The origin of federalism in Nigeria could be traced to the division of the country into three provinces (Northern, Eastern and Western provinces) in 1939. Before Governor Bourdillon left office, he recommended for the introduction of regions to replace the existing provinces. In 1946, Richards Constitution introduced regionalism into the Nigerian political system. Northern, Eastern and Western regions then replaced the former three provinces. The introduction of a federal structure in 1954 was the idea of Richard’s Constitution of 1946. In 1953, Macphersons Constitution improved on Richard by creating House of Representatives with powers to make laws for the country and Regional Houses of Assembly also to make laws for the regions on specific matters.

Federalism is identified with power sharing and this was what actually happened with Macpherson Constitution. In the same vein, the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 came with a federal system of government for the country. It was as a result of the 1953 London Constitutional Conference, where it was decided that Nigeria should be made a federal state. Federalism involves the sharing of powers between the central government and other subordinate unit(s), e.g. local government and state / region.

In 1954, we had two tiers of government the centre and regions, both had their powers defined and shared by the constitution. Exclusive legislative functions went to the central government; concurrent legislative functions went to both the central and regional governments while residual legislative functions went to the regions.


Factors Responsible for Nigerian Federalism

  1. Cultural diversity: It is argued that cultural diversity among ethnic groups in Nigeria makes the operation of a federal system possible (over 250 ethnic groups are in Nigeria).
  2. British colonial policy: Britain imposed a federal structure by dividing the territory into regions and ruling them separately. It was the Lyttleton Constitution that formally introduced a federal system to Nigeria in 1954.
  3. Size of the country: Nigeria is a large country both in population and territory and so federalism is a better option.
  4. Availability of human and natural resources: Nigeria has enough of these resources to run a federal system.
  5. Geographical factor: Different component units are geographically near to one another, making it easier for the adoption of a federal system.
  6. For effective administration: Federalism makes for duplication of functions, creating the atmosphere for an enduring and effective administration.
  7. Bringing government to the grassroots: Federalism makes the people to be involved in governance and also be involved in the policy making of their country.
  8. The rights of the minorities and other interest groups: Minority rights are recognised and protected in a federal state.
  9. More economically advanced countries: They sometimes influence the exercise of sovereignty of poor countries.
  10. Geographical location: e.g. landlocked countries, nearness to other states.
  11. Religion and culture: These are also factors responsible for Nigerian federalism.
  12. Dominance of powerful states: This will bring about the formation of federalism in other to checkmate the dominance of powerful states.



Some of the constitutional conferences that led to the adoption of federalism in Nigeria were,

  • the London Constitutional Conference of 1953.
  • the Lagos Conference of 1954.



The colonial secretary, Mr. Oliver Lyttleton, informed the British House of Commons on May 20, 1953 about the situation in Nigeria. He maintained that events had shown that the three regions could not work effectively in a federation as was then structured. He suggested that the British government should invite representatives of the regions to London to discuss a redrafting of the Nigerian Constitution and in it, a greater regional autonomy and issues within the jurisdiction of the regions should not be subject to the central government’s control.

A new constitution drafting conference as recommended by the colonial secretary was then constituted in July 1953 to fashion out a new constitution for Nigeria. Each region had to send six representatives and one representative from the Cameroun. The conference met between July and August 1953.

The following were some of the agreements reached:

  1. The establishment of a federal system of government: There was to be a federal system of government in which powers had to be shared with residual powers vested in the regions.
  2. Legislative powers: Legislative powers should be shared between the central assembly and regional legislatures.
  3. The Governor of Nigeria: This would be designated “Governor-general”, while regional Lieutenant-governors would be designated “Governors”.
  4. Federal capital territory: Lagos should be separated from the Western Region and be made a federal capital.
  5. The Cameroun for separate regional administration: Subject to ratification by a conference to be held in Lagos in 1954, a separate regional administration would be established in the Cameroun, if the inhabitants of the territory would support the proposal through a referendum.
  6. Self-government for the regions: The British government would in 1956 grant internal self-government to those regions which wanted it.
  7. Electoral colleges: The regional legislatures would no longer act as electoral colleges for the central legislature.



On January 19, 1954, the Constitutional Conference re-convened in Lagos to discuss some issues that were not attended to at the previous constitutional conference. They were also, to look into the report of Sir Louis Chick’s Fiscal Commission of December, 1953, and they made the following submissions.

  1. Allocation of financial resources: to federal and regional governments and to be based on the principle of derivation.
  2. Regionalisation of the public service: In line with the principle of federalism, public service as well as the judiciary was to be regionalised.
  3. Autonomy to Southern Cameroun: The commission recommended that autonomy should be given to Southern Cameroun.
  4. Quasi-federal territory: Northern Cameroun remained with the Northern Region while Southern Cameroun remained part of the federation but separated from the Eastern Region and be made a quasi-federal territory with a legislature of its own.


