Federalism And Minority Questions: A Critical Analysis Of The Fourth Republic

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Federalism And Minority Questions: A Critical Analysis Of The Fourth Republic


The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of Nigerians federalism carefully examining the problem of minority. The study covers the ways and manner the political powers are shared among the ethnic groups between 2007 and 2014 and also identify issues of minority question that have led to series of agitations in Nigeria in the past. It will help our policy makers and those in power to see the negative effect of minority agitation and ethnic marginalization, and in a way make the leaders see reasons or how effective the government at all level can practice true Federalism by involving all the minority groups in the structure of governance to ensure equity.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

The Nigerian federalism is a creation of the British. Before the arrival of British colonialists, the area now known as Nigeria was inhabited by peoples who belonged to different empires, kingdoms and societies, which were traditionally administered.

The relationship between these various entities was characterized by much conflict and little co-operation. Furthermore, such vices as cannibalism, ritual murder and the killing of twins were rampant among some of the peoples (Adigwe, 1974).

The arrival of British and other European explorers, merchants and religious missionaries tempered and eventually reduced these vices to the barest minimum. After a series of efforts at pacification and conquest, effective British occupation of the area took place from the Royal Niger Company, whose charter was revoked in that year.

Consequent upon this, three separate territories emerged. These are Lagos, the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria (Wikipedia, 2015).

Federalism is a system of government in which governmental parts that exists in a country are shared between central government and component region. It is also defined as the system of government in which governmental parts are shared between the central government, i.e. the federal government and its components (state and local government) (Akpoto, 1995).

Generally, federalism connotes the existences of two levels of government, each constitutionally or jurisdictionally empowered to make decision independent of each other within the legislature sphere assigned to it. The classic definition of a Federal Government, as provided by Sir Kenneth Wheare, is a system of government in which sovereignty is divided between the central and state governments. He then concluded that in this system of government, each level of government should be limited to its own sphere and, within that sphere, should be independent of the other. This system of government can therefore be contrasted with a Unitary System in which the component units are legally subordinate to the central government (Wheare, 1967). This form of government is more suitable for societies with complexity of diversities viz, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, racial, religions and so on, as well as other cleavages which are territorially defined. However, the nature of diversities helps in a nation’s decision to adopt the aggregative or dis-aggregative type of federalism. Nigeria therefore falls into the latter because of the wide diversities. Under this type, there exist a ballcanization of formerly unitary state near disintegration and its diversities which progress to a state. For the ethnic minority states, in particular, overcentralization has led to such inauspicious and obnoxious outcomes as the erosion of the autonomy and security that genuinely federalist arrangements assure for minorities, the inordinate appropriation by the centre of the resources of the oil-rich Delta minority communities, and the direct and often counter-productive intervention of central authorities in those local and regional issues, such as the determination of local government boundaries, that are best left to sub-national authorities or communities (Friedrich, 1963).

Fifty one years after independence, Nigeria still battles with one of the major fall-outs of federalism, the politics of trying to appease all sections of the polity. This has become necessary because success to national positions and resources are limited at the individual level. This is as a result of the multi-ethnic nature of the society (Nwankwo, 20002). According to Ola, different governments that have governed this country have at one point or the other derived various methods to cope with this ever present problem of power distribution in both the political and economic spheres. Therefore, there have been accusations and counter accusations from all sections of the polity, as to how powers are being distributed or how they ought to be distributed so avoid the marginalization of the minority groups (Ola, 1995).

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The Federal structure of Nigeria is believed to be “a bad marriage that all dislike but dare not leave, and that there are possibilities that could disrupt the precarious equilibrium in Abuja” (Ogbe, et al, 2011). The dominant conceptual and legal foundation for Nigerian internal political geography is federalism. A federal arrangement was expected to be instrumental for forging national unity out of the plural society and at the same time in preserving the separate social identities cherished by its component parts. Nigeria’s political system has continued to operate with minimum cohesion (Ola, 1995). Rivalry fundamentally instigated by ethnic mutual suspicion and problems of minority increasingly weakens the fabrics of Nigerian Sovereignty. This has culminated in the Nigerian Civil War. It has also dragged the nation-state into the turbulent June 12 political crisis which has completely made Nigerian sovereignty frail and fragile (Ojo, 1989).

Federalism is a system meant to integrate people in a society who are diverse ethnically, culturally, geographically and even religiously. It therefore becomes imperative that once a government is in place, it must endeavour to adequately and equitably distribute powers, functions and resources among these diverse groups. But in Nigeria, there are instances where governments have openly violated this principles of federalism. Suffice it to say that in theory, Nigeria can be said to be operating the federal system of government, whereas in actual practice, the country is tending towards a unitary system.

