Colonial Origins of Nigerian Federalism: A Blight on the Nigerian Federation


Clement N. Oligie

Department of Political Science and Public Administration

University of Uyo, P. O. Box 4262, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.; +2348037532530



The paper concisely surveyed the historical origins of Nigerian federalism under British colonization, beginning from the acquisition of the territories that now constitute Nigeria to 1960 when Britain granted independence to the country. While early colonial officials preferred Unitarianism, Nigerian societies’ heterogeneous socio-political matrices necessitated Britain’s final choice of federalism for Nigeria in 1954. The paper, therefore, examined the impact of the colonial origins of Nigerian federalism on the order of the Nigerian federation. The paper adopted the historical and descriptive research methods. It argued within the framework of imperialism theory that the colonial origins of Nigerian federalism, although created a somewhat sound federation initially, ended up creating substructural problems—such as geographical imbalance, political exploitation of the imbalance, exaltation of major ethnic groups and failure to address ethnic minority groups’ concerns and fears among others—that continuously affect the politics and organization of the Nigerian federation up to the present time. The paper revealed that these problems are fundamentally responsible for inter-ethnic rivalry, minority fears and agitation for state creation, unequal access to power and benefits from government, hindrance of national integration and unity, and the problem of resource control. It recommended that the problems can be minimized with the division of Northern Nigeria into two parts; cultivation of nationalist, patriotic and receptive attitudes; provision of legal check against identity politics; and creation of ethnic minority commission and affirmative action programmes.

Key words: Colonialism, Constitutional development, Ethnic group, Federalism, Imperialism.

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