Constitutional Evolution of Federalism up to 1914

  1. In 1914, Lord Lugard amalgamated the Southern and Northern Protectorates for easy administration.
  2. In 1922, the Clifford’s Constitution made the provision for a legislative council for the colony and Southern protectorate of Nigeria only.
  3. The 3 provinces became known as three regions – Northern, Western and Eastern regions. This introduction came in 1946 by Arthur Richards in his constitution. Though regional assemblies were constituted, they had no power of legislation.
  4. Legislative powers were given to regional assemblies, though on specific issues, with final approval from the central government. The Macpherson Constitution brought these changes in 1951.
  5. Lytleton Constitution established a true federal structure in Nigeria in 1954. Powers were shared between central and regional governments with exclusive powers for the central government, concurrent for both governments and residual powers for the regions.



The structure of federalism in Nigeria will be discussed based on the following:

  1. Federalism before independence.
  2. 1960 — 1966.
  3. 1967 — 1975.
  4. 1976 to date.


  1. Federalism before Independence: The colonial system of government in Nigeria introduced centralization of power. So, from the time of Clifford till about 1939, powers of administration and government were centralised. In 1939, the Southern Protectorate was split into Western and Eastern provinces. Northern Protectorate was changed to a province, bringing the provinces to three. In 1946, regions were created out of the existing three provinces-Eastern, Western and Northern regions. So, with the emergence of the 1951 Constitution, legislative powers were spelt out and shared between the House of Representatives and Regional Houses of Assembly. Also, the constitution gave executive powers to the newly created council of ministers. The president of the council was the governor while four ministers represented each region. However, in 1954, the Lyttleton Constitution introduced a federal system of government in Nigeria. It came after the 1953 London Constitutional Conference where it was agreed that a federal system should be set up with the regions becoming autonomous and given residual legislative functions without the central government’s interference. The constitution further came up with exclusive legislative lists, with functions only for the central government to legislate on through the parliament. The concurrent legislative list had the functions for both the central and regional governments to exercise. The constitution also made provision for the appointment of premiers and in 1957, the office of a prime minister was created.
  2. Federalism Between 1960 and 1966: The Independence Constitution of 1960, still retained the federal system introduced in 1954 by Lyttleton Constitution. The power sharing formula was equally retained but in the exercise of functions by both the central and regional governments under concurrent legislative list, conflict may arise between them. The constitution stated that the laws made by the central government would take precedence over the region’s. In 1963, the Mid-west region was created out of the Western region, bringing to four the number of regions in the country.
  3. Federalism Between 1967 and 1975: This period was the evolution of the military in the political system. The military stunted the growth of political culture in the country. Not only that, it systematically destroyed all democratic and political institutions and other basic features of federalism. The government of Aguiyi Ironsi introduced a unitary system into the country with the promulgation of decree No 34. When Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon assumed power as the new Head of state, he created 12 states out of the existing four regions on May 27, 1967. It was this action that forced Ojukwu to announce the secession of the Eastern region on May 30, 1967. This led to the civil war which started on July 6, 1967. There is no well defined power sharing in a military administration because of its centralization or concentration of power at the centre. Although in theory, Nigeria remained a federal structure under every military setting.
  4. Federalism from 1976 to Date: More states were created out of the existing 12 states bringing the total to 19, by major General Murtala Mohammed, who came to power in 1975. The Justice Ayo Irikefe panel’s recommendation on state creation, brought about the creation of additional seven states on February 3, 1976. In 1979, the military left the political scene and a democratically elected government was constituted, (Second Republic). The 1979 Constitution which ushered in the Second Republic introduced a presidential system of government with the recognition of an executive president as both Head of state and government. It also maintained the three tiers of government (central, state and local governments), with their powers derived from the constitution. The National Assembly was given exclusive functions to perform from the exclusive legislative list. Both the central government and states shared powers from the concurrent legislative list and residual powers went to the 19 states. Powers of the local governments were distinctly enumerated in the constitution. Also, the powers of the three organs of government were separated both in functions and in personnel and it was premised on diffusion and de-concentration of powers, functions and the essence of which was to check the abuse of power. However, the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime did not allow the elected civilian government in place, to complete its second term in office. General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration that came in 1985, created Akwa Ibom and Katsina states on the 23rd of September, 1987 and before he stepped aside in 1993, Babangida succeeded in creating nine additional states (including Edo and Delta) in August, 1991. This brought the total number of states in the country to 30 and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), has its own minister. General Sani Abacha came to power in November, 1993. He created six more states on 1st October, 1996, bringing the present of states in the country to 36.



  1. Constitutional division of power: Powers are constitutionally shared between the central authority and other component units, oi e.g. Region, State and Local governments.
  2. Written and Rigid: The constitution adopted was written and rigid.
  3. Powers derived from the constitution: The three tiers of government derived their powers from the constitution.
  4. Supremacy of the constitution: There was the supremacy of the constitution.
  5. Separation of powers: The constitution separated functions and personnel among the three organs of government—executive, legislature and the judiciary.
  6. Bi-cameral legislature: There was bicameral legislature, e.g. Senate and House of Representatives.
  7. Supreme court: It had the power of judicial review and interpretation of cases.
  8. Duplication of functions: Functions were highly duplicated in every department.
  9. Unequal regions: Regions were created in an unequal basis.
  10. Secession: This is not allowed in a federal system.



