FEDERALISM and confederalism in Nigeria

“The Federal system of government presuppose the coming together of different ‘nationalities’ or independent states under a central authority, while still retaining some of their peculiar identities”. Essentially, therefore, federalism can be described as a system of government in which a group of semi-autonomous states agree to come together to form a Federation (Appodorai 1968). The federating states usually agreed on how power should be shared between a central authority and the component units. While the agreement allows the component units to retain some of their identities and autonomy in certain governmental matters, it also demands them to surrender their individual sovereignty to one federal or central government. In this case, the central authority represents the entire states and act on their behalf particularly in external affairs and in such internal affairs which are considered to be of common interest to all the states. From the foregqing, Federalism can therefore be defined as an association of states that form a new one (Laski 1975).
Federalism is mostly adopted by societies characterized with sectional diversities of religion, nationality, race, geography, language and land mass etc (Leeds 1975). To accommodate the diversities of the federating states, the federal Constitution usually stipulates how power should be shared among the states and the centre. Besides, the Constitution allows the federal government to supervise and co-ordinate the activities of the various states in line with the provision of the Constitution. Example of countries practising the federal system of government include Germany, Canada, India, Brazil, Switzerland, United States of America, Nigeria etc.

Main Features of Federalism

1.           Formal division of government power: The Constitution in a federal  state  shares  governmental  power between  the component units and the federal authority. Both the central and   state   governments   may   exercise   their   legislative, administrative and judicial powers only within the limits set by the federal Constitution
2.         Supremacy of the  Constitution: This implies that the Constitution and the laws contained in it, are the supreme law of the land. Laws passed by any state government, if found to be contrary to the provision of the Constitution may be declared null and void. Neither the central nor the state authority has the power to change the Constitution to suit its own interest.
3.         Existence of a Supreme Court: There also exists a supreme court in a federal state which is saddled with the responsibility of interpreting  the   Constitution   and  resolving   conflict between the centre and the units and also between the states.
4.         Rigidity of the Constitution: The process of amending the Constitution in a Federal State is one in which both the federal and state government must be involved. This makes the process of amendment difficult.

Advantages of Federalism

1.         The Protection of Minority Interest: In a country with several
groups, like United States and Nigeria, the federal system of government perform the function of protecting the interest of the minorities. Federalism checks the hostility of large ethnic groups against small ethnic groups. It is also the duty of the federal authority to protect the state from external aggression.
2.         Promotes Unity in Diversity: In Federal states such as Switzerland, Nigeria and the United States of America which are characterized by religious, racial, cultural and linguistic differences, the federal system unites politically the different states forming the federation. States with diverse cultures are brought together because every group in each state belongs to a state of the federation and therefore, has a sense of belonging to the country. People belonging to different ethnic groups and different language see themselves as belonging to their nation.
3.         Federalism Stimulates Economic Development:- Since a federation   consist   of  several   states   forming   a   large community, it tends to breed healthy competition and rivalry among the federating states, thereby breeding economic development. States usually borrow successful innovations from others. The introduction of television station in Western Nigeria was copied by other regional government. In some cases the federal government established certain economic development project which serves all the states.

Disadvantages of Federalism

1.         Conflicts  can  develop  between  the federal and state authority over certain constitutional matters: The conflict between the then Anambra State and the federal government in 1982, over the revenue allocation formula is a case in point.
2.         Duplication of Function: In Federal system, ministries and personnel are duplicated. If a federation consist of 30 states, this implies that there will be thirty ministries of education, agriculture, commerce, etc. However, in a Unitary State only one of the each ministries is required.   The federal system therefore is more costly to run when compared with a unitary system.
3. Delay in Policy Execution’. Due to the vast nature of Federal governmental there may be delay in carrying out the policies of the federal government. In a situation where the federal Constitutions, states that the central authority must take decision on particular issues with the consent of one or more states, such a decision might be delayed.

Allocation of Jurisdictional Powers in Federalism.

In a federal system of government, the Constitution usually allocates Jurisdictional powers among the various tiers of government. In Nigeria, the functions and powers of each level of government is clearly spelt out in the 1979, 1989 and 1999 Constitutions. With respect to the Federal State level, these Constitutions adopted an approach, which consist of an exclusive, concurrent and residual lists. While the federal government has power to legislate on items provided in the exclusive list, both the federal and state governments have authority to make laws on items contained in the concurrent list.
The federal exclusive list contains items such as currency, arms and ammunitions, defence, external affairs, citizenship, insurance, banking, maritime, police, prisons, meteorology, etc. On the concurrent list the federal and state governments can make laws with respect to electric power, antiquities and monuments, archives cinematography, education, health, stamp duties, collection of taxes, agriculture etc. Under this arrangement, any matters that are not contained in the exclusive list or concurrent list are regarded as residual subjects and assigned to the state government. Similarly, the “fourth Schedule” of the 1979 Constitution clearly spelt out the functions of the local government. The provisions require local government to interact with both the federal and state governments. Conclusively, this formal constitutional allocation of functions in a federal Constitution is essentially, meant to define the Jurisdictional power of each level of government. These measures help to reduce friction and conflicts between the three levels of government.


