Federalism And The Problem Of Minority Question 2007-2014

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

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and conquest, effective British occupation of the area took place from the Royal Niger Company, whose charter was revoked in that year.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.

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