Nigeria As A Federation: Meaning And Characteristics Of Federation In Civic Education

Table Of Contents
1. Meaning Of Federation
2. Characteristics Of Federation
Meaning Of Federation
A federation simply means the bring together or joining of small states into a single strong state. It can also be defined as a country consisting of a group of individual states that have control over their own affairs but are controlled by a central government for national decisions.
People from different ethnic groups, cultures and languages can come together and form one country, with a central or federal government. In a federation, the powers of government are shared between the federal, state or regional governments and local governments. The federal, state and local governments are called tiers of government. The constitution gives each tier specific functions and matters over which it has powers. These powers are outlined in the three lists, the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists.
1. The Exclusive List: These are rights and powers on certain matters that can be exercised by the federal government alone. The examples of such are defence, currency and external affairs.
2. The Concurrent List: These are powers exercised by both the states and federal government e.g. Education, health, roads, etc.
3. The Residual List: Contains powers exercised by the state/regional government alone, e.g. Markets, local government, etc.
Nigeria and the United States of America are good examples of countries that practise federal system of government. In both countries, the federal or central government is supreme and more powerful than the state and local governments.
History Of Federalism In Nigeria
The history of federalism in Nigeria dates back to the era when the country was under the British rule (th era of colonialism). Nigeria is made up of three major ethnic groups as well as many other minority groups. These various groups lived independent of each other. They were all under their various governments until 1914, when Lord Frederick Lugard (the then colonial British Governor-General) amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates, and Nigeria was born. This administrative and political agreement of 1914 by Lord Lugard was the beginning of federalism in Nigeria.
A new constitution came into existence in 1946, called the Richard’s Constitution, which divided the country into 3 regions, namely: north, east, west and colony of Lagos. This further prepared the country for federalism. True federalism started in 1954 with the Lyttleton Constitution that drew 3 lists known as the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists. The Independence Constitution of 1960 was also based on federal principles with the 3 regions, east, west, and north with Lagos as the seat of central government.
The Republican Constitution of 1963 was also based on rigid federal principles with four regions namely: east, west, north and mid west with Lagos as the capital. In 1967, the military government of Yakubu Gowon created states and Nigeria became a federation of 12 States. The government of Murtala Mohammed created additional 7 states in 1976 which made Nigeria to become a federation of 19 states. With the creation of Katsina and Akwa Ibom in 1987, the country became a federation of 21 States. Nigeria is currently made up of 36 states, with Abuja as the capital.
Needs/Reasons For The Adoption Of Federalism In Nigeria
With federalism, no group is swallowed up by any large group, but each group is helped by others to survive without any fear of insecurity. All parts of the federation contribute to the constitution and the third tier of government, which is the local government. This takes care of peculiar local needs of the people, especially at the grassroots.
In federal arrangement, the weak and the strong are fully represented, and their needs well taken care of. The majority will have their way while the minority will have a say. Certain factors have created the need for federation. These factors are:
1. National Integration
The amalgamation of 1914 in Nigeria brought people of different ethnic origin, culture and language together. In fact, Nigeria is made up of about 250 ethnic groups. There is need for all these groups to unite into a strong nation or country. Therefore, federation is the best system to bring about national integration. The United States of America is regarded as the melting pot of the world’s cultures. This means that America is made of people from different parts of the world, but with federation, they have achieved national integration, and have become the strongest country in the world. They have all worked together towards achieving their national goals.
2. Unity In Diverse
Federalism promotes national unity by bringing together people from different backgrounds. They are so different yet united, even in their diversity, to pursue a common goal.
Nigeria is a country made up of people from different ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious orientation and background. The federal system of government has helped these various groups to unite as one and stay together in spite of their differences. It is only the federal system of government that can work in a place with such diversities or differences.
3. Controlling The Activities Of States
The federal system of government helps to control the activities of the state, because the federal or central government is supreme and stronger than the states. The federal government is in charge of defence, currency and other very sensitive matters in the exclusive list that enable it to put a serious check on the states. Otherwise, certain states can pull out and declare their independence and work against the interest of the federation.
The strong federal government controls the activities of the states and holds them in unity, being ever ready to crush any rebellion. Federation appears to be stronger than other systems.
4. Fear Of Insecurity
States come together under a federation for fear of domination or attack by bigger or more powerful states. One basic reason for the adoption of federalism in Nigeria is that federalism protects the weak states and helps them to retain their autonomy through collective defence of the federating states. This collective defence also secures for weak states the guarantee that they will not be attacked by stronger countries.
5. Economic Considerations
States are endowed with different natural resources, both human and material. For instance, there is oil in the east, groundnut in the north and timber in the west of Nigeria. Federation helps one state to get things from other states which she does not have. In fact, there is equal distribution of the country’s resources because of federalism. For example, petroleum makes Nigeria a rich country, yet it is drilled from a small section of the country but distributed to all parts of the federation.
6. Administrative Efficiency
Federation is the most suitable or best form of government in countries that have large size and diverse ethnic, cultural and religious differences. Nigeria also has large population and cannot be ruled under a unitary system of government. Federalism makes it easier to govern people with large population and land mass.
Characteristics Of Federation
Certain characteristics are common to federal system of government and these characteristics are used to identify it. They are as follows:
1. Sharing Of Power Between Central And State Government
There is a constitutional sharing of power between the three (3) levels or three (3) tiers of government. In the constitution, the federal government takes charge of powers in the exclusive list, the state and federal governments share powers in the concurrent list while the state alone takes care of powers in the residual list. The local governments are provided with matters over which they have powers and they are contained in the 4th schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
2. States Have Constitutionally Defined Control Over Their Affairs
One of the striking features of the federal system of government is the ability of the states to retain some control or autonomy over their own affairs. As a result of this, they are not swallowed up by the larger group, but retain their sense of identity. This makes federalism a workable system of government.
3. Central Government Controls The States
In the federal system of government, the federal government is stronger than the state governments, though the states are allowed to retain their autonomy. The powers in the exclusive list exercised by the federal government alone make them have control over the states.
4. Constitution Of Federal System
The federal system of government operates a written and rigid constitution which shares out power between the central government and the component units (states and local governments). There is only one constitution for the country which is supreme.
5. There Is A Supreme Court For The Federation
Any conflict arising between the federal and state governments in the exercise of their powers is settled by the supreme court through the interpretation of the constitution.
Citizens who feel that justice was denied them in the high court and appeal courts, can go to the supreme court, which is the highest court in the country.
6. There Is Usually A Two Chamber Legislature
This is also called a bicameral legislature. The upper house is referred to as the senate while the lower house is referred to as the federal house of representatives. Both the upper and lower houses are collectively called the national assembly.

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