Therefore, the problem with federalism in Nigeria is the mix-application or non-application of this clause especially as it has to do with power distribution leading to problems of minority (Awa, 1977). Power distribution is a volatile issue which if not properly handled could lead to various forms of crises which are bound to crop up. Nigeria has not been forthright applying this principle to the letter and the result of this has been the heightening of ethnic tension, mutual mistrust among ethnic groups, minority problem, clamour for an answer to the National question etc.

Ethnic tension and problems of minority in Nigeria is the resultant effect of improper distribution of functions and resources. This is because the people who now feel left out in the scheme of things see it as a necessity to rely with their ethnic groups which will provide them a good ground for competing with others for resources and against domination by the dominant ethnic groups. This can escalate further and lead to open confrontation among the groups. However, this study will provide an overview of Nigerians federalism carefully examining the problem of minority.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The following are the objectives of this study:

  1. To provide an overview of Nigeria federalism
  2. To examine the relationship between federalism and the problem of the minority question
  3. To identify the factors militating against true federalism in Nigeria.

1.4 Research Questions

  1. What is federalism?
  2. What is the relationship between federalism and the problem of the minority question in Nigeria?
  3. What are the factors militating against true federalism in Nigeria?

1.5 Hypothesis

  • HO: There is no significant relationship between federalism and the problem of the minority question in Nigeria
  • HA: There is significant relationship between federalism and the problem of the minority question in Nigeria

1.6 Significance of the Study

The significance of this study is divided into two viz: Theoretical and practical.

At the theoretical level, it will add to the frontier of knowledge of Nigerian Federalism and problem of minority question. This research will serve as a resource base to other scholars and researchers interested in carrying out further research in this field subsequently, if applied will go to an extent to provide new explanation to the topic. At the practical level, the study will help our policy makers and those in power to see the negative effect of minority question and ethnic marginalization, and in a way make the leaders see reasons or how effective the government at all level can practice true federalism by involving all the minority groups in the structure of governance to ensure equity.

1.7 Scope / Limitations of the Study

The scope of this study on federalism and the problem of minority question will cover the ways and manner the political powers are shared among the ethnic groups between 2007 and 2014 and also identify issues of minority question that has led to series of agitations in Nigeria in the past.

1.8 Definition of Terms


It is a system of government in a country otherwise referred to as a federation, is a system of government in which the political and socio-economic powers are shared between the central government (referred to as federal government) and the co-ordinate political sub-division of the country, referred to in Nigeria as region but now referred to as states and local government.


The smaller number or part, especially a number or part representing less than half of the whole.

Chapter Five

Findings, Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Findings

The root cause of disunity, conflict and instability in Nigeria Federalism can be traced to certain colonial government evolved a piecemeal constitutional framework for the Northern and Southern segments of the country which were eventually amalgamated in 1914, with the introduction of the Clifford constitution in 1922 and the establishment of the legislative council for Lagos with the exclusion of the North. Southerners were incrementally brought into participate in the legislative affairs of their region ahead of the northern counterparts. This disparate constitutional and administrative arrangement went on until 1947 when the north and south were brought together, under single legislative authority for the first time.

Richard constitution broke the country into three regions, the North, the East and the West. Each of these regions consisted of groups with the Hausa – Fulani dominant in the North, the Yoruba in the West and Igbo in the East, each of which was mutually distrustful of the other. The emergency of the regions came sectional loyalties which according to Osaghae 1989 were built on the bogus theory of regionalism, that is one should be loyal to and protect the interest of one’s region to the exclusive of others. Thus the North was for the Northerners, the East for the Easterners and the west for the westerners. Thus the policy of regionalism created disunity by reducing the country into a tri-national state.

The Macpherson’s constitution of 1951 introduced the federal system of government which was finally adopted by the 1954 constitution. Consolidate the regions gave the autonomy and effective power and made regional power attractive. The fourth region, the mid-west regions was carved out of the then western region. But one insignificant feature of the country was its unbalanced nature where the northern region alone had more than half of the country’s population and was larger than the other regions put together. The North too counting on its size and numerical strength won fifty percent representative in the federal legislative and used its controlling position to wield power and appropriate the gains incidental there of.

Also the political parties formed then to contest for power had ethnic/regional base. Each was formed in response to the perceived threat of domination by the other. As a result the NCNC led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo though it had nationalist orientation, nevertheless had an Igbo ethnic perspective. The Action Group (AG) led by Obafemi Awolowo was formed to counter the perceived threat of Igbo domination. The Northern People Congress (NPC) was formed, in response to the fear of southern domination. Thus while these region political leaders were united in the nationalist cause of security independence, this sense of fear and the rivalry implicit in it, engendered severe political contradictions. The situation became very volatile after independence as Federal Government exercised ascendant control over the regions as well the allocation of centrally collected resources. The instability of the Nigeria nation state is due to fractional struggle and lack of unity within the Nigeria ruling class.