Conferalism is defined as an arrangement by independent sovereign states in which the central government established by the political units is subordinate to the separate government of the component units. The role of the central government is generally that of supervision or co-ordination of previously agreed essential services.
Like a federation, confederation is formed by nation states who agreed to unite under one central but ‘weak’ government. Confederalism permits the state to retain a greater part of their autonomy. The central authority in this case is not as powerful as the component states. This suggests that sovereignty rests with the units rather than the centre. Confederalism is sometimes referred to as loose federation

Advantages of Confederalism

1.       Provides security and defence to small countries:  Very small countries find it difficult to defend themselves due to their size. In this circumstance, smaller countries form coiifederation with other states. The expectation is that the counterpart will defend any of the confederating state being threaten or attacked by another country. An example of this is the Senegambian defence pact between Senegal and Gambia.
2.         The fear of domination by the majority groups or state:
Minority groups are always afraid of domination by the majority. The minorities in this circumstance feel that if they are given opportunity to form a confederation, they could have equal power with the majority
3.         In some countries especially where there are several ethnic groups each with its own cultural values, confederation is ideal so that each ethnic group can practice its own culturi without interference from other groups.

Disadvantages of Confederalism

1.         The independent and sovereign status of states in a confederation makes the system fragile. Amember can decide to pull out of the confederation at any time it so likes. When this happen, the confederation automatically ceases to exist.
2.         Confederalism  is   an   unreliable   system   of government because it has failed in many countries. It was rejected by the federal military government headed by Gowon just before the outbreak of Nigerian Civil War in 1967.
3. The confederal system of government can generate conflict among the states. Disagreement between the states may occur because the relationship between the central confederal government and the state government is not clearly defined. It is a cumbersome and difficult system of government to operate. This probably explains why the system is not widely practised.

The Difference between Federalism and Confederalism

Although the federal system of government resembles confederalism, the system differs in many respects. The difference can be summarized as follows:
1.       A confederation is a union or league of sovereign states. While In a federation sovereign states come together to form a new nation.
2.       Sovereignty in a confederal system  rests with component states Sovereignty rests with the central authority in a federation
3.     States in a confederation have the right to secede The right of the states to secede in federal system is denied.
4. The central or federal government in a confederation system deals only with the government of the constituent units or states. While In a federation the federal authority deals directly with the individual citizens
5. The confederation being a looser union than the federation is generally less stable. while The attempt to integrate the various diverse states in a federal system provides the basis for stability in the system.

Conditions for the Adoption of Federation

An ideal federation is formed when two or more independent sovereign states come together to establish a central government for their common interest. It was in this manner that Switzerland, Australia and the United States of America came into existence. Sometimes a federation is established when a unitary State decides to create a federal structure by creating provinces, regions or states and granting them some degree of power and autonomy. In this case, decentralization of power, is expected to produce a more efficient government. This consideration might have compelled Canada to change from a unitary form of government to a federal one.
Similarly, federalism can be forcibly created. This occurs when diverse cultural groups are brought together into a single political entity. This alien power, which unites such group into a polity, imposes a system of government, which suits its interest. The Nigerian federation was created in this manner. Between 1861 and 1914, through the use of force the British Colonialist subdued the different Nationalities in the Nigerian region and brought them into one political fold-modern Nigeria. This process of unification provides the basis for the emergence of federal system of government in Nigeria.
To establish and sustain the federal system of government the following conditions are essential:
1.     Geographical Proximity: The first condition for the
success of a federal system of government is the
proximity of the political units. If the states are far apart,
the desire for the union may not even arise.
2.      The Desire for Union: Secondly, the political units must have a desire for the union. The desire arises especially among small independent states, when they feel that their sovereignty will be threatened by more powerful states. The sentiment for association is sometimes induced by language,   culture,   and  the   similarity  of political interferance.
3.   Political Education:  For federalism to survive, citizens in the various component units need to understand the meaning of the federal system. People should be made to appreciate the benefits they stand to gain in a federal arrangement.  The state and their citizens  are also expected to respect the constitution and yield to the authority of the law courts.
4.   The Desire for Local Independence: The permanence of a federation demands the preservation of the independence of the component units. The desire for the association should not be so great as to result to the demand for the establishment of a Unitary State.
Federalism which necessitates the coming together of various component units under a central authority is characterized by some essential features. These include, the formal division of governmental powers, supremacy of the constitution, existence of a supreme court and rigidity of the constitution. Some of the merits of the federal system of government are the protection of minority interest, the promotion of unity in diversity and the stimulation of economic development. The development of conflicts between the state and the federal authority over constitutional maters; the duplication of function in a federal set up, and delay in the execution of policies are some of the demerits associated with federalism.
Confederalism is formed by states who agree to unite under a central but weak authority. The system permits the state to enjoy a great deal of autonomy. The system has the following advantages. It provides security and defence to small countries, it eliminates the fear of domination by dominant groups and it also discourage interference with the cultural practices of the various ethnic groups in the union. Some of the weaknesses of the confederal system of government include the following: the sovereign status of the units makes the system fragile. Besides, the inability of the system to survive in many countries, confederalism has an in built potential for creating conflict among the various component units.
Federalism and condederlism differ in a number of areas. For instance, sovereignty in a confederal system lies with units, while in federalsm it lies with the central authority. While states, in a confederal system have the right to secede but this is not the case in a federal set-up. Attempt is made in a federal system to unite the various states but condederlism is generally less stable. Also while confederation is a league of sovereign states in federalism sovereign states come together to form a new Nation.
The Following conditions are essential pre-requisites for the establishment of federalism. These are geographical proximity, the desire for union, political education and the desire for local independence.
Appadorai A. (1968) The Subtance of Politics. Oxford University Press
Leeds, C. A (1975): Political Studies. The M & E Handbook Series macdonaold Evans
Laski, H. J. (1975) A Grammar of Politics. George Allen and Uwin Ltd London.
Lawal, O. A (1982) VLevel Government of West Africa. E. Girardet Press, Ibadana.
MamserP. (1987) The Report of the Political Bureau

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