supervisory role dictate for states’ governments.
  • No financial autonomy: State governments largely depend on the federal government for their spending. Aside their internally generated fund, the state governments depend largely on federal government for funding through the monthly allocation. This is evident in the bailout funds that were recently approved for states government by the federal government. The implication is that the federal government utilized that opportunity to influence state governments’ decisions. For instance, former President Goodluck Jonathan did nothing to help Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state, which led to his inability to pay workers’ salaries for several months. This action, had the effect of giving further support to Senator Iyiola Omsiore of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and to give him advantage over the ruling party.
  • Central Police: The Nigerian police is controlled from the centre through the Inspector General (IG) of police. In a true federal system, the police force should be controlled by states which will make decision making processes a lot easier. It will automatically eradicate the unnecessary bureaucratic process.

Well meaning Nigerians call for true federalism

  • “Nigeria is not working, as well as it should… And part of the reason is the poor way we have structured our economy and governance especially since 1960. The federal government is too big and too powerful relative to the federating units. That situation needs to change and calling for that change is patriotic. An excessively powerful centre does not equate to national unity. Absolutely not.” – Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar
  • “I belong to the school of thought that believes in true fiscal federalism where the centre is strong enough to hold the country together but not an elephant or too big to terrorize and marginalise the constituent federating units. the true course is federalism which allows the constituent federating units to have powers each within their constituent states to develop according to their pace and culture”Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN)

To foster development, unity and inclusive governance in the country, the Nigeria’s political system needs to embrace true federalism by conferring enough power on states and local governments, which will consequently aid reduce the chunk of power on the federal government.


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