The dissatisfaction of Nigerian Nationalists with the level of Nigerian participation in the government led to a number of constitutional reforms between 1951 and 1957.
These reforms saw the gradual federalization of Nigeria’s Unitary Colonial State.
As the prospects for independence became clearer, Nigerian politicians withdrew into their ethnic cocoons to mobilise for comparative politics. Mutual fear and suspicion of domination among ethnic groups generated intense pressure on the colonial administration for a federal system.
In 1956, Eastern and Western Regions secured self-governing status while the Northern Region’s self-government had to wait until 1959. By 1957, a political diarchy had been established and Alhaji Abubarka Tafawa Balewa was made the country’s first Prime Minister.
Nigeria attained its independence on October 1, 1960 after the federal elections in 1959. The 1960 Nigerian constitution provided for a federation operating in the context of parliamentary democracy. But this parliamentary system collapsed in January 1966 following a military coup.
The coup led to the death of many northern leaders, prominent among them was the Prime Minister, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the minister of Defence (Ribadu), etc. After the coup, Nigeria was in turmoil as the coup plotters could not control the situation which brought Aguiyi Ironsi to power.
When Irosi took control as head of the military government, he promulgated Decree 34 of 1966. This decree declared Nigeria a unitary system. The regime only lasted for six months because many feared that the system is not good for a country like Nigeria.
Consequently, in July 1966, another military coup started. This coup brought in the government of Yakubu Gowon’s administration. Decree No. 36 of 1966 was replaced by Gowon’s administration with Decree 52 of 1966, which returned Nigeria to a federal system headed by the Federal Military Government. This position was retained by all successive military governments that ruled Nigeria for almost 30 years.
The regional system operated by Irosi to maintain the unitary system was changed to state government with the adoption of Gowon’s Decree No. 52 which established 12 states from the former three regions in 1967.
Murtala Mohammed’s regime came to power in 1976 and created seven more states to become 19, while Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime created two additional states in 1987, making a total of 21 states and in 1991 he created nine more states bringing them to 30 states.
Finally, the Abacha regime created six more states to become the 36 states in Nigeria currently.
It must be noted that all the constitutions since independence in Nigeria adopted the principles of federalism. They always support the practice of two levels of government, that is, the state and central government.
According to the 1999 constitution, both members of the federal and state governments must be elected into power by the electorates for a fixed period of time (four years for the president and governor).
One interesting thing to note about the current Nigerian federalism is that, in performing their duties, where there is a conflict of duties between the federal and state government, it is upon the Judiciary to decide which power will be valid.
The idea is that the courts in Nigeria are independent of the executive and legislative arms of the government.
For the past 23 years since this fourth republic commenced, few people have been happy with federalism. People keep bemoaning bad leadership and governance without taking a second look at the structure bringing them in. Truth is, one cannot build something on nothing. The entire system needs overhauling.