True Federalism: The battle of ideas over the future of the Nigerian state

A central issue in the current Nigerian election is that of the country’s political and economic structure, and more specifically its federal system. Indeed Abubakar Atiku, one of the elections two front runners alongside president Muhammadu Buhari, highlights this in his manifesto, stating that the economy is over reliant upon two sectors, agriculture and oil & natural gas. The solution offered to this, is the reform of the federal system, which currently promotes state dependency upon federal handouts from the profits of these two sectors, without encouraging internal resource generation.

Reform of this system would also serve to tackle the nature of economic centralisation in Nigeria which has concentrated power in the hands of moneyed elites and created an intertwine between economic control and political power that is fundamentally detrimental to national development. The lack of state governments fiscal autonomy is demonstrated when comparing two indicators: tax assignments and revenue allocations. Whilst examining these, Lisa de Nijs masters thesis on Federalism in Nigeria further highlights how the federal government has access to the most profitable taxes whilst other tiers of government are unable to develop revenue bases and remain dependent upon central government, which in turn jeopardises state level economic development and the self-governance of regional ethnic groups.

In a 2017 speech at Chatham House Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, current Governor of Kaduna state, Nigeria stated that ‘our federation has been dysfunctional, more unitary than federal, and not delivering public goods to the generality of our people’. This position, combined with Atiku’s manifesto commitments, has placed the the debate over the restructuring of the Nigerian state at the forefront of the current election campaign. The final outcome of these arguments hold the potential to transform Nigeria’s political and economic systems, and the benefits that could accompany its implementation.


For de Nijs’s full article, follow this link.

For more information and El-Rufai’s full Chatham House speech, follow this link.