Different governments and political leaders right from colonial period, have suggested formula to adopt in allocating revenue generated in the country. The sharing of this revenue involves the three tiers of government-central, state and local governments. This idea of revenue allocation came up with the creation of regions in 1946 and with the introduction of federalism in Nigeria in 1954, by the Lyttleton Constitution. Different commissions were set up at different times to recommend to the government an acceptable formula, the following were recommended by some of the commissions that were set up:

  1. Principle of derivation: It explains the need to return a large proportion of resources to the area from which they were obtained (region or state).
  2. Population: In this respect, states with high population will earn more than those with low population.
  3. Equality of states: It equally suggests granting equal amount of resources or revenue to all the states.
  4. Even development: All the units making up the country should develop evenly. However, more resources should be allocated to underdeveloped areas.
  5. Minimum national standards: This implies that in the execution or carrying out of some functions such as education and health, efforts must be made to see that all parts of the country maintain a given standard. Regions or states which bear the large burden of the functions will receive larger grants.


Commissions and their Recommendations

  1. The Phillipson Commission (1946): This commission recommended the principle of derivation.
  2. The Hicks-Phillipson Commission (1951): It recommended derivation, need and national interest.
  3. The Chick Commission (1953): The commission recommended the principle of derivation.
  4. The Raisman Commission (1958): It recommended the creation of distributable pool account and money in this account should be shared among the regions, using derivation, needs, population and minimum responsibilities of government.
  5. The Binns Commission (1964): The commission gave Northern region 42%, Eastern region 30%, Western region 20% and Midwest region 8% for sharing of revenues from duties, mining rents and royalties paid into the distributable pool account. Need and even development were the principles applied.
  6. The Dina’s commission (1968): The military government rejected the recommendation of this commission. Instead, Decree 6 of 1975 stated that all revenues to be shared by the states had to pass through the distributable pool account excepting the 20% of on-shore mining rent and royalty which went to the state of origin.
  7. The Aboyade Technical Committee (1977): The committee recommended the following: National minimum standards for national integration 22%, absorptive capacity 20%, independent revenue effort 18%, fiscal efficiency 15%, etc. Also, all collected federal revenue to be paid into federation account and shared using this ratio; Federal government 60%, State 30% and Local government 10%. 13% from the federal government share should go to areas in need of rehabilitation and ecological disasters. The recommendation was rejected by the government, claiming that it was too technical.
  8. The Okigbo Committee (1980): This committee was set up by President Shehu Shagari and the outcome of the committee was debated in the National Assembly which came up with the following recommendations: Federal government 58.5%; state governments 31.5% and local governments 10%. 2% out of the 31.5% for state should go to the mineral producing states using the principle of derivation, also 30% for the development of mineral producing areas in those states. The balance of 26.5% should be shared using the following principles:-responsibility of states or equality of states 50 percent; population 40%, land area 10%. The bill was passed by the National Assembly and the process was questioned in court by the Bendel state government. The supreme court upheld the Bendel state objection and the Act was declared null and void. In 1982, a new revenue allocation formula gave 55 percent to the federal government, 35 percent to states and 10% to local governments.
  9. Danjuma Commission (1988): It gave the federal government 50%, states 30%, local governments 15%, special fund 5%.



  1. Revenue allocation: This has been a problem in Nigeria. Governments at different periods, have set up commissions to advise on the acceptable revenue sharing formula, especially, as it affects the three tiers of government.
  2. The problem of minorities: In Nigeria, there are majority groups and minority groups. The fears of domination have always been there on the part of the minorities and also of not being fairly treated within the federation. This was one of the reasons why the Willincks Commission was set up in 1957; to look into the problems of the minorities and recommend measures aimed at ameliorating such problems.
  3. Regional political parties: The genesis of the problems of regional based political parties e.g. NPC for the North, A.G. for the West and NCNC for the East could be traced to the colonial period. Such arrangement could not bring about a truly national political parties.
  4. The problem of state creation: Almost every interest group in the country wants a state. This may not be possible in a country with over 250 different ethnic groups.
  5. The problem of federal character: Appointments into federal establishments in the country are not always based on merit because the issue of federal character has to be addressed. This may not go down well with some ethnic or interest groups in the country.
  6. Fear of secession: A unit or segment may threaten to break away from the federation, e.g. the North threatened to secede after the 1953 self- government motion while the Eastern region seceeded in 1967, resulting in the civil war.
  7. The military in the Nigerian politics: The military has continued to dominate the politics of this country, a total deviation from it’s constitutional role, which is to defend the country from external aggression. Usually, the military is a highly centralised institution, whereas Nigeria is a federation.
  8. Ethnic disharmony: There is distrust among the various ethnic groups in the country. This can affect the unity and the very corporate existence of the country.
  9. Corruption, favouritism and nepotism: These are problems of the Nigerian federalism.
  10. Boundary disputes: This has been a continuous problem between states or local governments and has the capacity to threaten the corporate existence of the nation state.
  11. Power sharing: Power-sharing among the component units poses a problem to the Nigerian federalism because it is not always properly defined.
  12. Census: For some time in the affairs of this country, there has been the problem of conducting reliable and acceptable census.