The government of General Gowon broke up the country into twelve states to redressing the structural imbalance in the federation and accommodating the demand of minorities in the regions of self realisation and self-assertion and equalizing access to the means of development and political power.

The quota system introduced and practised from around 1958. The measure was intended to ensure equitable representation of the various groups in the country. This system was meant to give opportunities in education appointment and employed disadvantaged groups and areas to enable them to complete and catch up with the more advanced areas and sections of the nation.

5.2 Conclusion

It has been argued here that the Nigerian Federal System, just like many other nation-states, has suffered serious setback over the years arising from the multiple cases of minority agitations. The bottom line of agitation however, reinforces itself through ethnicity which further translates to the politics of resource control.

Nigeria being a mono-cultural economy with Oil as the backbone of all activities including national revenue, therefore presents oil as the epicenter of this mutual conflict because every activity within the Nigerian nation state has come to be defined in terms of oil.

The exploration of oil mineral and the exploitation of the same, either by the oil prospecting multinationals and their domestic elite collaborators, have all contributed to bolstering agitations by minority groups who feel short-changed in the socio-political and economic affairs of state. It is the position of this paper that minority agitations in Nigeria has come to stay, and it is pretty difficult to divorce this monster from the socio-political fabric of the Nigerian state. Several other agitations recently by groups in the Nigerian system allude to this. The agitations for more states, competition for space, terrorism, arson, high level of crime, corruption, moral decadence, injustice, violence either before, during or after elections, religious sentiments, and religious war, etc. All these are pointer to the fact that the need to create a virile federal structure that recognizes the interests of adjoining minor groupings is still a far cry.

5.3 Recommendations

Despite the obvious shortcoming and the controversies surrounding the notion and application of federal character, there seems to be a general acceptance of the principle as a normative expression of the equal right of all Nigerians to participate in the politically administrative and economic affairs of the country. One significant fact has emerged that as long as Nigeria remains a federation, the need and the clamour to balance the diverse interest in the country will always be there. The federal character has been employed to take care of this diverse and sometimes conflicting interest. And by all indications the formula has come to stay. It is necessary to seek for ways and means to make it less rancorous and problematic and to channel it in such a way as to ensure the overall progress of the country.
It has been noted that when state were first created in 1967, there were twelve of them. However, the state-creation exercise should be carried out with caution. This is to ensured the viability of the states and their ability to discharge their statutory and other functions for the common good of all and orderly development of the country. Moreover despite the present multiplicity of states and local governments, it is still not possible or feasible to give each ethnic group in Nigeria a state. the interest of the minorities in the present states and local governments who could not be given new states or local governments can be taken care of in other ways.

Efforts should be made through appropriate legislation to remove the indigene syndrome engendered the federal character principle and regulations which legalise its operation. It is an aberration of nation building and national integration to see fellow Nigerians, whom were born and may have lived in a place all their lives, being thrown out of jobs and discriminated against because they are not indigenes of the area. To this end the government have to see that every citizen of Nigeria who settles in any part of the country are treated as an indigene of the place and endowed with residency rights as it the case in the united state of America.

Federal character principles should be applied with less stringency but with fairness among ethnic groups, states and local governments that are homogenous, to avoid creating clearance cleavages and divisions where none, may have strictly speaking, existed. This will sane such societies from undue polarisation.

The view expressed by a former head of states, General Olusegun Obasanjo, that the principle of merit should not be completely sacrificed on the altar of federal character. The appointment of persons to various positions should be made from the best available in any group or section in the country. Moreover recruitment to posts which require specialist training such as those of medical practitioners, pilots, architects and engineers, should be essentially based on merit. Efforts should be made to give equal access to education to all Nigerians to bridge the educational disparities and to give opportunities for further training and education to serving staff.

The present application of the federal character principle is all bourgeous – oriented and does very little to relieve the plight of the masses of this country. For example, the indigenisation policy which put capital in the hands of a few Nigerians did not benefit the masses. The latter needed to be given equal opportunities for employment, equitable share in the distribution of the resources and benefits of the state in term of education, access to goods and services provided by government and improved condition of life. The political system should arrest the exploitation of the masses and redress their feeling of insecurity. It is by tackling these crucial of national identity, transcending parochial loyalties of ethnicity, religion, language and region.

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